By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts — A vice president of Caribbean Galaxy Real Estate Ltd, a Beijing-based development company, assured delegates at the Caribbean Investment Summit 2018 last week that its five-star Ramada Inn citizenship by investment (CBI) project in St Kitts will be open by December this year, a claim that appears to be somewhat unrealistic based on a recent site visit.
“We have 60 people on site now, 25 of which are Kittitians,” said Tang Jiang, vice president of Galaxy. “It will be ready for business by the end of the year.”
When pressed whether this was feasible, he replied that his company is very efficient – an attribute that will be essential based on physical evidence from a site visit one week ago that revealed negligible activity, without even a security guard. There was no proper site office, and nothing to indicate any significant level of work. In any event, Jiang’s figure struck most people present as hopelessly low.
At the time of the recent site visit, there is no mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) first fix and no onsite mock-up model unit was visible. When pressed whether this was enough people for a project of this magnitude, he reiterated that it would open as planned on schedule.
According to Eric Johnson of Four Seasons Nevis, more than 200 people had been used on site to complete one villa, while Mohammed Asaria, founder of Range Developments, the developer of the award-winning Park Hyatt St Kitts, said that they had employed more than 800 people working around the clock, seven months before opening.
The Ramada Inn is said to be larger than both these projects, and its timely completion will therefore depend on Jiang’s efficiency being as good as he claims.
The picture is further blurred because Jiang refused to be drawn on whether anybody from Ramada was already on island. General managers are typically appointed at least a year before opening, along with top managers from the hotel team. Galaxy refused to comment on this.
Jiang reiterated that Galaxy was building a ‘five-star hotel’ but, when asked whether Ramada is a ‘five-star’ brand, he was unable to comment.
The summit is an annual industry event bringing together the five Caribbean CBI jurisdictions and other key players to discuss relevant issues affecting the industry, as well as explore opportunities for further growth.
Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua, suggested earlier in the conference that citizenship units needed to be on guard against ‘fake news’.
“You could also say that people should be on guard against ‘fake projects’,” said a delegate.
A new social media hashtag has been introduced to promote this theme: #keepCBIhonest.
Galaxy, which has a reputation for lavish expenditure on entertainment, is also advertising on social media that it has launched a second project in Saint Lucia under the country’s economic citizenship programme, believed to be an AMResorts’ Zoetry/Dreams/Secrets brand (although it has been impossible to verify this at the time of writing).
Although Galaxy claims this is “The only government approved real estate project under CBI in [Saint Lucia]” and it will “be ready for China’s market in the second half of this year”, there is, however, no official listing of it on Saint Lucia’s citizenship unit’s website, which lists only one approved project – Fairmont.
“It is a pity that the government of Saint Lucia failed to conduct sufficient due diligence before entering to a co-operation agreement with Galaxy,” said a delegate from Saint Lucia at the conference.
Asaria said that the association of CBI unit heads (CIPA) has a moral, if not a legal responsibility to ensure that projects are built on time and to specifications.
“Citizenship-by-investment programmes need to have strict rules for developers and ensure that any money raised is spent on development and in the local economies,” said Sam Bayat, managing director and senior lawyer at Bayat Legal Services, who was chairing the session on Sustainable Development.