The whole issue of the head offices of the SSDF being relocated in the residential area of Coubaril has quite rightly spawned much discussion, as apparent abuses of power by Government bodies of any kind should not be allowed to pass without comment.
There does appear to be some confusion as to what the area described as Coubaril actually is, and by way of elucidation I can advise that the entire area was part of the British War Department lands which, like the Morne, was sold to local interests in the 1960s before our Independence.
Coubaril really consists of two parts. A zoned residential development owned by Trade Winds Ltd., and the remainder of the lands on which are housed Karib Cable, the new Hospital, the Mental Health Hospital, etc. It is within the zoned residential area that the SSDF have chosen to locate their new offices.
These Trade Winds lands were very strictly zoned for residential use, with many binding covenants attached to the Deeds of Sale to ensure that the development was maintained for the benefit of the residents who built their homes there.
At present, the vast majority of the homes are owned by indigenous members of St. Lucia’s professional classes, with a sprinkling of expatriates living happily amongst them. It is indeed a successful residential area and one would have thought that any Government body such as our DCA would do its utmost to strive to recreate such a commendable development elsewhere in St. Lucia. But unfortunately this is the exact opposite of what has taken place over the past few months!
For reasons yet unknown, the offices of the SSDF have now been moved into the Trade Winds development (let us continue to call it Coubaril for ease of writing) and a large private home has been surreptitiously converted into a block of Government offices in total defiance of all zoning regulations!
Car parks have been built, unauthorized, and dangerous exits onto the Millennium Highway have been constructed; internal roads have been amended; mature trees have been felled in an area unique for maintaining its tropical vegetation, and all this without any attempt at giving the owners of adjacent lands the opportunity to object, as is customary and normal in what amounts to a re-zoning exercise. Is this acceptable?
One supposedly serious reason given for the granting of permission was that the previous owner had one desk housing a lone computer which therefore constituted an office! This is hardly a strong argument for the Rule of Law in St. Lucia being flouted, this time moreover by a body such as the DCA that is supposed to safeguard and not damage us. It is akin to the watchman stealing the chickens from the coop.
We hear facile arguments to the effect that we will benefit from our properties becoming more valuable by virtue of commercial activity now certain to take place within Coubaril, but those advancing such arguments fail to comprehend that they are talking not about relatively raw land like Rodney Bay was 20 years ago, but about a zoned residential area with over half the lots already built on. To take advantage of this ‘benefit,’ owners would have to vacate their homes to enable the ‘more valuable’ commercial properties to be built next to these new government offices and in so doing would have to abandon the cherished family homes that they built many years ago and in which so many of them have raised their children. Can this be considered fair?
We are now really a dormitory community that can best serve as the location of homes for those working in both Castries and Cul de Sac. We exist already, and all that is needed for full utilization of the Trade Winds lands that are not yet built on is for Government to work towards solving the flood plain problem in Cul de Sac (thereby saving Bexon from flooding) and unleash more development nearer to Castries, rather than in the already congested and traffic-burdened North!
The SSDF serves a very useful purpose in the country at this time, although surely STEP workers can be better employed not just to cut grass and clean drains, but to assist our beleaguered farmers in more productive work. Be that as it may, whoever dreamed up the concept of relocating offices meant to serve manual workers a mile outside the city boundaries, thereby forcing claimants to spend part of their hard earned wages on bus fares to reach the offices, is doing a disservice to all! The SSDF offices are best located as close to the city centre as possible, perhaps in offices that Government might be planning to vacate.
Not only is this move of dubious legality, but the fiscal arguments are overwhelmingly against it and here wider ramifications become apparent. With our worsening debt to GDP ratio regularly making headlines, the probable total cost of $5 million to effect the move is hard to justify. In normal times this could be bearable to the Treasury but these are not normal times, and unusual expenditure of this type brings closer the day when our debt ratio reaches the tipping point at which the International Agencies cry halt and austerity begins, most likely in the Public Sector. Think Barbados, and any rational public sector employee must surely become alarmed when he or she witnesses unnecessary expenditure of this type.
When times are hard and cash flow is poor, one does not put one’s funds into bricks and mortar, but instead rents property from a landlord and preserves one’s own cash to assist in keeping the business, or country, afloat. Those who argue otherwise regrettably do not truly understand fiscal management or are willing to incur a level of risk that is dangerously high.
There have been some arguments that the move will save money for government, but crunching the numbers gives the following result.
Future annual cost of the new offices assuming $5 million is borrowed at 8%:
Estimated maintenance costs. $35,000
Estimated insurance. $45,000
Depreciation at 2% on value of the buildings.
$80,000 (A non-cash cost.)
TOTAL FUTURE COST. $560,000
Present Cost of renting SSDF offices on the John Compton Highway at the stated rate
of $18,000 per month. $216,000.
Additional ANNUAL cost resulting from the move: $344,000
I must be forgiven for not appreciating the savings claimed! The above increased recurrent cost is of course in addition to the worsening of our debt/GDP ratio on the Capital Account as outlined above.
This whole move is ill conceived and has little to recommend it. It is unfair, most likely illegal, fiscally unsound and stands to cause dangerous traffic situations along the Millennium Highway.
All these negatives leave one pondering hard as to whether there were any other factors motivating this relocation that we the residents of Coubaril have yet to hear about.