In her contribution to the 2013 budget debate on October 10 the Prime Minister spoke about an arrangement for the construction of an aquatic centre that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) was discussing with a company called Zoit Developers Ltd. She pointed to a number of apparent shortcomings in the arrangement — there had been no public tender invitation; the company's proposal was unsolicited; the company itself had been incorporated only a little more than two months before it submitted its proposal; the consultant hired by the THA had had reservations about the proposal; and so on. But there is one thing she didn't say; perhaps she didn't know.
Zoit (together, it would seem, with Firstline Securities Ltd), submitted its proposal to the THA on January 25, 2012 for, among other things, the "design and construction of (an) aquatic centre and indoor sporting facility" and for the "lease of lands situated at Bacolet from the (THA) for the said purpose…" (I assume that the THA has a clear and unchallengeable title to the lands in question. I assume also that the fledgling company has extensive prior experience in the construction of such facilities).
But what has now reached me – these documents just keep turning up in my mailbox — is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the THA and UDeCOTT for the execution of several projects in Tobago, among them an aquatic centre and indoor sports complex in Bacolet. And when is the MoU dated and signed? December 22, 2011.
Let me get this straight. Is it that both UDeCOTT and Zoit are to build the same facilities in the same location? Why and with whose money? Not the taxpayers', surely? How does the THA receive from Zoit a letter of introduction dated December 13, 2011, sign an MoU with UDeCOTT on December 22, receive from Zoit a proposal dated January 25, 2012, and write Zoit on July 13 stating that "the (THA) Executive Council (has decided) that a letter of interest be issued to (you)", all on the identical project? These things confuse my poor brain. An old man like me shouldn't be put through the wringer this way, or at all. May I therefore once more ask the THA to clarify? And this time, would they please answer?
In her budget debate intervention, and in her speech to a political rally in Tobago three days later, the PM also spoke about the Shirvan office accommodation arrangement that the THA has entered into. I had previously written three articles on the matter and was planning to write at least three more, using the documentation I have received. But the PM largely pre-empted me. Not completely, however. (Though now litigation is in the air, and I shall have to be more circumspect than ever.)
I don't recall the PM saying that in his report of April 19, 2011 the THA consultant expressed a number of concerns about a project proposal of January 2011 from Amera Caribbean Development Ltd, which he described as the "the Developer". (It's easy to get lost in the maze of companies involved.)
Nor do I recall her saying either that the profit then envisaged by the Developer was $17.6 million of a total building cost of $143.2 million, or that the THA would apparently have to make provision for furniture, furnishings, and equipment (FF and E), since all it would be getting at the end of construction would be a bare building, a shell. (Which it would have to maintain, pay insurance on, etc.)
But the PM did say in Tobago that at the end of the building lease period of 20 years, the building would not become the property of the THA but would remain in the possession of the Developer. That makes no sense to me, but it's also what the document I have indicates. It says too that the annual rent could go up, but never go down; it would never be less than $14,379,499.32 plus VAT. That works out at more than $330 million that the THA, I mean the taxpayer, would have to pay the Developer over 20 years. I can't fathom all this. I must have the wrong document. Could the THA please help?
Oh yes, you must be wondering what "bolo" is. As Boxu Potts can tell you, it's a boxing term. Specifically, it's a damaging punch perfected by the late Kid Gavilán of Cuba, who used to say he got the wide-arc, uppercut action from the way he would swing his arm while cutting cane as a youth in his homeland. The punch often knocked out his opponents. Many years later it was used, also to excellent advantage, by Sugar Ray Leonard of the US. A lethal tool: both men became world welterweight champions.
Now the term acquires new meaning. If BOLT translates as Build-Own (and or Operate)-Lease-Transfer, and if there is now to be no transfer by the owner to the lessee who has paid over $330 million, what we in fact have is a BOLO: Build-Own-Lease-Own.
Will BOLO be a bolo? If so, which bobolee will be on the receiving end of the blow? Not the taxpayer, surely?
• Reginald Dumas is a former
ambassador and former head of the Public Service
The Michael Harris
column returns next month