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Link sports tourism with local culture
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Make Tobago the go-to vacation destination…

Tobago is expecting to earn $37 million from a major sport tourism event the island launched last week Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel in Port-of-Spain.

The event will see some former great players who recently played in the English Premier League, like French International Louis Saha and Dwight Yorke, come to Tobago and strap up their boots to play in the British Airways Tobago Legends Tournament. 

Part of this money will be direct spend from the hundreds of visitors expected on the island for the tournament and media value from a 90-minute special documentary on the island that United Kingdom-based Skye Sports will produce and show as part of the overall deal to bring the event to the Tobago.

It is the first time the event is being played in Tobago and it will take place at the Dwight Yorke Stadium. It will be preceded on June 19, 2015, by Dwight Yorke’s day of golf at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort.

Dr Acolla Lewis-Cameron, co-ordinator of the Tourism Hospitality and Sport Unit at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, told the Business Guardian the event is an excellent opportunity for Tobago to sell the entire destination, not just the tournament.

She said the island already has experience in sport tourism and this is likely to help its organisation and marketing of the event.

“When I think of Tobago and sport tourism, it is clear there are several opportunities the island can explore. Tobago has several advantages. The first is that already it hosts several sporting events, like the Great Race, fishing tournaments, the Tobago Cycling Classic, and this year it also hosted the triathlon. Next year, the island will host British Airways Tobago Legends Tournament. Some of these sporting events—like the game fishing, cycling and great race—have international appeal and so the island is well positioned in this respect,” Lewis-Cameron said.

The university lecturer said the timing was right because although the Caribbean has been talking for a while now about sport tourism, “no destination stands out as the go-to destination and there is a niche there to be owned and potential to be maximised.”

Lewis-Cameron said the British Airways Legends Tournament needs to be sold as a package that offers not just the tickets to the matches, but also tours.

“Of course, there is the big potential to bring to visitors to the island and to use this event as opportunity to sell other aspects of the tourism product. Traditionally, people come to events and they take part in those specific events and not experience the entire destination. We have to pursue experiential tourism that will allow the visitor to say go to Bloody Bay and learn how to bake bread in a dirt oven; this can be part of the experience.”

Tracey Davidson Celestine, secretary for tourism and transportation, said tourism is the biggest contributor to the Tobago economy and the largest employer of people other than the Tobago House of Assembly.

“Tourism is the largest sector in the Tobago economy that is driven by the private sector. Its growth and development benefit all Tobagonians because of the multiplier effect of each tourist dollar. It is why this tournament will not only raise the brand of Tobago and bring in large numbers of visitors, but it will also allow the ordinary Tobagonian to benefit. It will mean more work for the taxi-drivers, for the roadside vendors, for the restaurateurs and the hoteliers.”

Davidson said the tournament was part of a concerted effort to develop Tobago’s tourism product and the hard work has begun to pay off with increases in international arrivals and promising signs for this year’s winter holiday period. 

S&P says T&T banks exposed to mortgages
Banks relax lending standards
Thursday, October 23, 2014

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, which scores 86 banking systems across the globe under its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA) methodology, awarded T&T a BICRA score of 5, suggesting that T&T’s banking industry can be considered to be of “medium risk” compared to the other rated banking systems across the globe.

The BICRA scores were released by Caribbean credit rating agency, CariCRIS on Monday (Oct 20). S&P’s range goes from 1 (lowest risk) to 10 (highest risk). Countries with a score of 1 include Canada and Switzerland. Other countries with a score of 5 include Colombia, Panama, China and Turkey. Countries whose banking systems are considered to be riskier than T&T include Ireland, Jamaica, Venezuela and Greece. S&P classified the banking sector of T&T as “A/Stable/A-1” in group 5 under its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA). Other countries in group 5 are Colombia, Panama, China, and Turkey. S&P’s bank criteria use BICRA economic risk and industry risk scores to determine a bank’s anchor, the starting point in assigning an issuer credit rating. S&P said the anchor for banks operating only in T&T is “bbb- ” which is the lowest notch in investment grade.

“Trinidadian banks benefit from operating in a country with a historically solid fiscal and external position. We believe that T&T’s stable political and macro-economic framework, reflected in the A/Stable/ A-1 sovereign rating, also supports its economic resilience.”

The offsetting factor is the economy’s heavy dependence on the energy sector, S&P said. “T&T has a stable political environment, although its domestic institutions still lack the sophistication of more developed economies,” S&P said. “The two main political parties share essentially the same economic view, creating a stable environment for foreign direct investment.”

S&P said the “heavily managed exchange rate” constrains monetary flexibility. Credit growth has been recovering mostly due to stronger growth of mortgage lending, despite still sluggish economic performance, S&P said. The rating agency said: “However, we consider that a somewhat higher loan concentration in the real estate sector poses risk.

Also, in our view, payment culture and rule of law are weak.” Although the banking sector has remained stable during the past few years, S&P believes that the high market share of government- related entities create market distortions. 

“Currently, deposits comfortably fund the sector, and the excess liquidity in the economy results in the banking sector’s external creditor position,” S&P said. T&T’s banks’ risk stable S&P views the T&T banking sector’s economic risk as stable. Although the economy has been growing thanks to recovery of the energy sector, other sectors of the economy are growing at a slower pace. S&P’s projections assume that the GDP will grow at 2.5 per cent to 3.0 per cent in 2014, with the caveat that projecting energy output and prices is inherently uncertain.

“We expect the country to remain in a net external asset position in the coming years, thanks to persistent current account surpluses. While we expect sound credit growth for the next two years and lower delinquency as economic activity improves, we believe that the banking sector’s exposure to the real estate sector will remain high,” S&P said.

Industry risk trend is also stable. In S&P’s view, T&T will likely continue to introduce financial reforms to gradually align with international regulatory standards. S&P expects excess liquidity risks to slightly lessen as credit continues growing.

GDP per capita was US$19,087 at the end of 2013, but it is still below the pre-2009 level, S&P said. “Although GDP per capita is relatively high, we are applying a ‘-1’ notch adjustment, as we believe that the country’s GDP and wealth growth are driven mainly by energy revenues,” S&P said.

S&P said its economic outlook for the country is better, with an expected GDP growth of 2 per cent to 3 per cent through 2015. “The increase in exploration activities in the oil and gas sector in recent years should maintain energy production for the coming decade, contributing to economic growth,” S&P said.

Why all the liquidity S&P said credit growth stagnated during the 2009 recession, but during the prior five years, lending to the private sector had grown on average of 17.8 per cent annually.

Despite lower interest rates, economic uncertainty and weaker private sector confidence have hampered credit demand and increased liquidity among commercial banks.

Credit began to recover in the fourth quarter of 2011 as lending for businesses and mortgages picked up. The mortgage volume continued to grow even during periods of overall credit contraction as customers took advantage of lower interest rates, S&P said. Mortgage loans, which grew about 12 per cent in 2013, have been “the main engine” behind credit growth, S&P said.

While credit from commercial banks to the private sector grew only by 1 per cent on an annual average between 2010 and November 2013, the average annual consumer mortgage lending growth was 9 per cent, according to S&P. “There is certain rigidity in T&T real estate market prices, but this has not been the case for high-end properties whose prices dropped during the recession. As a significant proportion of real estate loans are allocated to these types of properties, this had an effect on banks’ loan books,” S&P said.

Non-performing loans (NPLs) were about 5.6 per cent as of September 2013, down from the 6.8 per cent peak of March 2012. The drop was due to the banks’ stronger underwriting standards and efforts in restructuring loans and write-offs. Real estate loans continue to generate the bulk of NPLs, about 37 per cent.

With GDP per capita of US$19,087 for 2013, S&P said it views “the household debt capacity” of the average T&T family as satisfactory. Nevertheless, leverage measured as domestic credit to the private sector as a percentage of GDP has been historically low —about 38 per cent as of December 2013— because the large energy companies, part of the most dynamic sector in the economy, usually borrow abroad in foreign currency.

S&P said credit to the private sector rose to $37.4 billion in 2012 from $33.1 billion in 2011, and it expects it to reach $38.3 billion by December 2013. S&P said it expects credit growth to increase by 8 per cent to 10 per cent in 2013-2015 and credit to private sector should remain below 40 per cent.

Relaxed underwriting standards On lending and underwriting standards, S&P said: “We regard T&T’s banking sector to have overall “relaxed” lending and underwriting standards. This assessment is mostly based on the sector’s somewhat large exposure to real estate, which has resulted in a sharp increase in NPLs in the past few years.” S&P said: “Lending for construction of luxury apartments has resulted in high delinquency, while the level of past-due consumer mortgage loans has remained low.” S&P said that although there’s no sub-prime lending, it views the sector’s average loan to value of 80 per cent to 85 per cent as aggressive. S&P said: “We assess the payment culture and rule of law in T&T as ‘weak.’ The constitution and common-law practice protect property rights, and the judiciary system is independent and sound. However, bankruptcy laws are outdated and the legal process is lengthy. According to a Doing Business 2013 survey, resolving insolvency in T&T takes four years on average, and recovery rate is only at 18.4 per cent.”

Earlier this year, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act of 2006 that was proclaimed earlier this year updates many of the provisions of the law.

Make mistakes, and come back smarter
Thursday, October 23, 2014

Q: When everything goes right in a business, things feel easy and rewarding. When things go wrong, you have to learn how to fix them and move forward. What was one of the biggest mistakes you ever made in business, and how did you correct it and bounce back?

—Jason Weiss

A couple of weeks ago I was in New York, and I took a cab to a meeting. It was early morning when we drove through Times Square, so the place was relatively empty. The car stopped at a set of lights, and I looked up and saw a sea of red looming over me that brought a smile to my face. Though I was a little bleary-eyed, I jumped out of the cab, pulling a colleague along, and had some pictures taken in front of the giant Virgin Disruptors ad, which was promoting a debate that we were holding in the city later that night. Seeing your brand’s name up in lights is always exciting; especially when you’re not expecting it.

After I got back in the cab, I started thinking back to the other memories of Times Square. For years, our Virgin Megastore sat right in the middle of the iconic intersection; I remembered how great it was to see the hustle and bustle of tourists inside.

The next memory that came to mind put a wry smile on my face: the time we crashed a tank in Times Square.

It’s fair to say that our launch of Virgin Cola in 1994 was not subtle. Driving a tank through New York’s streets before smashing through a wall of Coca-Cola cans certainly created some front-page headlines, which was exactly what we wanted. 

With Virgin Cola, we felt confident that we could smash our way past Coca-Cola and Pepsi, our main competitors. It turned out, however, that we hadn’t thought things through. Declaring a soft drink war on Coke was madness.

I consider our cola venture to be one of the biggest mistakes we ever made—but I still wouldn’t change a thing. As you pointed out, Jason, mistakes give you the chance to bounce back and make smarter choices the next time around.

Virgin Cola did have a promising start. Despite the fact that our marketing budget was only a fraction of Coca-Cola’s, we managed to garner a fantastic amount of media attention, and much of it was very positive. But the more noise we made, the more seriously Coke began to take us. And when you’re starting a business, it might seem flattering to receive attention from a rival at first, but it starts to become much less enjoyable when you realise that your competitor has billions of dollars in profits at their disposal, and they’re going to use it to bring you down.

We had effectively parked our tank on the lawn of the world’s largest soft drinks brand, and we weren’t quite prepared for the size or the ferocity of Coca-Cola’s response, which included a steep increase in their marketing budget and pressure on distributors not to work with us. Had we known how the company would react, we may well have taken a different approach. That was the first of two reasons that we failed. 

The other, more important, reason was the fact that we didn’t follow our own rules, which is a cardinal sin. Virgin only enters an industry when we think we can offer consumers something strikingly different that will disrupt the market, but there wasn’t really an opportunity to do that in the soft drinks sector. 

People were already getting a product that they liked, at a price they were happy to pay. Virgin Cola just wasn’t different enough (even if we did create bottles shaped like Pamela Anderson that kept tipping over because they were top-heavy!).

Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience for our team, and in taking on the role of plucky underdog, Virgin seemed to win over a lot of the American public, which certainly made things easier when we launched subsequent businesses there, including our airline.

When we started up Virgin America, the US market was flooded with domestic airlines that were offering their customers, quite an appalling level of service. We were able to shake things up and provide our passengers a truly different, vastly improved experience, which quickly won us a lot of support and, more importantly, a lot of customers.

Perhaps the biggest positive to come from Virgin Cola, however indirectly, was the launch of Innocent Drinks. Co-founder Richard Reed, a former employee at Virgin Cola, was inspired by his experience, and later started selling his own smoothies with a couple of friends. He now heads one of the biggest, most purposeful drinks brands in Britain. And it’s very satisfying to know that he got his start at one of our Virgin businesses.

(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)

(Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the Web site or publication where you read the column.)

Chairman, tech firm Davyn: Investing in IT can make companies more efficient
Thursday, October 23, 2014

Companies in T&T are still lagging behind in technology use and need to do more to implement relevant software systems to make their businesses more efficient, said Derrick Villeneuve, director of strategy and chairman, Davyn.

“This is so because it is a mentality. It is an evolution. In Canada, it was so at one point, too. Some people see the benefit of technology and envision where they want their business to go and what type of information they need to be more competitive and are willing to make a significant investment to achieve that. Whereas another company just does not see that. They will spend $1 million on a piece of equipment to put on their plant floor, but they will not make that same investment on software to run their business.”

Davyn, a technology company, delivers business applications and was founded in 2000 with a focus on delivering enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to clients in T&T and the English-speaking Caribbean. 

Today, Davyn is certified by Microsoft as a Gold Enterprise Resource Planning partner.

“We work with businesses to see how they operate, improve business processes and marry that to technology and to make them more efficient. We provide software that helps businesses run their operations much better. One key area is operational and at the core of that is an accounting system. The other side is customer relationship management. How a company improves customer service, how to better interact with customers, how to measure social media and how do companies put measures in place to market to those people,” Villeneuve said.

One of the companies Davyn provides services for is Blue Waters Products Ltd.

“We provide software to run their payroll, HR, finance, manufacturing, sales and purchasing. They have trucks that go out everyday with all these handhelds and that is a different piece of software, but we handle all of the communication there. There is advanced software for routing, telling the trucks where to go. We do payroll and HR for the Point Lisas Port Development Company. We do payroll for the Tobago Regional Health Authority. 

“In retail, we focus on multi-store retail and it is a newer business for us and we have SuperPharm. Everything they have is supported by Microsoft technology which we sold them. We provide support to Pennywise. We are deploying in Excellent Stores right now, that is in progress. We do work for distribution companies like Vemco and Anthony P Scott.”

The interview with Villeneuve was held two Wednesdays ago and was conducted at the Guardian Media Ltd, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.

Business evolution

Villeneuve, who has worked five years with Microsoft in his native Canada, said almost 15 years ago when he started his business in T&T he had a company in Canada providing the same services.

“I was here doing consultancy work for a couple companies. I made contacts and there was a local consultant who knew the same software and was the only person locally that did that. He eventually migrated to Canada and worked with me. He was the co-owner and we opened another office here. LJ Williams was our first major customer around 2001.”

He said 15 years ago, there was a “big difference” in the technology environment.

“In North America and in Canada where I am from, even at that time, connectivity was quite solid. Technology was a bit further ahead than in T&T where it was still spotty. There were still a lot of manual systems. Back then the cost of labour was cheaper and you could hire three or four people and have them instead of implementing a system to make your business more efficient.”

Villeneuve said the business environment has changed in the last five years.

“Now labour costs have gone up, there is more competition. There are a lot more companies that are in manufacturing and distribution and it has placed a lot more competition on businesses, so they have to be more efficient.”

In terms of technology, he said companies are now more aware of how they can leverage technology.

“They have in many cases gone through implementations so they are more knowledgeable buyers now. There is more knowledge of what they want and there is more desire to invest in IT to improve operations. It is not possible to do it manually any more.”

Villeneuve said there are only two or three companies in the market that do what his company does.

“T&T is not a big market to have a substantial team. No one else has made this investment. When you replace an ERP system for a customer, it is like a heart transplant, your whole body is affected. Everything is affected by that software replacement. It is how they sell, buy products and interact with the customers.”

Villeneuve described T&T as a small labour market, which makes it difficult to find talent.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is finding consultants. In Canada, you can do that, but in T&T that does not exist. So you may have to hire someone with an accounting competence and train them on how software works, then have them help customers.” 

Villeneuve said Davyn has traditionally worked with the medium-sized and larger companies in T&T.

“Companies at the lower end that run Peachtree, that has not been an area of focus for us, but there are solutions now like Office 365, which is a cloud-based solution where even a small business with one employee or two customers can leverage that technology. As an entrepreneur, there is so much technology to help that did not exist ten years ago.”

He said Davyn’s billing rate can range between $630 to $950 an hour.

“Soon, what we want to do is bring in customers and show them how to use the software without charging them for that.”

Microsoft partner

He said Microsoft sells most of its solutions through partners globally.

“Our competency with Microsoft are ERM and customer relation management. We are the only ERM gold certified company in this region. It is substantial.”

He added Microsoft gives out awards every year; some are global and each territory gives out a country award.

“We won it for T&T Partner of the Year, but not only for T&T, but for the entire region. One of the criteria for getting the award is sales performance. Microsoft said we are one of the few partners that has given them a plan and always deliver on it. We follow up on our commitments.”

Davyn has about 30 employees in T&T. 

“Four years ago, we had five people. We grew slowly. I started to get involved full time in the business about three years ago. That had a big impact. We are 100 per cent local.”

He said his company is not perfect and does make errors.

“This is not to say we do not screw up because we do. But our commitment is: if we screw up, we do fix it.”

Despite a flat economy in T&T over the last few years, Davyn has grown its customer base significantly.

“That is because there are a number of customers locally that are realising if they want to compete, they need to know the cost of their product, to know when they have happy or unhappy customers and when they are missing targets.”

About Derrick Villeneuve 

Derrick Villeneuve has more than 15 years of experience in ERP in a variety of roles. As president of GIDK Consulting Inc, he grew a business focused on the sales and deployment of Microsoft Dynamics GP with an emphasis on the distribution and manufacturing verticals. Subsequent to the acquisition of the Canadian branch of his company by Options Software and Consulting and subsequently Tectura Inc, he focused his efforts in the area of pre-sales and contributed towards growing the Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV customer base.

With the combination of a bachelor of commerce with a major in finance as well as his background in ERP, Villeneuve has a strong blend of operational and financial skills. He is known for his ability to take failed or derailed projects with unhappy customers and turn them into successes and references. In addition, he has been involved in managing development and consulting teams for both his own firm and under contract for Kewill Systems (acquired by Exact Software).

Derrick Villeneuve PHOTO: CLYDE LEWIS
What is MHTL’s future in T&T?
Thursday, October 23, 2014
BG View

Last week, Consolidated Energy Ltd (CEL), the company that is now the 100 per cent owner of Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Ltd, wrote to Guardian Media Ltd complaining about the column headlined “Should NIB, UTC and NEL invest in MHTL shares?” that I wrote in this space in the October 9 edition of this newspaper.

The letter was quite long as it quoted at length nine articles, mostly commentaries, that have appeared in this space, on the issue of the MHTL arbitration and the final sale of Clico’s 56.53 per cent stake in the company to CEL on October 9, the very day that the column in question was published.

The letter starts by expressing its “disappointment with the manner in which the author of that article…has conducted himself and the statements he made of and concerning CEL.”

The letter then praises the publication and the author, describing the Business Guardian as “one of the more respected and widely read business publications in T&T” and that the “opinions and views” expressed in this space “are generally accorded weight by the average Trinidadian reader as well as other persons who are seeking to gain insight into Trinidad, its economy and its businesses.”

The letter goes on to attempt to build a case that this column may have a “personal agenda against CEL and its status as the now 100 per cent owner of MHTL,” which, according to the letter writer, “is best demonstrated by the recent reversal of positions by Mr Wilson with regard to the attractiveness of investing in MHTL.”

The letter argues that prior to October 9, the column was “a staunch advocate of the value of MHTL and its attractiveness for investment by local individuals and institutions” and quotes six of the BG Views to support this case.

Let me say that the letter writer is partly correct: the BG View column has always been a staunch advocate of the ownership and control of state-owned companies by local individuals and institutions through investment on the local stock market.

It is clear that this column’s position with regard to investment by T&T individuals and institutions in MHTL HAS changed, while the general advocacy of ownership and control of what T&T’s late Prime Minister Eric Williams called the commanding heights of the economy remains firmly in place.

The question is whether that change in position—from the green light of staunch support to what amounts to an amber light of caution, proceed carefully—is as a result of “a personal agenda against CEL and its status as the now 100 per cent owner of MHTL?”

Firstly, let me state that this space has been used to advocate ownership and control of the commanding heights by T&T individuals and institutions and not by foreign companies.

While it is clear that an economy like T&T’s needs a mix of local and foreign capital, I have been clear that diverse ownership by local capital needs to be promoted. In fact, about eight years ago, a column headlined, “Why shouldn’t we own the plantation?” appeared in this space.

Secondly, it seems obvious to me that rational and intelligent people who hold views on issues should always allow for the possibility that new information or evidence on the issue could require of them a modification of their position.

On the other hand, it is the definition of zealotry, fundamentalism and stubborn stupidity that someone’s views on an issue could remain unchanged in the face of compelling evidence or cogent empirical data.

For example, as a result of the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa, Cabinet last week decided to ban from entering T&T people coming from five nations— Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Congo. Cabinet also decided to impose a 21-day quarantine on nationals of T&T returning from those countries.

On Monday, the World Health Organisation declared Nigeria to be free of Ebola as the outbreak in the country—which had infected 20 people, eight of whom died—had been contained as a result of some clever and nimble thinking by the Nigerian authorities. Also, last week the Centre for Disease Control in the United States downgraded its Ebola advisory on Nigeria from 2 to 1 as a result of the same analysis.

Having received this new information, rationality dictates that Cabinet will today reverse its decision to ban people coming from Nigeria and impose a quarantine on T&T nationals coming from that country. Should Cabinet not do so and not provide very good reasons for continuing the ban and quarantine, then people are entitled to draw their own conclusions on the extent to which the T&T Cabinet comprises rational men and women.

What is the compelling new information that has come to hand concerning MHTL?

On September 29, Moody’s Investors Service assigned a B2 rating on the US$1.25 billion in notes that CEL raised to pay for the MHTL shares.

The issues of limited product diversity and concentrated geographical arrangement—as well as the issues surrounding gas curtailments and high leverage—were raised by Moody’s in its analysis and were reported on in this space on October 9.

Two weeks ago, the Sunday Guardian editor decided to lead the newspaper with a story written by Curtis Williams, that was headlined “Gas Pains.”

In that news report, executive chairman of Proman, and the company’s representative on the Clico board, Joseph Cassidy, made certain remarks about the supply of natural gas to downstream users that were meant, in my view, to convince the arbitration tribunal that MHTL was not worth what the Clico team had argued.

Among the things that Mr Cassidy said that were quoted from the report of the tribunal: “Past and present experience shows that management, like the NGC, has underestimated the probable impact of curtailments in 2014 and beyond.”

Cassidy also said: “To appreciate the significance of current conditions, one must understand that prior to 2011, MHTL operated at name-plate levels—the maximum quantities it could obtain, not Daily Contract Quantity (DCQ). MHTL essentially took as much gas as it needed. Just by limiting MHTKL to DCQ levels, MHTL’s production is significantly lower regardless of gas curtailments. The gas curtailments, which result in MHTL receiving even less than the DCQ levels, just make the situation that much worse. And as I repeatedly stated to the board, this would not be an issue today if the NGC had contracted for sufficient gas, but it will continue to be the case until they do.”

Cassidy also told the Court of Arbitration that in 2013 MHTL had “lost” about 410,000 tonnes of production, which could be equal to about ten per cent of the methanol producer’s total production.

Mr Cassidy also appeared to be critical of the structure of MHTL’s gas contracts with NGC, by which the price of natural gas is linked to the product price so that in period when methanol prices are high, MHTL does not declare as much profit as it would under another system.

I read that story in draft—and was immediately quite pessimistic about MHTL’s future—not only as a result of the possible curtailment issues going forward, but more importantly, about CEL’s relationship with the Government.

If CEL could use such arguments to “win” the arbitration over the value of MHTL, would it expect the Government to be all sweetness and light?

Also, what kind of relationship does CEL expect to have with the Government and people of T&T in the context of the perception that their arguments were highly favoured at arbitration and after their pessimistic views of T&T’s future gas supply were exposed by the Guardian?

One would imagine that this is a make-or-break issue for all of the potential local institutional investors.

We are committed to building highway
Thursday, October 23, 2014

To respond to every statement made in the media opens you up to the criticism that your skin is too thin and you have way too much spare time on your hands. On the other hand, ignoring it can have disastrous consequences as the failure to correct same is held up as evidence that it is the truth. I am therefore compelled to pen this letter to respond to Dr Kublalsingh’s friend and supporter Terrence Soodeen’s letter to the editor headlined, “Wayne carrying the cross for all of us.” In his response to columnist Ralph Maraj’s criticism of Kublalsingh’s alleged hunger fast and his querying how “real” it is, Mr Soodeen states: “Was it HRM strategy that the AG was involved in a vehicular accident after he called a talk show programme to cancel slots allotted to the HRM so that he could use those slots himself the following morning? Was his absence next morning and the handing over of those slots to the original interviews planned by the HRM? Who are the persons who you claim have ‘publicly avowed to bring down the Government’ who stand in support of Dr Kublalsingh?”

Mr Soodeen’s assertions are mind-bogglingly false and his response therefore does precious little to dispel the doubts about the credibility of Kublalsingh’s claim of having gone a remarkable 37 days without food and water. I have never called any talk show programme to cancel slots allotted to the HRM either before or after my recent road traffic accident. This is a complete fabrication and an outright lie and I am amazed that it could be published. I was an invited guest on TV6’s Morning Edition programme and my assistant called to cancel my appearance after I was involved in a horrific road accident that could have easily cost me my life. I was never informed about any cancellation of slots allocated to the HRM and it is hardly likely that TV6 would have been party to such a conspiracy as TV6 has been extremely supportive of Kublalsingh’s alleged hunger strike.

In answer to Soodeen’s question “who are the persons who you claim ‘have publicly avowed to bring down the government’ who stand in support of Dr Kublalsingh,” might I refer Mr Soodeen, for starters, to David Abdulah, Ancil Roget and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. Mr Abdulah is the political leader of the MSJ which is publicly opposed to the Government and has a relationship with the PNM. He is a raw politician who has latched onto the HRM crusade and has managed to disguise himself as part of “civil society” so well that he was the leader of the independent civil society groups that recently met with Dr Rambachan. When were elections held in the HRM to elect Abdulah deputy political leader of the HRM? Dr Kublalsingh has identified Abdulah as his successor but we have not had any public commitment from him regarding the continuation of the alleged fast. As for Ramesh, well, the less said, the better. 

This HRM political movement must be seen for what it is—a magnet and catalyst to galvanise the forces that are opposed to the Government under the clever guise of concern for the environment. The script is predictable: the fast will culminate in Rowley’s grand visit to Kublalsingh where “everyone comes together,” propelled by the political momentum of Kublalsingh’s farce. The HRM has provided a political stage for those who are opposed to the Government to gallery and grand charge. It has descended into farcical politics.  The same people who live in ocean-view condominiums (Bayshore), shop in malls (West Mall) and eat at restaurants (MovieTowne) built on land reclaimed from the ocean that damaged marine life, fisheries stock and the ecosystem suddenly stand for environmental protection. This, in the face of dozens of multi-million dollar housing developments that litter the hills of Diego Martin and elsewhere in North Trinidad with consequential flooding that cost tax payers over a $100 million to rectify and clean up. 

Where was the cry for an Armstrong report then? No one objected to Planning Minister giving Town and Country Planning for these mega-projects. Apparently they understood the incursion into sanctity of the environment as part of the realistic “price of progress” then but now feel compelled to protest the highway for the people of Point Fortin and Debe. They remain comfortably ensconced in this life of convenience, comfort and luxury but now wish to dictate how, when and where this highway should be built regardless of the wishes of the people. There must be equality of opportunity in national planning. There must be prosperity for all regardless of where they live. Environmentalists won their case against the Government in the judicial review case which challenged the grant of the CEC by the EMA for the aluminium smelter project. The court quashed the CEC and the rule of law prevailed. The smelter project was aborted. 

In the case of the highway, the Government is being asked to jettison the legal system because the HRM has lost its case against the state. We must bypass the legal structures and entities of the state that studied this project and gave the necessary approvals to “save” Kublalsingh’s life. Government policy must be guided by its manifesto and the greater public good. May God bless you, brother Wayne. I admire your passion, courage and conviction but ask that you understand that we are driven by these very noble traits to build this highway for the people.

Anand Ramlogan SC,
Attorney General

​Directors the main problem
Thursday, October 23, 2014

We are cricket fans because of the players not the administrators. The players indicated before the first one-day international, that they had serious concerns, and you all did nothing. Now you are trying to blame the players and talking about disciplining them.

West Indies can barely compete as is, banning any player will only result in nobody being interested in playing against the West Indies. Could we please have a one man-one vote system to select the WICB directors? Clearly this existing system is continuously bringing in directors who are more concerned about themselves than west indies cricket.

Declan Pattron,
Maracas Valley

Tail wagging the dog in cricket
Thursday, October 23, 2014

I have always felt that the T20 type of non-cricket would eventually bring the end of the beautiful game as we know it. The entertainment value of the T20 format is exactly what it is —entertainment—and is good for those who need instant gratification. It provides the ideal stage for players of sheer mediocrity and who lack the essence and technical skills needed for real cricket to perform.
Because of the undeniable entertainment value and the extraordinary following by the public commensurate with the huge gate receipts, the promoters have been able to attract players many of whom are mediocre, at best, in the crucible of “real cricket”, by, quite rightly, offering them hefty monetary rewards.

These unskilled players because of their circus arena-value, are “voopers” in the case of batsmen, and up-and-down bowlers whose main attributes are to bowl negatively in the hope of keeping the runs down. The successful proponents of this form of cricket become full of themselves and really believe that they can equate this travesty of cricket with the real thing. Hence, regardless of the state of the finances of their various national cricket boards, they feel that they could command remuneration for their mediocrity in Test cricket as obtained in the lucrative “vooping” game. 
This surely is the reason for the current impasse. How shameful in that these players, for the sake of greed, are willing to destroy West Indies cricket built on the backs of players of superb skill who, in addition to being rewarded within the financial ability of the cricket boards at that time, played for the glory of the West Indies.

It looks like a case of the tail wagging the dog. It is time now that these prima donnas be put in place and be paid according to performance. About Sunil Narine being no-balled: I have been observing bowlers since the age of five when I saw my first Test match at the Oval. I know a pelter when I see him. (We called it “stoning” long ago). I saw and agreed that S M Ali, who was no-balled out of intercolonial cricket in the 1940s in Barbados, was pelting. However, he wasn’t as fortunate as Muralitharan who became a legalised “pelter” owing to a said physical deformity which prevented him from straightening his arm.

But, as far as I am concerned, pelting is pelting and I have no respect for Muri’s record. England too, had a pseudo legalised pelter, Tony Lock, who enjoyed a long career in Test cricket. But, we know that English rules were able to coverup deficiencies in their bowlers. (Remember they tried to stigmatise Charley Griffith for pelting when he was terrorising them). I have tried hard to discover how umpires could call Sunil Narine for pelting but have been unable to do so. There seems to be a conspiracy to destroy this young man’s career purely because he is a threat with which they are unable to cope.

Peter Encinas,
via e-mail

Keep politics out of Ebola
Thursday, October 23, 2014

To be or not to be…Carnival 2015. That’s the talking point for most Trinbagonians as we wrestle with one of the worst diseases to afflict the international community, Ebola. Not since the advent of the Aids pandemic has such a catastrophe generated so much debate globally as nations far and wide have focused their energies in coming to grips with a medical challenge which has the potential of wreaking untold havoc. If countries do not successfully manage and contain this scourge before it develops into a real crisis, crapaud smoke we pipe. The race is on to find a vaccine for this virus, which occurred in West Africa, and mercifully so far, while countries such as T&T frantically put things in place hopefully to contain its spread, we should take consolation in the fact that it has not reached a runaway stage.

That is up to the time of writing (Wednesday morning).  T&T has taken the tough decision to ban the arrival of visitors to our shores from a few African states where the disease has reared its head.
And while we are thankful for being spared its devastating human toll we share the pain and sorrow that almost 5,000 citizens on the African continent have lost their lives to Ebola. We cannot let our guard down. President Obama in the US cut short some mid-term election campaigning to tackle this issue and while he has appointed an “Ebola Czar” to lead the anti-Ebola battle, he is resisting demands that he should ban visitors from that part of the world as one weapon in the arsenal of methods in this battle against a virus which the world must conquer. Failure to win this one will result in a crisis unimaginable and even though larger countries are devising strategies to effectively challenge Ebola, one of the hindrances is that there are so many questions about this affliction.

The international community cannot make up its mind whether it is airborne or not. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control has finally decided on new protocols for health workers, including doctors and nurses, who come in contact with patients and people suspected of carrying the virus. Previously the CDC decided to stay with the usual precautions but, with new evidence surfacing about the danger Ebola was posing, the protocols were amended. The US military, according to a television report, has a three-man team at the helm of a project aimed at developing an anti-Ebola vaccine. According to the cable channel, if all goes well this project could be concluded shortly, but it will take some months, possibly a year, before the drug could be mass produced; that is, if the vaccine is successfully developed.

The race is on to beat the Ebola clock. I thought about the ban that T&T has imposed on the African countries and contrast that with Obama’s refusal to do likewise. Both sides have cogent arguments for their respective decisions. I could buy into our government’s imposition, in the context of our not having the necessary infrastructure to deal with the screening of hundreds, possibly thousands of visitors, and to have done otherwise would, in my humble view, be opening our doors to admit such an unwelcome guest. While looking at the news I was surprised to learn that this Ebola scourge was not something new, as a medical professor said he had been researching it since 2001. So how come he and others around the world did not know or had no indication that we would reach this stage today? Sadly, the news item did not give an explanation. 

The hard fact is we have got there and the Government has to do what must be done to protect our citizens from the resultant dire consequences. I am happy knowing that we are doing our best to contain and manage this thing, with several decisive actions having been taken involving our military and the Ministry of Health. Now is not the time to score cheap political points, as some politicians have already done. It is easy for anyone to bump their gums and criticise simply for the sake of criticising, but there are times when we must take off our partisan garb and come together for the very survival of all of us.

The virus is simply a matter of life and death. Plain and simple. One politician has called for an urgent meeting of Parliament to discuss this dreadful matter. However, we do not need talk at this time. Action is what is needed and this is precisely what the Government is doing. Citizens are urged not to indulge in our well-known penchant for mauvais langue and the spreading of old talk on this very serious mater. Get all your information from official sources. This is no laughing matter. If Carnival has to be postponed, so be it. 

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