By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Feb. 24, 2023)
The news that a property on the Grenadine island of Mustique has a sales tag of US$200 million sent me thinking. What is the combined value of all of the foreign-owned properties in the Grenadines? And then I wondered some more whether we are making the best use of our exclusive attractiveness.
Tropical paradises are a dime a dozen across the world. However, our slice of paradise attracts many big names in business, music and industry. Reports are that Bill Gates and Tiger Woods are frequent visitors, Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger are rumoured to own homes, while others, financially well-endowed but less known, zip in and out under the radar to bask in our sun and sand and luxuriate in our clean, clear waters.
People with money don’t have to come to SVG. They can buy multiple properties around the world. However, the national economy needs to benefit. The Mustique Company makes a lot of money. Even with the employment of some nationals at above-average wages and our tax policy, I remain convinced that it, along with the many other private foreign owners, is allowed to fleece SVG rather than pay a fair share that could assists in our development.
Whatever happened to the development assistance that the Canouan developers were to make in the village? Smack in the middle of two multi-million-dollar development on the island, indigenous people live in relative squalor; basics of modern living are absent. In fact, through benign neglect, the government’s plan seemed designed to push local people entirely off Canouan to turn the entire place over to the rich and famous. If there is no turnaround in policy in a generation or two, locals on the island would only be employees of the white overlords.
This brings me back to the $200 million listing price for the sale of the Terrace. If it is sold, the country gains from a new owner’s application for an alien land holder’s license. This could amount to 16%. But is this bang for the buck?
It’s true that many of these high-priced exclusive homes are owned by wealthy people. The properties are not their primary homes. Therefore, these properties attract a lot of rental income. The actual owners may spend a few weeks or months per year. To generate even more income, would it be better to adopt the policy in place in Monaco? No income tax exists, but rental properties are taxed at 1% of the annual rent plus other applicable charges.
On the French colonial enclave of St. Barts, there is a 5% property registration fee. Ownership of the properties is closely monitored. There is a 35% capital gain tax on properties if the seller occupies it for less than five years. Assume that the property’s purchase price is $10 million and the property is sold in four years for $15 million, the capital gain will be $5 million, and the government tax will be 35% on the increase or $1,750,000.
On St. Barts, the amount of taxable capital gain is reduced by 10% per year from the eighth year of ownership of the properties. The taxable capital gain is reduced by 20% per year if the property remains the primary residence of the owner.
Because the properties in the Grenadines generate a great deal of rental income, we stand to gain a substantial windfall if these ideas are explored. There is always room for debate because nothing we say or do exhausts the logical space. However, sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. We cannot continue to be the hewers of wood and the carriers of water in our own land. We must find creative ways to get the most out of our natural beauty and quiet way of life.
Is our legal system up for grabs?
Plain Talk has long maintained that of the three branches of government — executive, legislature and judiciary — the legal arm remains our saving grace. We are not without our stresses and strains, but the charge of corruption is not directed at our courts.
Many people are beginning to question the legal system. Others have entirely lost faith that justice will ever be done here.
Many expressed shock and dismay when a woman convicted of being in possession of 60 kilos of cocaine was sentenced to two years and 10 months. The biggest surprise was the decision of the National Prosecution Service led by DPP Sejilla Mc Dowall, to try the matter summarily rather than indictably. Once the accused is tried summarily, the maximum sentence the magistrate could issue is seven years. If the accused was tried indictably, the maximum sentence could be as much as 25 years. The convicted person was also liable to face a hefty fine. Nurse Nanton was not fined.
Another surprise was the decision to drop the trafficking charge against the accused nurse. In mitigation, it was said that friends, family and associates duped the nurse. Yet, there was no demand that she give up these names as a condition for leniency. Other less connected citizens are charged with trafficking if they are found with a much smaller quantities of the locally grown herb.
A reliable source disclosed that the settled understanding in the DPP’s office is that an indictable charge follows anyone arrested with more than two kilos of cocaine and 200 pounds of marijuana.
Why the National Prosecution Service deviated from this practice in the nurse cocaine scandal case is anybody’s guess. While this decision proved to be embarrassing, we can be confident that this was no innocent mistake. Someone, somewhere, with power and influence, must have intervened to ensure this outcome.
While much remains unknown, this much is not in dispute: our judiciary is being negatively influenced. This follows the sordid reality that cocaine seized by the police frequently disappears from the “safekeeping” of the police officers. Worse, is that no one gets disciplined, fired, charged or tried. As far as we know, the only punishment is that the gatekeeper is transferred when illegal drugs go missing.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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