Minority member Farley Augustine is calling on the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to provide restitution to Tobagonians for $500,000 spent on a zip line project which was to be constructed in the Main Forest Reserve in 2015, but which the THA says it has no money to do.
At the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) weekly press conference in Scarborough on Tuesday, Augustine said:
“Yet again Tobago is seeing that we are throwing away money from tourism and we can’t get tourists to come here. We throw away $8 million that was transferred to a wrong account for Virgin Atlantic airlines, we waste $1.6 million year before, recently we throw away $17.3 million on Tobago Jazz Experience and we can’t get our occupancy level up and running. This canopy tour project could have benefited the island where exponential growth would be seen.”
“It is unbelievably ridiculous that we had a project estimated to cost $4 million and spent well over $500,00 on this project, and to date we can’t see a single line through the rain forest.
“If it was a crooked deal, then those who made those deals need to go to jail, but I am saying we need to account properly for that money, not by just telling Tobagonians the money was spent and we don’t know what to do now.”
In 2014, the then Executive Council agreed to allocate TT$4 million on the zipline project. In 2015 an agreement was entered into between the THA and a company, Canadian-based Original Canopy Tours Enterprise Limited, for the design, development and construction of a high angle canopy tour course through the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. A grand opening was schedule for November 14, 2015.
“It’s not an idea that we disagree with and it’s an idea Tobagonians will welcome and one that will prove more beneficial than jazz,” Augustine said as he noted that the parts for the zipline have shipped to Miami where it is being stored with an outstanding US$108,332 storage recorded to date.
Tourism Secretary Nadine Stewart Phillips, in providing an update on the project at the THA plenary on April 26, said the project was on hold at this time because the THA has no money to do it. Stewart-Phillips said $416,000 was paid to Original Canopy Tours Limited for materials, equipment and a 40-foot insulated shipping container, and $192,571 was paid to the Eco-Industrial Development Company of Tobago (E-IDCOT) LTD for procurement management.
She said a decision on the materials stored in Miami was to be made but gave no further details, nor did she say whether storages charges were continuing to accrue, and why the material was in storage in Miami. She also said the project was not identified as a priority to continue during the fiscal 2017/2018 due to the reduction in the THA budgetary allocation.