Open Letter to Sachin Tendulkar
April 28th 2017
Dear Sachin Tendulkar,
I’m Jwala Rambarran, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
You are of course quite familiar with my home in the West Indies. You’ve played a few matches at the Queen’s Park Oval during your stellar career. Now you may return as the Government’s guest of honor to open a national stadium named after your friend and our local cricketing hero, the prodigious Brian Lara.
However, I’m writing this open letter to ask you to seriously reconsider attending the May 13th opening ceremony of the scandal-ridden Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, south Trinidad.
Sachin (I hope you don’t mind if I call you by your first name), I do not make this request lightly. I feel you must know to come to Trinidad to open this stadium with Brian Lara would be historic for the wrong reasons.
It will be remembered by all fair-minded citizens as the day the Rowley PNM Government exploited the Indian cricket legend – Sachin Tendulkar – to sanctify a stadium which has been the subject of serious and damning allegations of corruption and massive misappropriation of public funds which could still result in the laying of criminal charges.
Sachin, let me give you the sinister story of the Brian Lara Stadium. When this stadium opens next month, it will be happening ten years after it was supposed to be ready for Cricket World Cup in 2007, and after racking up extraordinary cost overruns, already past TT$1 billion and counting.
The Brian Lara Stadium was commissioned in 2004 by the then Patrick Manning PNM Government to provide a high-class sporting venue for Cricket World Cup 2007. For this reason, the stadium had to be completed by February 19th 2007 and to be in a “game day ready condition” by March 4th 2007.
Its planning was based on a “fast track” approach, but major design and construction problems persisted, resulting in massive delays, and eventually cricket’s world body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), announced in September 2006 that Cricket World Cup matches would not take place at the stadium.
Instead of being ready in early 2007 as promised, the stadium project continued to drift out of control with no predictable completion date. Costs likewise escalated out of control. In 2009, the cost of the stadium was projected to exceed TT$700 million. The initial budget was TT$272 million. By 2017, the cost had surpassed TT$1 billion.
Sachin, the Brian Lara Stadium was the subject of investigation by a Commission of Inquiry appointed in 2009 to look into the several public sector construction projects managed by the state entity, Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT). Professor John Uff CBE QC, an internationally-acclaimed British expert in engineering, law and construction, was appointed to chair the Commission of Inquiry.
The Uff Commission’s construction expert, Mr. Gerry McCaffrey, raised serious concerns about the financial administration of the Brian Lara Stadium Project, stating it was “nothing short of scandalous” and he pointed out that the structural steel work at the stadium is “effectively condemned.”
Even UDeCOTT’s own expert, Mr. Arun Buch, said during the Commission of Inquiry, the project was a “fiasco” and considered the primary cause of time and cost overruns to be conceptual and detailed failures of design, particularly in the structure itself.
It’s unclear whether the stadium’s recent refurbishment has rectified these structural integrity problems, equally disturbing is that the current Minister of Sports indicated the ICC has not yet certified the facility for any cricket event. Sachin, let’s hope the stand they want to name after you is structurally sound.
The Uff Commission of Inquiry formed the pejorative view of the Brian Lara Stadium project that… “The possibility of some corrupt relationship dictating the course of events cannot be ruled out and, in the absence of proper answers the whole project demands further investigation”.
The further investigation never happened and now another PNM government which presided over the project’s suspect beginnings seems content to sweep all this under the rug, open the stadium with much fanfare, and pretend like these allegations never came up.
Sachin, you may think this is all about the squabbling of politicians, but it goes far beyond petty politics.
Our country is currently grappling with a deep recession, job losses are mounting, and violent crime is escalating. The cash-strapped government raided our country’s savings in our sovereign wealth fund, the Heritage and Stabilization Fund, to help them meet their expenses. Yet, they prioritized the Brian Lara Stadium, spending considerable monies to finish the facility, open it in an elaborate ceremony, and to maintain the large structure.
Our cash-strapped government is now seeking to reintroduce a failed property tax to help finance the stadium’s operations. To say that the public outcry surrounding the property tax has been deafening would be a gross understatement.
The fact the Uff Commission of Inquiry could not rule out corruption on the Brian Lara Stadium Project means that money is unaccounted for and should be considered stolen from the people of Trinidad and Tobago. That TT$1 billion could have built and fully outfitted almost 60 new primary schools, or purchased medicine for all our major hospitals for one year.
The economic policies of the Rowley PNM Government on whose invitation you might be attending this event now matter to you Sachin.
Think about that one billion dollars and counting Sachin. Remember this because if you come here you will drive past a Children’s Hospital in Couva on your way to the Brian Lara Stadium. The Rowley PNM Government has refused to open that hospital, fully equipped with all state-of-the art units and medical machinery. The nearest hospital for the community is fifteen miles away to the south in the city of San Fernando.
Ask your hosts to drive you to Debe, it’s about another fifteen miles to the south of the Brian Lara Stadium, you will see a university campus brand new, but sitting idle. The Rowley PNM Government has again refused to open this university campus.
Do you think this is right Sachin? Education, health for thousands of our citizens have been rejected in favor of opening this sporting facility. While sport is important, fear not Sachin, if you come you will pass the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, an excellent cricket facility just two miles from the Brian Lara Stadium.
You would have also passed the Ato Boldon Stadium, an athletics and football stadium, and the National Aquatic Centre and cycling velodrome, both sporting facilities just obliquely opposite the idle Children’s Hospital.
Prime Minister Rowley may try to appease you with the argument the Brian Lara Stadium will benefit the people of the country through sports tourism. Don’t be fooled.
This stadium is a reminder that across the West Indies, the much promised economic and social benefits of Cricket World Cup 2007 failed to materialize. The stadiums built or upgraded by already heavily-indebted West Indian governments for the sporting mega-event were more a form of monumentalism than a contribution to the communities where they were built.
The legacy of Cricket World Cup 2007 became one of more debt. Sports tourism is yet to pay off for the West Indies.
Sachin, please don’t think for a moment this is about not giving Brian Lara his honor. Brian is my fellow college schoolmate and Brian can tell you, I believe his accomplishments must be honored in the most meaningful ways by our country.
But Sachin I implore you to not tarnish your good name and goodwill by allowing yourself to be used as a pawn by Rowley and his PNM Government. You are already off to a bad start.
Negative public reaction is growing to the decision to name a stand at the stadium after you. Hardly anyone believes it’s a good idea, instead they see it as an insult to our long line of distinguished and deserving cricketers such as Sonny Ramadhin and Rangie Nanan.
Your country, India, and home of the ancestors of nearly half the population of Trinidad and Tobago, has honored you with the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, you are the youngest recipient to date and the first ever sportsperson to receive this prestigious award.
You are serving your country in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Parliament of India, so you understand the mantra of good governance.
Your philanthropy with underprivileged children every year through Apnalaya, a Mumbai-based NGO, reflects the teachings you have learnt from your father and from being an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesh and Sathya Sai Baba.
Your integrity and principles have served you well as a beloved sportsman and now as you serve your people, do what is right on an international level and decline this invitation.
I urge you to inform Prime Minister Rowley that when he decides to open the Children’s Hospital you would gladly associate with such a venture since it fits in with your advocacy and ambassador work with children in need of medical attention.
Sachin, I look forward to your response and action on this vital issue of national interest.
Don’t let a billion dollars taint your billion dreams.
(former Governor, Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago)