Advertisement 87
Advertisement 323
Lawyer Jomo Thomas in a 2019 iWN photo.
Lawyer Jomo Thomas in a 2019 iWN photo.
Advertisement 219

By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” Feb. 23, 2024)

In my formative years as a youth activist, leaders of the progressive movement fed us on a diet of ideas we took as truths. Among them were the following: Let those who labour hold the rein, Dare to struggle, dare to win and the crusading call for ‘Genuine Independence, People’s Ownership and Control.

Over the last three decades, the enthusiasm we once embraced has all but disappeared. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc, the implosion of the Grenada Revolution with the assassination of charismatic Maurice Bishop, and the strangulation of the exemplary Cuban and Bolivarian Revolutions led by icons Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have seen a withering of the Caribbean progressive movement. With the triumph of neo-liberal policies, dog-eat-dog exploitative market ideas, the assault on community spirit and organising, along with the demise of the trade union movement, became a dominant feature of national reality.

The sad reality is that the world has changed for the worse. Backwards, defeatist ideas such as if better can’t be done, let worse continue, are glibly uttered and celebrated by former progressives. The worst misdeeds are condoned and justified. Most “change agents” are now mute by malice. There is no better example than the abandonment with which foreigners are allowed to capture and dominate every facet of Vincentian life.

Advertisement 271

There is no denying that SVG is open to business. Our country is enduring high inferno fire sale for our national assets. Everything can be had at a bargain basement price. Our prized Grenadines are given away as though there is no tomorrow. Very soon, large areas of the Grenadines will be off-limit to locals. On Mustique, locals have to get permits to work and live there. Workers are housed in slave-like barracks. On Canouan, foreign-owned businesses in the north and south of the island continue to squeeze the indigenous population in the village. Promises made to the local population have not been kept. Some beaches enjoyed for generations are now the exclusive domain of foreign overlords. Bequia, like Canouan and Mustique, resemble white settler colonies.

In the 1990s, the Mitchell administration leased two-thirds of Canouan to foreign developers for a pittance. To make matters worse, they allowed the developers to sell freehold out of the lease. Simply put, the developers can sell the leased lands and keep every cent. The ULP government celebrates 23 years of power next month, yet the “progressive” leadership has refused to renegotiate the unconstitutional, illegal and lopsided lease agreement. It has continued the same sell-out policy and turned over more land to the developers.

To understand the magnitude of the treacherous sell-out, consider this: Lands on Canouan are sold at premium prices. A local lawyer of blessed memory informed me that his English client man paid 5 million pounds for an acre. Imagine the going rate now. In the last year, PM Gonsalves has bemoaned that the national treasury is not benefitting from the Canouan lease agreement. He expects the owners to aggressively market the island and sell plots to wealthy people, from which SVG will make do with 16% fees when alien land-holding licenses are given.

In clearly demonstrating who the boss is, one of the Canouan developers flexed his muscles by closing down construction and laying off hundreds of workers. The progressive government coiled its tail and beseeched the developer to resume construction.

Following the collapse of Buccament Bay Resort, where hundreds of workers, state entities and local businesses lost millions of dollars to the Ponzi schemer David Ames, the government took over the site worth millions. It turned it over, free of cost, to Butch Stewart, Jamaican developer of Sandals Hotels and Resorts. Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves promised plenty of employment and opportunities for fisher folks and farmers. Much of the excitement about Sandal has evaporated. Vincentians learned that Sandals’ pay scale is abysmally low. Apart from the long list of tax-free concessions, a Sandals company, Rainforest, has exclusive rights to supply fish and seafood to the resort. Two weeks ago, farmers were instructed to find an “aggregator” to whom they can sell their fruit, vegetables, and ground provisions, who in turn will sell to Sandals.

Rayneau, a foreign company to whom the government gave 59 acres of farmlands from which they were to mine stone but has since segwayed into the purchase of agricultural products, is tipped to be the aggregator of choice. To make way for Rayneau, scores of local farmers were pushed off the land at Richmond. Rayneau has since despoiled the landscape by tearing off the topsoil of the mountain in its search for an elusive orgasmic stone. With its tax concessions and connections with the governing political elite, Rayneau’s owners live comfortably off the national trough.

Similarly, Aecon, the Canadian firm contracted to build the port, estimated to cost EC$600 million, got a big windfall when permitted by the government to dredge 1.17 cubic meters of sand for an alleged $20 million. The initial contract required the contractors to source, purchase and transport the sand to SVG. Such an undertaking is estimated to cost about four times the amount paid to the government. The sand was dredged just off the Argyle airport. As with the Rayneau’s quarry at Richmond, the environmental study for dredging the sand off the airport is shrouded in mystery.  The lack of transparency and accountability to the citizens regarding these two projects may hide possible severe environmental hazards.

There is also the vexing question of employment. Beginning with the construction of the terminal building for the Argyle Airport, contractors have been permitted to bring in workers. The Taiwanese company that built the terminals brought Haitians, Codelpa, the Dominican Republic company building Sandals Resort, brings in workers from Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Colombia.  PM Gonsalves disclosed that there are 1,000 workers at the Sandals construction site. Five hundred are Vincentians. One would be naive to think that there are 500 specialist/skilled workers at the Sandals site.

Aecon has also been allowed to import workers for the port construction. It’s reasonable to assume that many of the foreign workers are labourers. Because of the exploitative labour practices, these hires offer an economic boon to the contractor.  However, with SVG experiencing such high unemployment rates, the government is “feathering the nest” of its foreign friends at the expense of Vincentian workers.

SVG is nice. SVG is a foreigners’ paradise. Our nation is calling, but too many of us are still stalling. Where have all the progressives gone?

*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.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

2 replies on “SVG is a foreigner’s paradise”

  1. SVG has always been a “paradise” for foreigners for two main reasons:

    1. Our own business class is too timid and shortsighted to invest their millions in local enterprises other than their own.

    2. The best and brightest of our people have always migrated overseas looking for a version of paradise much easier to obtain than in our developmentally challenged homeland.

    What SVG badly needs is many more foreign entrepreneurs, not fewer ones as Jomo Thomas foolishly claims.

Comments closed.