(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.