THE Saint Lucia National Trust (“the Trust”) is now sufficiently certain that the Government of Saint Lucia Draft Estimates 2017-18 to be tabled in the House of Assembly this week proposes the reduction of the Trust’s annual subvention from $700,000 to $0, or effectively a 100% decrease.
While the Trust has not yet received any written or verbal notification of the same from either the Office of the Prime Minister, which acts as our line ministry, or the Ministry of Finance, based on the Draft Estimates which were circulated to members of the House of Assembly last week, it has become apparent that the Government wishes to take such action.
History of Trust Subvention
The Trust has enjoyed the support of Government through an annual subvention ever since it was established by Act of Parliament in 1975. Over the past 20 years, the Government’s contribution to the Trust has been $500,000, which has been put towards programmes and operations. Since 2000, this amount was further augmented by a $200,000 special annual contribution to help the Trust fund the establishment of its head offices.
This amount has thus remained steady for nearly 17 years, with the exception being Financial Year 2011-2012 when the subvention was reduced to $450,000. Notably, at the time of that reduction, there was also no notification afforded the Trust, nor was an announcement made in Parliament to that effect. In fact, the Trust discovered the reduction only after the fact. In light of this, the Trust is of the opinion that it was duty bound to inform the public and its membership of this proposed elimination of its subvention, in light of the serious implications this would have on the Trust’s finances.
Furthermore, the Trust notes with interest that it appears to be the only local institution for which a removal of subvention is being proposed in the Draft Estimates.
In 2011-12, during the last instance of a reduction in subvention, Trust operations continued smoothly given that the net reduction to our operating budget was $50,000 and this was overcome through realized increases in operating revenue.
Trust Revenue & Operations
In fact, over the past ten years, Trust revenue from operations has expanded on average by 10% per annum, which has meant that annually a shrinking proportion of total income has come from the Government subvention. However, the Government subvention still represents nearly 19% of annual income.
Last financial year, 2016-17, the Trust collected a total of $ 2.64 million, most of which being earned from operations of the Pigeon Island National Landmark (PINL). PINL annually receives over 100,000 regular visitors, making it one of the most popular visitor attractions on island and it hosts over 100 events yearly, including weddings.
Furthermore, over the past decade, we have raised over $2 million in grants from regional and international organizations which has gone towards conservation work all across Saint Lucia.
Governance & Staff Concerns
The Saint Lucia National Trust directly employs 36 Saint Lucian citizens. Salaries and benefits amount to $1.4 million annually. PINL also generates a further 28 full-time jobs through concessionaires.
As a responsible employer, the Trust will do all within its power to avoid any retrenchment of staff. However, if the proposed elimination of subvention is realized, such a deep cut will pose serious challenges for the Trust’s operations, programmes and conservation efforts. Undoubtedly, over the past few days, Trust staff have been immensely concerned as to their job security. The Trust is indeed very proud of its staff who continue to work exceedingly hard under trying conditions.
The Trust has 1,833 members and is governed by an 11-member Council, of which 7 are elected by membership, 2 appointed by the Government and 2 appointed by the Saint Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society. It should be noted that Councillors receive no remuneration for their services, nor do members receive any monetary dividends from the Trust.
Successes & Contributions of the Trust
The Trust proudly plays a critical role as a partner for sustainable development on our island. The Trust’s mandate continues to be the conservation and sustainable use of Saint Lucia’s natural, built and cultural heritage and it will continue to advocate and work towards “championing Fair Helen’s patrimony.”
The Trust manages 25 heritage sites with over 240 hectares conserved. In particular, it holds a 99-year lease of Pigeon Island and owns the Maria Islands Nature Reserve.
The Trust serves as a referral agency under the Physical Planning & Development Act at the pleasure of the Minister, but in recent times, it was removed from this function. It was a lead organization in Saint Lucia’s achievement of establishing the Pitons Management Area as a World Heritage Site in 2004. It was one of the pioneers in the establishment of the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation, the Soufriere Marine Management Area and, more recently, the creation of the National Conservation Fund. It managed on behalf of Government, the OECS Protected Areas and Livelihoods Project focusing on sustainable livelihoods in the Pointe Sable Environmental Protection Area.
The Trust has recently been more involved in built and cultural heritage conservation and has been working towards the establishment of a National Museum for Saint Lucia. In this regard, last year the Government transferred the Married Women’s Quarters’ property at Vigie to the Trust for this purpose.
Walcott Place & Grass Street Urban Enhancement Project
In 2014, the Trust commenced the first phase of an approximately $16 million Walcott Place & Grass Street Urban Enhancement Project which was geared at creating a world-class cultural attraction in Castries, centred about the childhood home of Derek and Roderick Walcott. This project was expected to create up to 40 jobs once fully operational.
Regrettably, the Trust notes that the Government’s contribution to the Walcott Place & Grass Street Urban Enhancement Project, which was the balance of a $7.5 million grant from the Republic of China (Taiwan), has been discontinued.
Pigeon Island Redevelopment Project
Further, the Trust had received planning approval for a $6.6 million redevelopment of the Pigeon Island National Landmark. This includes restoration of ruins to provide for its head office, a conference/reception facility, a new restaurant, a gift shop, an interpretation centre and a gate house.
This redevelopment would have propelled the Trust into greater financial sustainability, while creating further sustainable employment for Saint Lucians. This was to have been funded in part by a $2.5 million loan from the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) and monies accumulated in the Trust’s Headquarters’ Fund.
The Trust is also concerned that it appears the Government may hold a differing development philosophy for the PINL and, as such, it has not allowed for the Trust to borrow from the NIC. The elimination of the subvention will also mean that the annual $200,000 support towards this project would no longer be available.
Conclusions & Way Forward
In conclusion, the Saint Lucia National Trust believes the proposed zeroing of its annual subvention is an unprecedented, unjustified and exceedingly unfortunate measure, given the Trust’s record as Saint Lucia’s leading quasi-governmental institution for conservation. It will also greatly stymie the Trust’s efforts in heritage conservation.
In this regard, the Trust urges all Members of Parliament to insist on the reinstatement of its normal subvention for 2017-18.
In the interim, the Trust will continue to carefully study the implications of this proposal and options available to it within the short-term if this proposal is enacted.
As such, the Trust will be hosting an emergency membership meeting at 1:00 p.m. this Saturday at the Pigeon Island National Landmark to discuss these matters.
The Trust will also seek the support of its international partners, civil society and the entire Saint Lucian populace, home and abroad to advocate on its behalf.
The Trust, therefore, strongly urges the Government of Saint Lucia to amend its position in the national interest. As always, the Trust stands ready to meet with the Government and seeks urgent dialogue on the matter, particularly given that it was given no opportunity to offer advice on this matter.
Finally, the Trust wishes to thank our members, partners, friends, clients, and associates for their continued support, business and patronage.
The Saint Lucia National Trust remains committed to its mandate as a responsible agent for the conservation of Saint Lucia’s patrimony and we urge all Saint Lucians to “Love, oh love, our island home.”
This decision by the new St Lucian Government is disgraceful. How can it be in the best interest of Lucians to cut to zero its financial support for the National Trust, which is responsible for many of the country’s heritage and conservation areas, including Pigeon Island where on our visit to the site yesterday to our horror we learned that the Government proposes to support the building of a dolphinarium adjacent to heritage buildings, which are greatly in need of restoration, and which will involve imprisoning dolphins that can be seen in the wild in St Lucian waters. We visit St Lucia every year for over a month. If we wanted to go to a dolphinarium, we would go to Miami or Las Vegas. St. Lucia and its gentle people offer something different for visitors, which the Lucian Government should want to preserve. Think again, Mr. Chastenet, please. You can buy a dolphinarium. You cannot buy (or sell) your heritage.