By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk”, July 24, 2020)
“Revolutions constantly criticise themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts.” — Karl Marx
Every announcement by the government that it has lured another investor to our shores is good news if only these proposed hotels or other investments come to fruition. There is no one in this country or beyond who will want to see the failure of such projects. At the most basic level they will offer jobs as gardeners, cleaners, servers, maids, security and other such like all the way up to low- and middle-level supervisors and managers.
And there are the spill offs that come from these kinds of businesses. Taxi drivers, supermarket owners, farmers and others may benefit. The National Insurance Service will collect as these businesses pay in their share of benefits. VINLEC and Central Water and Sewerage Authority also stand to benefit as well as these hotels and other businesses consume a huge amount of water and electricity.
We vividly recall when Donald Trump splashed into Canouan and announced that he was to build a billion-dollar development with glitzy hotels, bars and gold course. Then Plain Talk simply response was “All that glitters is not Trump”. We were prepared to let Trump Raffles us to prosperity.
Later we were feasted on the image of David Ames who came pregnant with money and plans to transform the Vermont Valley. Our expectant citizens were promised jobs and prosperity galore. This was never completed and was forced to close four years as creditors and law enforcement closed in on the crook David Ames. Rather than assisting this country, Ames designed a Ponzi scheme and feasted on us. When the authorities allowed him to skip court thus providing the time for him to slip out of the country, he owed VINLEC an estimated EC$1 million in unpaid electricity bills, CWSA EC$500,000 and the NIS EC$5 million.
We still recall Unity Labour Party General Secretary Julian Francis telling his Star Radio audience that Bucama Resort is the quintessential ULP project, and the party and government stand firmly behind Ames and Bucama. Workers were encouraged to see party officials especially Francis and PM Gonsalves in the event of troubles. The scheme crashed and workers were left without salaries and severance pay. Neither the ULP nor government stood with them to ensure that Ames either pay or go to jail for his crimes.
Then there was the grand announcement of the Black Sands Resort at Peter’s Hope. Government turned over to the developers 26 acres of land at the fire sale price of EC$6 million. Prime seafront land for peanuts. When ground was broken in 2017, the Canadian developer promised to take 24 months to build the 400-room hotel. It is now more than 42 months since ground was broken and all we have is a few concrete shells.
The proposed hotels at Mt Wynne and Diamond have not yet started, while the resort planned for the property formerly owned by Ken Boyea is making some progress.
Across the region governments are pinning their hopes and dreams on hotel development. In Grenada, there is the Kawana Bay Resort, Singulari Resort in Antigua, and Baha Mar Casino Resort in Bahamas. All these developments experienced hitches in construction and operations. The story is the same across the region, from Dominican Republic and Jamaica in the north to Tobago and Barbados in the South. We are all vying for the same tourism dollar.
We compete among ourselves to sneer a developer and in doing so offer enormous concessions. Sometimes we give away ourselves to gain a big-name brand. They are given long tax-free holidays, concessions to bring in everything including fruits and vegetables so the spill off we hope for don’t often come.
We did this review of our most recent attempts at tourism development to return to the lead quote from Marx. Writing 161 years ago, Marx said, “Revolutions constantly criticize themselves.’ We don’t. ‘Constantly interrupt themselves in their own course.” We are too cocksure to ever interrupt ourselves. “Return to the apparently accomplished in order to begin anew.” We return alright but only to beat our chest. The education and health and housing revolutions are flawless. They can never be improved on. Not now or in the future. “They deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts.” No one dare to express the slightest difference in opinion with any pronouncements or attainments of the mighty lords.
Truth be told, there is no better time than now to remind ourselves that if we are to be successful at what we do, only the boldest constructive criticism will help us to chart a course that allows us to avoid past errors and emerging pitfalls.
We have to put in place structures and measures to ensure that we do not over invest in the David Ames’ of this world, that we don’t allow for the emergence of racist enclaves in our country particularly in this consciousness-raising era in the wake of the international emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
We should insist and ensure that developers do not import fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. Most importantly, these developers should be made to pay their bills. The poor are disconnected if they miss one or two payments with our utility companies. Under no conditions should Sandals Beaches or another developer be allowed to owe millions and refuse to pay workers benefits into the National Insurance Service.
Only time will tell if the touted benefits from these developmental projects will be realised. As the elders say, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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