Property Matters – Hotel Reservations

The concerted attempts to sell the Tobago Sandals project were driven by high-level Public Officials who repeatedly assured the public that the existing arrangements for the three State-owned hotels were working satisfactorily. So much so that we should be pleased that the existing arrangements were to be adopted for the new project. The two main promoters were PM, Dr Keith Rowley and the Minister in the Office of the PM, Stuart Young.

Of course, we now know, due to the unplanned publication of that Tobago Sandals MoU, what were the terms and conditions on which the State intended to engage that project. No other hotelier had ever had a deal like that.

But there is a deeper series of official conversations on these existing State-owned hotels which need to be spotlighted so that a better view can be had as to ‘Who is Who and What is What’.

I am relying on the official records in this one, with my sparing commentary shown below – Continue reading “Property Matters – Hotel Reservations”

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Property Matters – Trinidad Hilton Improvements

Property Matters – Trinidad Hilton Improvements

At the end of January 2018, the Ministry of Trade & Industry and its implementing agency, Evolving Technologies & Enterprise Development Company (ETECK), announced the completion of a $7.6M project for the renewal of the Trinidad Hilton Pool. According to the official statements, that project was completed on time and within budget, as part of the State’s long-term obligations at that 418-room hotel. Despite those assurances, there was a series of condemnations which need to examined.

hilton-pools

Trinidad Hilton Management Agreement

Three of its interesting details –

  1. Hilton pays ETECK a rental of 76% of the ‘Annual Gross Operating Profit’ which is defined in the lease;
  2. ETECK is responsible for doing replacements, renewals, extensions or improvements to the Trinidad Hilton at its expense. That means that ETECK was acting within the lease terms in paying for those pool improvements;
  3. Hilton is required to prepare detailed accounts of the hotel’s operations and submit those to ETECK.

Please note that Trinidad Hilton is undergoing a hugely expensive improvement program since 2008 (see Sidebar).

I am not making an issue of the decision to do these improvements or making allegations of cost or time over-runs. There may be issues in those aspects of the project but I am not engaging those.

My issue has been and remains, that despite all the smooth press releases and so on, we are unaware of the underlying commercial arrangements by which these hotels exist. The three largest hotels in our country are State-owned – Trinidad Hilton; Magdalena Grand (formerly known as Tobago Hilton) and Hyatt Regency. Those hotels are operated by foreign entities under management agreements with the State agencies which hold the ownership interest. They can therefore be classed as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Since PPPs are currently being promoted as a development approach, those arrangements certainly ought to be closely examined, looking beyond the Hilton pool. Continue reading “Property Matters – Trinidad Hilton Improvements”

Property Matters – Tobago Sandals part three

Last week’s article outlined the research I have been conducting, with the support of my colleagues from Disclosure Today, into the ‘Underlying Commercial Arrangements‘ of the State-owned hotels in this country. Those are the decisive details which drive projects of this nature and from which the substantial public benefits ought to flow.

Details of the unhelpful responses from the various agencies with whom we engaged via the Freedom of Information Act only went to show that the actual conduct of these large-scale public private partnerships were virtually opposite to the repeated statements about openness and having nothing to hide. The Ministry of Finance was the only public authority to give a prompt and clear response.

SIDEBAR: Public Money

As I stated in ‘Everything but the Truth, published in this space on 10 June 2014, in relation to Public Money –

“The leading learning from which we have drawn serious lessons is Lord Sharman’s 2001 Report to the British Parliament ‘Holding to Account‘, which was a thorough examination of the definition, role and need for control of ‘Public Money‘. We expanded on Sharman’s definition of ‘Public Money‘ so as to capture the full range of possibilities, but we have accepted his key finding as to the requirement that ‘Public Money‘ is to be managed to a higher standard of Accountability and Transparency than Private Money – see 2.23 on pg 15. The contemporary, best-practice position in respect of the management of and accountability of Public Money being that the private sector rules are the bare minimum.”

This proposed large-scale investment would require significant sums of Public Money to be committed to the project. That commitment would be via direct investment or lease rentals; tax/duty concessions and expensive externalities such as improvements in the water/sewerage and electricity services or the expansion of the Crown Point Airport facilities. Continue reading “Property Matters – Tobago Sandals part three”

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”