Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has dismissed the idea of having a town hall meeting in Canouan to discuss the ongoing issue of access to beaches in the northern two-thirds of the island, which has been leased to foreign developers for 99 years.
On Monday, MP for the Southern Grenadines, Terrance Ollivierre, said he understands that the government has asked for two weeks to allow Cabinet to make a decision regarding a gate that developers were erecting in the public road
It has been reported that the chief surveyor has found that the electronic gate, which operators of the resorts in the north of the island had hoped would replace a boom, was being built outside the resort.
Ollivierre, an opposition MP, speaking on New Times on NICE Radio on Monday, said he visited the area when “the disturbance” started and had a meeting with the developers as well as persons protesting the erection of the gate.
“At one point in time, they were detained at the police station,” he said, adding that he visited the protesters there and assured them that everything would be alright.
“We need solutions to what is happening. People on both sides,” Ollivierre said, adding that locals are calling for the access to beaches to be addressed.
“What the residents of the islands are saying is that access is being given to some and denied to others and it shouldn’t be that. That access to the beach should be given to everyone,” Ollivierre said.
He said islanders feel that an electronic gate would be a hindrance to them getting to the beach.
“There is also the problem of what time. Timing of going to the beach — day, night access and all of that need to be sorted out.
“So, I say to the developers, there is need for a town hall meeting and government instead of giving two weeks, this matter needs to be addressed urgently in a town hall meeting with the government, the developers and where the people can find out exactly what is happening,” Ollivierre said.
“Is there a new agreement? What is happening on the island in terms of who gives permission for what? But generally, the people have a point in which they are saying they need to be clear that access to all the beaches in the north shouldn’t be something that they have to fight for.”
People of SVG ‘not going to roll over and play dead’
Meanwhile, the prime minister visited Canouan on Tuesday and spoke about the visit on NBC Radio on Wednesday.
“I went to Canouan and I went straight to where the source, where the problem is, physically,” Gonsalves said, adding that he spoke to the acting manager of the developed area in the north of Canouan.
“We had a civil conversation. In between there were little things — between that side and some of the persons from Canouan who had been on the picket, who had been protesting.”
He said he pointed out that in circumstances like that in Canouan, historically, broadly speaking, there are four approaches, the first of which is to roll over and play dead.
“The people of Canouan, and the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and are not going to roll over and play dead with the issue at hand.”
He said the second approach is to live and let live. “And that requires a respectful conversation between the developers in the north and the leadership of the protests and other people in the village in Canouan, in the community — teachers, pastors, small business people,” the prime minister said.
“You don’t need to have a town hall meeting where there’s going to be a lot of noise and a lot of people doing things for dramatic effect and all that and some posturing and all the rest of it.
“No, you need to have a mature, serious, sensible, sensitive conversation.”
He said the third thing he suggested to the acting manager “would be above her pay grade.
“That this is to say, a reformed structural arrangement involving all the parties — between the developers and the government, certainly and also the community.”
The fourth approach, Gonsalves said, is “a revolutionary solution”.
“I said nobody is advocating a revolutionary solution because that will cause unnecessary disruptions. And that may not put us in a situation any better than where we are. In the totality, you may solve one problem, but others are created.”
He said the position of the developers, at first, was that they have a right to build a gate on their property.
“You may have a right to do something but it is wise, it is prudent, it is mature, it is sensible to take into account the sensitivities of the environment in which you are operating and where you are. You’re in a partnership.”
The prime minister said that as a result of the discussion, the acting manager said she would talk to her superiors “about that conversation, which I’m asking them to have — not involving yet in relation to that live and let live situation — a properly-prepared conversation with certain targeted outcomes which the people in Canouan and developers can reasonably live with”.
‘’Regulate’ would be for you a better verb’
Gonsalves said the first response of the developers was that they are going to build the gate.
“I said look, given the history of issues around access — and of course they’re insisting that people have access to go the beach. And she used the unfortunate word, the verb that you know, they provide a golf cart and so on and they control the access.
“I said, well you see what I mean? You see where the mindset is? ‘Regulate’ would be for you a better verb, not a perfect verb. But that can only come about through the conversation of a mature kind.
“I said to her …’ I’ll show you while you have rights except in certain extreme circumstances that you have to enforce those rights.’ I said, ‘We are nowhere there.’ I say that the state has a right, for instance, you are here working as somebody from overseas. She has a work permit. She has residence. Fine. They have a partnership. That’s okay.
“The state has the right to revoke it but the state ain’t going to act unreasonably and the state is not going to act insensitively, because the state has a partnership. After all, there is an investment there,” Gonsalves said, adding that between that investment and the other at Tamarind, there are about 500 people employed.
He said employment in Canouan used to be higher when there was big construction.
The prime minister said he told the manager that if the workers from St. Vincent and the Grenadines decide they were no longer going to work in those circumstances, there would be problems for the developers.
“I said the place would be a ghost town. I said nobody wants that. I say and you have a lot of rights. And I’m just talking some reasonable home truths. Just a sensible conversation. So, we will see what happens and see if there are improvements,” Gonsalves said.
Meanwhile, speaking on the same programme as Ollivierre on Monday, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday said that in approaching the situation in Canouan, the first principle must be that all beaches in the country are public.
“We understand the need for development and all of that but it cannot be at the expense of access to the beach,” Friday said.
He said the issue of access to beaches in Canouan has been litigated in public over the years.
“This matter should have been dealt with conclusively a long time ago. And it needs to be addressed and dealt with in a conclusive way now,” Friday said.
“You can’t have this flaring every four or five years. This cannot be good for the community; it can’t be good for developers. It can’t be good for anybody. So, it needs to be addressed once and for all, that this is a way in which access to the beach will be, recognised and guaranteed and then that is inviolable.
“This thing about changing the times and the access and the machinery and so forth that is in place to facilitate that just creates doubt and creates all kinds of confusion that can be avoided. This is something that can be addressed and can be dealt with for the benefit of all concerned,” the opposition leader further stated.