3238783
Members of the public exercise at the Nelson Mandela Park yesterday.

BOBIE-LEE DIXON

(bobie-lee [email protected])

The proposed transformation of the historic Nelson Mandela Park into a ‘Public “Wellness and Sports Tourism Hub,” is about progress and forward-thinking.

These were the words of Port-of-Spain Deputy Mayor Hillan Morean at the July 26 public virtual consultation, which were reiterated by mayor at last Friday’s Statutory Meeting of the Port-of-Spain City Council.

This comes on the heels of some stakeholders expressing their displeasure with this move.

On social media, users of the age-old public park have indicated being in favour of preserving the historic space, while the former Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing has said the transformation would be the “beginning of an all-out attack on the freedom of use, associated with the 26 parks and squares across the city.”

But despite this, Martinez said the feedback from that consultation was constructive.

“Participants willingly provided feedback on the proposed changes. We were able to receive some very constructive information and criticism as to the development of the park,” said Martinez

Speaking on the proposal, Martinez said it was the first time in a long time, the corporation had been able to put a proposal to the citizens of Port-of-Spain regarding its plans on transforming the landscape and great spaces in the capital city

The 18-long page proposal for the $20 million project, obtained by Guardian Media, which is not yet officially published—speaks repeatedly about the benefit such a facility would afford the “at risk,” however, at the same time it speaks of privatising the facility through a public, private partnership (PPP), which former Joint Consultative Council (JCC) president Afra Raymond said can actually work against this demographic.

Raymond said, “Privatisation and (PPP), can have the effect of limiting or ending the access to public facilities for poorer citizens, so we need to have solid guarantees of rights to access, regardless of income…of course, that kind of approach is contrary to a model which relies on paying customers or groups.”

While the specific cost was not included in the proposal, a charge to use the facility was highlighted and access to the facility would require users to book online via an online schedule and booking system, which the proposal noted was already existing for certain sporting activities at the park, namely, netball, tennis, and basketball.

Speaking on the commercial elements of the PPP, Raymond said, “This species of project can appear attractive because no public investment is required up-front and seemingly no ongoing recurrent payments by the public sector either. With improved facilities being created, it can all resemble a win-win-win scenario. But the perennial issue with the Public-Private Partnership approach is the question of risk-transfer.”

Explaining he said, “In simple terms if the project fails to meet its targets, who pays that gap? Will the State guarantee the private sector rate of return? If not, well tell us so, because that would be a big improvement over the PPPs we have had in the past here, many of which are essentially ‘take-or-pay’ models. If the State is paying to guarantee the private sector rate of return, what risk have those investors actually taken, apart from the political gamble?”

With the consultation having taken place only on July 26, and Martinez calling for final public comment on or before midnight on August 1–yesterday Raymond said the largest stakeholder—the public, needed greater consultation.

“I understand that this is an unsolicited proposal, which means that it is being considered in a non-competitive situation. A project of this significance needs to be widely advertised to attract the fullest possible participation and exchanges,” said Raymond.

He said, if the Port-of-Spain City Corporation Council (POSCC) had decided facilities like Mandela Park needed revitalisation, it would be interesting to know on what basis that decision was made.

With the proposal not yet officially published, Raymond questioned what really were stakeholders expected to comment on.

“Is this an error, an oversight or are public officials being obtuse with us? Is the Port-of-Spain City Council intentionally concealing this proposal? It is no small irony that this is the Nelson Mandela Park and that the final day for public comments is on the Emancipation Holiday,” Raymond said.

The former JCC boss said the issue of fake consultations remains a long-term and valid concern, which was particularly noted as the 17th recommendation of the 2009 UFF Report.

That recommendation stated the following: “User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made.”