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Dr Vanus James

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One Tobagonian economist has alleged that the process surrounding the acquisition of Manta Lodge and Sanctuary Villas was unstructured, unsound and was not done to enhance Tobago’s economy.

In an interview with Guardian Media, Economist Dr Vanus James said: “The purchase of Manta Lodge and Sanctuary, they were done to help out friends. They were not part of a structured programme to invest in the development of the hotel plan in Tobago.”

This comes after the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Ancil Dennis, revealed to the Sunday Guardian that no feasibility study was done before the hotels were purchased in 2015.

Responding to questions posed by the Sunday Guardian, Dennis said, “While a feasibility study was not conducted, we were guided by the growing number of visitors seeking the dive experience.”

It has so far cost close to $40 million of taxpayers’ dollars to purchase and maintain the hotels which, to date, have not welcomed a single visitor and is instead the home to bats and rodents. The THA had originally revealed that the properties were purchased in 2015 for $32 million. The cost has now escalated by more than 20 per cent or $7.05 million as there has been ongoing payment for security and maintenance work since its purchase five years ago.

James indicated, that a plan was supposed to be immediately put in place to put the hotels to good use after the purchase. He said: “You can’t just have them there for years, just languishing.”

According to James the THA went about in a “quasi-corrupt way to buy the plant” when the proper thing to do was to put a plan together after purchasing the hotels on how they could be integrated into the tourism stock of the island.

Also speaking to GML was Chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber, Martin George who articulated, “The sad and sorry tale of waste and squandermania and unparalleled unaccountability and lack of transparency with spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars seems to continue unabated in the Tobago House of Assembly.”

George expressed that as the revelations continue to pile up concerning the questionable purchases of two resort properties by the THA, they never seem to be justified in the public’s interest.

He argued that the THA, which has no experience, no track record in being a tourism hospitality operator was illogical in its processing to think and even conceive that it would have the ability, the means and the wherewithal to run these hotels profitably. This is especially critical, according to George, since the former operators who had been familiar with the industry and plants could not make a profit and went into receivership.

Since there was no feasibility study done, George admitted that all that occurred wasted. He said, “All that was achieved was money spent, money wasted, and then more money on top of that wasted on security—you know, running into millions of dollars again to guard buildings that are deteriorating and running down on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, when James was asked about the introduction of the Tourism Task Force mentioned by the Finance Minster, he said: “I have no great expectations for any of these announcements made by government.”

James expressed that the government has not been governing by hearing what the public wants —but rather, it is just doing what it wants.