IN May 2017, I was assigned the task of covering the signing of a definitive agreement between the Government of Saint Lucia and Range Developments. The main participants in the signing ceremony were Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Mohammed Asaria, the Vice Chairman of Range Developments.
As I recall, it was very solemn in the room where the ceremony was held, which was the inner conference room of the Prime Minister’s Office.
At lot was said prior to the signing by the two gentlemen and also after the signing by the same two gentlemen.
The signing was all about constructing a US$130 million resort in Black Bay, Vieux Fort. The gist of what was said that day between the two men was that the proposed hotel will be a huge boost to the economy of the South.
The structure to be built was a 180-room luxury-branded resort. Asaria was so pleased at the time that he said he looked forward to working with the farmers in the area, the people and the government, to make the project a reality.
“Range is well known for its social responsibility,” Asaria said right after signing the agreement.
“It is something we take very serious,” he added. “We have made a number of commitments to the government in terms of training, working with the local community with the hospitality scholarships we will be offering” he continued.
Farmers occupying the site earmarked for the hotel had to be relocated. I recall Craig Jn. Charles, President of the Black Bay Small farmers Cooperative Society Ltd expressing his concerns about the availability of water to sustain farmers operations at their new location.
Thing is, the farmers who were approached by Invest Saint Lucia to relocate used Black Bay lands that were near a river which they used to irrigate their crops.
I also recalled how enthusiastic Prime Minister Chastanet was about the project, how much he spoke of the project and how often he made reference to the number of jobs the project will generate both during and after its construction. The numbers posted were in the high hundreds, almost one thousand in total.
It was also said that the resort would be partially financed by the Citizenship by Investment Programme.
Reports that the deal fell through are nothing short of a crushing blow to the prospects raised for the future of the economy of the island’s South and all those people who had hopes of landing a job in the near future.
To date, neither Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee, nor Prime Minister Chastanet, have confirmed the reports that the deal has crashed, none has told the country if so, what led to the collapse, what were or are the issues, if any, that the two sides have ironed out or would have to iron out as a result of the fallout.
In fact, all that is happening is that allegations are being tossed around between the SLP’s spokesperson on CIP, Ernest Hilaire and Minister Fedee, regarding monies owed to Range Developments and statements from the United Workers Party that have nothing to do with the possible fallout if the reports are indeed true.
Months have now passed and still no word from the government on that score. In fact, repeated utterances by government spokespersons (including Fedee on more than one occasion) that a joint statement from the Government and Range Developments is/was forthcoming is no longer a comfort. That promise has outgrown its wait-and-see period, its sense of reassurance.
Government needs to give a full account of what transpired with Range Developments, down to how the development failed – if it actually did.
I think both the PM and the minister should ‘fess-up and face the act that something must be said, whether now or later. I also think that with all that’s been said, a government statement should come sooner than later.
This story may very well have a happy ending. Who knows? But as it stands today, all we have to go by is the Opposition’s loud accusations and the Government’s very silent response.
In such a case, it seems to me that the only sure way out is to come out and give the full range of information needed to simply assure Saint Lucians – and especially those in the South who are affected – that the Range Development is one we and they can count on.
That will surely save the government from a wide range of embarrassments. Otherwise, the government is simply playing into the hands of the very same people it describes as purveyors of ‘fake news’.