I am writing before Prime Minister Dr Rowley makes a statement at the post-cabinet press conference on Thursday however, I feel that we may never know if the T&T Government has been honest about the background to the Sandals pullout.
From the recent press conference, we know that mega-minister Mr Stuart Young and the Sandals CEO, Mr Gebhard Rainier, blamed negative publicity which Young attributed to "a handful of people, some with agendas and some with personal agendas".
But suppose the real reason is that the Government on its own volition and not Sandals decided to withdraw from the deal following the revelations in the October 2017 Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and Sandals Resorts?
Let us remember that Afra Raymond had to dig out the MOU via the Freedom of Information Act, following a ruling from the Privy Council.
Remember also that immediately prior to the press conference there was a closed-door meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Minister Young, Sandals CEO Rainer and Sandals deputy chairman Adam Stewart at the Prime Minister's residence. What was the real agenda at that meeting?
As Raymond was reported to have said in a January 15, 2019, newspaper article, headlined "Negative publicity not real reason for Sandals pullout"—"When the MOU was finally revealed after my lawsuit, the terms were shown to be lawful with the State making all the capital investment, no guarantees or quotas as to jobs, suppliers or services, Government agreeing to promptly provide as many work permits; transfer pricing was being facilitated via this agreement and Sandals was placing no capital at risk. None. It was really Tobago love."
Prior to now, there was a December 10, 2018 article headlined "Sandals or laced up boots" written by Mr Reginald Dumas, former diplomat and head of the Public Service.
Dumas wrote, "the privileges accorded Sandals almost suggest that a new state is being created within the State of T&T. For instance, the Government is to "extend applicable benefits…to be negotiated and agreed between the parties to 'associated' and/or 'affiliated' companies of Sandals and also to named non-resident consultants, contractors (etc) engaged by Sandals for all or any purposes relating to the operation, expansion…and maintenance of the resorts…" Is transfer mispricing thereby facilitated?
"Also, Sandals "will have the option to extend the terms (of agreements entered into with the Government) for…15 years (beyond) the initial 25…" I see no such option for the Government. Is there one? And if Sandals changes status from Management Company to "owner of the freehold to the (hotels)", it will enjoy "incentives and tax reliefs…no less favourable than those granted (in the MoU)." No ifs, no buts."
If I am right, the statements made about the withdrawal fall within the mindset of the current administration which treats any criticism as "unpatriotic", another way of rebuking the public for being "farse and outa place" when the public was just "minding their own business"!
In other words, the PNM is taking up the directive of the first prime minister and founder of the PNM, Dr Eric Williams who said words to the effect, "when I speak, let no dog bark".
This Government takes no responsibility for what has happened with the Sandals fiasco and we are none the wiser.