Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stuns me, not only what you are explaining, but that it seems no-one is making any comments.