Shadow Minister of Tourism Ronald Toppin Friday cast serious financial doubt over the operations of the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, as Parliament debated a money resolution in support of the construction of Class A offices at the Two Mile Hill, St Michael conference facility.
“From the beginning up to now it has had nothing but a chequered past . . . . It was a project with no plan riddled with ‘steel’,” he said in an obvious reference to Serenader’s popular double entendre calypso, also named Steel.
Following the tabling by Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy of the $17.6 million resolution, Toppin further emphasized that the project was affected by “scandal and controversy on a daily basis even as it was constructed”, adding that “having been constructed, then the question arose, ‘what are we going to do with it?’ because it was a project without a plan.
“We heard about orchids, we heard about parties and back-in-time fetes at the conference centre, but what the minister’s presentation [Friday] amounted to was a clear admission that what we have here before us and we had over the last several years, is a project without a plan and an inability to raise a profit,” Toppin stressed.
In fact, the Opposition St Michael North representative argued that the country as a whole had been made to pay “a terrible price financially, because over the years millions upon millions of dollars have been pumped into that institution”, which he said was initially proposed as an examination centre and then as a home of the National Youth Orchestra before the then Sandiford-led administration settled on a conference centre built in a “forest” away from the hotel belt.
Toppin also reminded that it was the former Barbados Labour Party administration which eventually decided to take the facility in the direction of event planning and transportation, with a view to making it profitable.
“Those coaches that were bought were showing signs of profitability and in fact the years 2006 and 2007, were it not for depreciation expense and a few other book entries advised by the accountants involved at the time, the coaches would actually have shown a level of profitability in those two years,” Toppin argued.
However, he said once the Government changed in 2008, Sealy decided that the centre was to rid itself of those coaches.
“The minister said from the following year they were going to see a turnaround in revenue and a return to profitability,” Toppin recalled.
However, he charged that the Barbados Conference Services Ltd was sucking the Government of money, while noting that in 2008 the Government had guaranteed a loan of $58 million to build out commercial office space, a multi-storey car park and on refurbishment of a kitchen.
“Now the minister returns today, with a further injection of some $17.625 million and all he can tell Parliament is that last year’s revenue was more than the year before.
“That is not enough. We want to hear about the profitability of this entity. This centre has behaved like a pond of quick sand or a bottomless pit that sucks in money,” Toppin argued.