Duke takes on Prime Minister  Gonsalves over alleged jab at Tobago
June 14, 2024

Duke takes on Prime Minister Gonsalves over alleged jab at Tobago

The political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots of Tobago, Watson Duke, has sharply criticised Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, for his recent remarks about the Sandals resort projects.

“Mr Ralph Gonsalves, your statements are ill-informed, insensitive, and represent bad politics,” Duke said. “Thank you, Mr Gonsalves, for raising the topic. However, let me correct you: that small hotel you have in St Vincent is no match for what was promised and what will come to Tobago,” he said.

The issue began when Gonsalves, speaking at the launch of the late Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s biography at the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain on Sunday-from Duke’s perspective- seemed to mock Tobago.

In his remarks, Dr Gonsalves spoke of the success of the newly opened US$250 million Sandals Resort in St Vincent, which features 302 rooms, suites, and cabanas. He mentioned that the project was originally intended for Tobago, drawing laughter from the audience.

Duke responded, “What was promised to Tobago was a 750-room Sandals resort, projected to generate over half a billion dollars annually. This is far beyond what currently exists in St Vincent.”

Duke alleged that Gonsalves’ comments might have been influenced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

“While you celebrate your Sandals in St Vincent, I want to address you and your colleague, Dr Rowley. It seems this prompt was a slight towards Tobago. You imply that Tobago should feel slighted that Sandals didn’t come and should be eager to welcome any big hotel. That’s not the case. Every hotel that comes to Tobago will be evaluated based on its merit and potential revenue generation for the people of Tobago.”

Duke said that Tobago welcomes Sandals, but under specific conditions. “Sandals is welcome to the island, but not under the PNM government. Sandals can come to Tobago when we have a government led by Watson Duke. We will negotiate with Sandals to ensure that part of the projected $500 million annual revenue contributes to a sovereign wealth fund for Tobagonians. We will secure the best jobs for Tobagonians in Sandals and ensure fair treatment of all hotels on the island. We will not give Sandals preferential treatment while neglecting our home-grown hotels. Everyone must have equal opportunity in the tourism trade.”

The idea of a Sandals resort in Tobago was first proposed with much enthusiasm, promising to significantly boost the island’s tourism sector and economy. The project envisioned a 750-room luxury resort that would attract international visitors and create job opportunities and financial returns for those on the island.

However, the project faced numerous challenges and controversies from the start.

Concerns about the environmental impact, land acquisition issues, and a lack of transparency in negotiations led to significant public and political pushback. Most of that pushback came from then Tobago House of Assembly minority, Duke and present chief secretary, Farley Augustine.

Additionally, there were fears that the resort might not deliver the promised economic benefits to the local community, but rather, predominantly benefit foreign investors and the government.

In 2020, Sandals Resorts International announced it was pulling out of the proposed Tobago project. The company cited various reasons, including delays and uncertainty in the project’s development.

The then chief secretary, Kelvin Charles had said back then that Sandals’ decision was a significant blow to the hopes of many in Tobago who had anticipated the economic boost the resort would bring. (Trinidad Guardian)