straight to the point – from different points of view

In anticipation of the next THA election

In anticipation of the next THA election

After more than a decade we should be able to judge a ruling administration with some degree of certainty. With an election due in Tobago in less than a month, now is a time to do just that. I have written extensively about matters at the Tobago House of Assembly during that period and have a clear view of what we should expect from this administration in the event that they are returned to power. We cannot say that we don’t know what to expect.

So today I propose to discuss the actions and utterances of the ruling PNM regime over that period and to reflect what they tell us about a continuation of their reign. That will speak very eloquently as to what we should expect from them in the future.

This is a very short list of matters that should concern any voter:

  • Tourism track record
  • Virgin Atlantic and Jazz singer
  • Auditor General comments
  • Project choices
  • Digitization

To make sense of what follows it is helpful to cast a keen eye on the sums of money spent by this administration and their predecessor over the years so here it is.

YearRecurrentDevelopmentTotal
2002598.5110.3708.8
2003638.9104.1743.0
2004734.1166.5900.6
2005822.9200.01022.9
20061075.4160.11235.5
20071324.4315.71640.1
20081398.9362.41761.3
20091592.6400.01992.6
20101470.5301.01771.5
20111651.1308.41959.5
20121861.1318.92180.0
20131987.0350.02337.0
20142095.2363.22458.4
20152201.8384.42586.2
20162345.0403.82748.8
20172045.0288.62333.6
20181860.0315.62175.6
20192033.0239.42272.4
20202022.8343.32366.1

Tourism track record

During the past decade tourist arrivals to Tobago fell to less than 20% of what they were at the start. And that was before the onset of COVID19. Yet we are told that a significant driver for a prosperous Tobago is to be tourism.

Over the period more than a billion dollars has been spent on tourism promotion. Now we have even harsher competitive conditions because of COVID19 should we not ask what chances do we have of success with this regime?

Even before we engage in any serious consultation, we are told that they intend to proceed with a 1200 million dollar expansion of the airport. Airport terminals worldwide are being shuttered. This regime is not even considering a review of our plans.

Here is my suggestion. Reduce the size of the upgrade to match expectations over the next ten years. Use the money saved to upgrade the sea ports in both Scarborough and Port of Spain to better serve the local tourist market which has already been identified as having the most growth potential in the medium term.

Their track record speaks for itself. Any promises in the tourism sector should be viewed in relation to the 80% decline over the last decade when times were much better for the industry and all our regional competitors were expanding.

Virgin Atlantic and Jazz singer

We had two troubling situations regarding payments to Virgin Atlantic and singer D’Angelo. In the first case 8 million dollars was wired from THA accounts supposedly to pay Virgin Atlantic. Virgin never received the money and it is believed that THA made a subsequent further payment to settle with Virgin.

With D’Angelo, a down payment was made for him to perform at the Jazz Festival but he failed to show up. The money was never recovered despite promises by leaders at the THA that the matter would be resolved.

In both cases, THA has not seen it fit to inform citizens of progress with these troubling matters. We the citizens are no wiser. Worse than that, we only found out about the Virgin matter through a leak from a member of staff. In a quite remarkable response the then Chief Secretary directed his anger at the leaker and not at finding and dealing with the culprit(s). This approach to leakers or mischief makers as another Secretary called them is meant to ensure that we are kept in the dark about any other such matters, of which most citizens are convinced there are many.

Auditor General comments

To the best of my knowledge THA has not had a clean audit in more than 10 years. In some of those years the report of the Auditor General was so bad that they failed to venture an opinion on the state of the accounts. On the spectrum of qualifications that an audited entity could get that is off the charts.

Despite this, the Chief Secretary, on air, argued that THA accepts no blame for the failed audits. His pathetic claim is that the Auditor General was the one at fault. A more ridiculous and insincere excuse is hard to imagine. He claimed that the Auditor General was short staffed and failed to do their job.

Even that excuse fails on several grounds. Firstly if that were the case the Auditor General would say so. The statement she made was clear. The accounts and supporting records as presented were incapable of being audited. Secondly I had a look at some of the reports. The recurring theme was one of missing or inadequate documents. That included missing bank statements and lack of documents to validate assets shown in the accounts. The simple undeniable fact is that this administration has failed to account to the Auditor General for all the money listed earlier.

I should also note that the administration likes to claim that the Auditor General has found no corruption and that therefore their hands are clean. It means nothing of the sort. An auditor’s job is not to seek out corrupt practice per se. That would be in the remit of an internal auditor or a forensic auditor. Even if they were looking for corruption it would be near impossible when documents are being withheld as a matter of course.

Project choices

With all the money that was made available to the administration over the past decade, it is difficult to understand the choices that were made as to where and how that money was spent. The road to Charlotteville provides a great example. At Turpin’s corner there have been regular fatal accidents down the years. There was even the army truck that crashed a few years ago with more than a dozen soldiers on board.

THA has found money to purchase Manta Lodge Hotel and spend 1 million dollars per year for five years just keeping it there wasting away. They did the same with Sanctuary Villas and countless others. Yet that dangerous and life taking bend remains unattended to. Just last month there was an accident where fortunately there were no casualties. This illogic has spanned a decade with no change in sight.

I could list several other costly projects that deliver no financial or societal value of note but you probably get the point. If we are to progress we need people who perform better when choosing projects to finance. Tobago can do much better with the resources at its disposal.

Digitization

Alongside the tourism thrust, digitization is seen as critical to the island’s future. The sad fact is that nothing is being shared with the public about the road ahead for digitization. In that scenario Tobago should be striking out boldly in pursuit of all the benefits that accrue from digitization. I get the sense that as always, we are waiting to take a lead from Trinidad.

Besides not being able to wait any longer, we should understand that digitization is not only about how we deliver services. Digitization, done properly mostly with local input creates a massive export opportunity. Just look at Estonia and their world leadership in digitization of public services. Tobago can do the same with the visionary leadership that Estonia showed from 2005 or thereabouts.

Sadly I see little sign that this administration is capable of such visionary thinking. With them still in place we know that it will not happen. Do we have leaders that could grasp the nettle?

A short journey through ur experiences with this administratin should tell you all you need to know about what to expect during another four years of their leadership, should that be the case.

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