Prime minister Ralph Gonsalves has defended the decision of his government to sell to Canadian investors 36 acres of land at Mt Wynne-Peter’s Hope for EC$7 million, saying it was part of the manifesto on which his government was re-elected to office last December.
But while Gonsalves made that point on Tuesday, the development he outlined for Mt Wynne-Peter’s Hope varies significantly from what he said in July 2015 would have been the case, at which time he said an agreement had already been signed.
Gonsalves told a press conference this week that tourism development in that area was a promise that his Unity Labour Party (ULP) made in the campaign for the December 2015 general elections and that the two main political parties had this as a common policy.
His comments came one week after the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which purchased the lands for the state in 1989, said that they should be reserved for use by Vincentians.
But Gonsalves said that when the ULP goes to the electorate on the basis of a manifesto and is elected, he intends to carry out the manifesto to the best of his ability.
“And that is what I am going to do,” Gonsalves said, adding that he is not going to implement the policies of those who lost the elections.
He said the NDP did not contest the proposition that the Mt Wynne-Peter’s Hope lands will be for tourism development.
Gonsalves said that since the lands came to the ownership of the public in 1989, there has been a consensus that the area would be reserved for tourism development.
“The first time that there was a breach in that consensus is recently. The agitation has come from internet crazies, from marginal figures, who have now, apparently, put themselves in control of the New Democratic Party.”
Gonsalves noted that under the NDP, former Prime Minister, Sir James paid EC$5 million for the 681-acre estate in 1989.
The ULP government is selling 36 acres of that land for EC$7 million, Gonsalves said, adding that the EC$5 paid in 1989 is worth about EC$10-12 million today.
He further pointed out the in 2000, then prime minister under the NDP administration, Arnhim Eustace, said in his Budget Address that the Mt Wynne-Peter’s Hope area has been earmarked for hotel development.
Eustace, who is now Leader of the Opposition, said last week that the NDP party is opposed to the sale of the lands to foreigners and will soon unveil an alternative development plan.
But Gonsalves noted the money that the sale of the lands will generate.
“I want it to sink in: the money that I am getting for the price of the land of 36 acres is more money, nominally, than Mitchell [got] the whole 681 acres for,” he said.
He said the investors — who he on Tuesday revealed were Pace Development Inc. of Ontario, Canada — intend to build 50 villas and sell them for US$600,000 each and that the government will get 10 per cent tax on the sale of each villa.
But in July 2015, about five months before Vincentians went to the polls, Gonsalves said that his government had already signed an agreement relating primarily to the construction of a tourism development in the Mt Wynne-Peter’s Hope area but also including a development at a section of the Reclamation Site in Kingstown known as Chinatown.
“It’s a huge investment. The developers, on whom we have done the appropriate due diligence, they will be doing hotel development and also villas. They are doing a golf course with clubhouse.
“The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will retain ownership of the golf course and the clubhouse facilities, but also the management for the hotel, the enterprise will manage it,” Gonsalves told the media.
“The developers also, as part of the consideration, they have agreed to do a creative arts centre and convention centre right here near to this Financial Complex and a boardwalk and shops, where you have Chinatown, as it is called. We need to do an improvement there. We have a broad plan, which we want to do also for Little Tokyo,” he told the press conference in July 2015.
In the ULP’s manifesto for the December 2015 elections, among its fourth-term election pitch, the party spoke of “the huge US$250 million hotel resort development at Mt. Wynne- Peter’s Hope”
Gonsalves said Tuesday that while his government has given the investors a relief in the Alien Land Holding Licence, the government will get the 10 per cent sale tax and if the purchaser is a foreigner, they would also have to pay for an Alien Land Holding Licence.
The NDP has also criticised the government for the price at which the lands were sold — just over EC$5 per square foot, even as lands nearby are being sold for EC$12 per square foot.
Gonsalves said that if the government subdivide the lands, pay the surveyor fees, put in road, light, drains and water, the land would be priced around $12 per square foot.
When developed land is sold at $12 per square foot, essentially the original price of the land is $5 per square foot, Gonsalves said.
He further pointed to some of the conditions of the sale, saying that the investors have to begin construction within one year and complete the project within five years or risk forfeiture of the land.
“If not, it will be open to the government, under the 1922 Alien Land Holding Act, to make an application for forfeiture, just like what we did down at Chatham Bay, when they didn’t carry out the conditions, which Sir James had imposed in the alien handholding licence,” Gonsalves said.
“So, these investors are taking a risk but they know they have to perform within a particular time and the only way that would happen is if I give them an extension or whoever then in government gives them an extension…” Gonsalves said.