Trinidad PM takes part of blame for Sandals pullout

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley shakes GML senior reporter Shaliza Hassanali’s hand after his Conversations with the Media at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s yesterday.

(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley yes­ter­day ac­cept­ed some re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for San­dals Re­sorts In­ter­na­tion­al pulling out of the To­ba­go ho­tel project.

“If I have to do this all over again I cer­tain­ly will spend more time try­ing to en­sure that the cyn­ics don’t con­trol the air­waves,” he said dur­ing his Con­ver­sa­tion with the Me­dia at the Diplo­mat­ic Cen­tre, St Ann’s.

He said with the high lev­el of cyn­i­cism dis­played, laced with po­lit­i­cal agen­das and mo­tives, there is no chance of San­dals re­turn­ing to our shores.

He said: “They have pulled up their stakes and they have gone.”

Row­ley said the Magde­le­na Grand Beach and Golf Re­sort does not have a brand, so when San­dals of­fered to es­tab­lish a re­sort in To­ba­go, his ad­min­is­tra­tion was very ex­cit­ed.

The fact that San­dals is no longer in the pic­ture could ham­per To­ba­go’s de­vel­op­ment, he said.

Dur­ing yes­ter­day’s three-hour long ses­sion dur­ing which re­porters grilled him on the con­tro­ver­sial project, Row­ley was asked if his Gov­ern­ment was will­ing to ac­cept some re­spon­si­bil­i­ty af­ter they took a year and three months to ne­go­ti­ate a non-bind­ing Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (MOU) with San­dals.

Row­ley in­sist­ed that the MOU did not take months to fi­nalise. How­ev­er, there was a de­lay due to last year’s hur­ri­cane which de­stroyed some of the ho­tel’s projects.

He said Gov­ern­ment had been push­ing for the San­dals Ho­tel and Beach­es Ho­tel at Buc­coo Es­tate, which would have com­prised be­tween 750 to 1,000 rooms, to cre­ate an in­ter­na­tion­al brand for the sis­ter isle.

“So if it has not come to fruition we have to take some re­spon­si­bil­i­ty be­cause we did not set out to fail. We were not giv­ing San­dals any­thing,” he said.

The Prime Min­is­ter said with San­dals no longer in the pic­ture, To­ba­go will no longer be su­per at­trac­tive for in­vestors, but his ad­min­is­tra­tion will keep on do­ing what has to be done, hop­ing to achieve the re­sults they are look­ing for. He ad­mit­ted that he was dis­ap­point­ed when he heard the news, while oth­ers were ex­cit­ed.

Row­ley al­so agreed that the pop­u­la­tion did not buy in­to the project and that Gov­ern­ment’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions was some­times seen as pro­pa­gan­da.

“Clear­ly, if the Gov­ern­ment had done enough there wouldn’t be any­body say­ing that there is a neg­a­tive on this project. But clear­ly, you have peo­ple say­ing that. There is al­ways room to try and con­vince oth­er peo­ple,” he said.

How­ev­er, he as­sured that all is not lost and oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ties will be sought for To­ba­go’s tourism thrust.

“This is not go­ing to set us back,” he said.

Dur­ing the ses­sion, Row­ley claimed the me­dia had been fed wrong in­for­ma­tion on San­dals by dif­fer­ent quar­ters, in­clud­ing the Op­po­si­tion and he crit­i­cised them for pub­lish­ing it as gospel. He said even be­fore San­dals did any­thing in To­ba­go they were faced with bad press.

He al­so took sev­er­al jabs at Op­po­si­tion Leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar for say­ing that the project was mired in con­tro­ver­sy, lacked prop­er pro­cure­ment and ac­count­abil­i­ty and was a big se­cret.

“The coun­try has been lied to for so long by many of those who are in the fore­front try­ing to give you ad­vice . . . that when you get the truth you don’t know how to han­dle it. With this Gov­ern­ment, what you see is what you get,” he said.

Al­though San­dals’ CEO Geb­hard Rain­er has said the com­pa­ny may re­turn to To­ba­go once the en­vi­ron­ment is right, Row­ley said giv­en the way things have un­fold­ed, he does not see them as a fu­ture prospect.

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