By Melanius Alphonse
Compulsory acquisition of private property by the government of Saint Lucia for the purposes of “touristic development” has become a staple of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s development ethos.
That philosophy has generated public concern that negotiations are well advanced for the relocation and/or closure of the Castries Comprehensive Secondary School (CCSS) and Sir Ira Simmons Secondary School.
A local paper highlighted in its publication of October 13: Government gone mad. They are selling Castries Comprehensive School “…to a group of individuals, some of whom are hoteliers, others who are not, one of whom is a very rich Saint Lucian.”
Both schools are built on one parcel of crown land, lot number 155 on the map, in the quarter of Castries. The CCSS is a gift from the Canadian government dating back to 1974.
The cardinal sin in this scenario [location and business interest] provides easy access to Choc Bay [beach-front], the Castries/Gros Islet highway and proximity to lands of interest that fits the family, friends and foreigners (FFF) mantra.
Prime Minister Chastanet has not defused concerns except to argue that plans have not been finalized, responding to questions at a town hall meeting in New York.
Last Thursday, talk show host and former cabinet minister Richard Frederick shed light on this matter on his television show. He revealed that parcel number 154 is owned by the in-laws of the prime minister, and parcel number 41 is owned by a corporation that benefits the prime minister in part, and two other recognizable family elements.
More interestingly, the queen’s chain/the beach marked as parcel numbers 40 and 153 [to the front of parcel numbers 41 and 154] are said to be leased to the owners of parcel numbers 41 and 154 respectively.
Consequently, the questions are as follows:
• Which cabinet of ministers approved the lease of the beach?
• Is it the business of Saint Lucians to know the details of divesting patrimony under private title for commercial use?
• If so, does it not give credence that this portion of Saint Lucia’s coastline and beach front is private property of a privileged family, a corporation, a hotelier and the prime minister?
• In this regard, is there new meaning to hypocrisy, cronyism, nepotism and conflict of interest?
That’s important to the simple diagnosis and long-held view that Saint Lucia has public and private beaches. A practice I am advised that is “at the discretion of cabinet, a negotiating tool, never mind some politicians’ utterances that the beach and queens chain is public property for the common good. In retrospect, that’s a false flag.”
The key to this is trust and that “The truth is what you believe the truth to be”, in contrast to restrictions and demands many can attest to, by some hotels and the elite class to access the beach near touristic developments or in close proximity to the same.
The fact is there are public and private beaches on Saint Lucia is a hideous vision – the same as “running the country like a business” that is growing exponentially with the emergence of the Chastanet administration.
Nevertheless, ignorant of reality and with the lack of comprehension that result in most comments and official communication from the government not being totally accurate, senior communications officer, Nicole McDonald described the concern that two secondary schools are under consideration in return for touristic development as “ fake news, unbelievable, crazy and outright incorrect.”
“The government of Saint Lucia has no current plans to do anything with the CCSS,” adding that “there would need to be extensive consultations with persons involved, for the CCSS to be sold or put to any other use.”
The irony is that Saint Lucians know all too well they are yet to be consulted on any major project that the government seeks to roll out – inclusive of Desert Star Holdings (DSH); the Dolphin Park; St Jude hospital reconstruction and Owen King European Hospital (OKEU) privatization; national health insurance and the World Bank US$20 million loan.
Saint Lucians are none the wiser on the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) “bridging finance facility” and repurchase of bonds to avert default; while government plans for new criminal court facility were forced by legal action to consult with the Saint Lucia National Trust before moving forward.
Meanwhile, a legal action filed against Saint Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet over his failure, contrary to the provisions of the constitution, to nominate a person to serve as deputy speaker of the House of Assembly will come to trial on February 13, 2019.
The decline in public trust is inherently problematic. Guy Joseph, minister for economic development, housing, urban renewal, transport and civil aviation, responding to widespread concern about touristic development, on a low-rated talk show messaging party propaganda to the “43 percent uneducated”, said:
“The reality is… we are a country where more than 67% of GDP is dependent on the tourism sector, is a prime piece of land on a beach the best place to locate a school,” adding “I would not know the owners of the land.”
The host in a jovial manner said: “It would be insane for Allen Chastanet or any relative of his to close down the school and buy the property.”
In concert with the host, Joseph replied, “I know my prime minister would not make a decision like this.”
Perhaps, I should point out that’s fanciful in contrast to the views of many Chastanet sycophants that nothing should stand in the way of development, much less an ‘old school’ when investors need beachfront property.
This lofty way of thinking is the same persona that guides the interpretation of five to stay alive and the party’s policy manifesto advocating that: “If you want to do social housing, you do not do social housing in the middle of the city,” referring to the CDC apartment buildings in the city of Castries.
Of course, Minister Joseph is ignorant that good economic policy happens with trade-offs, market options and public considerations, and hitherto his point of view lacks integrity, knowledge and concept of urban, suburban development and city planning.
Evidently, Minister Joseph is functionally misguided.
This is understandable, even predictable, in the negative circumstances of broad social, political and economic disruption that mix public policy and private interest. A scenario that appeals to political actors and business imposters, and usually ends up tarnishing both.
It is these prevailing attitudes that lead down the precarious paths to the marriage of political autocracy and economic power, thus misunderstanding their own lives, in a manner that is abstract and disconnected from the interest of regular working families.
In the real world, good public policy understands that economic development, immigration and foreign policy must align with national imperatives, employment and social/community cohesion to improve working class opportunity, strengthen the common good and help build public trust.
As a consequence, the current business environment contributes to unnecessary public controversy, a lack of trust, and erroneous communication. Additionally, bad business deals leave taxpayers out to dry. Collectively, these are not required ingredients for a strong and dynamic Saint Lucia.
The question then is this: When will the proponents of unrestricted development re-examine their assumptions and desired dominance, but not much else thus far, and realise their attempts to embrace corporatism with false perceptions will not generate confidence in business and economic development.
There is any number of cases demonstrating that the elite political and business classes don’t really care about the forgotten people, except as regards profit and loss, and at election time to vote for their direct interest, as evidenced by the election of 2016.
Thus, the challenge to translate relationships, trust and government intervention into concrete actions, real dynamism of resiliency and adaptability to get the politics and the economy right, is hardly in good company.