Deputy political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) Farley Augustine is calling on PNM Tobago Council leader Tracy Davidson-Celestine to answer to taxpayers about a zipline project planned years ago for the Main Ridge Forest Reserve.
In 2015, the 1.5-kilometre zipline project was announced by the Division of Tourism and Transportation, under its former secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine, but was never completed.
Augustine, who said he had a copy of the Auditor General’s 2016 report, allegedly read excerpts from the report on Sunday evening during the party’s first drive-in meeting at Gardenside carpark in Scarborough.
He said the former secretary, who is now the PNM’s candidate for Lambeau/Signal Hill, has some questions to answer.
“When we go to the Auditor General’s report and we’re looking at page 15 of the report, and we’re starting with tourism, and this is 2016, the woman who now wants to be Chief Secretary was at that time the secretary in charge of the division of tourism. So I am laying the ball firstly in her court. She must come and answer and report to the people of Tobago,” he said. He said he was reading verbatim from the report, as he didn’t want to be misquoted or to misquote anyone.
“A service agreement that was dated the 12th of June 2015, showed that the Division of Tourism and Transportation contracted with a British Virgin Islands corporation, located at Tortola, to design, develop and construct a high-angle canopy tour course in the Main Ridge, at an initial beginning cost of US$531,610.
"The Executive Council's approval for this project was not available for audit.
"So in other words, they can’t find even the document that showed that the Executive Council approved this expenditure of US$531,610,” he said.
He added: “The sum of TT$2,511,210.20 was paid to the corporation up to the 30th September, 2016...and that was for materials and equipment. However, the existence of these assets was not verified. A visit to the stores section of the division revealed only some ropes on hand.
"Imagine that, we spent $2.5 million and the only thing the Auditor General could find was some rope. Now that must be the most expensive piece of rope in the world. But I want Tobagonians to take this same expensive piece of rope and hang them politically come January 25, 2021.”
He recalled that the last time an update was requested on the zipline, it was revealed that 85 per cent of the material and equipment was in Tobago. This response piqued Augustine's interest, and he revealed that he investigated the issue himself.
He claimed d the tourism division was "taking the material and storing them in a company in Miami.
"When I went and checked out that storage company, the last thing I found out is that that storage company went bankrupt and eventually closed down.
"What that means is that if our equipment was still being stored in Miami, it means that every piece of equipment that was in that storage racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in storage fees, would now be subject to auction anywhere within that state.
"So, we might be looking for a zipline in our rainforest but we will never get as much as a piece of a nylon string running through the rainforest, because the woman who wants to lead Tobago has mismanaged this project,” he said.
“If we are to transform Tobago, we must put an end to this kind of mismanagement of Tobago resources.”
Newsday tried to contact Davidson-Celestine for comment on the issue, but calls and messages to her cellphone were unanswered. A member of her PR team said the political leader would issue a release shortly.
In June last year, Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said he was expecting a report on his desk about the project.
Responding to questions during a post-Executive Council media briefing, Dennis said, “I don’t have the information as yet. As I said, I expect a final report by Friday on my desk, because that was the deadline given.
He added, “I have the same information that you have, that the equipment is here in Tobago, in an office belonging to the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, and therefore I await that final report so that I’ll be able to speak more clearly on that matter.”
Asked how soon Tobagonians could look forward to the start of this outstanding project, Dennis said: “Once I receive the necessary information as to where we are with that project, we would be moving immediately to ensure that work starts so that we can have a new attraction, that new experience here in Tobago that I believe a number of Tobagonians were asking for.”