The trinidad Guardian / Former chairman of TSTT, Emile Elias, told Prime Minister Rowley on September 19 of his reason for demitting office ahead of time. His actual words, at the start of his letter, were:

“I had fully intended to continue my National Service for another three years, but due to the fact that my company is now facing unexpected challenges which require me to devote far more time to its future, I write to advise you, Minister Robert Le Hunte and the board of my decision to submit my resignation with immediate effect, to the respective Corporate Secretaries, from my positions as chairman of TSTT and the recently acquired subsidiary, Massy Communications Limited.”

It is to be noted that the letter was addressed to the Prime Minister and not to the Minister of Finance who is normally the person to whom all such correspondence would be addressed. Only Minister Le Hunte, the board, and “respective Corporate Secretaries” were informed.

However, Elias’ letter is a revelation in trying to make a change to archaic business systems and practices that have haunted TSTT for decades and prevented it from moving with the times in an era of high competitiveness in the telecommunications field. He was apparently the right man in the right place at the right time and now he is gone.

There will continue to be speculation as to the other reasons why Elias would have left TSTT, however, the reality facing Prime Minister Rowley on the eve of the national budget for 2017-18 is that he has lost a key ally on a state board whose ideas and influence would have helped his government to embark on the kind of competitive changes that are required for our economy to help it rise again.

Within days of the Elias resignation came another private sector blow for the Government which was announced by Prime Minister Rowley at a press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel after his six-hour discussion with the business community on the economy. According to Rowley, the Sandals project in Tobago has been put on hold for the time being because the Sandals Group suffered some property damage in the “Northern Antilles”.

According to the Shaliza Hassanali report on page A4 of last Thursday’s Guardian, Rowley also said he hoped that Sandals “does not lose their interest in Tobago as a result of the Irma and Maria losses and more so by a rejection of this approach by influential voices in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Something does not sound right in what has been put forward here by the Prime Minister in relation to the Sandals project. Property destruction after a hurricane can cause companies to effect their disaster recovery plans, however, in the case of Sandals they will know that they are likely to see an increase in visitor arrivals at their St. Lucia, Barbados and Grenada properties in the aftermath of the hurricanes and the property damage to their “Northern Antilles” properties.

Now would be an ideal time to fast forward the Sandals Tobago project. Not hearing it from Butch Stewart himself will leave a lot of suspicion on the ground that this is nothing more than government spin. For the time being, the hard truth is that this is really a serious setback for the Prime Minister’s flagship project.

The overall reality for this government of the Emile Elias resignation and the stalling of the Sandals project means that the Government has lost two key allies in its economic recovery programme. One was a genuine transformation and turnaround effort at TSTT and the other was an international mega project for this country in the tourism sector.

The test will be in the budget presentation tomorrow to see how private-sector friendly it might be. That might be the biggest clue of all to understanding these recent high-profile private sector disappointments.

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