Dr Denzil Douglas, the former prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, asked an interesting question recently. What, he asked, has happened to the Ritz-Carlton in the country? It appears that it, along with other top brands, have lost interest in developing projects in St Kitts and Nevis.
Could the answer lie in the prime minister’s support of another project, one that has the unequivocal backing of the incumbent administration of Dr Timothy Harris and his failure to ensure the rule of law that would facilitate the kind of projects the country needs?
Dr Harris, prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, has thrown his not inconsiderable weight behind the Caribbean Galaxy Estate Corporation, for reasons that are unclear. Galaxy has been building the St Kitts Ramada for more than four years, but with no opening in sight. Doubts were first raised last year when a company spokesman said that the hotel would open in December 2018. That deadline came and went.
Despite a recent visit by Dr Harris, who declared himself satisfied with the progress, even issuing a press release to the effect that construction of phase 1 of the St. Kitts Ramada in St Kitts “continues apace”, few share his optimism. The only evidence provided by the government is a photograph of two workers and an apparently idle excavator surrounded by buildings that have no windows or doors and no evidence of any mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) installation.
Marketing material for the St Kitts Ramada promises ‘5-star luxury’ and the “knowledge that you’re in good hands”. It continues: “Part of Wyndham, the world’s largest hotel group, Ramada is a world famous brand and a leader in hospitality, with some 900 hotels in 50 countries across the globe. Although new to St Kitts, that age old motto ‘Leave the rest to us’ will apply, both throughout your CBI process and in your daily life at the St. Kitts Ramada”.
The reality appears less seductive. A recent visit to the site showed that it is nothing like advertised, with buildings packed closely together, no beach access, and no sign of any 5-star amenities. Ramada hotels, in any event, are more like standard 4-stars at best, as Galaxy has begun to admit. And judging by the look of the place, perhaps even less than that. It does not look built to withstand a good storm, let alone a hurricane.
While we understand that all 273 investment units in phase 1 of the Ramada project have been sold, construction is nowhere near completion. According to industry experts, it is likely to cost between US$50 and 60 million to complete and open from the current state of construction out of an estimated total cost of $95 million and take at least two more years to finish.
But where are the required 500-700 workers onsite, which is what would be required to achieve this milestone? Does Galaxy have the funds required for completion of phase 1? Or is it planning to finance the completion of phase 1 from new investors in phase 2 and/or other related projects now approved by the government? In other words, is the intention to use money from new phase 2 investors to meet its commitment to existing investors to complete phase 1? If so, where does that leave all the investors who came into phase 2?
According to a number of copy invoices issued by Galaxy in our possession, some Chinese clients have been instructed to pay citizenship funds into the personal bank accounts of its principals in China instead of to the company’s account. How is this justified? And has this been approved by Dr Harris? It is critical now that the prime minister shows us that the money to complete phase 1 is safely in the St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank escrow account, now that phase 1 is fully sold. This money, if there, must be specifically reserved for this purpose. This is not difficult and should be done immediately. If the money is in the account, well and good. If not, the government must take action.
Galaxy is not only operating in St Kitts and Nevis, but has signed ambitious projects in Saint Lucia with Allen Chastanet, prime minister of the country. According to the CIP Saint Lucia website, “The Saint Lucia Canelles Resort is a luxury resort developed by the Galaxy Group, managed by AMResorts, a subsidiary of Apple Leisure Group. This Resort has two brands, Dreams and Zoetry, plus Canelles Oceanfront Apartments, which offer a high level of luxury for couples and couples with children in ideal beachfront settings. With spacious rooms and suites, graciously appointed and luxuriously equipped, it will provide a picture-perfect vacation experience with welcoming service and romantic inclusions.”
After more than five years in the Caribbean, Galaxy has not completed a single project. However, not content with failing to welcome a single guest to its properties, we understand that the company is now looking to expand to other islands, such as Antigua, Dominica, and Grenada. The relevant prime ministers would be advised to spend 30 minutes visiting the site to see firsthand whether such a project would have any benefits for their economy.
At the upcoming CARICOM meeting in February in St Kitts, perhaps Dr Harris could extend this courtesy to fellow Caribbean leaders and journalists and facilitate a site visit.