Acquisition of the Garden Group of Hotels

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe Keith Mitchell-led government is rather tight-lipped about its plans for three properties involved in the infamous Garden Group Hotel Project in the south of the island that were recently acquired by the State.

The news about the acquisition was published in the March 14, 2014 issue of the Government Gazette.

The affected properties are the remains of Cedars Inn, owned by David Lander (trading as Southern Range Enterprises) joint properties in True Blue and Calliste, St George’s and the adjacent No Problem Apts of Godfrey Ventour also called Gordon Godfrey Lewis.

The NEW TODAY contacted Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for Information, Senator Winston Garraway in connection with the acquisition but he was not forthcoming with information.

According to Sen. Garraway, government was in the process of preparing a press release on the issue but he could not guarantee that it will be done by the end of Tuesday.

The Junior Minister refused to divulge information to this newspaper on government’s plans for the properties, the cost of the acquisition and whether the affected property owners were compensated promptly in keeping with the Acquisition Act.

The controversial Garden Group Hotels project, involving the operators of five small hotels in the south of the island was one of the loss-making ventures undertaken by the Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) that governed the island during the period June 1995 to July 2008.

In 2008, the Mitchell regime guaranteed a loan of US$8.9 million for the Garden Group of hotels “as a demonstration of Government’s commitment to support the revitalisation of small hotels”.

A Board of Directors was constituted with three Government-nominated directors, three directors from the small hotels and an independent Chairman.

A Trinidad company was hired to help in the rebuilding of the hotels but funds soon ran out and the project was halted without any of the demolished small hotels being rebuilt.

The New Today contacted David Lander whose two properties were acquired and in a telephone conversation on Tuesday, he indicated that he is yet to receive any communication from the Mitchell administration regarding the acquisition of his properties.

Lander said the news about the acquisition was “unexpected” to him and that government did not even have “the manners” to at least call him on the issue and that he only heard about it like the rest of the nation through the publication of the Government Gazette.

“I’m still waiting on that”, Lander told The New Today as he alluded to the need for them to extend some kind courtesy to him on the issue of the acquisition.

A former executive member of Mitchell’s ruling NNP, the small businessman disclosed that there are some unresolved issues regarding the project and his interests that need to be addressed with government.

The controversial Garden Group Hotel Project did not materialise and left taxpayers with millions of dollars to repay to a commercial financing institution in neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago.

International forensic accountant Bob Linquist commissioned a probe into the financial conduct of the Mitchell government during the 2008-13 rule of the NDC regime and identified the Garden Group project, the failed Marketing & National Importing Board (MNIB) project on the Lagoon and the Call Centre as contributing a staggering EC$258.4 million to the overall national debt of EC$2.4 billion.

The last known Board of Directors of the Garden Group was said to be headed by former Clerk of Parliament, Basil Harford.

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