TOBAGO HOTEL OWNER IN TEARS
There were tears and a sense of hopelessness in Tobago yesterday, as members of the business community confirmed that the banks and suppliers are now demanding payment and threatening to put their properties up for sale.
Owner of the Enchanted Waters Hotel and Casino on Shirvan Road, Buccoo, 94-year-old Ken Patino admitted to the T&T Guardian that the business he and his 79-year-old wife and their son own and operate was facing such a consequence.
He said they were in arrears because of the decline in business due to the drop in tourism business and the lack of promotion of the island over the past few years. These problems, he said, had been compounded by the air and sea bridge issues in the past year.
Patino, who also owns a property in Mt Irvine, said he explained to the bank (which he identified) that he had done a valuation of the property in April and its value was put at five-and-a-half million dollars. He said he told the bank he had put the Mt Irvine property for sale and once it was sold he would be able to pay off his debt to them. But he said the bank refused to budge and indicated that the hotel will be put on the market this weekend.
Patino said: “We are struggling along with other businesses in Tobago trying to make ends meet.”
He said he found it “ironic that immediately after the Prime Minister met with stakeholders, banks calling for their money and advertising properties for sale. This is adding stress to our problems.”
The elderly businessman said he will not “lie down and play dead. I told the bank I want to pay the debt, we work 24/7, we will never surrender.”
All he needed, he said, was “time” but the bank has been unrelenting.
He said: “They took a unilateral decision, no consultation. I want to pay the mortgage and clear the air with the properties. But they said they will send their valuator to value the property. They seem to have taken a decision and it is not open for discussion,” Patino said.
“I asked the representative from the bank and he told me their decision was made and they will be advertising the property.”
With the time running out and with the loss of his property imminent, Patino is now appealing to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to intervene. He said when the issue was raised at the stakeholders’ meeting on Monday, the PM indicated he does not control the banks. However, he argued that the PM “has the power to ask Corporation Sole, the Minister of Finance, to intervene by speaking to the Governor of the Central Bank, who can call in the banks and ask them to assist.”
Patino said he was “ready to go on bended knee to the bank to beg for time until I see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Given the current situation, where businesses in Tobago have been sinking into a further abyss because of the air and sea bridge issues, he said “the banks must understand they too have a role to play.”
Contacted yesterday, former Tobago Chamber of Commerce president Diane Hadad confirmed Patino’s case but said it is unfortunately not unique now, as she lamented that other Chamber members recently had to “pitch in to help another member pay his bills.”
Hadad lamented that when the “former government was in power they introduced a $250 million loan guarantee programme, but the money never got to the people it was meant for.”
She said people were “in literal tears yesterday as not only banks, but suppliers started calling and demanding payment of outstanding monies.”
Suppliers, she said, were not interested in hearing that businesses “were in a backward state” because of the many problems they face.
“All they saying is they want their money,” Hadad noted.
Hadad said she was the one who raised the issue with the Prime Minister at the meeting on Monday, when he indicated he was not in charge of the banks. But like Patino, she said the PM has control over the Minister of Finance, who in turn can call in the Central Bank Governor, who has control over the banks.
An angry Hadad said: “Somebody draw the war cards, the swords are drawn. I am not leaving my business to go down.”
She said she had been contacted by Hotel and Tourism Association president Chris James, who informed her that several of his members were also concerned.
“People are crying. They say they will lose their businesses.”
She said many people were also upset that the Prime Minister “offered no resolution or hope.”
The T&T Guardian tried to contact the bank involved in Patino’s case without success yesterday.
SOURCE: T&T GUARDIAN