The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is suing Original Canopy Tours Enterprises Ltd for US$416,900 for alleged breach of contract in the 1.5 kilometre zipline project planned for the Main Ridge Forest Reserve.
The claim, which was filed in the High Court on Wednesday, also seeks loss and damages for breach of contract "as a result of the defendant's failure to deliver all materials and equipment to the claimant" as well as failure to comply with the services agreement between the parties.
Original Canopy Tours Enterprises Ltd is based in the British Virgin Islands.
Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis made the revelation as he addressed a People’s National Movement (PNM) campaign meeting on Thursday at the Lambeau Multipurpose Facility.
According to Dennis, the party’s candidate for Buccoo/Mt Pleasant, the administration has spent the last 18 months looking at the zipline issue.
He said: “As a result of this advice given to me, supported by the previous advice given by the internal people in the THA, I instructed the Chief Administrator, the Administrator of the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation and by extension the senior state counsel, to lawyer up. Find the best lawyers we can afford and take this matter to court.
"We are going to pursue this to the very end to ensure that the truth is revealed and to ensure that we are able to recover damages for failure to deliver this project on behalf of the people of Tobago.”
In 2015, the zipline project was announced by former tourism secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine but never completed, despite the THA's spending $2.5 million on it.
Former tourism secretary Nadine Stewart-Phillips, who succeeded Davidson-Celestine, previously revealed the project comprised 12-14 platforms and 11-13 lines, including a special observation platform for birdwatchers and photographers. According to the former councillor, the Executive Council approved $4 million for the project, which was expected to be completed within seven weeks of the materials arriving on site.
A service agreement, she said, was signed in June 2015 between the THA and Original Canopy Tours Enterprises Ltd to design, develop and construct a high-angle canopy tour course. Stewart-Phillips said representatives of the company visited Tobago in September 2015 to map out the course, and the division paid two of the four payments under the signed agreement.
In the campaigning ahead of the January 2021 THA election, Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy Farley Augustine raised the issue, saying Davidson-Celestine, now PNM Tobago Council leader, must answer to taxpayers on the failed project.
Augustine claimed a 2016 auditor general's statement expressed concern over the project, noting a visit to the stores section of the tourism 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 said.
Dennis defended his political leader on Thursday.
“The evidence is clear, that when it came to the zipline matter Tracy Davidson-Celestine has no case to answer," he said.
"This would head to the courts, we would argue our case, the defendant will have the opportunity to argue their case and the court will decide, and we would see where this goes.”
He challenged Augustine to produce evidence of corruption involving the THA.
Davidson-Celestine has brought a lawsuit against Augustine for defamation of character related to comments before the January election.
“Where are the documents? You sent the documents to (ex-Commissioner of Police) Gary Griffith yet? You send the documents to the Director of Public Prosecutions yet?
"Where is the evidence of corruption? Where is the evidence that Tracy stole the money, and I want to say to the political leader as well, 'Doh back down on the case.' He says he have courthouse clothes – clothes alone does not make a good case in courthouse. I have seen where people went to courthouse in the best clothes, dressed spick and span, suit well starched, and they lose the case because they didn’t have sufficient evidence to back up their claim.”
He said PNM supporters have nothing to be ashamed of in the matter, as he called them to stand with their leader.
“We have a leader who has over 15 years of political experience, over 16 years of leadership experience, even across the region in Costa Rica as an ambassador, as a secretary in several divisions, and though they are tempted to slander her name with zero evidence, we in the PNM must support our leader, because she is worthy of support.”
In a brief response on Friday, Augustine said, "Waste of time. The entire Executive Council should be sued. The council budgeted $4 million for the project, spent more than $3 million of the budgeted amount and was still unable to deliver the project for the delivery date of 2016. We are in 2021."
The THA is being represented by John Jeremie, SC, Timothy Affonso and instructing attorney Shivana Lalla.