- Calls for an independent investigation
- Appeal for Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA), investigation
- Successive governments’ indifference to the public
By Caribbean News Global
TORONTO, Canada – The sale and/or lease of crown lands (government land) has always been in dispute, causing public disquiet in Saint Lucia, on the account of corruption and cronyism. The recent sale of property belonging to the government of Saint Lucia, located at Tapion has gathered a sense of indifference to the government’s simple responsibility of transparency, accountability and communication with the public.
Subsequent to a host of unsuccessful public reviews, the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), who are no political virgins or inexperience in the context of the sale of government lands, lease and acquisition, has called for an independent investigation and requested the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA), to do the same.
In a press statement, the member of parliament for Choiseul / Saltibus and the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), John Bradley Felix, called on the government “to conduct an independent investigation into the sale of government land at Tapion to Gifta Eugene ‘apparently’ – below value.” He continued: “It is clear that the junior minister is deliberately trying to mislead the public with unsubstantiated information,” adding that “the minister who in the past has had a habit of showing documents live on air, has not presented any documents to substantiate his claims. The documents from the Registry of Lands show otherwise.”
In a video statement, the member of parliament, Felix, submitted that the UWP is, therefore, asking prime minister Philip Pierre for public accountability on the following:
- Richard Frederick claims that the land was subdivided into parcels 50 and 51 and that only parcel 50 was sold which is a portion of the land. The prime minister must, therefore, answer: why does parcel #50 contain 2.4 acres/1 hectare of land which is the same amount of land as the original Lot #11?
- If there is lot #51, what is the size of lot #51 and if it exists where did the extra land come from; lot #50 consists of the entire 2.4 acres or 1 hectare?
- Why was Gifta Eugene the one selected and that, the land was not made available to other potential buyers?
- Why was the land sold ‘below value’ to Eugene?
- As we are all aware, land appreciates in value and not depreciates. We, therefore, need to know what is the justification by Terrence ‘Skinny’ St Clair for the revaluation of the land at a seemingly “lesser value” than the 2013 value?
The member of parliament for Choiseul / Saltibus, Felix, also referenced prime minister Pierre’s lamentation that he “has always claimed, [that he] will run his administration with accountability and transparency and free of any corruption” and “in light of the above [and with the] “reputation” of the minister involved, we believe that the prime minister must come out and satisfy the public with these pertinent answers.”
According to senator Stanislas: “A close look at the land register indicates that the land is not assigned to any financial institution, and it, therefore, means that this was a likely “cash transaction.” Saint Lucians will recall that just last month we went to parliament to strengthen the legislation against money laundering and anti-terrorism. We believe that based on the media pronouncements that the minister sold the land for XCD$3.5 million, but the deed of sale only speaks to XCD$2.7 million. Then this warrants an investigation as to where the missing XCD$800,000 went to?”
At a sitting of the House of Assembly Tuesday, March 22, 2023, the Extradition (Amendment) Bill; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Amendment) Bill; Companies (Amendment) Bill, and Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill – (previously circulated) went through the various provisions of parliament.
The senator continued: “It is also important, in light of the fact the land seems to be a cash sale, that the FSRA ensures that proper procedures were used to document and follow the source of funds, considering that the transactions were done not by the buyer herself, but via an attorney as she is working out of state. We need to be satisfied that all funds paid towards the land were indeed received by the state and that there is transparency and accountability in this transaction.”
In furtherance of clarity on this matter, senator Stanislas, said: “ I am also asking the prime minister as is customary, to make available to the public the plan (s) for the property,” stating that “it is customary when public lands are being sold to any developer for commercial use, that a proper development plan be presented to the agency before the transaction is completed.”
Encircling the wagon
Successive governments seem to have an affinity with selling and/or leasing crown lands, with undue regard, accountability and transparency to the public.
In opposition (2017), The Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), called on the UWP government to make the “Desert Star Holdings (DSH), agreement of approximately 900 acres of land and Maria Islet agreement in Vieux Fort for 99 years,” a document of the House of Assembly.
In 2019, the racetrack, managed by the Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club, was constructed by the Desert Star Holdings (DSH) company; hitherto that’s the wisdom proffered, without full disclosure of the DSH agreement and accountability and transparency of the Citizenship by Invest (CBI) programme – a failure by all reports.
The SLP back then raised fundamental questions on land acquisition, St Jude, IMPACS, DSH, and unrealized housing projects stating, “there is no commitment to provide genuine and sufficient information to address concerns, there is a constant dismissal of any dissenting view and a constant abuse of our laws and parliamentary procedures.”
Accountability and transparency
A further concern on the sale of government land(s) at Tapion is whether a development plan was presented to the NHC, which continues to elude public presentation and discourse – accountability and transparency. Moreover, the said land(s) is in the vicinity of looming port development by Global Ports Holding (GPH) Ltd.
In the current circumstance as in opposition, it is inexcusable. It is cognisant, that the “truth comes to light in this sale of government property”. It is the proper course of action.
The indifference to the apparent secrecy of public development projects by the government of Saint Lucia cannot fly both ways to the point of being injurious to the country.
In opposition, the SLP waxed poetic, even psychological with a sense of knowledge, hitherto, the records don’t lie. To date, the government of Saint Lucia is an equation of competence, to which investors and many of prominence have expressed shock and dissatisfaction. Moreover, the attitude of contempt for questions and answers on matters of public importance is abnormal.
Rights and responsibility
The good intention of the government is also cynical of the principle of ridicule and bullying, without consequence. Thus, the delicate establishment of crass decorum is becoming a danger to the rule of law, civil rights, freedom and democracy.
Irrespective of the multiple variations and explanations to date, there can be no ducking that the ultimate responsibility, directly and indirectly of the cabinet of ministers and the parliament of Saint Lucia, is incumbent on prime minister Pierre.
In the new session of parliament commencing April 25, 2023, there is an opportunity to chart a mid-term course correction. In the absence of a redirection of purpose to “level up” with the people of Saint Lucia from “flashing mirrors and smoke screens,” the predisposition is recognisable.