Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Part 5 on why I can't vote UPP

Just to recap I posted four blogs over the past 36 hours which got a huge amount of interest mainly because people either didn't know or they had forgotten the things I wrote about. Entitled "Where my tax money has gone over the past 10 years." the four parts are as follows:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

I should have spoken more about The North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) in part 4. Again a huge missed opportunity, waste of money and more example of a lack of vision and leadership. Our marine park still doesn't have any visible management at all apart from the mooring balls which were set without a plan to use them, manage them or maintain them. The high end patrol boat that they got in the international funding that went along with the project still isn't being used. The entire thing is a mess and a huge disappointment to me especially after I have visited the other Caribbean parks set up with the same international funding. Again, Hilson Baptiste is one of the main looooooosers to blame but it can't rest solely on his shoulders. PM Spencer and the rest of his gang failed with this opportunity. Read more about it on this October 2009 blog. Read more here. 

Sand Mining is another maddening thing that would make me not want to vote for them.  It's not just sand mining on a commercial scale that we see in Barbuda. I mean that's bad enough especially since the UPP boys and girls criticized it for years when the old ALP did it. Of course as soon as they got in they not only kept it going but UPPed production. Quite a few ministers made big money with Barbuda sand. What bothers me as much or more is that so many prized beaches are damaged weekly with mining while the UPP government does nothing. Read here for more about that. I visit beaches that ministers in the UPP government swim at in the afternoons and see them walk right past big holed in the beach where people regularly take buckets of sand. Jabbawock is the worst example of this. You think anything has been done by these guys to protect these beaches, our most valuable assets? NADA and that's another reason they have to go!

Speaking of beaches, sand and by extension reefs. Remember what is happening to parrot fish? The most important fish in our waters has been the one most heavily targeted. While other Caribbean islands take measures to protect this critical reef species and sand producer, the UPP governent has encouraged and facilitated their destruction. While there are few people in Fisheries and the Environment Division who don't agree that the parrotfish needs protection, Fisheries still facilitated the export of thousands of pounds a week of netted parrot fish. Bad leadership! Read more here.
and more here.

It's a waste of time to go on and on, but there are way too many examples of bad decision making and mismanagement of our resources including tax moneys. Ten years was long enough for them to get their stuff together. I am voting against them in the hope that they will go away, think about their failures and come back again as a better party.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 4

In Part 1 and Part 2  I spoke about horrific wastes of tax dollars which have left this country broke despite the UPP government doing the best job in history of collecting revenue. No government in this country has collected as much tax money as they have. Not even close, but we are broke. According to a leading economist, the ALP never collected more than EC $180 million in any year that they were in power while the UPP has collected as much as EC $778 milllion in 2008. In Part 3 I spoke a bit more about colossal wastes of money. Here I will speak more along those lines but more on failures.

I guess I should have included the BAP company failure with the Royal Antiguan Hotel messup. BAP was a company setup by with the help of the government six years ago.
The government put ten acres of beachfront land at Valley Church into this company. The company's shares were split up between a foreign real estate developer who got 70% of the shares and the remaining 30% was kept by the government. The majority shareholder didn't pay a cent for the land. How on earth did this happen? We will never know. They did nothing over the past 6 years and now are trying to sell or be compensated for their shares. Certain people within the UPP hierarchy were completely against this crazy scheme. One of them sent me the documents just now. Our Tourism Minister was sold on the idea. Value for money after 6 years? Remember this foreign entity got 70%
without investing a penny in the land. Corruption, incompetence or something else. You be the judge.


Now for the stuff that really pisses me off. How about sewage?
Anyone remember when Caribarena posted dozens of photos of raw sewage being dumped into the mangroves from the top of Cooks dump? I would show the article but caribarena is down again. Remember our minister responsible for Agriculture, the Environment and Fisheries is Hilson Baptiste. The article sparked a discussion about sewage and what happens to it around the island. It's a very shitty situation and many people were shocked and outraged. Promises were made but what do you think has happened? You guessed it. Nothing. Same shit different day. Meanwhile hundreds of millions in development are being planned and spent for the harbour down current of the crappy situation.

Speaking of nasty stuff floating into the wetlands and ocean. Remeber the garbage in St. Johns? Back in September 2009 I posted this blog showing endless garbage flowing into st johns past a cruise ship which was on the dock there. The Antigua Sun newspaper did a story on it and there was some public dialogue. The problem could have been fixed by using proper grates on the sea end of the gutters and then to have them cleaned occasionally. What do you think happened? That is right. Nothing at all! Minister responsible for Fisheries and Environment got good at solitaire.

Then there was the massive oil leak which is still going on. I blogged about the waste oil issue and once again it got plenty of media attention. Click here to read the blog. 
That was August 23 2010. Again, what do you think happened about it? Nothing of substance at all. What did happen was that I was invited to the Prime Ministers Office to discuss the issue. Not too long after that PM Baldwin Spencer opened the "new" Wadadli Power Plant (Chinese generation plant). In his speech up at Crabbs Peninsular he spoke about building a waste oil recycling plant which would be able to deal with all the waste oil that these new generators would go through. What do you think happened? You got it. NOTHING. Oil is still exactly as it was back on August 23 2010. Again where is the environmental policy of the UPP and the Solitaire player?

Staying with the Environment. Remember how hard we had to fight to get the new Fisheries Regulations? While it takes great skills to be a bad ass solitaire player on your computer screen, people shouldn't be paying the salary of a Minister to do that while years and years go by with legislation sitting unsigned on his desk. This is the same minister who convinced to Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda to issue executive orders to the Fisheries department and Coast Guard to stop enforcing the law on spear fishing. Whether you agree with that type of fishing or not isn't the point. Baptiste did nothing for fisheries until we the people forced him to. Read more in this little blog post.

What happened to the Environment Management Bill? Another one stalled by Minister Hilson Baptiste and the UPP government. All these years later the Environment Division still has no legislative powers which is why so many environmental atrocities happen here each year. It is a piece of legislation that just won't be signed because it takes power away from the Ministers and puts it in the hands of the people and also with the Environment Division.

More coming as to why I can't support another UPP term coming in Part 5.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 I spoke about horrific wastes of tax dollars which have left this country broke despite the UPP government doing the best job in history of collecting revenue. No government in this country has collected as much tax money as they have. Not even close, but we are broke. According to a leading economist, the ALP never collected more than EC $180 million in any year that they were in power while the UPP has collected as much as EC $778 milllion in 2008. Read Part 1 and Part 2 and then keep reading. There is sadly plenty more.

Remember Royal Antiguan Hotel? This little exerpt from Uncut Journal spells it our better than I can: "Take the example of the sale of Royal Antigua hotel, valued at $32M us dollars sold at $18M. The money received from this sale was used to pay one week of payroll. In other words yesterday the people of this country owned a hotel with 300 rooms 50 acres prime beach land with a 250 million dollar debt attached, today the people of this country still owes the debt of 250 million and nothing else. The government of Antigua and Barbuda sold the Royal Antiguan  hotel and used the money received to pay one-week  wages of its public workers". Value for money once again. Leadership matters there for sure.

Then there was and is the huge waste of money with APUA PCS and INET.

During the late 80s and early 90s our nation was lucky enough to have some very bright Antiguan and Barbudan kids away in engineering schools. Some came back with the hope of helping our nation achieve excellence in IT. It was because of their hard work and some forward thinking within APUA and government that APUA was able to start it's own mobile phone company called PCS. Years later they launched home internet with a company called INET. These companies not only worked well but made good profits for APUA. PCS reported profits of up to $10 million EC in one year. It was at that time that the UPP started speaking about selling PCS. They were going to sell the hospital and the port too. That didn't happen. The technical minds of APUA telecoms decided to expand and spend more on newer technologies. Plans were made to launch 3G and then 4G long before any of their competitors. Then certain arms of the UPP government decides to start negotiating with Digicel to help make Digicel a bigger and better network than their own PCS. They stopped listening to the head of their Telecoms department and stopped spending the money PCS was making for them on expanding and upgrading. The UPP negotiated with Digicel to get 4G in exchange for a fraction of what the license was valued at in exchange for moneys and the rest in tablets for school kids. Essentially while one arm of the government was trying to uses its brightest and smartest to better ourselves with our own mobile and internet carrier another arm was helping Digicel get ahead with strange deals that made no sense from a financial point of view. Yesterday in the news we heard that Digicel is getting a contract to put cameras around the city. According to a report on ZDK the sum was EC $8 million which would be piad to them in the form of withheld ABST (sales tax). No bidding on that contract happened. There is plenty more on the relationship with Digicel and the government that could be discussed, but tens of millions have been thrown away as the UPP government have slowly destroyed our own PCS mobile while supporting Digicel. Our brightest technical men and women are no longer leading their destiny.

Speaking of smart Antiguan and Barbudan men and women. The UPP decided to bypass them by contracting a UK firm to build our tourism webiste and online platform for EC $2 Million. This was one of the biggest wastes of money in tourism. No it wasn't. Royal Antiguan was. Anyway, it was a major slap in the face to tax payers and the hundreds of young highly technical IT and online marketing citizens. Remember that under the ALP government Antigua and Barbuda became the leading place on the planet for online gaming. Billions of dollars in online marketing was spent from this little island by companies managed jointly with young Antiguans. We had kids working in every aspect of IT and web design, SEO, new media marketing were all part of our highly skilled workforce. Many of these kids went off to bigger and better things internationally but many are still here. Many were displaced when sports books and online casinos moved outside of Antigua or shut down and some started businesses of their own. The point is, SEO, new media marketing and other aspects of IT are not things we needed to farm out to a company run by a young kid from the UK who came here on a cricket holiday. I don't need to question how he got the job or whether he was experienced enough to do a good job, but I will say that we didn't get value for money with the two contracts for 250K Sterling each. After recent criticism there were some within the UPP that tried to say that the moneys were for a complete marketing campaign, but this isn't true at all. I know what it was for because I met with the Minister responsible and was told over several hours all about it. There was no moneys for print marketing and none that I am aware of for paid adverts online either. This 2 million EC was for setup and training of, the online booking side of the portal and the ministry's facebook page.  It took forever to get finished. In fact so long that they launched it prematurely due to internal pressures. I was amazed at the sheer amount of mistakes in basic web design and navigation. The online booking section didn't work either. During the first week I did many tests. One of them was trying to book a round trip ticket from Toronto to Antigua. The only option I was given by this 2 million dollar website was The Barbuda Express ferry service from Toronto. After spending 14 years of my life studying SEO and new media marketing I could go on an on and on about the shortfalls of the site, but I will say categorically that in my experience we didn't get value for money and I can't figure out how it cost so much money. Several leading hotels asked to be removed from the site. By the way, my company is the only excursion/activity company to go through their over the phone training and set up our account with them to receive online bookings. We have not received a single booking in the nearly 2 years it's been up. Meanwhile bookings from Shoretrips, Shorex, Islandroutes, my websites and others keep pouring in thankfully. Until recently if you did a google search for "Antigua" you couldn't find their site. Now I see they are ranked 7th. is ranked 4th. By the way, the highly experienced online tourism professionals at Antiguanice were not consulted at all or notified that they could bid on the EC $2 million contract. Neither were any other Antiguan companies or individuals. My little website that cost a few hundred dollars to build is ranked 13th.

I could go on an on about moneys being wasted left and right. The tax and spend has been terrible and while some key players have made huge profits, the majority of the people in this country are worse off financially today than they were ten years ago. We should never forget that this government instituted bold new taxes and collected more tax than had ever been collected in history. According to one of Antigua's leading economists Petra Williams: "the ALP never collected more than $180 million dollars in a single year. There have been years under the UPP where they collected as much as $778 million..." With that in mind, did we get value for our money? Did they spend our money wisely?

Part 4 will be more to do with bad decisions and incompetence than direct wastes of money.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 2

In Part 1 spoke about some of the things which made me convinced that I couldn't vote UPP in the election this week. Most of them had to do with hundreds of millions of tax dollars squandered in UPP led government decisions. Why they made those decisions is beyond me. People will have to make their own conclusions, but whatever were the reasons, the wasting of our tax dollars didn't end there.
Here are a few more ways money was thrown away.

EC $47 million was spent on fencing and bathrooms for schools and sports facilities. In Parliament and during budget debates it came to light that some of the facilites that had been fenced according to the records still had no fences at all. Light was never shed on what happened with the EC $47 million and there is little doubt that we didn't get 47 million worth of fencing and bathroom facilities. The media tried to find out more and covered the story for a short while without being able to get more specifics from government.

Then there was the massive multi million dollar car park contracted by the UPP for St. Johns. The first problem with this car park if people care to remember is the spot the UPP chose to erect it was a very controversial one.  Some of the long time PLM and UPP supporters were outraged because the area was supposed to be left as a public park. Most cities have "green areas" or parks which remain free from development. This comment was taken from a Caribarena article: "To those of you who wish for the completion of the car park or "monstrosity" as the late ET Henry would say, be reminded that the area had been bequeathed to the People of Antigua as Green Space, never to be fenced, which is now owned by a TNT Corporation." Needless to say the UPP didn't listen to the people and went with the project which has now been sitting half finished for over five years. We will be paying for that EC $40 million dollar mistake for a years and years to come. Hopefully one day the crazy structure will be finished.

Staying in St. Johns we can remember the sidewalk scandal where an Israeli/Antiguan group got a nice deal to fix up sidewalks in St Johns. The cost reported in the media was EC $42 million. I won't go into it anymore than asking you to take a walk around the city. "Where d money gorn?" Pissed down the drain? Well I dunno but it wasn't value for money.

Staying in the city we can talk about the money wasted on the Food City building. Government purchased the ailing supermarket for EC $15 million dollars. Not only was the business crumbling when they purchased it, but the building was in almost as bad a condition. Many people were shocked at the unusual purchase but as the government had no immediate plans for the building, it sat abandoned for years until it was rented by a group that had to completely rennovate the property after doing a proper survey. The survey was done by my neighbor and he says the building had been neglected for years and years and was in very bad shape.

Before 2004 the ALP government decided to build a new hospital. Equipment was purchased and on the verge of the election the hospital was nearly finished. The UPP got into power and threw all ALP ideas out the window as bad ones and decided to stop trying to open the hospital. Instead they had the bright idea of fixing up Holberton which by that time had earned the horrible nickname of "Killberton Hospital". While we accumulated interest on the loans for the almost finished MSJ Hospital, it remained dark while they waited until people forgot it was there. Then almost 5 years after they shut down the project, they finished it farmed out the management of it In February 2009 to the American Hospital Management Company (AHMC). They get 3 million a year to manage it and to do all the purchasing for it. Many complained that this was too much money to be spent on managing it. In fact, even the former health minister of St Lucia, Dr Keith Mondesir was critical of our government's contract. (Source) Needless to say, the hospital isn't being financed properly and even as we speak there is no CT Scan machine working there. It's a terrible shame to hear about all the millions spent and wasted and to know that basics are not available at our only hospital.

More to come in Part 3.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 1.

There are going to be hard core UPP supporters reading this who will vote for them whatever they read here. To those people I say, please don't waste your time reading this. What I am writing here is for people who want more info than they have been reading in the media reports as of late. Here goes. I am going to highlight some of the United Progressive Party's biggest failures as the leading party over the past ten years.  Failures which have set us back in so many ways.

First I will go over some massive wastes of money.

Prior to the 2004 election when the Antigua Labour Party were still leading the government, they made the decision to get involved with the Half Moon Bay saga. The hotel sitting on our most amazing beach had been closed since the hurricane season of 1995. Remember that most hotels are built on land that was sold at concessionary rates by the crown with the hope of helping the economy. A closed hotel does nothing positive for the economy. The government met with the new owner who was no longer part of a group and negotiated with her offering huge concessions to further encourage her to rebuild. The government met all her demands and requests and despite promise after promise no move was made to get the hotel running again. After much more dialogue a decision was made to compulsory purchase the hotel in an act of parliament where fair market value would be paid. This was in 2000. A legal battle started immediately which ultimately ended in 2007 at the highest appeal court giving the government the win. What cost the tax payers tens of millions of dollars however, was the decision by the UPP just after they got into power in 2004 to stop legal proceedings and to give the owner of Half Moon Bay "another chance". It took them a few years to understand that she had no intention on rebuilding and sadly the UPP finally decided to do exactly what the ALP government had done years before. In 2007 they won possession of the lands BUT fair market value had shot through the roof during the years in between 2000 and 07 and when a valuation was finally done, the taxpayers would have to find US $45.5 million (over double the original valuation). (source) Second guessing the ALP decision from 2000 will have us tax payers paying for years and years to come. Their decision was not based on sound thinking but on bad politics. 

Another bad financial move early in the UPP administration that the tax payers will be paying for was the Antigua Power Company fiasco. Prior to the general election in 2004 the family that owns APC were accused by Prime Minister Lester Bird of switching allegance to the ALP and putting their money and support behind the opposition UPP. Lester was clearly outraged on the platform. The UPP won the election and very shortly after signed a joint venture deal with the APC where they would set up a 50.9 megawatt electrical power plant. This joint venture or partnership with APUA would be for 22 years. The deal saw 55% of profits going for APC and 45% for APUA. It would be maintained by the people who built the engines. After 22 years the entire plant and all ownership and profits were to go to apua. Tax payeres would invest nothing at all. The APC investment was 47 million US dollars. After the deal was made and when plant facility was constructed armed police with automatic weapons stopped the generators from being off loaded at the plant. Why? The government had made another deal to buy a smaller 30 megawatt plant from the Chinese government for 52 million US dollars in a loan agreement where we also have to pay interest on the loan of that 52 million. That's five million US dollars more for a plant that produces a little more than half the electricity. How and why would they agree to buy another plant when they were already contractual partners with APC for a larger plant that they would own fully within 22 years and had no money to spend up front? Nobody will ever know. What we may also never know is why this new Chinese power plant using Mann diesel generators no longer legal in Europe due to emmissions standards isn't producing the 30 megawatts. Many people in the media have questioned if these Chinese generators were new ones. The late Winston Derrick had many questions about the plant which remained unanswered by the UPP up to his premature death. He said many times that whether they were new engines or not, there was real doubt if tax payers received "value for money".
(Read more) I would post some articles from Caribarena but they have been cyberattacked again it seems are are down. (since then someone posted this on facebook)

They had great photos comparing the two plants including interior shots. The new Chinese plant was a mess with leaky rusty engines and the APC one cleaner than a hotel kitchen. There have been many reports online and on radio talk shows recently describing only one of six generators working at the Chinese plant. I think that Winston Derrick was clearly correct about the lack of value for money. What is worse is that since his passing APC has won their final case against the government and the judgment has said that they are entitled to be paid for their share of what would have been 55% of production on the 50+ megawatt plant. The actual award hasn't come out yet but legal minds say it will be over 100 million EC dollars. Take that bad value for money and add another hundred million to it and you have something that we will never pay back for in our lifetimes.

More on the Antigua Public Utilities Authority and wastes of money in this story to do with their water production planning and management. In 2004 when the UPP got into power, APUA had several power plants. One of them was called TANGO and at the time there were two new turbines at the facility. One was in the process of being installed and the other would have been installed after the first one was finished. TANGO produced electricity and water. In fact from the day TANGO was opened Antigua never experienced water shortages. Prior to that there was times when water had to be barged in. A decision was made by the UPP government to stop spending money on Tango despite the millions of dollars already paid for the new turbines. They actually scrapped the plant ending water production there. We started relying on ponds once again for water. Then at the start of 2011 the APUA commissioned a new reverse osmosis water production plant financed by Venezuela. After building the plant they started searching for water drilling test wells. They drilled hole after hole over acres and acres of land adjacent to the plant failing to find water. Eventually they had to put pipes into the ocean to suck up sediment laden water...... something almost never done with reverse osmosis plants due to problems with sedimentation. The plant is one of the biggest failures in engineering and again poor value for money. To learn way more about it please check this link here

headquarters building. In 2002/03 government at the time contracted architectual firm OBM to design a building and facility which would house all of the departments of the APUA. The contract with OBM cost approximately EC $150,000. The largest holder of land in Antigua is The Crown and the plan was to construct this facility on government land. After the government change in 2004 the plans were scrapped. Eventually a plan was announced by the UPP government to bring the headquarters into St. Johns to an old building which had been known as BENCORP. This building was purchased for EC $12 million and then years of renovations took place to get it to an acceptable state so that it could be used. The problems with this was that it was way too small to accommodate all of APUA and in fact not even all the office departments could fit within in. It opened about a year ago, and the cassada gardens place where APUA was supposed to move from is still being rented by APUA. The technical part of telecoms is still up there. The OBM plans would have accommodated all of APUA outside of town to avoid congestion and all the issues you would expect in St. Johns with parking and traffic. The estimated finished cost of construction for that facility according to OBM was EC $12 million. Remember that before ripping apart the Bencorp building a rebuilding it, APUA spent the same 12 million on buying it. A year after opening it they are still renting the place they moved from. Tens of millions of dollars wasted once again. Why? Try and figure out why they would buy an old building that's too small to accommodate them. I can't.

Example after example will follow on crazy wastes of money due to incompetence, greed, ego and possibly corruption if you believe some of the articles you read in CaribArena or the Daily Observer.

Click here for Part 2 which was written later.