Transparency activist Afra Raymond’s lawsuit over the disclosure of Government’s memorandum of understanding for a proposed Sandals resort in Tobago has been settled.
The case came up for hearing before Justice Frank Seepersad in the San Fernando High Court less than 24 hours after the documents were disclosed to the former president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry on Wednesday.
During the brief hearing, Senior Counsel Deborah Peake informed the court that all the information requested by Raymond had been provided. The move rendered Raymond’s claim academic as he was merely seeking the disclosure of the documents.
As he entered a consent order on behalf of the parties, Seepersad ordered that the State pay Raymond’s legal costs for bringing the lawsuit.
In his claim, filed in October, Raymond was alleging that the Government was unjustified in refusing his requests under the Freedom of Information Act, earlier this year.
Permanent secretary to the Prime Minister Maurice Suite had claimed that the documents could not be disclosed as the agreement, signed with the Jamaican company in October, last year, contained a confidentiality clause.
Raymond was contending that Suite’s decision was illegal, irrational and in breach of procedural fairness and that disclosure was justified in the public interest. He was represented by Kingsley Walesby.
Speaking at a press conference after the disclosure was made on Wednesday, Communications Minister Stuart Young denied that Government had attempted to conceal the deal.
“As the record would reflect, on every single occasion we have informed the people of T&T. This transaction is not a secret transaction,” Young said as he noted that confidentiality clauses are a normal feature of business negotiations.
He noted that the agreement was not legally binding and only sought to assist the parties in ongoing negotiations over the project.
“We are moving to the stage of negotiation of commercial contracts and developmental agreement and other contracts which would flow from that. But until the parties have settled, agreed and executed these commercial agreements there is no definitive project,” Young said.
According to the agreement, the project is initially projected to include two resorts with over 800 rooms on state lands in Buccoo previously owned by CL Financial. The resorts are expected to be built by the Government using private equity financing and would be managed by Sandals.