The development to the north of Canouan, where beach access for islanders remains an issue, is not generating for the state coffers the tax dollars that the government had hoped.
“I must say this, I mentioned that there are many issues which are plaguing what you may call broadly, ‘the project’,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Wednesday, one day after visiting the southern Grenadine island.
“For instance, for the last five years, the government has made hardly any money, a number approaching zero for alien land holding licenses and transfer taxes because there are properties up there to be sold and the developers are not pushing the sale. They’re just keeping the land there within the company,” the prime minister said on NBC Radio.
Gonsalves visited Canouan on Tuesday in the wake of yet another protest over access to beaches in the northern two-thirds of the island, where developers were erecting an electronic gate on what the chief surveyor later determined to be public land.
In 1991, the government has leased 1,200 acres of the 1,800-acre island to foreign developers for 99 years.
Gonsalves said some rich people who have bought lands in “the project” have told him that “until there’s an improvement in certain things in their relationship with the developers, they’re not building.
“You know, people raising questions about maintenance and all the rest of it and this or that. So that there are other things which are to be sorted out.”
The prime minister’s public comments about on the happenings in Canouan suggest that his government is not pleased with what is taking place there, outside of the revenue issues.
Gonsalves said some people might say that land sales in Canouan have been slow because of COVID-19 and the 2021 eruption of La Soufriere volcano.
“Except to say, during COVID, … because of what is happening in Mustique and the nature of what is taking place there and the vibrancy, the state made about $100 million in the COVID year from alien land holding licenses and transfer taxes, with rich people, rich foreigners selling to rich foreigners.”
Mustique has long been billed as the playground of the rich and famous, but in recent years, Canouan had been billed internationally as “the Caribbean island where billionaires go to escape millionaires”.
Gonsalves said property sales in Mustique increased during the COVID-19 pandemic because people wanted to get out of Europe, United States and Canada “and come to a place where they could work from, they can relax …
“The prices for properties in Mustique went through the roof; rich people selling to rich people, … And we stayed in the slips and caught 17% of the value which was being sold with 10% transfer taxes — five and five, purchaser and vendor — and basically 7% for alien land holding licence,” the prime minister said, using a cricketing reference.
“I didn’t see any of that in Canouan,” Gonsalves said, adding that while he was “only touching some of the practical questions to give a wider context…
“If anybody said, ‘Well, what Ralph means that there are other issues but that’s not for there? … There is more I can talk about but I give that as also an indication and we are hoping to see some improvement in the relationship between the developers and the community.”
The prime minister said his government hopes that the developers get “the spirit of the agreement” that was put together by the then New Democratic Party administration.
He said the agreement, which was put into law, was “tremendously in favour of the developers.
“The original developers came to understand the people in Canouan and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But, of course, they have sold to another developer. I wouldn’t make any comment further than that,” Gonsalves said, adding that his comments were “to give the public a window into this discussion.
“Because I don’t want to pour gasoline on any fire which may exist. I’m interested, as leader of the country, to have things dealt with in a sensible, reasonable and sensitive manner to all concerned, within the interests of everybody.”