PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet continues to deny claims being made by many as it relates to the conditions of the Desert Star Holdings’ (DSH) ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ project.
During a mid-morning radio interview on Blazin FM this week, Chastanet faced a slew of questions from the show’s hosts, Francheska Solomon and Kendell Eugene. Much focus was placed on the hot topic of the day, the DSH project, and the Prime Minister responded candidly as the questions came in.
One of the questions centred on the belief that the project contained no guaranteed employment for St. Lucians and that the tycoons behind the projects would be at liberty to bring in their own workers for the said projects as opposed to hiring local workers. Chastanet said he did not know where the idea came from.
“That’s all total nonsense,” Chastanet said. “At the end of the day, St. Lucians will be picked first. We don’t have a number, but if you take, for instance, the horse racing track, we’re talking about…200-300 horses. On average, each horse is going to get four people employed, so 1200 people. Do you really believe we’re going to be bringing people in here to be able to do those jobs? The answer is no!”
At that point, the conversation became slightly heated after host Eugene suggested that the Prime Minister’s statement could be disputed and that new hotels are bringing foreigners to the island to manage their businesses as opposed to leaving the top jobs for locals.
In his defense, Chastanet chided the popular host for his suggestion, asking him to look at the current employment statistics. “Of the hotels we have in St. Lucia today, what percentage of the people is foreign (who) work in the hotels?”
Eugene responded: “I can’t give a number.”
Chastanet retorted: “Well, you’re promoting something, so back it up.”
Chastanet continued: “It’s less than 2%. So the fact is that years ago, it was always the general managers (who) came from abroad. The big error right now is your chefs, (who) tend to come from abroad. But even general managers — a lot of the general managers now are St. Lucians.”
The Prime Minister was also questioned about the concerns raised over the quality of jobs available, suggesting that even people who have earned qualifications from tertiary education are faced with basic level employment in the hotel and tourism industry.
Chastanet explained that there will be a wide scope of jobs available; however, the problem was bigger than imagined.
He said: “Here’s the deal. What we need to do is to prepare our young people for those jobs and that’s not been happening. If you take Royalton, as an example, when Royalton came in, (there was) 45% unemployment among the youth, and yet 50% of the people who came to do the construction came from abroad because our people weren’t ready. So what we want to do now is a major training programme in hospitality. So we’ve opened up a hospitality school in the south, in which we’re now starting to train young people to be able to get jobs on the cruise lines and here in the hotel sector.”
Chastanet continued: “We’re seeing that we don’t have enough plumbers, we don’t have enough electricians, we don’t have enough mechanics. We have to get those skill sets back into play.”
Chastanet also spoke of plans to turn the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College into a university to teach said skills. Another concern he spoke about was the talk of relocation of the people whose places of residence encroached on the lands being leased.
Again, Chastanet vehemently denied those claims, stating that all the lands involved in the deal are owned by Invest St. Lucia or are Crown Lands.
Chastanet said: “Right now, I hear this thing about people of Bruceville and Shanty Town have been asked to move — that’s not true! I don’t know the final details as to where the final boundaries are going, but the plans that I have seen do not include Shanty Town or Bruceville. But will we want to go in and make the quality of life for the people better? Absolutely. And that’s why I said the Labour Party should have been building a pathway out of Bruceville and Shanty Town. Instead, they built a massive concrete back into Bruceville.”
As to specifics about his plans for bettering said communities versus the actual concerns of displacement, the details were not explained. However, Chastanet kept his stance that they were solely for the benefit of the people.