The former president of the Joint Consultative Council  (JCC), Afra Raymond, is calling on the Port-of-Spain City Corporation Council (POSCC), to stage better consultation with the public over its plan to transform the historic Nelson Mandela Park into a ‘Public “Wellness and Sports Tourism Hub.”

At a public virtual consultation meeting on July 26, the proposed transformation was communicated to stakeholders, but Raymond noted that consultation did not represent or engaged the wider public.

Speaking on the proposal titled above, Martinez in today’s statutory meeting of the Port-of-Spain City Council, said it was the first time in a long time, the Corporation had been able to put a proposal to the citizens of Port-of-Spain regarding its plans on transforming the landscape and great spaces in the capital city.

The 18-long page proposal for the $20M project, obtained by Guardian Media, which is not yet officially published—speaks repeatedly about the benefit such a facility would afford the “at risk,” however at the same time it speaks of privatising the facility through a public, private partnership (PPP), which ex- Joint Consultative Council (JCC) president Afra Raymond said, can actually work against this demographic.

 “Privatisation and (PPP), can have the effect of limiting or ending the access to public facilities for poorer citizens, so we need to have solid guarantees of rights to access, regardless of income…of course, that kind of approach is contrary to a model which relies on paying customers or groups,”Raymond said.

No specific cost was included in the proposal, but a charge to use the facility was highlighted and access to the facility would require users to book online via an online schedule and booking system, which the proposal noted was already existing for certain sporting activities at the Park, namely, netball, tennis, and basketball.

Speaking on the commercial elements of the PPP, Raymond said, while it appears attractive because no private investment is required up-front and seemingly no ongoing recurrent payments by the public sector either. But the perpetual issue with a PPP approach was the question of risk transfer.

 With the consultation having taken place only on July 26, and Mayor Martinez calling for final public comment on or before midnight on August 1, Raymond said the largest stakeholder—the public, needed greater consultation.

“I understand that this is an unsolicited proposal, which means that it is being considered in a non-competitive situation. A project of this significance needs to be widely advertised to attract the fullest possible participation and exchanges,” said Raymond.

The former JCC boss said the issue of fake consultations remains a long-term and valid concern, which was particularly noted as the 17th recommendation of the 2009 UFF Report.

That recommendation stated the following: “User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made.”

Reporter: Bobie-Lee Dixon