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Camille: Sandals plan still on

Published: 
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Camille Robinson-Regis

There’s still a resort prospect for Tobago—focusing on medical and retiree community tourism—if Sandals Jamaica does really sell out and cannot do Government’s proposed Tobago Sandals plan.

That’s the assurance from Carlton Reis, managing director of Dalco, the largest shareholder in CL FInancial. Reis is the representative of CLF Majority shareholder Lawrence Duprey.

Reis gave the assurance—and detailed CLF’s alternative resort plan immediately following a Reuters report that Sandals Resorts International is exploring “strategic alternatives including potential sale of the company and had hired Deutsche Bank to explore several options, including a sale of a majority stake in the company.

Sandals, which subseqently didn’t confirm or deny the Reuters report, instead stated it’s “exploring options to accelerate the company’s long-term growth and development plans. This is not new. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual.”

Yesterday, Planning Minister Camille Robinson- Regis, when asked if in view of the reports—Government’s Sandals plan was still on, said she hadn’t heard otherwise. OPM Minister, Stuart Young, who is overseas, wasn’t available regarding what implications the reports about Sandals could have for Government’s plan.

Government has been pursuing development of a Tobago Sandals to have the “brand name” locally. The land Sandals wants for the project is part of the Golden Grove estate at Buccoo owned by Clico subsidiaries. Last valuation was (US)$37 million, CLF shareholders said.

CLF shareholders, who’d been pursuing their own tourism plan for the land prior to Government’s initiative, assured they’d shelved it and were supportive of Government’s Sandals projects. They projected Government’s acquisition of the land might assist in eliminating the debt owed by CLF to Government on the 2009 Clico bailout.

Reis said while CLF shareholders are disputing Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s claim the Clico debt from Government’s 2009 bailout of the company is $27.7 billion the group still supports Government’s bid to boost Tobago tourism.

Reis said, “The last contact with Government on the Clico issue was meeting Central Bank in June 2015 and Government around then. We don’t know where Mr Imbert got this $27.7 billion figure from. The last figure we were told was $19.6 billion including Methanol Holding proceeds,” Reis said.

“But we’re still willing to work with Government to facilitate land for a tourism project for Tobago if the Sandals plan falls through. We can re-initiate our previous talks withour foreign investors to develop a medical tourism and retiree haven on our same Buccoo land in Tobago.”

Reis said CLF shareholders, including Duprey, had been speaking to European and Canadian pension plan holders to launch a resort on the Buccoo land, but this was shelved after Government’s Sandals plan was introduced.

“We can present this as an alternative to Government if Sandals doesn’t work out. We’d planned a facility centred around medical tourism—surgery, specialist medical services—and a retiree village catering for foreign and local retirees including Trinis who want to return home from overseas and don’t want Trinidad’s fast-paced environment.”

“Representatives visited Tobago in previous years and saw it as a perfect ‘paradise’ location due to low crime, geographic and other factors. Even now crime in Tobago is relatively lower than Panama and other Caribbean places.”

“This initiative will also create more jobs than a normal hotel resort, since it focuses on medical tourism as well as retirees. There’ll be jobs for doctors, nurses, specialist medical practitioners. Also, T&T has an ageing population —this caters to that need.

Former Clico CEO Claudius Dacon (Majority Shareholders’ representative) also said Finance Minister Colm Imbert made a statement in Parliament that finally shone some light on what has happened to Clico/CLF over the past few years of what they call a ‘rescue’.

He said Imbert’s statement laid bare “the reality that successive administrations have seized the vessel that they claimed to be rescuing. They’ve plundered its contents with immunity and manufactured costs to justify their previous wild claims that Clico was a ‘Ponzi scheme. How else do you explain his revelation that ‘in addition, by April 2017 the Government would have incurred approximately a further $3.2 billion in funding costs, advisor fees and other costs’”

Dacon said the $3b claim meant the situation had turned into a feeding frenzy.

“Clico and CLF are now shown to have been strong companies. So strong in fact, that none of the administrations want to let them go. The rescue stage lasted only two years. We know that from their own limited figures. Everything else is about abusing the assets they should have been holding in safe keeping but chose instead to exploit.”

“This statement of intent by the Minister shows us their motives clearly. They will not return the rescued vehicle until they have wrung every dollar of value out of it. The “rescuer” is proving to be anything but benevolent. The taxpayer should have been repaid for their support five years ago.”

“All policyholders could and should have been made whole. The only reason that hasn’t happened is that the assets are hugely valuable and constitute a company that was uniquely beneficial to the nation. The asset values rose spectacularly as the world came out of its economic crisis from 2010 onwards, as predicted by the former management.”

“Lawrence Duprey was right when he sought financial support to ride out the storm. He was wrong to think the company was being rescued. At least we can thank Minister Imbert for making that clear, after eight years.”