The entrance to the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, Tobago. Photo by Jeff K Mayers
CHAIRMAN of the PNM Tobago West Constituency Kurt Salandy is convinced the controversial zipline issue was the “silver bullet” which shot the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) into winner’s circle in the December 6 Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
Salandy gave his view while speaking on the Minority Report on Tuesday evening on the Tobago Updates programme.
In 2015, former tourism secretary Tracy Davidson-Celestine announced the plan to build a 1.5km zipline in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, saying a company called OCT Enterprises had been contracted. The project was never delivered, despite THA funds being released.
The zipline became controversial during the January 2021 THA elections, when the PDP accused Davidson-Celestine and the former PNM regime of mismanaging the project.
Salandy said on Tuesday: “My impression is that in the January THA elections, that zipline was a silver bullet for the PDP. I think it gave them a lot of traction, a lot of sentiments that the public at large looked on with and believed. That had the result of getting them six of the 12 seats in the assembly.”
In the elections a year later, the PDP soundly beat the PNM 14-1.
Salandy said while the information may have been available to the PNM before the election, it was not available as fact.
“We didn’t have the ability to get to the canopy owners and the ones who were implementing the stuff, to get to the bottom of it. At that time, there was not a personnel (sic) in the election campaign on the PNM side that could have debunked successfully what Farley Augustine was saying.
“And in politics, you just need propaganda and a good speaker and that is it…it gets you far.”
He said social media was the major medium for disseminating information.
“Because we as residents are easily drawn to believe things that are sensational. That is why the PDP was able to get six seats in that January elections. That story was not debunked until now, after the fact, so I’m just saying – it was an excellent political ploy by the PDP and Farley to get such traction.”
He added: “In the PNM, our role and function is to dispel misinformation and get to the truth, even though that may not get us anywhere. I believe in integrity; I believe in fair play, and I believe that the truth always comes out.”
Last Monday, PNM Tobago leader Ancil Dennis said when he became Chief Secretary in May 2020, he instructed the administrator of tourism to get in touch with the company after realising no efforts were being made on the zipline project.
He said a Zoom meeting took place November 2, 2020, which included two representatives of OCT Enterprises – directors Richard Graham and Darren Hreniuk. Dennis, a senior counsel, the legal officer in the THA’s Division of Tourism, the chief administrator and the administrator of tourism represented the THA at this Zoom meeting.
He said the company made no commitment to deliver or restart the project and therefore, on legal advice, he decided to sue.
That decision, Dennis said, was made in May 2021 and the matter was filed in the High Court in November that year. Since then, the THA has received orders for the bank accounts of Graham and Hreniuk, both in TT and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), where the company is based, to be frozen.
The freezing orders restrain them from removing up to US$500,000 – the amount of the THA’s claim for breach of contract – from TT, the BVI, and the US assets in a First Citizens Bank account in Scarborough and a First Caribbean International Bank account in Tortola.