Maybe with Christmas in the air MPs on both sides of the aisle had decided at last Tuesday’s House session to keep their guns holstered. Which is not to say the usual shots, cheap and otherwise, were not taken; whether or not at shadows. Surprisingly, it was Prime Minister Allen Chastanet who lit the fuse that some expected to set off at least two bombs among the opposition. There was hardly a sound when he turned to what he described as one of his “favourite subjects,” the controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme.
Earlier in the day Ernest Hilaire, the CIP’s former chairperson and high commissioner in London, now MP for Castries South, had cited what he considered the prime minister’s negative attitude toward the programme. In his rebuttal Chastanet insisted he had never been against the CIP. What had caused him concern, he said, was the individual heading it. In support of his position, he read aloud one of two related letters he had written “to Civil Society” while his United Workers Party was still in opposition.
“When members come to this House they like to threaten people,” said the PM, pointedly. “Nowhere in my letters does it say I was against the CIP.” Moreover, his government was in the process of redesigning the programme, said Chastanet. Then he switched direction to address an agreement signed by the former administration.
“I would like to ask the MP for Castries South whether I am at liberty to make documents of this House agreements signed by the prime minister on 24 May and also on June 2 in reference to Black Bay. I would suggest to him that the government signed the agreements just four days before the elections and that those agreements are confidential, with no out clauses; very similar to some other agreements we found. I would like to ask him if I am at liberty to tell the public how much the lands were sold for!”
“Questions are being asked in the usual quarters about how DSH got to be a CIP project,” he went on. “We have not made DSH a CIP project, not yet anyway. In the framework agreement we have said how we would go about doing it—unlike when the member was chairman of the CIP, and his government was giving CIP status without planning approval, or a master plan. We don’t know where they are getting the money for these developments. I would like the member’s permission because I respect the fact, whether I signed it or not, that there is such a thing as confidentiality. As for DSH, I am willing to consult everybody, to have dialogue with everybody in Saint Lucia, because it is our investment.”
The prime minister offered this related update: “We have signed off and confirmed that we are going to do the horseracing track. The horseracing track is going to be in the Beausejour area, an area right now that’s generating no jobs, generating no taxes and I have not yet seen any plans for any major investment in the area. The horseracing track is a business that is not going to make money for the developer. It is a catalyst to spur people’s interest in the project. So we are going to lease the land for that area at $1 an acre a year, for 99 years. In exchange he is investing the money for the horseracing track. He is bringing his name and his reputation to it and we are expecting that we are going to generate in excess of 1,000 jobs for young people currently unemployed.”
The PM has said he had been hearing for years about developments in the south that have borne no fruit. “You have the area of Il Pirata. How many plans have you seen about putting a marina there?” he asked. “How many plans have you seen for hotel developments there? The Anse Sable point below Moule a Chique, in front of Bruceville, our government has put designs for hotels there.”
He returned to the touchy matter of what had so far been agreed: “What we have said is that we are going to put together a master plan for those areas. That is what the framework agreement says. The framework agreement says wherever there is going to be commercial activity, a hotel or a casino or a marina, we will sell that land for between US$60,000 and US$90,000 an acre. There will be public space, space to which the public will have full access. Until we know exactly what are the plans, there is nothing to talk about. What the government has entered into is a framework agreement. The only thing we have proceeded on and received detailed plans for is the horseracing track.”
Referring to the chairman of Desert Star Holdings Ltd, the prime minister said: “Here is a man who graduated from Harvard School of Architecture; a renowned master planner. Did he do the things he claims he did? Was he in fact the primary architect for the government city outside of Kuala Lumpur? The answer is, yes, yes. Was he involved in major development projects in Singapore, with the government and also with the private sector? The answer again is yes! Was he the main architect in Dubai, who came up with the idea of the Palm Islands? Was it him who designed and helped build the horseracing track now deemed one of the world’s most exciting? Did he do that? The answer is yes!
Is Mr. Teo Khing the person he says he is in the horse-racing world? I went to China to find out. I met the top breeders from Kentucky, the top breeders from Ireland, the top breeders from the UK, including the Queens Blood Stock [representative]; all the top breeders from Australia, from Singapore, from Malaysia and from Russia. When I met with these people on an individual basis, man for man they said how much they love and are inspired by Teo Khing. So does he have access? Yes he does!”
Additionally: “What he has agreed to do is be involved in an investment in which he is looking to build a marina and a casino. He is also looking to build some hotels and develop some real estate. We are going to be opening up that development and invite Saint Lucians, and others from the Caribbean, to invest. We are going to put the infrastructure in . . . and that is where the CIP money will go. We want to reclaim land in front of Il Pirata. Nobody can take that away with them. But here’s the deal: from the day I met Mr. Teo Khing I have been open. Every meeting has been followed up with pictures released to the public. There has been documentation, transparency.”
The PM assured the nation that there will also be full consultation. “I can assure everybody that we will continue to act as we have been doing and as soon as we have finalised some of the basic drawings and ideas relating to this development coming past the horseracing track we will share them—unlike the former government that talked transparency but has never walked the walk!”