OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday welcomed the cancellation of the Sandals project in Tobago, in a statement after the withdrawal was disclosed by Sandals CEO Gebhard Rainer at a briefing held by Minister of Communications Stuart Young.
“We are of the view that the decision by Sandals to withdraw is a positive one for the people of TT,” said Persad-Bissessar. “The billions of dollars that would have been spent can now be invested in Tobago for job creation, health care, education, crime fighting and social services.
“We are not opposed to any viable project that drives economic development, the tourism sector or the people of TT, however, we could not support the Sandals project given the secrecy, lack of accountability, misinformation, and poor procurement process which defined the project.”
Earlier she had told Newsday she was not surprised by the withdrawal, but queried Young’s explanation.
“Minister Young said it was due to a handful of people, but if there were a transparent process there were not have been all these questions for debate and this would not have happened. The reason Minister Young has given, negative publicity, is not the real reason.
“Further, the Sandals brand has received a lot of negative publicity in Antigua and St Lucia and other parts of the Caribbean.”
Persad-Bissessar elaborated in her later media statement.
“Throughout the Sandals saga, the Government withheld information from the public, refused to answer the simplest questions and failed to garner public support for the project.”
She alleged the Government had run a PR campaign to vilify various stakeholders such as environmentalists, which left many asking if the Government was working for the people of TT or for Sandals.
“The position presented during today’s press conference that Sandals withdrew based on negative publicity is bordering on absurd, and it is yet another attempt by the Government to deflect attention from their incompetence.”
She scoffed that Sandals probably chose to follow the advice proffered in the Prime Minister’s recent address to the nation to “Mind their business.”
This project was mired in controversy even before the Government took office, as Dr Rowley had improperly held talks with Sandals as Opposition Leader, she alleged.
“Sandals was always one of Rowley’s whims and never a well-thought-out development project.”
Saying the Government had no plan for Sandals, she said the inevitable withdrawal from Tobago was no surprise.
“Throughout the process, they kept changing their story. First, Sandals was to construct and manage the hotel. Later, we heard that the Government would pay – meaning that taxpayers would pay – for the construction of the resort and Sandals would only manage it.”
Persad-Bissessar aimed at Rowley.
“His game-changers are all pie-in-the-sky desires, not viable research-driven policy recommendations.” She said Rowley “game-changers” like the Dragon Deal, Petrotrin closure, the seabridge and Sandals, have been shrouded in secrecy and were bad deals the Government wanted to force onto the population.
Persad-Bissessar said the Government had said Sandals would not be built on environmentally-sensitive areas, but the Sandals EMA application showed the opposite to be true. Alleging poor governance by the Government, Persad-Bissessar said the people of TT must get a chance to choose a new leader and team to build a brighter future for the country.