Your writer Mark Meredith was correct to question the motives behind the closing of the Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) ( Sunday Express, September 19).
In his letter to the editor last Sunday, Peter O’Connor said Covid caused the closing. Yes, Covid contributed in the short term, but AWNC was insolvent before Covid arrived. Why?
AWNC ceased operations near the end of the high season. Its coffers should have been full of cash. During the following ten months, expenses were few.
There were no costs for reservation handling, meal service, room cleaning, trail guiding, grounds maintenance, transportation, or off-site guides and drivers. The workers agreed to repeated three-month periods without pay to keep the centre functional and their jobs secure.
Meanwhile, according to the Friends of the Asa Wright Nature Centre website, contributions poured in-US$30,000 during the first half of October alone. How had the centre become insolvent by January? Why did AWNC terminate the deserving workers and deprive them of their hard-earned severance benefits? Where did all that money go?
I think mismanagement, not Covid, was the reason for the closure. As an international tour leader with 40 years’ experience bringing guests to AWNC, I am committed to resurrecting it, to bringing it back to its former status as a national treasure and an international destination, as well as an educational resource for schoolchildren throughout T&T. To that end, I am financing legal action to enable a forensic accounting audit of AWNC.
If a breach of fiduciary duty, or worse, is proved, the board can be reconstituted with competent persons willing to devote all the time needed to bring the centre back up to international standards. It has long concerned me that the centre appointed the head of a university department to be chair. Running a multimillion-dollar ecolodge requires a full-time commitment, not the spare time of a person already burdened with an extremely heavy workload of administrative, teaching, research and mentoring duties.
The chair should be a person with abundant time to devote to AWNC business. What those of us who love the Asa Wight Nature Centre are looking for is this: a sense of accountability by those who have driven it to its current sorry state, and for fresh faces to step up and save it.