When I hear the false criticisms in the public domain I recall my childhood and the story of Chicken Little. He thought the sky was falling, so he told the King. He got everyone to stand behind what he had said, with disastrous consequences. The society’s foxes devoured Chicken Little—and everyone else. “Let us not be Chicken Little,” said Seryozha Cenac at a press conference on Tuesday, convened by Invest Saint Lucia for the purpose of “dispelling untruths and misinformation” about ongoing negotiations between Desert Star Holdings (DSH) and the government of Saint Lucia. Mr. Cenac is ISL’s legal representative.
In July last year the Saint Lucia government and DSH signed what the prime minister described as “a framework agreement” in relation to the so-called Pearl of the Caribbean, in the south of the island. According to the government’s senior communications officer, Nicole McDonald, the DSH project will “pave the way for Saint Lucia’s first fully integrated equestrian oriented development.”
In November the government signed a supplementary agreement, with amendments to the framework agreement. At Tuesday’s meeting, ISL representatives and other government personnel reminded the press that consultations are still ongoing in pursuit of a final agreement to be announced in due course.
“It is important to note,” McDonald said, “that through Invest Saint Lucia, the government has for some now been engaged in discussions with DSH, working out the details of the framework agreement.” She echoed an earlier assurance by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet that the DSH project was headed by “a reputable and distinguished businessman: Mr. Teo Ah Khing.”
She added that the expectation is that the project will be a key driver for the south, a catalyst for further investments in the area. Over the last few weeks, McDonald revealed, the government and other invested parties had taken note of public concerns about the development, and had put together a fact sheet designed to “shed light on grey areas.”
The chairman of Invest Saint Lucia, Mr Pinkley Francis, spoke on ISL’s role as the government’s Investment Promotion Agency: “We have been facilitating this investment along with several others. This we’ve done in the past and continue to do so. Relevant approvals are received by the investors. We do all the groundwork on behalf of the investors; we liaise with the ministries and the relevant agencies to ensure permits, licenses and approvals are obtained. We have been working alongside DSH to ensure the Pearl of the Caribbean Project gets off on the right footing.”
A panel fielded questions from the media, many centred on rumours that the George Odlum Stadium will be demolished; that public access to beaches will be denied. There were also questions in relation to land use.
“The one-dollar an acre is for leasing,” Francis told reporters. “The government will be leasing land to the developer for part of the development that he will not be permitted to sell to his investors. The developer will buy land from the government, as long as he will be selling part of that project to an investor. Take the race track, for example. That will not be sold; it will be leased at $1. If the developer is going to build a hotel or villas, he will pay between $60-90 million US dollars an acre.”
He gave the assurance that there were “absolutely no plans” to demolish the stadium. He said: “In the framework agreement, lands were requested by the developer that also include the George Odlum Stadium. As most of you would agree, apart from the stadium being used as a hospital, it is highly under-utilised. Before this developer, the government of Saint Lucia had other entities interested in developing that general area. The DSH developer has actually expressed an interest in helping the government identify partners in developing that area for educational purposes. At the present moment, we are only focusing with the developer on phase one of the project, which is the racetrack. I can guarantee the stadium in the near future will be going nowhere.”
According to representatives, all phases of the proposed project are subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment. The project is expected to consist of at least 25 phases, over a 20-year period with the expectation that the first phase of the project will commence before the end of 2017.
“As we speak,” said Francis, “we are actively continuing the negotiations.
We are in constant contact with the developer. The developer is funding the entire phase one with his own cash; there will be no CIP, and that is very clear; no CIP contribution for phase one of the project—primarily the racecourse.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, government and ISL representatives announced that in addition to the fact sheet, a Pearl of the Caribbean Facebook account has been set up to provide information about the project.