By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” May 20, 2022)
“When I joined the struggle as a 13-year-old boy in Soweto, I would never have imagined that one day I would blow the whistle on a special kind of corruption that was destroying the party and the values I had been fighting for all my life.” —Themba Maseko
Is the Vincentian state in the grip of a political class that is more concerned with its economic advancement and political survival than with the welfare of the people? There is increasing evidence that we are. All we need to do is open our eyes, suspend our political allegiances and pay close attention to what’s happening in our country.
State capture is a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their advantage. Vincentians, especially change agents and top civil servants, should read John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” to understand the problem better.
They should also read “For My Country” by Themba Maseko, a former state executive from South Africa. He was ostracised, slandered, and even threatened for this courageous act of whistleblowing.
Sounds familiar? “… traitors, renegades and turncoats will meet their end,” PM Gonsalves told his supporters as the ULP celebrated 21 years in Power.
Pilger’s work, published in 2004, offers an illuminating expose on ways in which lending agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, elite banks, and prestigious consulting firms influence and convince bureaucrats and political leaders to take loans that benefit a small local and foreign elite rather than the country and its citizens.
Themba Maseko’s 2021 book, “For my Country”, blows the whistle on the corrupt and incestuous relationship between former President Jacob Zuma and the economically powerful Gupta family of South Africa. In 2010, Themba Maseko was called to the Gupta family’s home and asked by Ajay Gupta to divert the government’s entire advertising budget to the family’s media company. When Maseko refused to do so, he was removed from his position and forced to leave the public service.
Maseko’s book details a rare insider’s view of the presidencies of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma and the inner workings of government.
Is the Vincentian state any different? We think not.
In the 1990s, the NDP government passed a law which gave foreign investors a 99-year lease to the Grenadine Island of Canouan. The deal allows the investors to sell the land. In one deal, an acre of land was sold for US$5 million. Billionaires Desmond Dermott and Andre Pignataro currently own most of Canouan. Vincentian citizens are increasingly made to feel like foreigners in their own land. The Glossy Bay Resort and Marina owners have a horrendous labour record. They dismiss employees and refuse to pay.
Both developers made empty promises that the village — what’s left of Canouan for locals, — would be developed apace with the resort. This has not happened.
All nationalists and progressives thought Gonsalves would renegotiate the Canouan sellout deal to block the lease owners from selling the land. Gonsalves evidently concluded that there’s no historical wrong in Canouan that’s worth correcting. In 2018, Dr Richard Byron Cox, an international civil servant and a recent addition to Gonsalves’ choir, was so incensed with developments in Canouan that he described Gonsalves as a “modern-day slave driver”.
Ottley Hall deals left SVG holding the “shitty” end of the stick. For an asset valued at less than $10 million, the nation owed close to $200 million. We paid more than $20 million to settle the deal.
The Black Sand Resort at Peter’s Hope represents the fire sale of 37 acres of prime real estate to a Canadian investor for the peppercorn fee of EC$6 million. Six years after the groundbreaking and four years beyond the proposed completion date, eight concrete shells are the only evidence of this US$200 million, 400-room hotel development.
The Rainforest seafood business at Calliaqua also received generous contractual terms. Without regard to sustainability, this project was foisted upon the nation. It is left to be seen what happens to our seafood stock in the years to come.
The government’s policy is that a hotel development has to have a minimum of 50 rooms to qualify for generous concessions. However, once you are well connected, as at least one business family is known to be, you can gain the concession by adding the rooms of two smaller hotels. For the economic elite, the sky is always a cheery blue. The rest of us remain on the plantation.
At the most generous terms, the Richmond Quarry project, in which 58.8 acres of state land was leased to a foreign investor, Rayneau Construction, tells an alarming story. In a deal that will net the treasury $12,000 per year and $2 for every tonne of aggregate exported, the concessions offered to the developers are staggering. The Government exempted Rayneau Construction from value-added tax, corporate tax and import and export duties. When fully operational, the company projects to make a minimum of $28 million. SVG’s cut will be under a million.
These deals are diametrically opposed to the developmental interest of the nation. We are witnessing the fleecing of the country. There is no other way to explain the giveaway of state resources. We have always said our political class doesn’t know what real money is, but we are confident they cannot be so stupid.
For state capture to work effectively, facilitators must use threats and intimidation to enforce a demand and enablers or followers- those who compromise themselves, cover-up or legitimise public spending or giveaways.
Too many of us go along to get along. Only by standing firm on principles, like Themba Maseko, would we be able to stamp out corruption and ensure that good governance best practices are developed and strengthened in our country.
To save the nation, protect the treasury, preserve our national resources, and safeguard our patrimony, SVG urgently needs resisters — those who refuse to accede to corrupt demands and practices.
*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].