The SLP Government’s continued secrecy on the details surrounding the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for our main seaport to Global Port Holdings sparks a blatant indifference to the people’s right to know and the perpetual hypocrisy of the current administration.
Scant official information has been released about this deal which will have a major impact on the operation of our ports and affect the livelihoods of stakeholders including vendors, taxi drivers, tour operators, tenants of facilities at the Castries port and significantly impact the Saint Lucia Air and Sea Ports ability to be viable.
There has been no consultation at all on this issue, as has occurred with so many other issues since this administration took office.
Even more alarming is that the Government reportedly invited no media to the signing of the October 20th 2022 Memorandum of Understanding with the foreign entity who will reportedly own Saint Lucia’s main port and the Government only released a vague report from the office of the Prime Minister.
There was no opportunity for questions or additional information about the project. Neither has the Government, which campaigned under the banner of transparency and challenged the signing of a framework agreement with DSH, released the MOU with GPH to the public.
The question must be asked: What is the Government hiding? What was the temptation to rush this deal?
I have noted that neither the citizens that this project will directly impact nor the media or the wider public have been given the opportunity to review the deal before the MOU was signed.
There is also growing concern that the signing with GPH for the Castries and Soufriere ports will mean that the southern Home Port project which was scheduled for Vieux Fort is dead in the water.
The Home Port plan for Vieux Fort was expected to attract a certain class of ships, which would enable Saint Lucia to be more competitive as well as provide increased economic activity in Vieux Fort and surrounding southern communities, such as Laborie, Micoud and Choiseul.
The agreement by the UWP administration with Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean would have seen the Government achieve both the southern port and the upliftment of Castries, without sacrificing much needed revenue.
The Vieux Fort port would have been able to accommodate the latest and most innovative ships in the cruise industry, with the additional attraction of the proximity of the Hewanorra Airport, the construction of St Jude hospital and the horse racing track, as well as hotel projects earmarked for the south. This would by extension spread the economic activity throughout Saint Lucia.
During my tenure as Prime Minister, I prioritized the south as a strategic area for development. The prospect of the Home Port project in the south is being shelved as well as other southern projects.
A home port generates significantly more revenue to the state than any other type of cruise business that would be coming into St. Lucia. Home porting would pay your airport tax, hence more people would be contributing toward the cost of the airport. Then you would have pre- and post day visitors who are coming in early and are staying a couple of days before they catch their ship.
There’s also a greater opportunity to grow attractions in the South than there is in the North. The prospects for increased business for taxi drivers, the impact on the improved value for Saint Lucians that own property, the employment that would have been created in the south is all out the window with this deal.
The Opposition notes that it’s more alarming that SLP MPs for these constituencies would turn a blind eye as this deal was signed.
The expectations of the people of the south have been dashed once again by the SLP who continuously show that the development of the south is not a priority and that it never would be. They stopped St. Jude, stopped road developments and now an item that was included in the Labour Party manifesto has gone the same way.
Questions also surround whether Saint Lucia is forfeiting too much in the GPH deal, with the developer expected to put in $47 million, yet make an estimated over $300 million.
There are so many more questions than answers. Revenue collected by Invest Saint Lucia and SLASPA, could be in jeopardy.
Will rents increase for tenants at Pointe Seraphine or La Place Carenage? What about the vendors arcade? Will they be able to afford the costs imposed by the new company?
We’re talking about a private concessionaire, who is primarily concerned with generating a return.
When the United Workers Party received the GPH deal this was among the reasons it was not signed as well as the condition that there would not be a Vieux Fort home port project.
The UWP’s plan was to build a hotel at Pointe Seraphine, improve the city of Castries, move the container port to Cul-de-Sac in order to free up that land and create more commercial activity.
Why has the Government rushed into this deal?
Why have they not been made public?
What are the terms of the deal?
Has due diligence been done on GPH and other ports they manage?
What are the terms under which GPH will receive a return on their investment?
What will be the role of SLASPA?
What will happen with the rental costs for the vendor’s facility?
Meanwhile, I am still hopeful that a Home Port will be built in Vieux Fort and that the SLP Government will honour the agreements made with Carnival Corporation and consider the benefits for the entire island. The Opposition calls for consultation and for the full agreement to come before the public for scrutiny.
I am also calling on previously vocal pressure groups to find their voice once again and demand that the SLP administration fulfill its campaign promise of transparency. Based on the current trend there has been no evidence that they intend to practice what they preach.
SOURCE: Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Allen Chastanet