Duke knocks St Vincent PM over Sandals

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PDP political leader Watson Duke. –

Political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) and THA Assemblyman for Roxborough/Argyle Watson Duke has criticised St Vincent’s Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, for his recent remarks about the scrapped Sandals resort project in Tobago.

Gonsalves spoke at the launch of a biography of late prime minister Patrick Manning at the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port of Spain on June 9.

Among other things, he said: “It is part of life’s irony that (St Vincent’s) very international airport has facilitated the construction of the recently opened US$250 million five-star Sandals with 302 rooms, suites and cabanas, environmentally friendly – originally intended for Tobago.”

In January 2019, Sandals announced it would be pulling out of the proposed Tobago project at Buccoo and Golden Grove estates. The project was heavily criticised by the PDP and other stakeholders over environmental and economic concerns. There was also complaints over the terms of a memorandum of understanding between Sandals and the Government.

At a press conference, Sandals CEO Gebhard Rainer said negotiations were off because of negative publicity surrounding the project. Calling it an “unfortunate announcement,” Rainer said the decision to withdraw from the project was based on “really the constant and negative publicity and media coverage we have received the last two and a half years since the inception of the project.”

Duke described Gonsalves’s comment on Sunday as a gibe at Tobagonians.

“Mr Ralph Gonsalves, your statements are ill-informed, insensitive and bad politics. You cannot come to TT and try to mock Tobagonians or jeer Tobagonians.”

He said what was promised to Tobago was a 750-room Sandals and it would have produced an estimated revenue of over half a billion dollars annually. This, he said, was nothing like what exists in St Vincent.

“So while you are celebrating your Sandals in St Vincent, I want to say to you and your colleague Dr Rowley – who I believe may have been behind this prompt – he wants Tobago to feel slighted that Sandals didn’t come, and to welcome every single big hotel. Every hotel that comes to Tobago would be taken on its merit and the potential revenue-generation for the people of Tobago.”

Sandals, he said, is welcome in Tobago.

“But we do not want Sandals under the PNM government. We are saying that Sandals need to come to Tobago when we have a government led by Watson Solomon Duke. We are going to negotiate with Sandals and ensure that part of that revenue generated by Sandals – that potential $500 million revenue per year – goes towards what we call a sovereign wealth fund for Tobago.”

He added: “We will ensure that Tobago will get some of the best jobs in Sandals. We want the best jobs.

“We will ensure that Sandals is not treated unreasonably well compared to other hotels that exist. (But) there must be equity, and our home-grown hotels must be treated as fairly as Sandals would be treated. We are not giving Sandals a golden spoon and give our people steel to eat. Everybody must be afforded an equal opportunity to ply the tourism trade.”

After Sandals pulled out in 2019, Duke took credit for the decision, saying, “Tobago says thanks for pulling out and for saving our wetlands, from turning our people on the island into bell boys and bell girls and water fetchers.”