By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Feb. 25, 2022)
Vincentians need to reject that our country is “like a big stone heap with good soil covering it”. If we embrace this notion of development as articulated by PM Gonsalves in his sales pitch for the disastrous lease deal he made with the St. Lucian company for 58 acres of land at Richmond, our sacred land soon is destroyed environmentally, or wake up one day and realise that the vast majority of our landscape and seascape has been pawned off to foreigners.
The idea that SVG is a big stone heap with good soil is a most backward description of our country. It smacks of a colonial mentality. This view says that this stone heap with good soil is there for the taking. Exploit it, deplete it, and be damned with concerns about environmental sustainability.
The government leased 58.8 acres of beautiful St. Vincent for $1,000 per month for 30 years. It is projected that 99% of all mined stones will be exported. For each tonne of stone harvested, we get $2.
If over 30 years a million tonnes of stone is sold from the Richmond quarry, SVG gets $2 million. Bulk crushed stones and gravel prices are US$10 to US$50 per tonne on average. Road base costs US$18 to US$30 per tonne and plain pea gravel costs US$28 to US$45 per tonne. Buying gravel in small quantities cost over US$100 per tonne.
The investors stand to make a pretty penny off our stone heap. But a closer look will reveal that this dance cannot pay for the light. There must be far more environmentally sustainable ways to use our natural resources. This project entails disrupting farmers’ agricultural production. In a country 18 miles long and 11 miles wide harmful dust particles from stone mining could cover the entire landmass and beyond. The health fallout from this mining is conceivable for more than $2 million over 30 years.
This is why there is always a need for environmental, social and financial impact assessment. Apparently, an ecological study was conducted in 2008. However, Dr. Reynold Murray, the consultant who led the environmental assessment study, said, “I can’t see a planning authority accepting a document that is …12 years old. I can’t see a document that dated being accepted at this time, particularly after a catastrophic event on the island and without consultation with the people to see how their life situations have changed…I really think if they are proposing to use this document — which I really think should not have been the case– it definitely needs to be updated, needs to be reviewed.”
Former town planner and long-standing ULP supporter Bentley Browne has also questioned the decision of the Physical Planning Authority to accept the outdated environment impact assessment. He noted that the planning approval system allows for all assessments to be modified, accepted or refused.
Somebody was in a hurry to get this deal done. Somebody stands to make lots of money off this deal. One thing is certain. The people of St. Vincent are destined to be the losers.
The quarry decision follows a long line of anti-people initiatives various governments have made regarding national property. Remember the sweetheart deal that the NDP administration made with the Trinidadian investor who was to building houses at Diamonds estate; the 99-year lease of two-thirds of Canouan for peanuts which allows the investors to sell the leased lands; the fire sale of 36 acres of prime real estate at Mount Wynne/Peters Hope at less than EC$5 per square foot; and the generous Rainforest contract that may herald the depletion of our fish, lobster, conch and whelk stock.
The sale pitch for the Canouan giveaway was that the island was a mosquito-infested hive in need of development.
We grabbed the Blank Sands deal because no investor came knocking to develop a hotel there for decades. Rumours abound that the project stalled because the principal investor has encountered legal and financial obstacles.
In the name of development, our leaders were willing to kill off rather than regenerate and restore the coral reef at Villa, and the indigenous people of Canouan were denied access to a beach they enjoyed for generations.
Our country is being recolonised in the name of development. An Englishman is now the largest landowner in SVG. Other Europeans are rapidly purchasing most of the available land. Medical marijuana production means even more lands are being leased or purchased by foreigners.
As Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of Walter Sisulu, the iconic South African freedom fighter, said, we have witnessed “the co-option and invitation of political powerbrokers to the dinner table, whose job is to keep the masses quiet in their sufferance while they dine caviar with colonised capital. After dinner, many things take place under and around the table. Some call it stomach politics. The politicians take care of themselves and their families, while those who put them there go to bed hungry, waiting for crumbs from the table.”
We are all for sustainable development that brings real solutions to our people’s problems. Anything less must be vigorously opposed and rejected.
We cannot sit back and watch as our leaders sell our precious assets and resources. More of us need to stand up and speak out. Unless we speak up for our rights and defend our patrimony, national hero Chatoyer and other freedom fighters who shed their blood and made the ultimate sacrifice will turn in their graves, and look upon us with disgust and disdain for what we have become.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].