By Gordon Robinson
Once again horse racing's hot topic is the proposed divestment of Caymanas Track Limited (CTL).
In 1989, at the Terra Nova Hotel, the then deputy prime minister, riding a wave of popularity after a recent general election victory, promised divestment of the racetrack in six months. Then, a CTL board, led by the great Danny Melville, turned the company's fortunes around. It operated as a profitable entity for many years and nary another whisper was heard about divestment.
You keep telling me yes
but you don't mean it.
You keep telling me no
and try to lean it.
You're giving me buts and maybe.
You know this will drive me crazy.
Why can't you tell it like it is?
Circa 2004, divestment talks again re-emerged. This time, two competing teams of interested industry-affiliated persons proffered competing bids based on CTL's request for proposals (RFPs). One was selected 'preferred bidder' and, backed by local and foreign investors, began negotiations with Government. But, suddenly, Government revetted the 'preferred bidder' and aborted the process.
Let your yea be yea
and your no be no, now.
Because I'm on my guard
and I'm watching you from head to toe.
You better let your yea be yea
and your no be no.
Finally, with the racetrack on the brink of closure, and CTL heading over its fiscal cliff, a real opportunity to get divestment right (or as right as any political organisation can get anything) appears.
A single group representing all horse-racing interests (including, according to public statements made by one of the group's leaders, bookmakers) has banded together to make an unsolicited offer to buy the business of the racetrack. Things were going swimmingly as public utterances seemed to suggest that only the vexed matter of price hadn't been agreed. The group was united, organised, serious and backed by one of Jamaica's soundest financial institutions.
All of a sudden, we start hearing rumblings about procurement procedures; RFPs; expensive tender processes to be undertaken by a company that can't even pay winning purses on time; and steps to be taken to ensure the divestment process is fair.
Ho-hum. Here we go again. Fair to whom? The taxpayer about to be relieved of an entity that hasn't contributed to the Consolidated Fund for years? Horsemen who've all united to help lighten the taxpayers' load by removing this albatross? Is this about 'fair' or 'fear'?
You wear a plastic smile.
I know by your eyes.
You speak with indefinite style.
You're telling me lies.
You've got to face reality.
What's wrong with you and me?
Why can't you free your honesty?
GOING AROUND IN CIRCLES
For those who came in late, here's an update of the history behind this perennial preckeh. In the late 1980s, CTL, then Racing Promotions Limited (RPL), became insolvent. It had been set up in the 1970s, after a similar fiscal crisis, as a sort of hybrid cooperative whereby the company's shares were held by various interest groups (hence the genesis of 'stakeholders') but on a non-profit basis. All profits were to be reinvested and no shareholder could receive any dividend.
When RPL became insolvent, the JLP Government asked shareholders to return the shares so that a new, more private sector-style arrangement could be made. Some refused. A liquidation process was begun and, to the stakeholders' chagrin, completed by the newly elected PNP Government in 1989/90. 'Stakeholders' (especially trainers) were livid and have thereafter held to the belief their birthright was robbed. The campaign for this birthright's return has been relentless and is the root of most of the contentiousness that has been the bane of CTL's subsequent operations.
Finally, these 'stakeholders' have an opportunity, subject only to haggling over price, to retrieve their 'birthright', albeit not exactly as it was when taken from them. What do you think will be the fate of any other 'successful bidder' in a 'fair' divestment process? That bidder would be subject to contention all the days of his life as promoter.
Ooo, what a hullabaloo!
The Pioneers (co-founder Sydney Crooks and co-opted lead singer Jackie Robinson), turfites, singers of Let Your Yea be Yea and Pay, Bookie Man, Pay, became popular at Joe Gibbs' studio producing musical horse racing commentaries starting with Longshot, written by Lee 'Scratch' Perry. They'd realise it's time to apply common sense; stop fearing procurement rules that don't apply to sales of national assets; negotiate a fair price with 'stakeholders'; and give them first shot at turning their own industry around.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.