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