IN ANNOUNCING a $500 million hotel at Rocky Point, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis on Tuesday warned that the new endeavour must not suffer the same fate as a previous hotel project.
“All of us were around and saw what transpired with the Sandals project,” Mr Dennis said. “Ask questions, share your concerns if you have any. But I am saying that attempts to malign and derail this project should not be encouraged.”
Yet the Chief Secretary, and the Government, have done themselves no favours by engaging in this process when a THA election is imminent and amid a six-six THA deadlock.
Election ploy or no – and certainly officials have all but invited cynicism – there are many unanswered questions in relation to this matter.
As has unfortunately become the norm when a quasi-private state entity such as the Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Co (eTeck) has oversight of a major project, the fine print of the arrangements here in relation to the engagement of a private third-party contractor are likely to remain subject to the usual culture of non-disclosure.
While it has been said the State will not expend funds in relation to this project, at the very least it is clear Cabinet has allocated about 28 acres of state land that it now seeks to encumber in this manner. This is a classic scenario that procurement legislation had been meant to address.
Some of the objections to the Sandals project related to that project’s proposed site at Buccoo and the environmental issues raised.
We have seen little thus far to indicate what lessons, if any, have been learned in relation to those issues when it comes to this new project, seemingly earmarked for a stone’s throw away.
A fundamental question yet to be addressed is: does Tobago need another hotel, at a moment when long-established hotels on the island are empty, employees have been sent home and some hotels are becoming run-down? ETeck itself currently has oversight of the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort.
However, in warmly welcoming the new project, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) Chris James has suggested there is good reason for supplementing the hotel sector in this way.
“We need new rooms in Tobago,” Mr James said on Tuesday. “It means we can get a non-stop airlift to Tobago.”
But does this approach not come perilously close to putting the carriage before the horse?
Should the State not focus first on increasing demand for Tobago as an international destination, by enhancing existing facilities and supporting smaller hoteliers who have been suffering?
If this private-public partnership is truly a win-win scenario for the population, we need to be more convincingly assured.