Letters & Opinion

I Am Saint Lucia!

By Stephen Lester Prescott

“I am Dominica!” “I am Sandals!” Sorry, I’m confused! Oh, oh! Looks like I’m using the wrong tourism marketing tagline. Okay, the one I’m looking for is the one we are using for the 39th Independence this year (as was last year): “I am St. Lucia!” 

But seriously, what a shame!

We always boast of having had two Nobel Laureates, yet couldn’t even display some moral leadership and create our own theme for our 39th Independence celebrations. Let’s hope our 40th will show some innovation.

During Independence, we usually get these displays of patriotism with flags, passionate anthem singing, sports competitions, community and school events, religious services, etc. Interestingly, I looked at the programme for activities for this year’s celebrations and must admit some disappointment: no school programme, lots of sports (which is good), but the communities have been ignored and Castries city again became the sole owner of our grand Independence events.

Why are we regressing at 39?

We have gotten accustomed to displays of “Looshan talent” in the fields of music, singing, dance, drama, arts and crafts at our customary community events, but there was a glaring omission this year, where the decentralized events just didn’t get a spot on the calendar. And it doesn’t seem that any money was provided to the local councils to undertake any Independence activities as had become a practice in the last few years.

Notwithstanding, the arrival of Independence celebrations this year forced my mind to go back in time…way back.

I remember that at the end of the last UWP reign in 2011, the majority of us were only interested in moving this country beyond the point of stagnation. The majority of us were tired of the scandals and the general international embarrassment for our Fair Helen.

At that time, the overriding truth was that the St. Lucian conscience could not tolerate the prostitution and abuse of Fair Helen anymore and Dr. Kenny D. Anthony was chosen as the better leader.

I think many of us have been forced down memory lane again with this new UWP administration, especially with the unprecedented EU blacklisting of St. Lucia, the highest crime rates to date, the blatant nepotism and abuse of authority and by far the greatest achievement to date: the creation of a new Chinese state coming soon to Vieux Fort.

This is where our 39th Independence celebrations found us…in bed with an investor who is primed to become the new colonial master. I am forced once more to return to DSH. It looms large and should not and cannot be sidestepped. We must confront the beast and the danger it poses.

According to the fact sheet prepared by the Government of St. Lucia: “The Government has entered into a partnership with Desert Star Holdings Limited for the development of the Pearl of the Caribbean, a development plan for the south of the island. The proposed project will comprise a marina, a racecourse, a resort, shopping mall complex, casino, Free Trade Zone, entertainment and leisure facilities, eco-tourism as well as architecturally designed villas and apartments. It is expected that the project will raise economic activity in the south of the island and provide significant job opportunities.”

While we got this general information, there is much we still do not know about this “magical bean”…this “elixir” which has been presented as the cure to all the economic woes of the south.

St. Lucians are still very much in the dark about the specifics of this Pearl of the Caribbean. What is this investor bringing into this deal? Who owns the assets after that very long 99-year lease? How many St. Lucian passports are going to be or have been sold by this investor? Why does our public money gained from sale of our assets have to be placed in an overseas escrow account? Is the halt of works at St. Jude Hospital directly linked to DSH?

What we do know for certain is that the Prime Minister recently signed a US$2.6 billion Desert Star Holdings Ltd (DSH) project investment with Teo Ah Khing, the Master Developer; we know that almost 1,000 acres of Vieux Fort is going to a foreign investor via a 99-year lease. We heard that this Master Developer will borrow millions on this leased land and that St. Lucians are expected to pay back this loan that the developer will source. We also heard that the Prime Minister and Master Developer will have to likely knock down the $21 million agricultural facility that was sponsored by the Taiwanese Government; and that even St. Jude Hospital/Odlum Stadium is within the forbidden ground (equine zone) of this project.

Even while this Prime Minister says he will bring “economic deliverance” to Vieux Fort because of the horse-handler jobs he will bring, we know that he has not yet met with citizens of Vieux Fort on this development.

We recently heard that the Master Developer is rumoured to have failed due diligence eight times, yet he seems to have surprisingly gotten CIP approval. So he, unlike any of us, gets the benefits of our passports that are sold internationally. Mr. Ah Khing is obviously one very lucky developer, bringing nothing to the table but all the money he is to spend on the DSH development will be reimbursed to him.

The Concerned Citizens group of Vieux Fort has repeatedly expressed serious concerns that the DSH project will occupy about 1,000 acres of government and privately-owned lands, coastal, agricultural and traditional grazing areas for 99 years at US$1 per acre. The group has also noted that all the available productive, commercial, touristic and community lands will be given away to one Master Developer, leaving no space for alternative developments in the area by other developers, either foreign or local.

The Concerned Citizens have lamented the loss of traditional livelihoods and possible loss of beach access in the south. Environmentalists, residents of the south and civil society have all argued that the present scope and scale of this DSH project, its impacts and effects on the physical environment, the coastal ecosystems, residential communities and existing business operations, will be drastic for the country.

But the Prime Minister, in his usual display of arrogance, could not be bothered by the “noise”. In fact, only last week in Parliament his wards, orchestrated by Sen. Mary Isaac, were laughing at St. Lucians for wanting to preserve the ecosystem on Maria Island.

But, today I say: Congratulations to Prime Minister Chastanet and his team for restoring national pride and dignity to this land on the occasion of our 39th independence. For me, this non-partisan patriotism was very evident with the extraordinary protest marches that he ignited in May 2017 against the Dolphin Park/DSH — and I am absolutely certain the PM will be the catalyst for similar displays of nationalism in 2018. So thanks, Prime Minister.

Having said all the above, as a Saint Lucian and as one who is and will always be proud to be a Saint Lucian, irrespective of the misguided leadership of Allen Chastanet, I remain and will always stand up anywhere and shout from the mountain top: “This is the land of my birth and I will not allow a second wave of neo-colonialism. Jack will not stop me from bathing on MY beach!

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