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Vendors were removed late last year from Villa beach, where the government opened this beach facility on July 3. (Photo: Facebook/National Parks)
Vendors were removed late last year from Villa beach, where the government opened this beach facility on July 3. (Photo: Facebook/National Parks)
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By Kenton X. Chance

The removal of items from Brighton Salt Pond Recreation Park in July was the second beach from which National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority (National Parks) removed unauthorised structures in less than a year with the full knowledge of the Cabinet, despite the continued denials by the government.

Further, while Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that National Parks had no authority to remove the items from the beach, the National Parks Act, passed in 2002 under his administration, says:

“The Authority shall have power and control over all rivers, streams, springs, swamps, waterfalls, waterpools and beaches in the State.”

The law further says that the function and responsibilities of National Parks include “to manage and maintain national parks inclusive of all rivers, streams, springs, swamps, waterfalls, waterpools and beaches and other national and historic resources

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of the State as assigned by the Minister…”

A source familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told iWitness News that Cabinet also instructed that implements used to facilitate unauthorised vending, as well as the vendors themselves, be removed from Villa Beach late last year.

This was around that same time that the Cabinet raised the issue of Errol “Huffle” Arthur’s unauthorised erection of items at the Brighton Salt Pond, where he rents a vending stall from National Parks, the source said.

Ralph Gonsalves copy
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (File photo)

On Sunday, Gonsalves again denied that his Cabinet discussed the removal of the items from Brighton.

This despite an iWitness News investigation that found that the matter was raised at the Cabinet late last year and was discussed repeatedly by the board of directors of National Parks before they were removed one day prematurely on July 20.

The source told iWitness News that late last year, a government minister told National Parks that another government minister had instructed that National Parks go immediately and remove the vendors from Villa Beach.

National Parks inquired about jurisdiction and the minister said that the National Parks Act, passed in 2002, gives the state agency jurisdiction to remove vendors from beaches.

National Parks had a conversation with the vendors asking them to voluntarily remove their items. Some complied and a few weeks later the matter came up at a meeting of the Cabinet.

At that meeting, the Cabinet asked National Parks whether the vendors and their implements had been removed from Villa Beach.

The Cabinet was told that National Parks had initiated conversations with the Physical Planning Department. The Cabinet asked why the Physical Planning Department was needed and a member of the Cabinet then telephoned a senior police officer and asked the officer to send some junior ranks to Villa Beach to provide security for National Parks staff to remove the vendors and their implements.

This was done a few days later.

“National Parks removed the illegal erections and it did not make headlines,” one source commented, adding that among the items removed was a stall that was harbouring rats.

“National Parks went with the police and had the things torn down.”

Another source noted that the vendors were removed during the height of the tourist season.

“There were about 10 vendors, including three elderly ladies selling snacks from straw baskets,” the source said, adding that while the situation on the beach was “somewhat chaotic”, the vendors were providing a valuable service that the tourists were willing to pay for.

“It was convenient for him (the minister) to dismiss then National Parks and that suggestion to get support from Physical Planning but now there is a site that National Parks manages and took action on decisions coming down from Cabinet to the board, down to management and frontline officers — when National Parks followed the line of command, National Parks is being snuffed at and saying if any agency was to do the dismantling, it was supposed to be Physical Planning Department,” the source told iWitness News.

Discarded items
Some of the discarded items after they were removed from the site at Brighton.

‘a discussion but not about the removal’

In his statements on WE FM’s Issue At Hand, on Sunday, Gonsalves said “the suggestion” that the removal of items from Brighton Beach “came to Cabinet” is “not true”.

“Secondly, that minutes for the National Parks Authority dealt with removal of Huffles, the structures, not true,” Gonsalves said.

“They had a discussion but not about the removal. In any case, the actions by persons acting through National Parks and Beaches, that action was unauthorised and, indeed, they had no authority to do it, apart from the fact that no decision was taken. But even within the legal framework, that’s the business for the planning authorities to deal with that.”

Gonsalves’ statement comes even as a report submitted to Resa Noel-McBarnett, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, under which National Parks falls, clearly shows that the matter was discussed at a number of meetings of the National Parks board.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by iWitness News, further shows that Noel-McBarnett was present at a number of board meetings of National Parks — including on July 19 — where the removal of the items was discussed.

According to the documents seen by iWitness News, National Parks had given Huffle until July 21 to remove the items from the beach.

During the prime minister’s interaction on the radio station on Sunday, Joel Providence, one of the hosts, asked Gonsalves if July 21 had not been set as the deadline by which Huffle was to remove the items from the beach.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Who give that? National Parks?” Gonsalves said.

“That’s what I was told. National Parks,” Providence responded.

“No. No. No. National Parks has no authority to do that. And emphatically there was nothing in the Cabinet on that matter about removing Huffles. Removing the structures, sorry,” Gonsalves said.   

Andrew Lockhart
Acting Director of the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority, Andrew Lockhart has been sent on mandatory vacation leave. (Photo: Facebook/National Parks)

National Parks chief ordered to go on vacation

Gonsalves was overseas when the items were removed from Brighton beach. Speaking on state media then, he said:  

“Some person or persons in the National Parks and Beaches Authority acted in an unauthorised manner. Well, such unauthorised conduct has consequences. The state cannot behave like a bandit. I will show those who want to conduct themselves in an unauthorized manner that such will not be allowed to stand.”

iWitness News was reliably informed that Andrew Lockhart, acting director of National Parks, wrote to his staff on July 31, informing them that he had received a correspondence dated July 24, 2023, mandated by the Board of Directors that he proceed on vacation leave with immediate effect for the period July 31 to Oct. 23, 2023.

‘excoriating’ National Parks workers ‘for political reasons’ — union

Meanwhile, on July 20, after the items were dismantled, Minister of Finance and MP for East St. George — where Brighton is located — Camillo Gonsalves, appeared in a video along with Huffle, Minister of Tourism Carlos James, and Noel-MacBarnett.

The ministers condemned the removal of the items from the beach, saying that National Parks had no authority to do so and that the action was taken without their knowledge. 

However, on Monday, the Public Service Union issued a press statement accusing the prime minister and finance minister of “excoriating” National Parks workers “for political reasons”.

In the statement signed by Lannique Findlay-Providence, its 2nd vice-president and PRO, the union said “such action is tantamount to bullying and intimidation.

“It is unacceptable for any politician to use his or her power to intimidate and bully public servants who are doing their job,” the union said, adding that the workers who removed the structures at Brighton Salt Pond were simply performing their duties.

“These workers have shown commitment and dedication to their work, hence they should be respected and appreciated. It is not appropriate for any politician to interfere with the work of public servants, for their own political gain.”

Villa Beach
From left: Acting Director of National Parks, Andrew Lockhart, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, PS in the Ministry of Tourism, Resa Noel-MacBarnett, a representative of the Taiwan Embassy in St. Vincent, and MInister of Tourism Carlos James at the opening of the Villa Beach Facility on July 3, 2023. (Photo: Facebook/National Parks)

The union said the prime minister, finance minister and tourism minister sought to inform the public that the workers were not authorised to act in the manner that they did.

“They further sought to establish that they were unaware of any decision to remove the structures,” the union said, noting that the prime minister further stated that “unauthorised behaviour has consequences”.

“This, according to the Searchlight Newspaper dated 25th July 2023, hinted at action being taken against the person who gave the directive for the demolition,” the union said.

The release noted, however, that the iWitness News investigation showed that the government was aware of plans to remove items that Huffle had erected at Brighton Salt Pond.

“The report also stated that the issue was raised at Cabinet since 2022 and was the subject of multiple National Parks board meetings. These findings are in clear contradiction to the Ministers’ statements that there was no prior knowledge of the decision to remove some of the structures from the recreation site at Brighton Beach,” the union said.

“We call on the named Ministers to desist from scapegoating and apologise to the workers at NPRBA for the unwarranted attack. We also urge all politicians to respect the work of public servants /workers and to refrain from using them as political pawns. We also wish to remind the Permanent Secretary that she is a public servant and as such should fiercely guard her integrity,” the Public Service Union said.

“The Public Service Union stands with the acting director, the workers of the NPRBA and all public servants who work tirelessly to serve our country. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and take all necessary steps to ensure that public servants are able to do their jobs without fear of political interference.” 

While the removal of unauthorised structures from Brighton Salt Pond (pictured) made headlines in July 2023, a similar move at Villa last year occurred without much public attention.

‘politicians … likely to override … management decision’

And, a source familiar with the situation, who asked for anonymity so as to speak freely on the sensitive matter, noted that the National Parks Act makes the entity responsible for all beaches and rivers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The law also speaks to the functions of National Parks, including “to ensure permanent protection of species and habitats, especially species which are threatened, rare, endemic and commercial species and representative habitats” — such as the sea turtles that nest at Brighton Salt Pond.

The source pointed out that the act was passed under Gonsalves’ administration and as prime minister, he knows why the authority was established as well as its roles and functions.

The source condemned the action of Ministers Gonsalves and James as well as the permanent secretary in the videos with Huffle, suggesting that National Parks did not have authority to remove the items from the beach.

“… how is the public supposed to respect National Parks when two ministers — finance and tourism — and the PS in the ministry of tourism have turned their backs on the authority that they are vested in to support.

“How are officers to feel comfortable or confident to execute their duties when it is very likely that politicians, ministers, are likely to override or overrule whatever management decision that the officers may take.”

The source said these questions might have even greater resonance in light of the crime situation in the country.

“The National Parks employees were carrying out the duties of National Parks enshrined in the law…” the source said, adding that on the very morning that National Parks removed the items, a sea turtle was slaughtered in the area of the mangroves at Brighton Salt Pond.

It is illegal to hunt or kill sea turtles or disturb their nests in SVG.

A source said sea turtles continue to be slaughtered on Brighton beach despite a ban.

Issue became public since March

The iWitness News investigation found that the dismantling of the items Huffle erected on the beach was discussed at board meetings of National Parks on Dec. 7, 2022 and Feb. 15, May 31, and July 19, 2023.

During that period, National Parks also visited the beach and had a number of conversations with Huffle.

On Wednesday, Laverne Gibson-Velox, the opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate for East St. George, spoke on Hot97 FM about the dismantling of the structures.

“This hasn’t just started,” she said, adding that around March 7 someone told her that people of Brighton were going to protest because Huffle had been told that he has to remove all of the items he had erected on the beach.

The politician said she went to Brighton Salt Pond but Huffle was not there. She said the people who were present confirmed what she had heard so she spoke about it on radio.

“And I think people just didn’t pay a lot of attention until when the breaking down started.”

On March 7, Gibson-Velox, who was the NDP’s candidate in East St. George in the 2020 general elections, spoke on her party’s programme on NICE Radio about the report that the items were to be removed from the beach.

Laverne Huffle Friday
From left: Businessman and National Parks vendor, Errol “Huffle” Arthur, opposition candidate for East St. George, Laverne Gibson-Velox and Opposition Leader Godwin Friday at Brighton Salt Pond on this month. (Photo: Facebook/Dr. The Hon. Godwin Friday ).

“I don’t have the full story; I haven’t spoken to anybody else. I just got the thing… I am saying that if that is a problem, it needs to stop. Somebody needs to let good sense prevail because we are talking about tourism, we are talking about wanting more cruise liners to come here,” she said on March 7.

She said that the Falls of Baleine were still closed many years after a rock fall there.

“So, it puts a strain on the number of sites that people visit,” Gibson-Velox said.

“So, if they love this area and they love to be there and they enjoy what the guy has done, the swings and all of this, why are you trying to cut them down? Somebody needs to answer, the voice of reason has to step in here at some point,” she said on NICE Radio.

In her comments on Hot97, Gibson-Velox said she was ill when the items were removed on July 20.

She said she visited the site on Aug. 8 and saw “the little changes that were made”.

Gibson-Velox said that the first time she went to the site she thought that it was “an interesting place.

“There was a certain amount of charm to it. And my information was that the tourists loved it,” she said, adding that she knew this for a fact because it was a preferred stop for tour buses.

“Why didn’t you know about it if it was discussed at board meetings, if it was discussed in Cabinet? If even you weren’t at the Cabinet meeting, there are minutes. Don’t you read the minutes?” the opposition politician said.

She said they must have known, adding “they need to come clean, though”.

Salt pond 1
Members of the public enjoy Brighton Salt Pond on July 31, 2023.

She said that what transpired with the parliamentary representative and the minister of tourism after the removal of the items “leaves a lot of questions because ‘people didn’t know about it’.

Gibson-Velox said the government officials have changed their minds because of “probably votes.

“The people of Brighton have a big problem with it. The people of Brighton like literally own that beach. They’re very attached to it. They will tell you there was nothing down there.”

She said the beach is “one short of heaven” and the MPs know how popular it is.

“I get a sense that they probably wanted to upgrade the place, based on the tables they took down there which are an improvement on what was there before. So, if you wanted to improve the place, you just have a conversation…

“Everything is not brute force and ignorance. Sometimes, you just have to be calm and have discussions with people and kind of give them the opportunity to express how they feel, you tell them how you feel. You just exchange ideas and at some point in time, you will reach an agreement,” Gibson-Velox said.

After National Parks removed the items from Brighton Salt Pond, the government supplied the site with tables of the standard type that are at recreational sites across the country.

2 replies on “Gov’t also ordered removal of vendors from Villa beach”

  1. So why Errol “Huffle” Arthur wasn’t sent a letter asking him to remove the items? Then this could have been followed up with a visit to ensure he received the letter.
    The National Parks as conducting the same actions the police and ULP perform. They come up with the rules and laws as they see fit.
    By the way why are they messing with the recreation facilities on the island? People have been using these areas for years with no problem. Now it’s all about tourism. Now the government wants to control the rivers, streams and beaches. All it needs to do is to put washrooms at these locations so tourist and Vincentians can use them.

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