Like many others who call Saint Lucia home or were merely attracted by its beauty and charm, I have pondered the opposition to the Desert Star Holdings initiative and its genesis. I wondered why the former government kept the DSH proposals such a tightly guarded secret. My initial conclusion was that the government decided upon this approach because it wanted to surprise those who said it could not attract foreign direct investments. But wait, wouldn’t it have served the Saint Lucia Labour Party at election time to be able to prove its detractors wrong; that it was sitting on the mother of all projects that would benefit primarily residents in the south of the land, in particular Vieux Fort, the then prime minister’s constituency?
What reason was there for the former government to have kept the DSH/Pearl of the Caribbean project under wraps? Evidence suggests that the last project of such magnitude in the south was the construction of the US Air Base in the late 1930s. That project had attracted workers from all parts of the island, as well as from Barbados and Trinidad. On further reflection there may be at least four reasons for the secrecy. The first centres on the issuance of Saint Lucian passports as recommended by the Citizenship Investment Programme (CIP—created by the former regime). My gut feeling is that offering Saint Lucian passports in exchange for foreign investment was (and is) a poisoned chalice that made Labour Party honchos nervous – despite the concoction having been cooked up by their trusted leader.
It says a lot that the beleaguered incumbents actually undertook a crucial no-holds-barred election campaign without once mentioning the economic panacea that DSH represented. I’ve wondered in recent times whether the former prime minister perchance shared my conviction that owning a Saint Lucia passport is a great privilege, not to be trivialized – or prostituted. But there was also another possibility that I’ve found difficult to shake, a question, actually: What would be the effect on the economic and social development of the island’s south of such a huge investment that includes a top-tier horse-racing track?
Answer: The constituencies of Vieux Fort South, Laborie and Vieux Fort North would in a short time be totally transformed. These three make up a triangle defined as follows: a line from Moule-a-Chique in Vieux Fort South to Laborie; then from Laborie to Savannes Bay; and a third from Savannes Bay back to Moule-a-Chique. An impartial observer would say that triangle has yet to breathe the new air of an independent Saint Lucia or to fully embrace its Nobel laureates. As counter-productive as it sounds, perhaps there’s a fear that too much development could affect the poverty and backwardness that render too many of our people dependent on politicians.
A third reason for the secrecy comes to mind. Imagine a scenario in which the DSH proposals were shared with the top brass of the party. Who’s to say the party hierarchy was unanimous in its support for these proposals? One thing is clear: since the early 1990s the party now in opposition would rather die than portray in public any semblance of disunity. Those who lived through the drama and trauma of the division that led to its fall from grace will appreciate why. Who will blame them? Isn’t party unity a legitimate pursuit of party politics? However, perhaps the more important question is: At what cost unity?
On the other hand, there could have been general agreement on the broad proposals, sufficient to give DSH an undertaking in principle. Here I am reminded of Amerada Hess Oil assuring the government in 1980 that written agreements were merely for future guidance. So the day’s government and opposition agreed to take Hess at its word. In the case of DSH, if there was agreement in principle two years ago, why were Saint Lucians not informed?
There are at least two other possible explanations for the secrecy. The first is that the government was too tentative and lukewarm. The other may be that the government was trying to shunt the entire deal into the hands of a cabal of business people, by first investing the lands in their hands and then allowing them to front with DSH. Is such a thing plausible? As for government-owned lands in the south, has this been done before?
These are matters to be pondered as we discuss the DSH proposal and its possibilities. We need to ask the former government to explain the unanswered questions presented in this article, and more. Perhaps journalists, too, can strike a blow for Saint Lucia (for Vieux Fort, in particular) by asking the former regime to explain. Who knows what truths could be brought to light in the process?