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From left: Senator Israel Bruce, MP St. Clair Leacock and Fitz Bramble at the New Democratic Party's press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2023.
From left: Senator Israel Bruce, MP St. Clair Leacock and Fitz Bramble at the New Democratic Party’s press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2023.
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St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) cannot suddenly become “Sandals and the Grenadines’ opposition MP St. Clair Leacock said on Wednesday as he addressed the issue of how the government balances the interest of the country with that of the luxury resort, which is slated to open on March 27.

“… let me get straight to the point. You can’t have a situation where we now suddenly become Sandals and the Grenadines. It has to be St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So that’s the wider and better interest,” Leacock said as he fielded questions at a New Democratic Party (NDP) press conference in Kingstown.

“And we have to give and assume good intent on the part of the business interests. But when we see that it comes into conflict with government’s role and responsibility as an arbitrator, and it conflicts with the best interests of the housewife, the man in the street, then there’s the role for government to intervene,” he said.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced that Sandals would buy its seafood from Rainforest Seafood, a Jamaican company that began operating here in July 2022.

The Government of SVG has granted a 15-year tax break to Rainforest, which had said it would invest EC$10 million in the fish processing facility at Calliaqua.

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In addition, the government said that no taxes or duties would be imposed on a wide range of items for the construction of the company’s processing facility, as well as equipment, including boats and trucks.

In his comments earlier this month, Gonsalves also said that Sandals would buy its agricultural produce from an “aggregator”, rather than individual farmers.

Further, comments from Minister of Agriculture, Sabato Caesar suggested that that aggregator could be Rayneau Industries Ltd.

Rayneau Industries is owned by Rayneau Gajhadar, a St. Lucian businessman, who also owns another company to which the government has leased 59 acres of farmlands at Richmond for 30 years for the operation of a stone quarry.  

Leacock said that Winsbert Harry, president of the National Fisherfolk Organisation addressed the issue of the supply of fish to Sandals in his recent comment.

Harry, speaking on New Times, the opposition NDP’s daytime radio programme on NICE Radio, suggested that the Kingstown Fish Market already acts as an aggregator, buying fish at a better price than vendors do.

Leacock said he considered the arrangement between the fishers and the Kingstown Fish Market, which is operated by the government, to be “a win-win situation”, especially as it pays a better price than the vendors, who the fishers perceive to be a middleman.

St. Clair Leacock 2
MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock speaking at the NDP’s press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

The lawmaker, who is MP for Central Kingstown, where the fish market is located, noted that in recent times, the fish market had complained about is own difficulties, “what we say the dance can’t pay for the lights that they weren’t making enough money to even produce ice or to pay their electricity bills, and so on and so forth. 

“And if they now have a ready market that they can sell, they also are in a position to negotiate price with the hotel rather than the hotel determining — they will no longer have to be price taker, because we are the ones who are selling you the fish, you’re not going to go out of St. Vincent to get it. There is an adequacy of it …

“It’s a government-sponsored agency as well — the fish market. It’s not an independent agency. They should support it. So, we should strengthen the fish market—fishers’ relationship”

Private sector ‘cannot be allowed to be laws onto themselves’

iWitness News noted to Leacock that Sandals is a privately-owned company and will make its own business arrangement. 

We further pointed out that rainforest has a certain concession, including tax exemption and asked Leacock how a government in this context, where Sandals is also presumed to have certain concessions, negotiate that kind of environment.

Leacock, who is a business and management specialist, referred to his field of study and the subject of “business, government and society”. 

“And the notion is that you should have a harmonious balance between business interests, government interests and societal interests,” he said, adding, “And it is the responsibility of the government to build that harmony. 

“You cannot have a society in which you invite in foreign investments, or for that matter, promote local investments and end up with a situation of a government within a government. Government must have regulations and must always have societal interest at heart, even when it is promoting a private sector.”

He said the private sector “cannot be allowed to be laws onto themselves and to be given by, in this case, artificial rents. That is, they having a monopoly or special provisions out of tax incentives, such that they are unfair to the housewife, they are unfair to fisherfolk, they are unfair to the government, they are unfair to the government institutions, and they are just swimming in profits. No. There has to be a balance.”

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Opposition Senator and spokesperson on agriculture and fisheries, Israel Bruce, speaking at the NDP’s press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

Confine Rainforest focus on regional, int’t market — Bruce

Speaking at the same press conference Israel Bruce, an NDP senator and the party’s spokesperson on agriculture and fisheries, said that his understanding is that Rainforest was “brought in, invited, accepted to be here with a view that Rainforests will assist with the export, taking fish and fish products from the shores of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and put it into original and international market as part of us driving, of course, the export-led economy and also to help with job creation”. 

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Rainforest plant, Brian Jardim, the company’s CEO, said its factory at Calliaqua is the largest and most advanced seafood processing facility anywhere in the eastern Caribbean.

“We are committed to partnering with fisher folk and are confident that these partnerships, in combination with our landmark facility, will put St. Vincent on the map as a global player, a game changer with the ability to supply highest quality seafood products to any market in the world and make Rainforest St. Vincent the preferred destination for Vincy fishermen to sell their catch,” he had said. 

Bruce said:

“And to me, there is nothing that becomes unfair, unkind or developmental if we understand that Rainforest will focus on the regional and international market.

“But the local fisherman’s entity here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the market co-op or whatever you call it, that they could assist to function as an aggregate, as they currently are, so says the president of the national fisherman’s entity that they could sell or to Sandals and both ends could be better at the same time.”

Importance of decoupling agriculture, fisheries ministries

Leacock said this leads back to what the NDP under the leadership of Opposition Leader Godwin Friday has identified as the pillars of the economy, which includes the blue economy.

“And that’s why Dr. Friday has highlighted we will separate agriculture from fisheries, which the term blue economy is very well established now. St. Vincent and the Grenadines at present does about US$5 million worth of fish business, because our technologies are not where they should be.”

He said that Grenada, whose fisher folk used to come to Bequia to buy fishing equipment, now does $150 million in fishing.  

“So, what does that tell us? We have to begin with whether is agriculture or whether it is the fishing or whether we are speaking about your domestic market or more equally important in the export market, that we have to address a production problem and a productivity problem.

“To satisfy both domestic and export, we have to produce more and more and more because ultimately if we don’t and demand outstrips supply, what happens is not Rainforest, it’s not Sandals, it’s not the fish market. It is the housewife can’t now get fish and pay for the price of fish because it’s gone beyond their reach and driven by market forces. And so, we have to have that harmonious balance where we are looking at the people who are our first responsibility,” Leacock said. 

Fitz Bramble
MP for East Kingstown, Fitz Bramble speaking at the NDP’s press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

Investments attracted by govt must ultimately benefit citizens

Meanwhile, Fitz Bramble, MP for East Kingstown, who was the economic development coordinator in the city of Estevan, in Canada, spoke at the press conference, noting his experience in investment attraction.

“Anytime a government, or any locale, attempts to attract investors, it must ultimately be for the benefit of the citizens of that locale, in this case, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Obviously, no investor is going to want to go into any particular situation unless they can foresee some sort of profit and benefit for them as well,” said Bramble, who is an economist.  

“So as Major [Leacock] said a while ago, we have to strike that balance. But … whatever it is that that investment is going to generate must benefit the average man and woman on the street of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in this case. You can’t, as we say, cut off your nose to spite your face,” Bramble said. 

“And one has to critically and very carefully negotiate these agreements, whatever concessions you’re going to give. … I don’t have a problem with concessions being offered, let’s say to Sandals, during the construction of the facility and these kinds of things. 

“But the question must be asked, does it make sense from a Vincentians standpoint, or even from Sandals standpoint, to offer concessions on food and beverage once your operation is up and running? 

“These are some of the issues and I’m not given an answer one way or the other. But I’m just highlighting these issues as important issues when you’re negotiating and trying to attract investors into this country.”

2 replies on “SVG cannot suddenly become ‘Sandals and the Grenadines,’ Leacock says”

  1. The recent discourse surrounding the development of the tourism sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), particularly with the impending opening of Sandals resort, underscores the necessity for a nuanced approach that balances economic growth with social welfare. I want to extend my appreciation to MP St. Clair Leacock, Opposition Senator Israel Bruce, MP Fitz Bramble, and others for their insightful remarks on this matter.
    Indeed, Leacock’s assertion that SVG cannot afford to morph into “Sandals and the Grenadines” speaks volumes about the need to preserve the country’s identity and prioritize the interests of its people over those of private enterprises. It is imperative that while fostering investment and economic development, the government remains vigilant in safeguarding the welfare of its citizens, ensuring that benefits are distributed equitably across society.
    Bruce’s emphasis on the regional and international focus of Rainforest Seafood aligns with the broader goal of enhancing SVG’s export capabilities and creating sustainable job opportunities. However, it is crucial to ensure that local fishermen and market cooperatives are not marginalized in this process. Strengthening partnerships between these entities and facilitating fair trade practices should be key priorities for policymakers.
    Leacock’s proposal to decouple the ministries of agriculture and fisheries reflects a strategic move towards optimizing the potential of the blue economy—a sector with significant growth prospects. By addressing production and productivity challenges, SVG can capitalize on its natural resources more effectively, thereby stimulating economic diversification and reducing reliance on imports.
    Bramble’s insights as an economist underscore the importance of prudent negotiation and oversight in attracting foreign investment. While concessions may be necessary to incentivize initial investment, they must be evaluated in terms of their long-term impact on local stakeholders. Ensuring that concessions serve the interests of both investors and citizens is paramount to sustainable development.
    In conclusion, achieving a harmonious balance between economic development and social welfare requires proactive governance, stakeholder engagement, and a commitment to transparency and accountability. I am confident that by heeding the valuable perspectives shared by our representatives, SVG can navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the tourism sector while staying true to its principles of inclusivity and prosperity for all.

  2. These NDP politicians are just blowing wind from you-know-where, also called talking fart.

    Sandals was allowed to come here to provide employment at their resort and to generate employment and higher incomes for persons and businesses serving the resort with allied activities like transportation and the provision of foodstuffs.

    This is exactly what the resort will do regardless of from who directly or indirectly supplies these goods and services.

    Surely, the resort will try to secure both in the most economical way based on the law of supply and demand.

    Decisions about buying directly from small-scale producers or large-scale suppliers should be completely left in their hands.

    This bunch of NDP blow hards need to be ignored if only because they would surely take a hands off approach on this issue were they now in power based on the principle of not killing the goose — Sandals— who is laying the golden eggs — lots of jobs and revenue for our people.

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