The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says it is against the sale of state-owned lands at Mt Wynne to foreigners and will present an alternative developmental plan for the area.
“You have to exercise discretion as a government. You can’t take all of the best lands and give it to foreign investors. That is so basic, it doesn’t need a comment,” NDP President and Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace told a press conference in Kingstown last week.
“What we have to do is give opportunities to our local investors by providing them with the necessary incentives, the type of finance that is required and the technical support we can give them,” he said, adding that he is also including among local investors Vincentians in the diaspora.
“We want an environment to develop for promoting small and medium enterprises in St. Vincent and the government has to play a major role in that, including the establishment of a proper development bank and giving the necessary incentives to assist such enterprises. I am very clear on that in my mind. I have no reservation that that can be accomplished,” Eustace said.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced late September that his government has agreed to sell 31 acres of land at Mt Wynne-Peters Hope to undisclosed “Canadian investors” for EC$7 million.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, told the media his government had already received EC$3 million of the sale price and is expecting to receive the remainder, following the processing of the alien landholder permit, the movements of which were being expedited through the state machinery.
The Canadians are doing two projects — about 40 villas and a small hotel of about 200 rooms, the prime minister told the media.
“All told, you’re gonna get numbers close to 400, 350-370 between both of those investments…”
But Eustace told an NDP press conference in Kingstown last Tuesday that the NDP completely opposes the sale of lands to foreign interest and also expressed concern about the sale price.
“As far as Mt Wynne-Peters Hope is concerned, we, in the NDP, simply do not support this fire sale of a prized national asset by the ULP administration, under the so-called guise of ‘development,’” Eustace said.
“There is a way to develop that area, but it categorically does not involve selling 31 acres of prime land,” he said at the media briefing where MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, who is one of two NDP vice-presidents, and MP for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings, also of the NDP, also expressed similar views.
Eustace said he was bringing to bear on the debate his many years of experience as a development economist and banker, a former fiscal advisor and minister of finance and even his short stint as Prime Minister.
“I cash in my experience now,” Eustace said.
He said that when the nation looks across the Grenadines, and in particular at Canouan, the sale or lease of state lands has been contributing to an increasing marginalisation of Vincentians.
“In some instances, the experiences are insulting and in violation of fundamental rights and privileges,” Eustace said.
In Canouan, residents have been agitating for almost two decades for continued access by land to beaches after resorts were constructed in the north of the island, two-thirds of which have been leased to foreign investors.
“We simply cannot continue this way,” Eustace said of the continued sale of state lands.
He said the NDP has conducted a policy review and is “totally against the sale of Mt Wynne and Peters Hope to foreign interests and thereby denying unborn Vincentian generations an opportunity to be stakeholders in their own land and therefore be reduced to second class citizens”.
The development of the area “should be reserved for Vincentians,” the opposition leader said.
He noted that 31 acres of land sold for EC$7 million for hotel and villa development, amounts to about $5.18 per square foot.
Meanwhile, Cummings told the press conference that the NDP has been critical of the way in which the ULP has been selling out “the little remaining land” for purpose of building the EC$729 million Argyle International Airport.
He questioned how the development that is going to make use of the airport would be possible when there is sale of so much state-owned lands.
Cummings also raised the issue of access to beaches.
“How many places in St. Vincent can we go to the beach, have recreation without interruption,” he said, noting that St. Vincent does not have the type of beaches that are found in the Grenadines.
“Mt Wynne-Peters Hope is the last bastion but it’s the same people who come up with some ponzi scheme that they themselves don’t even understand and that explains why they can’t tell us the details,” he said in reference to the little information that the government has given about the investors and the projects.
Cummings accused the government of feeding the public with “little trinkets”.
“… when lands nearby are selling for $15, $20 a square foot, they are giving it away at just over five dollars [a square foot]…” Cummings said and told reporters and media audiences that the issue is not about politicians.
“This issue is not about Eustace and Ralph Gonsalves, this issue is about this country and generations yet unborn. If you do not get on board, what will your children and grandchildren say of you? You cannot rest on your laurels,” the West Kingstown MP said.
And, Leacock told the media that the sale of the land was an “act of desperation” on the part of the ULP administration.
“What is seven million dollars to Vincentians compared to the … pride and the joy that we should have for owning things in St. Vincent…
“Mr. Eustace used the word ‘fire sale’. That’s when you can’t wait to get rid of it. It means it’s another bailout for the Argyle International Airport,” he said of the project, which the government said will be completed this year, five years later than scheduled.
Leacock said future generations would accuse the current crop of Vincentians of being “reckless” and having “wanted a quick buck, wanted to put our hands on another form of corruptive practice to enrich oneself at the expense of our people,” Leacock said.
He said that the NDP is too serious to allow that to happen.
“On this matter, we will set ourselves to work, and we will present to you, in the fullness of time, a more efficacious economic development plan for Mt Wynne-Peters Hope that ensures that we remain, for all times, owners and stakeholders in those estates. We are, therefore, revisiting our earlier policies, and we would be, as I said, happiest when the land in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is for the development of us, Vincentians,” Leacock said.
Leacock suggested that the national stadium can be built at Mt Wynne or that the lands can be used for agriculture.