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The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]. 

The call from Vin Samuel to join the debate: BALANCING THE INTERESTS OF FOREIGN INVESTORS AGAINST THE NATIONAL INTEREST OF SVG, has caused me to focus on Canouan.

Canouan, an 1800-acre island in St. Vincent Grenadines, is reputed to have one of the longest barrier reefs in the world. It is more than a sight to watch. It is virtually a straight line of white ripples amid the gorgeously blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, extending almost the full Eastern length of the island.

To better understand the title of my essay, I chose to use a few working definitions of the word CORRUPTION to show how this little paradise isle has been lost eternally to the natives.

Rev Fr. V.V. Paulose of the St. Basil’s Syriac Orthodox Church, Ohio, in defining corruption, said: “Corruption is an underneath mythological Palace, but in reality, is a death trap to anyone entering its orbit. It is the root cause of underdevelopment, poverty, squalor, unemployment and all maladies of the world.” Quoting from The Bible, He said: “You shall take no bribe, for bribe blinds the officials and subverts the cause of those who are in right. Extortion turns a wise man into a fool and bribe corrupts the heart.”

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CORRUPTION is dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially by powerful people such as Government officials. It is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders.

To curb corruption, the media has a very critical role to play. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon in his 2016 World Press Freedom Day message said: “Human rights, democratic societies and sustainable development depend on the free flow of information, and the right to education depends on press freedom. Press Freedom and the free flow of information are necessary, not only to inform citizens about the goals but to enable them to hold their leaders accountable for fulfilling the pledges they have made… Constraints on freedom of expression place shackles on progress itself.

John. F. Kennedy said: “The press is protected… not primarily to amuse and to entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply give the public what it wants, but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and opportunities, to indicate our crises and the choices, to lead, mould, educate and sometimes, even anger public opinions.”

Canouan Resorts Development Limited (Lease Ratification Act   # 4 Of 1990)

LEASE: This lease is made on the 31/10/1990, between JAMES FITZ-ALLEN MITCHELL, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, acting for and on behalf of the Government (Lessor) and Canouan Resorts Development Ltd as a wholly owned subsidiary of Gesfid S.A (Lessee)

Among the terms and conditions of the lease are:

  1. Neither the Lessee nor any Licensee shall be required to obtain any building permit, license or other approval for any development. Para. 3 (1)
  2. The Lessee shall (1) Upgrade the existing medical clinic. (11) Construct and maintain residential staff facilities for the Lessee’s employees in the section of the island referred to as “The Village” as indicated on Appendix A. Para. 7(e).

APPENDIX A—Legal description based on Survey:

ALL THAT PIECE, PORTION OR PARCEL of land of the Island of Canouan … comprising the entire Northern section of the island bounded on the North Eastern and the Western sides by the sea.

  1. That persons may be authorised to enter the premises upon such terms and conditions as may be agreed upon between the Lessor and the Lessee. Para. 7(h)
  2. That the Lessee shall peacefully and quietly hold and enjoy the premises… without any interruption by the Lessor or any person(s) claiming by, through or under the Lessor. Para. 8(b)
  3. No stamp or other taxes or levies, including exchange control, shall be levied, charged or collected by the Lessor, on or in respect of monies remitted by the Lessee to or from any place outside of SVG. Para.8(k)
  4. No custom duties or other taxes or duties levied, charged or imposed by the Lessor on the import of goods and provisions, furniture, furnishings, fuel (diesel or gasoline) into SVG shall be payable by the Lessee or its assignees or Licensees in respect of the construction or maintenance of the project. Para. 8(l)
  5. The Lessor to waive and hereby waives any right the Lesssor may have to compulsorily acquire Premises or any interest in the Premises. Para. 8(q).
  6. The Lessor agrees upon the prior written request of the Lessee to convey Freehold Interest. The Lessor shall execute and deliver to the Lessee the deed within 10 days after submission thereof to the Lessor… The Lessor may impose a fee of not more than US$2,500. (Para 13.)

When one examines the lease agreement, there are many instances where the Lessee is given the authority to operate above the law. The following examples will illustrate my argument:

  1. The entire Northern section of the Premises is bounded on the North Eastern and the Western sides by the sea. This is clearly a violation of the THREE CHAINS ACT. The Lessor has given the Lessee territorial rights/boundaries, which are only affordable to a State.
  2. The Lessee has the authority to upgrade the medical clinic. The medical clinic is a property of the State. For the Lessor to abdicate its responsibility to the Lessee, is clearly an indication of who is in control.
  3. That the Lessor could by a simple ACT of Parliament, waive its authority to compulsory acquisition of premises of the Lessee, is a violation of Sec. 6(1) of the SVG Constitution Order 1979.
  4. Although the land is a lease holding, the Lessee has the authority to sell lands on a freehold basis. Regardless of the price the Lessee sells for, the Lessor, can only collect a maximum of US$2,500 upon singing the deed.

The Lessee does not only own exclusively 2/3 of the island, but in the 1/3 referred to as “The Village”, the Lessee owns:

  1. A 28 and 40 acre plots of land.
  3. CANOUAN RESORT, a Five Star Beach Front Hotel on a 30-year lease arrangement from the Government.
  4. Several of those in the Lessee’s management team own properties within “The Village”.
  5. The Lessee is part owner of the Canouan Airport, which is located in “The Village”.

There is a 64-acre plot that was earmarked as a reserve. No one knows for sure if all or what portion of that lot is still available to the Government. In real terms, the Government and the natives are squeezed into less than 400 acres of the 1800-acre island.

Balancing the Interest Of Foreign Investors Against the National Interest of SVG

On visiting Canouan, no one can say that since 1990, Canouan has not taken on a face-lift, but so too has the rest of SVG. Of course, a four- and five-star hotel and a 1,200-acre resort on a small 1,800-acre island, must create some awe, but is that “DEVELOPMENT”?

Karl John, a development planner, in his book: LAND REFORM IN SMALL ISLAND STATES, writes: “Analysts who are more sensitive to the problems of developing countries, have generally insisted that the mere increase in output, productivity or per-capita income, cannot be accepted as constituting development. Real development, they contend, can only occur if… social and economic inequalities become less pronounced… It would be strange to call the result ‘development’ even if per-capita income has doubled.”

What goes on in Canouan is disgraceful. To borrow a Sir Hilary Beckles’ term, this type of behaviour is “Subversive to Democracy”. Basic education does not go beyond Grade 6 (ages 11-13). Parents have to struggle to send their children, braving the peril of the seas, to either Union Island or St. Vincent for a secondary education. It does appear that the unwritten mantra is: “Beyond grade six, get physically fit and you are ready for a menial job on a resort or migrate and live in exile. Admire the white foreigner for what he is: “The Symbol of Loftiness”. He reigns supreme while Blacks are marginalized.”

Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, then Leader of the Opposition said: “The people of Canouan have to put with the indignity of having their ancestral and historic rights being taken away from them. They cannot go to the beach. The natives of Canouan need passes as if they were in South Africa in the days of Apartheid under Botha and Voster.” (THE VINCENTIAN, 23/12/1999)

Today, under his prime ministerial leadership, you go to any of the three resorts. If you are white, you walk, accompanied, drive or are driven; no questions asked. If you are black, you first have to declare your purpose or you are turned back. If permission is given, you are escorted.

South Africa under Apartheid was a developed country, but the wealth was distributed among the less than 25 per cent White population that ruled the country. The more than 75 per cent Blacks lived in squalor. If you understand corruption, you understand foreign investment in Canouan. The hotels have taken the place of the plantations. We have virtually sold the house to buy the furniture. Unless we can address what is currently taking place in Canouan and the rest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the call for reparation is only an irony.

Matthew Thomas (04/05/2016)

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

One reply on “Canouan: a paradise lost”

  1. C. ben-David says:

    1. If the Constitution — which has supremacy in the matters you outline — has been trampled on, those who have been adversely affected or third parties seeking justice for all should seek legal redress. These kinds of issues cannot be solved in the media or by face-to-face public confrontations.

    2. The issue of beach access and trespass should also be settled in a court of law.

    3. Corruption, especially bribery, patronage, victimization, etc. on the part of governments, must not be tolerated in a democratic society. Again, the legal route is the way to go in redressing these issue.

    4. The population of Canouan is simply too small to provide the education residents would ideally like. Even in rich countries, students are bussed to distant schools from rural areas because it is prohibitively expensive to support a full-fledged primary or secondary school for say 100 students. In a poor country like our own, even rich white people in Bequia have to send their children back and forth to the mainland every day to attend school. Whose fault is that?

    4. My information — which may be flawed since I have not done any first-hand research myself — is that the level of living of the average Canouan resident has risen since the beginning of the tourist industry there (and that most people were hand to mouth before that because of poor local livelihood opportunities) and that most people have no issue with limited beach access. In other words, the people of Canouan have welcomed tourism and are better off economically and otherwise because of it. Am I wrong? If so, what is the evidence to suggest they are worse off or no better off?

    5. The specifications of the lease are similar in other jurisdictions and are part and parcel of the competitive nature of the tourist industry. Even in other sectors — e.g., shopping malls — the mall owner or lessor plus the various tenants have the right to restrict access to the facility for a variety of reasons — crowd control, safety reasons, rowdy behaviour, age restrictions for unaccompanied minors, etc. — though they must observe existing laws in regard to job discrimination, providing handicap access, etc.

    6. Canouan being part of the larger nation-state of SVG belongs to all Vincentians not just those who happen to be living there. Accordingly, decisions affecting the island can only by the legally and democratically elected government of SVG in the interests of all Vincentians not just on the basis of the concerns of a few aggrieved and possibly xenophobic local individuals.

    This is why it is important to secure a legal judgment on the beach access vs. property trespass issue.

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