Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has described as “a nationalist victory” the outcome of a longstanding legal battle that will see 100 acres of beachfront land in Union Island in the Southern Grenadines returned to the State.
The case involved the appellant, Chatham Bay Club Ltd. and Chatham Bay Corp, and the Government, through the Attorney General, as the respondent, and revolved around the lands, which were purchased from the state in 1987.
The London-based Privy Council, in a ruling on Friday, ordered that before Jan. 25, 2014, the Government pays the companies US$244,968.87.
Of that amount, US$176,672.42 (EC$$477,000), the initial amount the company paid for the land, plus US$68,296.45, being interest on that sum, is to be paid at the annual rate of 5 per cent from Jan. 25, 2006 until the date of the order.
The Privy Council further said that from the date of the order, the Government would continue to be liable for and will pay interest on the US$176,672.42 sum at the 5 per cent rate, being a daily rate of US$24.20, until Jan. 25, 2014 (or sooner payment).
The Privy Council further ruled that if the payment are not made on or before Jan. 25, 2014, that there be judgement for the companies in the sums initially ordered.
The Privy Council’s ruling came after consideration of the Appellants’ application to withdraw an appeal and with the consent of the Respondent — essentially an out of court settlement.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, in announcing the ruling at a press conference on Monday, said that the lands have been forfeited to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by operation of the Alien Land Holdings Act and judgement of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Privy Council’s consent order.
“This is a case that involves the reclamation of our patrimony,” he said.
The companies bought the lands in1987, under Sir James Mitchell’s New Democratic Party administration.
The companies, which are owned by Americans, received an Alien Land Holding License from the Government, on condition that they spend EC$15 million to build a small hotel — about 50 rooms — and a restaurant, within three years.
Gonsalves said that the EC$15 million that was to be invested in the hotel was “not a great deal of money as far as hotel infrastructure is concerned”.
Gonsalves’ government, which came to office in March 2001, applied for forfeiture in 2006, because of the failure of the company to carry out the terms of the agreement, he said.
He said that from the beginning, his government had intimated to lawyer for the company, former attorney general, Parnell R. Campbell, that his government would pay the companies the money that they had spent on the land, plus interest.
He noted that this is what eventually happened at the end of the legal battle.
“They went through the whole legal battle over the years and eventually we settled, and the settlement involved the payment of the EC$477,000 which they paid for the lands, plus interest of 5 per cent annum from January 25th, 2006,” he said.
“And the lands belong to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he further said, adding that the lands have a market value of between EC$80 million and EC$100 million.
“This is a nationalist victory, a massive victory for the people, a reclamation of our patrimony and a clear message that this Government is interested in foreign direct investment, at the same time that the investors must live up to the conditions of the Alien Land Holding License. That is the story very simply,” he said.
Gonsalves pointed out that his Government didn’t have to say, initially, that it would repay money and interest to the two companies.
“But we are a people who are reasonable, and, in any case, we were advised by our lawyers that it was possible for such an order to be made at the Privy Council. In any event, we didn’t want to take the lands for nothing. We didn’t want to forfeit it,” he said.
The Prime Minister further said that it seemed that the companies couldn’t attract investors.
They had further discussions with Sir James, who said that his government would not give permission to build a cruise ship facility on beachfront land.
Gonsalves said that Sir James also told the owners of the company, which includes a businessman who is now deceased, that if they are having problems finding investors and were getting impatient, they could return the lands to the Government.
Gonsalves, however, said that Sir James did not raise the issue of forfeiture.