Property Matters – Filling the Gaps

budget2011“…Mr. Speaker, no coherent, co-ordinated planning or strategy for state enterprises exists. As a result we have begun to rationalise the state enterprises, including the special purpose companies, which will incorporate a new accountability system that goes beyond the presently operating company ordinances. It is these loopholes in public accountability that resulted in the UDeCOTT scandal. This must never again happen in Trinidad and Tobago…”
—Dookeran, Winston. “Facing the Issues: Turning the Economy Around,” (Budget Statement 2011, Port of Spain, 8 September 2010), pg 22.

The previous article – Cycle of Consequences – drew from the official record to detail the performance of UDeCOTT in terms of its accountability for the vast sums of Public Money for which it is responsible.

The reaction to that article was so striking that I am responding to the disbelief and many questions. I will also examine the record of e TecK in this related matter of the State-owned hotels. As always, I am relying on the official record and the written correspondence. Continue reading “Property Matters – Filling the Gaps”

Property Matters – the Stormwater Management Committee

Property Matters – the Stormwater Management Committee

The recent heavy rainfall and the accompanying flooding prompted me to revisit some items from the past which I had not written on before. It always makes me flinch to hear the statements on flooding from the UNC, for whatever reason. This is all part of my Season of Reflection.

Austin 'Jack' Warner, MP, Minister of Works & Transport
Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, former Minister of Works & Transport

This article takes us back to May 2010 at the point when the PP won 29 seats to form the government. On the night of the celebrations there was heavy flooding in south Trinidad due to heavy rainfall earlier that day. The PM-elect, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the Minister of Works (in waiting) Jack Warner left the session at Crowne Plaza Hotel to tour the affected districts. The striking statement from Jack Warner was widely-reported – ‘Flooding would be a thing of the past under his watch.

So what happened? What attempts were made to deal with this national scourge? That is the topic of this article. Continue reading “Property Matters – the Stormwater Management Committee”

Property Matters – more Property Tax FAQs part two

property-tax-logoThis week I will provide further necessary correctives on the impending re-introduction of the Property Tax, which is not a new tax. It previously existed as House Rates in the five cities and Land & Building Taxes in the other parts of the country.

Tax Evasion

Self-employed and professionals and sole traders have always under-reported their earnings and never paid the correct taxes. Those people often use property as a useful place to store their untaxed wealth. We have never really dealt with this tradition of tax evasion amongst our successful citizens and I cannot remember anyone being imprisoned or having property auctioned due to taxes owed. Whatever my doubts about the motivation of the American Imperium in pushing its ‘anti-tax haven’ agenda, some things do give cause for a pause. For instance, the Financial Times article of 28 June 2017 – ‘Trinidad & Tobago left as the last blacklisted tax haven‘. Continue reading “Property Matters – more Property Tax FAQs part two”

Property Matters – more Property Tax FAQs

The recent series of comments on this Property Tax have prompted my return to this controversial issue. Some of those comments were;

The proposed Property Tax has three main differences from the old system which ended in 2009 –

  1. Revised Valuations – It will be based on updated valuations. In 2009 $143M was raised, the 2017 estimates were for $503M to be raised – the 2018 estimate is $250M, likely due to the delay in passing the required law and the ongoing litigation which is now at the Appeal Court level;
  2. Database – It will require an open database for proper operation. This open database is the decisive element, which I welcome;
  3. Funds – The old system allocated those monies to local government, but the new system directs the Property Tax revenue to the consolidated fund. In my view that is detrimental to proper local government.

Property owners have had an unprecedented tax holiday, with no property tax paid since 2009. At a minimum, using the lower 2009 revenues, $1.287 Billion more remained with our property-owners.

I will touch on three of the most common objections – Continue reading “Property Matters – more Property Tax FAQs”

Property Matters – Eden Gardens case

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In November 2016, the State filed its lawsuit against certain former Public Officials and their presumed collaborators for alleged fraud in the HDC’s 2012 purchase of 50.5 acres at Eden Gardens in Freeport. The defendants named in that lawsuit were – Jearlean John (former HDC Managing Director), Henckle Lall (former HDC chairman), Greg Davis (former deputy HDC chairman), Peter Forde, Project Specialist Ltd, former commissioner of valuations Ronald Heeralal, Point Lisas Park Ltd, Anthony Sampath, Patrick Soon Ting and lastly, Everil Ross, who was formerly attached to the Valuation Division.

On 17th April 2018, the High Court dismissed the State’s lawsuit when it refused to grant the State further extensions of time to file its full case. That has been claimed by the defendants as a form of exoneration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.
Continue reading “Property Matters – Eden Gardens case”

Property Matters – Sandals MoU

Adam Stewart, CEO Sandals Resorts International

The Tobago Sandals mega-project has returned to the headlines with recent interviews of Sandals Resorts’ CEO, Adam Stewart, in Barbados and Stuart Young, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Stewart’s statements were widely reported in the local press (see Addendum 1 below) with an emphasis on the lack of secrecy in the entire arrangement and the fact that discussions were still at a preliminary stage. Minister Young’s CNC3 interview on Wednesday 28 February 2018 (below) was also notable for his insistence that there was no secrecy or any reluctance to engage with the public on this mega-project.

Continue reading “Property Matters – Sandals MoU”

Property Matters – Digital Transformation in our Tourism?

Property Matters –  Digital Transformation in our Tourism?

On 2 February 2018, the Ministry of Tourism announced its upcoming symposium – ‘Digital Transformation within the Tourism Sector‘ – as a major event on Friday 23 February 2018, in conjunction with Massy Technologies and featuring speakers from Microsoft and IBM.

This is an ambitious project intended to examine big-data, the cloud, the digital customer experience and the prospects of the hospitality industry in our country. As such, these proposals should have our principled support, but there is real cause for a pause here, given the distinct reluctance of the State’s agencies to answer our queries on the agreements and performance of the large State-owned hotels.

The three largest hotels in our country are State-owned – Trinidad Hilton; Magdalena Grand (formerly known as Tobago Hilton) and Hyatt Regency – comprising about 45% of the established hotel rooms, at the better end of the market. The amount of Public Money invested via capital outlay in those hotels is estimated, from the public record, in the first sidebar. But what is of deeper interest to me is that far larger sums of money are generated in the operations of those hotels than the capital spent to create the actual facilities. Those sums are spent on rooms, meals, drinks, rentals for functions and so on.

We almost never get any real open discussion on the actual revenues of these hotels or the arrangements for sharing those monies between the State as property owner and the hotel operator. Continue reading “Property Matters – Digital Transformation in our Tourism?”

Property Matters – The Gap Analysis

Property Matters – The Gap Analysis

In the previous article, the most glaring lacuna in the procurement puzzle was identified as the gap between the recommendations made by the State Enterprises and the decisions taken by the Cabinet in relation to the award of large-scale contracts.

In this context, a lacuna is an informative, usually intentional, gap in a discourse. Just consider that, in all the many statements on these interlocking issues, not one person has actually said ‘Cabinet ratified this recommendation by that State Enterprise‘ or ‘Cabinet made that decision which was not recommended by this State Enterprise‘. Fascinating, really, almost as if there is a joint select decision not to discuss how they reach their decisions. In relation to the Invaders’ Bay imbroglio, I dubbed that kind of thing ‘carefully cultivated confusion‘. You see?

A gap analysis measures actual against desired performance so as to establish what are the changes needed to improve results. This article will sketch a gap analysis of this crucial stage in the public procurement process and suggest the implications of those gaps. Continue reading “Property Matters – The Gap Analysis”

Property Matters – Horses for Courses

horses for coursesAfter the imbroglio with NIDCO’s award last month of a $400M contract to KALLCO for a 5Km stretch of highway, we have once again been treated to a series of related high-profile announcements.

On Monday, 16 October 2017, Minister of Legal Affairs, Stuart Young MP, announced the counter-suit by State-owned Estate Management & Business Development Co (EMBD) against five contractors; former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Dr Roodal Moonilal MP; and its former CEO, Gary Parmassar. The five contractors were:

  1. TN Ramnauth;
  2. Mootilal Ramhit and Sons;
  3. Namalco Construction Services Ltd;
  4. Fides Ltd; and
  5. Kallco.

According to Young, there was over 18 months of investigative work to ground those counter-claims which allege collusion and bid-rigging, resulting in over $200M defrauded from the State. The most decisive allegation seems to have been that then-Minister Moonilal was making the decisions on those contract awards. I have not yet been able to read the EMBD’s court filing.
Continue reading “Property Matters – Horses for Courses”

Property Matters – Tobago Sandals part two

This Season of Reflection closes with yet another Sankofa Moment in which I will contemplate our past efforts so as to better understand our future. This huge project is being promoted, at the highest levels, by highly-optimistic and quite ambiguous statements.

The entire effort is based on notions of government having nothing to hide and the huge benefits to be derived from this project, albeit on rickety estimates. My colleagues and I have been engaged in a research program on these very issues for the last year. Our preliminary results pose a serious challenge to the notion of there being nothing to hide. In my view nothing could be further from the truth, that is how serious this is.

3hotelsThe three largest hotels in our country are State-owned – Trinidad Hilton & Conference Centre; Hyatt Regency and Magdalena Grand – with the hotels operated via Management Agreements. Our formal attempts to obtain information were met with a type of evasion and unresponsibility which was staggering. It reminded me of the infamous ‘Code of Silence‘ which belies the CL Financial bailout fiasco. No room for surprise there, after all, ours is a small country. As one of my confidantes often quips – It is like an Eleventh Commandment – ‘Thou shalt not be found out!Continue reading “Property Matters – Tobago Sandals part two”