As is well known, Manhattan, New York City—home of Wall Street and some of the most expensive real estate in the world—is an island. The Dutch bought it in 1626 from the First Peoples who were the occupiers at the time.
It is uncertain what or how the Dutch paid but they did not use formal currency. The popular folklore says that they paid in beads and trinkets worth US$24. There is also a letter written by a Dutchman evidencing payment in some goods worth a little over US$1,000 by today’s values.
The Manhattan purchase is a vivid example of inequality in bargaining power. There is a respectable view that Caribbean islands needing tourism suffer from inequality of bargaining power and that they trade prize beach locations for the use of international flagship names on a new resort for very little.
Typically, the island government leases the land and bears the full cost of building the resort. This is a heavy capital investment and the flagship takes no capital risk, meaning that the potential loss of all or part of the capital invested if the resort project fails or does not sufficiently meet its projections, falls on the government.
Typically also, the flagship’s formal connection with the project is a contract to manage the resort on advantageous terms whereby its management fees are a preferential call on revenues earned by the resort. The island government also runs the risk that the flagship may pull out from the resort as happened with the resort in Tobago, now known as the Magdalena Grand.
The benefits of employment at the resort and the supply of goods and services, have of course to be considered as a benefit accruing to the island. However, given the capital invested and the business risk taken by the island, these benefits may come at a cost out of proportion to their worth.
In reality, the government may be subsidising these benefits with inadequate protection against a pull out by the flagship.
I am raising the regional problem of beads (symbolic of non currency benefits), beaches and business risk in the aftermath of the announcement that Sandals will not be pursuing a high profile project in Tobago. I will be surprised if raising these issues can be categorised as ‘treachery’, a lack of ‘patriotism’ or ‘naysaying’.
It also needs to be said that these issues are not invalid points for debate and re-assurance because only a ‘handful’ of persons raise them. Frequently, only a handful of people have the expertise and experience to recognise the flaws in a business case or the guts to put forward alternative business cases.
Likewise, however vigorously these issues are pursued along with the environmental ones, their pursuit cannot be dismissed merely as ‘negative publicity’ as though freedom of thought and expression must be diluted to suit the advancement of a business case by a particular individual or corporation.
When the people’s assets and taxpayer money are involved, communities must be won over, not bludgeoned.
Some of these considerations of what and how government announcements are to be received apply with equal force to the announcement that the government has ‘allocated’ TT$142million for Carnival 2019.
For what purpose and for what returns is this investment being made? Who will be the beneficiaries of the payout? Does this sum include the cost of items such as overtime for our police who keep the peace and of cleaning up public spaces?
These questions cry out for answers, particularly as the Minister of Tourism—with admirable candour—stated that government investment in Carnival as a tourism product had failed.
Is any of this money being allocated to the shambles that Panorama has become? For years I have advocated that Panorama must lead to a final that puts prime bands in prime time rather than annual endurance tests of ‘shows’ that go on for unbearably long hours.
Finally, someone of stature in a prime band has spoken out. I refer to the remarks by Junia Regrello of Skiffle, who is also Mayor of San Fernando, concerning the ‘abuse’ of Panorama, a subject to which I intend to return.