PM: Sandals pull-out would be a disaster

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley has ad­mit­ted that T&T’s back will be against a wall if San­dals Re­sorts pulls out of build­ing two ho­tels in To­ba­go.

Row­ley made the com­ment at Thurs­day’s post-Cab­i­net me­dia brief­ing at the Diplo­mat­ic Cen­tre, St Ann’s, as he gave an up­date on the San­dals project, say­ing quite a few de­trac­tors have been say­ing the Gov­ern­ment has not been fol­low­ing prop­er pro­cure­ment process­es with San­dals In­ter­na­tion­al since sign­ing a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing last year.

“We have no in­for­ma­tion to hide. Those who are push­ing this sto­ry about se­cre­cy...half of them are mis­chie­vous and the oth­er half is not fa­mil­iar with the con­duct of pub­lic busi­ness.”

While Row­ley took re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for invit­ing San­dals to es­tab­lish its brand on our shores, he said, “If San­dals does not do it (go for­ward with the project)...it is no skin off their nose. But it is go­ing to be a lot of skin off our el­bow. We would have to turn around and say what else do we do and who else do we talk to?

“We spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in try­ing to ad­ver­tise To­ba­go and got noth­ing in the process.”

He not­ed the To­ba­go Cham­ber of Com­merce was de­mand­ing that the Gov­ern­ment spend $120 mil­lion in “des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing with no guar­an­tee of suc­cess.”

As they ap­proach the project step-by-step, Row­ley said what the pub­lic is be­ing told is that the agree­ments be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and San­dals should be made pub­lic, as a se­cret deal was be­ing bro­kered.

“For the umpteenth time, we have not ne­go­ti­at­ed any terms and con­di­tions with San­dals. We are just at the stage to do that.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Stu­art Young in­ter­ject­ed, say­ing Gov­ern­ment was now mak­ing progress with San­dals. He said what was agreed up­on was that the Gov­ern­ment will build two ho­tels, which San­dals will man­age. Hav­ing held dis­cus­sions with San­dals yes­ter­day, Young said they are go­ing to pro­ceed to the next stage where San­dals will send them a draft com­mer­cial and man­age­ment agree­ment, which they hope to sign off next month. Up­on fi­nal­i­sa­tion of the agree­ment, Young said both sides are “pre­pared to dis­close what terms and con­di­tions that can be dis­closed.”

Young ad­mit­ted, how­ev­er, that they were at a sen­si­tive stage of the arrange­ment. He said this was the first time San­dals was en­ter­ing “in­to this type of arrange­ment. So it is a new arrange­ment for them.”

While Row­ley said the Gov­ern­ment has been ea­ger to move for­ward with the project, he said the last thing they want to hear is “there is noth­ing to pro­ceed with be­cause that would be the dis­as­ter.”

Row­ley said the ini­tial best case was to have San­dals take eq­ui­ty in the project “to be part own­er.”

San­dals, how­ev­er, in­di­cat­ed they were not open to that mod­el and “that was the deal break­er.”

The PM said, “If there are oth­er per­sons who want to take eq­ui­ty in the project, the Gov­ern­ment has said you are wel­comed. In fact, we have in­vit­ed lo­cal busi­ness hous­es...three of them...two of them in­di­cat­ed that they might be in­ter­est­ed in tak­ing eq­ui­ty in the project.”

This, he said, was a first for T&T.

“If Neal and Massy de­cides to take some eq­ui­ty in that project the Gov­ern­ment would be very hap­py.”

He said ANSA McAL said they were not in­ter­est­ed, which they un­der­stood.

“Guardian Life said we may be in­ter­est­ed. But in­ter­est­ed in what? We have to show them what the project is.”

He said the Gov­ern­ment would have to show those busi­ness­es the prof­itabil­i­ty and vi­a­bil­i­ty of the project “and on­ly then these busi­ness­es would be in a po­si­tion to say how much they are will­ing to in­vest.”

- by Shaliza Hassanali

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