The revelation by Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis that the body spent $32 million of taxpayers' money in 2015 to acquire two hotels, Manta Lodge and Sanctuary Villas, without even a feasibility study being conducted must be disturbing for all citizens.
Responding to questions posed by the Sunday Guardian, Mr Dennis said, “While a feasibility study was not conducted, we were guided by the growing number of visitors seeking the dive experience.”
The Chief Secretary spoke following a series of articles by this newspaper over the last month highlighting tens of millions of dollars being spent by the THA on projects that were either never completed, or, in the case of the purchase of the two hotels, have become nothing short of white elephants.
The hotels have never welcomed a guest since their purchase and are at present the home of bats and rodents.
In addition, the bill to maintain security at the premises has meant that in real terms, it has actually cost the country close to $40 million. Further, with the announcement that work will soon begin to get the properties in order, the former owner estimates it will cost another $10 million to get Manta Lodge alone ready to welcome visitors.
The THA is a creature of the Constitution and it has clear power under the THA Act.
The devolution of power to the people of Tobago is necessary to deal with the peculiarities of an island separated from the larger part of the country by sea and therefore with its inherent challenges.
The THA under law also gets a defined part of the annual budget which it must spend on administrating and developing the island. It therefore has and must continue to enjoy significant autonomy in the administration of the island.
But with responsibility comes accountability and a recognition that taxpayers' money must be spent with care and not in a profligate manner.
To be sure, the Central Government has its own shortcomings, as do regional corporations and various state bodies and the evidence is borne out in numerous reports of the Auditor General and the various Parliamentary committees. But what is also clear is that the THA has a problem that cannot continue to be ignored.
To invest tens of millions of dollars in two properties with no feasibility study on whether the hotels can be profitable and no experience in successfully running and managing such properties is cavalier.
Add to this the numerous other decisions that have cost millions more, including the shelved canopy project, challenges with the Tobago Jazz festival, including the alleged payment to an artist who never showed, millions missing for payment for airlift and the list goes on.
The THA may be a creature of the Constitution but its office holders are accountable to the taxpayers of both Trinidad and Tobago.
It is not a law unto itself.