The government is in discussion with private sector stakeholders to lease the Ottley Hall Marina, which has been granted EC$165 million debt forgiveness and had been the subject of an inconclusive inquiry.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves confirmed the lease negotiation at the press conference Tuesday, one day after Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace raised questions about the development.
“We are in discussion in relation to leasing on certain conditions and with certain investment requirements. Cabinet has taken certain decision in relation to the process and certain specific things which we want to see,” Gonsalves said in response to a reporter’s question.
He said the investors are both local and foreign, and chair of the Board of Directors of the Ottley Hall Marina Company, Director General of Finance and Planning, Maurice Edward is overseeing the negotiations.
“As advised, with all the elements, I think it is a good decision we have taken. I think it’s a good thing. It would create more jobs there, it would create more value and it would arrest any deterioration,” Gonsalves said, but stopped short of giving details of the lease.
“I wouldn’t want to give you detail until matters are concluded. There is a good man in charge of the negotiations for the government. Mr. Edwards is an excellent public servant,” he said.
Speaking on his radio programme this week, Eustace read a letter purportedly written by and bearing Gonsalves’ signature, addressed to parties in the lease negotiation.
The letter was also circulated on social media, but Gonsalves said that while he had not seen or heard about it, ““Conceivably, the investors to whom I wrote the letter might have made it available to social media, I have no problem with that.
“I am sure that the letter is a sensible, well-worded letter, which doesn’t compromise the good of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the Prime Minister further said.
The letter, dated April 2, 2015, says, “I, Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, certify that we the Government has received and accepted the operational business plan for the Ottley Hall Marina introduced by Mr. Daniel Sandoval Ravetti, Mr. Mark Lulley and Mr. Wolfgang Olsawenski.
“There is the intention to offer a lease to the gentlemen for the period of 15 years with the option to renew at the end of the period. This lease proposal is now pending Cabinet’s approval but it is the intent to enter into an agreement for this lease no later than April, 30, 2015.”
Has Marina been leased? — Eustace
Eustace said that in light of the contents of the letter, he was assuming that the marina has been leased out.
“We don’t know the terms of the lease. We don’t know whether there is a review period if the people are not doing well and when the review period will be, and we don’t know what the general terms of the lease are,” he said.
He noted that the marina is a major project for which the government has received debt forgiveness of EC$165 million, adding, “… and we are leasing it out now to some people to run without that debt.
“My concern is, here is the government of St. Vincent, here is the Prime Minister of St. Vincent taking a decision of this type and not informing the public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines….
“… I don’t know what are the performance criteria that are included in any such a lease and I believe, as Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and I believe the public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines should know what are the terms of the lease agreement.
“This is a debt-free operation. Any debt incurred since that time would have been under the watch of the government,” Eustace said.
“Is there something to hide in this? Are we going to know what the terms of the lease are, or do we have to wait for the government to change? I don’t like this at all. This is a major asset that this country has. We have gone through a lot of turmoil over it. And now it is being leased for 15 years with an option to renew and nobody has a say in that, except the government,” he told listeners to his programme.
Gonsalves told reporters that there was an initial company that included people from the French West Indies, then the composition of the investors changed.
“So, I don’t know if that letter related to those from Martinique who are involved — somebody from Martinique, some people from Bequia, some locally here (St. Vincent Island), and then those went out and then other players came in.
“All I was doing, I’ve had a policy for the lease of the Ottley Hall Marina to appropriate investor(s) with certain objectives: to add value, create wealth, to create jobs, and to arrest any deterioration and that’s the policy,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Health.
He said several different persons have come, saying they don’t want to invest they want to manage; others have said they want to invest but what they want to invest is not sufficient so he also rejected their proposals.
The Prime Minister further said that sometimes he doesn’t want to speak about things prematurely.