The Chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber, Martin George has revealed that wastage in Tobago has been occurring for years.
Speaking in an interview on CNC3’s the Morning Brew, George said: “They have a long history, a rich history of doing these kinds of things.”
George was speaking in light of an article published in the Sunday Business Guardian, which highlighted the years of wastage by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), particularly the Division of Tourism during 2012 to 2016.
During that time present political leader of the Tobago Council of the PNM was the Secretary of Tourism and Transportation.
It also comes on the heels of confusion surrounding the $50 million grant to hoteliers, as many are calling on the THA officials to say how they intend to utilise the funds.
According to George, the THA did not only waste $32 million in 2015 to purchase two properties, Sanctuary Villa at Black Rock and Manta Lodge, a Dive Villa at Speyside. He said that this was also done with the Richmond Great House, where investments were made that never materialised. George said: “Let’s not forget that. They invested in that—that was also supposed to be turned into a tourism facility—that also failed.”
According to George, there has always been the issue as to whether governing bodies, such as the THA, which would be the representative of Central government—“whether they themselves should get so directly involved in an industry of which they know nothing.”
George, who is also a practising attorney, noted that there was no precedence for the THA to believe that it was capable of running hotels effectively when the previous owners, who have had experience and history, failed to do so.
He suggested that financial assistance in the form of a loan guarantee would have been more feasible, where the owner would continue to run the property but has the responsibility to pay back the loan.
However, Diane Hadad, who was also interviewed on the topic, said that the properties had already owed the banks a lot of money. As a result the banks were hesitant to do more business with the then owners.
According to Hadad, who is Chairman of the Tobago Chapter of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (T&T Chamber), the THA’s seriousness about tourism was displayed to the private sector when it took over the two properties.
Hadad indicated that she was the head of the Tobago Chamber at that time in 2015, where government and the private sector were all on board to change the whole island’s landscape around its economy by enhancing the tourism product.
She said after multiple hundreds of meetings, and even producing a document called “Let’s invigorate Tobago”, nothing materialised and the private sector got despondent.
“This is why the private sector is so hesitant and very reluctant to go to meetings and say that they are working for these people anymore because of all of these experiences,” said Hadad. She added that the current revelations are not all, and that “there are a lot of other stories that we can give you to add to the list”.