Tobagonians are calling on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for answers to questions and concerns they have on the proposed Sandals Tobago resort coming out of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with Sandals Resorts International (SRI).
Among the concerns are who is responsible for approving the terms and conditions of the MOU signed by Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe in October last year on behalf of Government, and how one member of Government could promise or sign that laws would be enacted to give effect to an agreement.
The call by Tobagonians for PM Rowley for answers came during a session to analyse and discuss the MOU led by chartered surveyor and activist Afra Raymond at the Scarborough library last Thursday.
Raymond, in February 27 this year, requested the MOU through the Freedom of Information Act. He was not provided with the information and he took the State to court. On November 28, one day before his case was to be heard in court, he was given the MOU.
Invited by former diplomat Reginald Dumas to speak on the document and its implications for Tobago and Trinidad, Raymond addressed several issues, maintaining that the document was “deeply detrimental and not in the public interest,” and that TT would not be getting back the money (estimated $3B) invested in the project.
Following his presentation, attorney Deborah Moore-Miggins said that having examined the MOU herself and listening to the concerns being expressed by Tobagonians, there should not be a squandering of “the kinds of energies and the kind of concerns that are bubbling up inside of all of us.
“As an attorney, my way of doing this would be to demand that Dr Rowley come here and face our questions and our concerns and our challenges on the several points that we’ve raised. And we deal with it as people deal with situations like this…”
Attorney Dawn Palackdharry Singh, who also heads the Tobago Law Association, said she was appalled at majority of the MOU’s contents, particularly the section that says Government will procure the necessary laws, regulations or orders to give effect to this agreement, and any subsequent agreements, in effect setting aside the role of Parliament.
“I was not aware that this is how our laws worked. I was not aware that one person in the Government could sign an MOU which may go to a binding agreement if it reflects or mirrors some of these clauses that we’re now seeing. I’m not aware that one member of Government can promise or sign that laws will be enacted to give effect to an agreement.
“I thought agreements had to conform to the laws and not the other way around. I am horrified at the content of this MOU,” she said.
Newsday Tobago columnist Anselm Richards argued that the proposed resort needed to be looked at from an ownership and governance model,
and that the Tobago House of Assembly must have some level control and influence over the resort which is likely to be the largest economic installation on the island.
Raymond, in response, noting that board members of the special purpose company Golden Grove/Buccoo Limited were THA operatives, suggested the company would end up vested in the THA.
“That is my interpretation of what I am seeing from here but obviously the politicians would know what they are going to do.”
Businessman Clyde Adams called on accommodation owners in Tobago to be given similar opportunities being granted to Sandals.
“After providing Sandals as it were, with so many opportunities, what is happening to our guesthouse owners and hotels in Tobago? If I were a guesthouse owner or a hotelier and see that is happening, I would engage my attorney immediately,” he said. pointing to the Equal Opportunities Commission as a vehicle to for action.
Dumas commented on Adams point, noting that in Barbados, hotels and guesthouses have said if Sandals were getting these benefits and concessions, so must they.
He said Prime Minister Mia Mottley has said the accommodation sector will get benefits given to Sandals because there has to be equity, but the benefits would be spread out over a period of time.
“I would expect that hoteliers and guesthouse owners in Tobago will say the exact same thing to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago – ‘if Sandals is to get these benefits, so must we.’ What impact that will have on our tax space is for Mr Imbert (Finance Minister) to tell us,” Dumas said.
Anther contributor, Rodney Piggott, called for the concerns with the MOU clauses to be ironed out.
“If the deal has not been inked, then we have time to go back and bring parties to the table and get things ironed out and put in place that should be in place,” he said.
“If it is the real-world view -that during the time February to November, they (Government and Sandals) were actually in the backrooms working out the deals and then the deal is done so they released the MOU, if that’s the case, what then are we to do?”
In his presentation to the session, Raymond had questioned the timing of making the MOU public, noting that both Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Communications Minister Stuart Young had repeatedly said the details could not be divulged because of a confidentiality clause.
He suggested one possible explanation was because a final agreement was being drafted for signing for the project to proceed and called on Government to say whether this was so or whether negotiations were still possible. He recalled Communications Minister Stuart Young giving a deadline of mid-December and saying Government had hired an international firm of lawyers, White and Case, at a post cabinet media briefing at the Magdalena Grand Gold and Beach Resort in Lowlands.
At that November 16 press conference, Young had said then:
“… we have been engaged with the Sandals Executive for some time in discussions and in fact negotiations as to whether we can proceed with a Sandals and Beaches project in Tobago. There is no project in place until we have signed the various commercial agreements including a management agreement. What we have been asking Sandals to do, we, the people of Trinidad and Tobago will build the plant/ the hotel according to Sandals specs in Tobago and then they would manage it, we would utilise their brand of Sandals and Beaches for this project.
“As soon as we receive these commercial agreements, we have indeed engaged White and Case, international firm of lawyers who are also helping us on the energy side for empowered negotiations with BP and Shell, to represent the Government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago in this transaction.”
“We are looking at a possible visit by Mr Adam Stewart (SRI vice chairman) and his executive including the CEO on the week of the 10th December. I am hoping that between now and December 10, we would be able to exchange the relevant contractual documents between ourselves and hopefully, we would use that time for the concluding of the agreement and the execution of the agreement.”