Director of Finance and Planning, Maurice Edwards, was slated to meet Thursday with investors to whom the government has leased Ottley Hall Marina and Shipyard.
The meeting came amidst what Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on radio on Thursday were “some matters which ought to be dealt with quite seriously” at the shipyard, where workers have complained about late or partial payment of wages since July.
Gonsalves noted that Edwards is chair of the state company in which the marina is lodged.
The state company is also responsible for the lease arrangement with the Venezuelan and Vincentians investors to whom the marina was leased 15 months ago.
Thursday’s meeting came one week after Venezuelan, Daniel Ravotti, managing director of St. Vincent Shipyard Ltd. (SSL), the company to which the Vincentian government has leased the marina and shipyard, said that the facility could be profitable if his company resolves its cash flow problems.
SSL has been having challenges paying his workers over the past few months, although many regard the US$5,500-per-month lease as a giveaway price.
Ravotti told iWitness News last week that the problems at the marina are partly to be blamed on the situation with the Vincentian and Venezuelan economies, both of which he said are not performing well.
He confirmed that he is not current with his payment to the government even as he said that the government also owes him, but told iWitness News that overall he owed more to the government.
“I don’t think the government would like me talking about this. And remember that I have non-disclosure clause with them. But I can tell you, on a balance, I still owe the government,” Ravotti told iWitness News.
He also confirmed that his company has withdrawn monies from the salaries of his workers for repayment of loans and National Insurance Services (NIS) contributions but have not been paid them into his employees’ creditors or the NIS because of the cash flow problems at the marina.
“Right now, with the NIS and the PAYE, we are trying to come down with them because this is a situation happening since July, August. So, what we are trying to compromise with them is getting a payment plan, paying the interest rates they are charging,” Ravotti told iWitness News.
He said he was trying to reach with these institutions an arrangement that would be affordable in light of the cash flow challenges St. Vincent Shipyard Ltd. is having.
“But, as soon as the company starts getting back on the feet, we [will be] making all the full payment,” he said.
Ravotti, is a 33-year-old a mechanical engineer who graduated from a military university in Venezuela and also has a master’s degree in engineering from a German university.
“We have been running family businesses down there in Venezuela. Right now, they are stopped but we have family business since three generations back,” he said, adding that the businesses were construction company, a bakery, and maintenance in the refineries for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.
“We have been involved in a lot of things. You know, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you know. So we spread investments depending on the business we have. So, for example, you have some excess of money and you find somebody who want to open a business, you go with them in the business, they do a little bit well and then you go forward.”
Many persons have wondered how Ravotti and his group, which includes Venezuelan and Vincentians investors, came to secure a lease for the marina.
‘the learning has been tremendous’
He told iWitness News that group of Vincentians guy who “knew me for the work we’ve done” introduced him to the shipyard.
“In the beginning, when we decided to come forward for the shipyard, the expectations were a little bit different as we didn’t have a proper knowledge of how the things are run in the island. So far, after all this time, I can tell you that the learning has been tremendous and not only the learning, the overcoming of every situation has given us a learning, has given us an understand of how things are here,” said Ravotti, who began managing the shipyard 15 months ago.
Asked if he regrets investing in the marina, Ravotti told iWitness News: “You don’t regret what you’ve done because regretting what you’ve done is pointless. You have to face what you’ve done and continue forward. What I did is done, the money that was to be spent in this place is already gone and what the future is coming that is what we have to work for.”
He said that in terms of overcoming the challenges, the company had some investors “who are not from Venezuela — foreign investors”, who are interested in coming forward and giving them a hand.
Asked why should invest in the company in light of the challenges it is facing, Ravotti told iWitness News:
“If the money is pumped into the company and we solve the problem we have with the cash flow, alright, the company can be really profitable if we take the right decisions. And to take the right decisions we need money, alright? There is a project and there is a business plan that has been shown to the investors. The investors are not — they know the situation. They are not blind to the situation. They know the situation and they know that the only way to come forward in this place is putting some money. That’s the main thing.”
The interview came as workers, who were owed for three fortnights demanded that they be paid for two fortnights before Christmas last week, even as Ravotti said he could only afford to pay for one fortnight.
‘laying off people is off the table’
Since July, workers have been complaining about the non-payment or partial payment of wages.
But Ravotti said that laying off some of his staff is not an option.
“Well, I wouldn’t talk about that right now.”
iWitness News, however, noted that he is having problems paying the workers.
“Yeah. But if I cannot pay you even your fortnight, how am I going to pay you your severance? So, laying off people is off the table right now; it’s completely off the table right.”
A few weeks ago, as workers protested the non-payment of wages, Ravotti had said he would have shut down the marina for a month to allow him to deal with some of the money problems.
He, however, told iWitness News last week that they reach a compromise after talks with the union representing the workers that the workers were going to give the company three months to organise its money, bring investors and do what they want to.
“But, unfortunately, it is Christmas and the people want money for Christmas,” he said of the industrial action last week.
iWitness News, however, noted that people want money because they are owed and not just because it is Christmas.
“But if we were not in Christmas time, they probably would work with one fortnight without making too much noise, alright. But they want two fortnights,” Ravotti said.
iWitness News noted that Christmas comes every year and can be planned for.
Ravotti said that is why they made the three-month proposal and spoke to Noel Jackson, president of the workers’ union, and came to an agreement and announced it to the media.
“That’s why we did in such a way what we did, because we were overseeing the situation,” he told iWitness News.
Ravotti also failed to honour last week a an agreement he made with the workers to pay them an addition half fortnight and half month pay, respectively, by Dec. 23.