TT is one of the most political countries he has ever encountered, Sandals chairman Gordon "Butch" Stewart declared yesterday, as he reiterated that the only document which exists with Government is a “little MoU” and not a signed contract for the Tobago Sandals project.
“Up until now we have a little MoU (memorandum of understanding). I hear some talk that we have a secret deal. We can’t have a secret deal because you don't have a deal. We have an understanding. The paper work is being done. We will spec (sic) the hotel and we will tell them what we will like. We are working on a management agreement."
Stewart was addressing a media conference with TT media personnel at the Sandals Barbados resort, Barbados yesterday.
And with questions continuing to swirl around "a secret deal", Stewart told reporters not to get “excited” as there was no contractual agreement to discuss and even confessed that he did not know what was contained in the MoU which was signed with the Government.
“I don’t know what is in the MoU, SRI (Sandals Resorts International), Sandals, they have dealt with it, an MoU that I have not even read but it basically says that both the Government and Sandals are going to work together to develop a contract, an agreement to develop the area and it is because my son that lead that charge," Stewart said.
"For me when there is a contract that is signed, if the Government does not want to share it, I can’t force them but I can assure you that I am not going to operate in an environment that is not transparent. For me, there is nothing to get excited about because it is just an understanding that we are going to work together towards having a contractual arrangement and to develop two hotels that we are going to spec. We are not going have anything to do with the builder that is for the Government to do. We are going to run the hotel like the other hotels in Trinidad.”
However, the Jamaican billionaire said there is no agreement which binds Sandals to the Tobago project
"There is nothing saying that Sandals have to develop in Trinidad and Tobago, there is nothing that says I am tied to, or for the company that I represent that says we must do that. We have given our word that we are going to work with the Government, develop a contractual arrangement under our direction."
He said there seemed to be a number of expectations regarding the project saying they were not there to solve all of TT problems as this was the job of the elected government.
“I am not going to give you over expectations, we are going to be a great, great investor developer, we are not the government and we are not there to solve all of Trinidad solutions.
Stewart, however, noted that not one single dollar had been given to them by the Government although they had spent money on several designs for the project.
“Not one single dollar has passed between Sandals and the Government or the Government and Sandals. They owe me money, we have a lot of designs but we have not presented anything.”
Pressed further, he said Sandals had not presented any bills regarding the project as yet to the Government.
He said the TT political system had the potential to drive away investors as either of the two political parties were always against each other.
“I like to stay away from the politics because the politics is not going to train the people who will work for Sandals, the politics is not going to provide the vegetables to feed the people, and the politics is one team against the other. I don’t want to be involved in the politics. It is something that could cause us to leave somewhere, it’s mixed up in politics.
The MoU between Government and Sandals was signed on October 10, 2017. In his 2018/2019 budget presentation in the House of Representatives on October 1, Finance Minister Colm Imbert identified Sandals Tobago as the fourth of six "game-changers" that will help transform the economy. Imbert said the project “represents a radical stimulus for the tourism sector in Tobago which would now provide a platform for sustainable economic and social development and place Tobago at the centre of a very competitive tourism market.”