Management and supporters of the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) took to the streets of Castries, yesterday (Tuesday) in ‘Silent Protest’ over the government’s perceived “lack of vision” while implementing infrastructural projects on island.
Opposition leader Allen Chastanet has taken issue with several of the government’s ongoing projects claiming that the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration’s policies were not in keeping with its mandate of governing with a ‘people centric’ approach.
He cited the ports upgrade as one of the factors under review, while taking umbrage with the privatization of the country’s two major seaports.
Chastanet chastised the government for what he claims is the direct award of contracts to a foreign company – Global Port Holdings (GPH).
“The privatization of our cruise ports is another example of why the ‘silent protest’ is due to be held…,” the opposition leader told reporters at a press brief, Monday.
He recalled that while the SLP was in opposition, it took the past administration to task for its foreign investment undertakings and “foreigners coming into this country and taking over critical assets in this country.”
Chastanet also questioned the government’s handling of direct awards and that Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) “ought not to be kept in private”.
“This government has gone to a foreign entity to give them a direct award, no bid …to take over control of our ports,” he added. “And there must be something wrong …when we would want to get $43 million of investment, yet we are prepared to give up over US$300 million in revenues over a 40-year period.”
He explained, “The deal means that we are going to give the concessionaire of the cruise ship ports the head tax that we are currently collecting. And the concessionaire also has the right to go and impose a new head tax and will collect100% of that head tax.”
Chastanet stated that the intention was to increase Saint Lucia’s head tax, which currently stands at $6.50 – with a $1.50 going to solid waste department and $5.00 goes to the St Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority (SLASPA) and “they intend to increase it to $12).”
The opposition leader queried as to why SLASPA could not have gone directly to the cruise passengers to collect the head tax and why was “this not put out to bid”.
He described GPH as a “good company” but stated they were not the only ones in that business and that “this flies in the face of the hypocrisy of this government …”
Reflecting on some major infrastructural projects that had been earmarked for the island’s southern coast, compared to what he termed the government’s turnaround from implementing these plans, Chastanet remarked: “I feel sorry for the south…because while we have sold our patrimony to the foreigners, and the intention is also to sell our airport to foreigners …that the people in the south has been sold out.”
He recalled that the SLP’s manifesto spoke of “the development of a home port and the development of a cruise ship port in Vieux Fort”.
“And so, to allow an ‘Oasis’ class ship to go into Port Castries is misguided,” Chastanet continued. “Castries cannot take anymore, we need to improve the quality.”
He asked: “Does the MOU include Invest St Lucia and therefore Pt. Seraphin, does the concessionaire now have control over all of the duty free shopping shops at Pt. Seraphin, do they have control over all the duty free shops at La Place Carenage …and now with the taxi concessions, will they not have to go to this new concessionaire to work out a new deal?”
On the Soufriere sea ports upgrade, Chastanet questioned the impact that this latest development will have on the fisher folk in the community and the sustainability of their habitat. He spoke concerning the people of Baron’s Drive, occupying a place on the water’s edge along the Soufriere waterfront.
“And who is going to get all these concessions,” he quipped. “What’s going to happen to the fishermen, what’s going to happen to the way of life that people have in Soufriere, what happens to the charm of Soufriere?”
Chastanet added, “And now all the people in the south who were going to benefit from the cruise ship port, including the people of Saint Lucia …but now we understand that downsizing of Hewanorra International Airport (HIA) had to do with decision to abandon having a home port, and to abandon the south.”
He likened the administration’s actions to “a shift in power in the St Lucia Labour Party.”
Chastanet assumed that the likes of SLP stalwarts Dr. Kenny Anthony, Moses “Musa” Jn. Baptiste and Alva Baptiste “who were leaders of the Labour Party” have now, “acquiesced their authority to Stephenson King, Richard Frederick, Phillip Pierre and Ernest Hilaire …who now instead of allowing those developments to take place in the south, have used their political strength to bring it to Castries.”
Speaking on the St Jude’s Hospital construction issue, the opposition leader insinuated that government “continues to want to convince the people of Saint Lucia that going back to an old building that was never appropriate to house a hospital is the best way to go”.
He added , “And to continue to lie about the status and how much the new building costs , where the building was at today and how long will it take to finish it , all these things are coming that are expenses to us (citizens).”
Chastanet claimed that it is the former United Workers Party (UWP) administration that must be credited for the projects being implemented, as with the current administration “There is no vision …”
Chastanet insists that from the onset, the UWP had stated “that we do not expect that we are going to get democracy in the house of parliament …and that’s why we feel the people’s parliament is where it is.”
He said people wanting to come out to the protest would involve, persons who felt oppressed, intimidated to say anything, “scared to let your voice be heard …those are the most important reasons to come out (Tuesday).”
Chastanet urged persons to come out and “take that fight on today …because all we are going to see is a continuation of a government wanting to put its own people in place to control all the levers of democracy in this country.”
He listed other complaints that included, the need to call a referendum on Saint Lucia’s push for accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Chastanet called on UWP supporters, as well as “independently minded –persons”, and even SLP supporters not in accord with “what’s taking place”.
The UWP’s political leader noted that the main objective of Tuesday’s Protest March is to send out a statement, declaring that: “Our country is not for sale! …and that our institutions matter, and what people says matter.”