Last Friday government officials and the island’s other movers and shakers, along with the more prominent residents of Vieux Fort attended the sod-turning ceremony of the Royal Turf Club at Beausejour. The RTF is the horse-racing track aspect of the much talked about Desert Star Holdings (DSH) project, the so-called “Pearl of the Caribbean,” earmarked for Vieux Fort and estimated at $2.6 billion. It has emerged that the Kenny Anthony government had been in unannounced discussion with DSH for about three years. News of the project became public in July this year, a few weeks after the present administration, led by Allen Chastanet, was elected to office. The prime minister stated then that what he had signed was “a framework agreement” to move ahead with the project “in principle.”
The outed project has met with calculated criticism, with the opposition calling on the government to make full disclosure on the details of the agreement that is also linked to the Citizens by Investment Program. In Vieux Fort, Mr Teo Ah Khing of DHS talked about his expectations for the project. He said Saint Lucia had been highly recommended by his business partners, China Horse Club members, and close friends. After visiting more than ten times over two years, Khing revealed, he had found Saint Lucians to be a friendly people. He had also discovered many opportunities for growth.
“As chairman of the China Horse Club,” he said, “I know we have members who like to travel and we believe Saint Lucia is one of those gems yet to be really discovered. I have found that there are opportunities where we can share our expertise, particularly in the area of horse racing.” Over the past year, he had met with many horse enthusiasts and shared their desire to make horse-racing more professional.
“This is not just for the locals,” Khing revealed. “We hope locals can have an international stage, while we also attract the international community here. That is what we are anticipating. But it is important to upgrade the education and skills of the people.”
The CHC chairman says it’s also part of the DSH plan to bring in trainers to ensure that Saint Lucians will meet international and professional standards in terms of service, particularly when the hotel aspect of the project comes on stream.
It is expected that the track will be completed by November next year. “We will try our best,” he promised. “Of course we will operate within the laws of the land and we have to work fast. Once the paper work is in place we will mobilise. There will be no shortcuts. We must do this properly.”
On the matter of the planned marina in the area of the Ma Kote Mangrove, the largest in the Eastern Caribbean, Mr Khing confirmed that they had “pulled back, subject to all the detailed studies.” He added that the mangroves were decaying and suggested that it was linked to the landfill, located in the area. He said that replanting was one way to address the problem, but it was paramount to get to the root of the issue.
He added that he took seriously the concerns about the environment and felt that development and environment protection were not mutually exclusive. “The environment needs to be preserved and enhanced,” he said. “We know what we are doing and we will implement engineering solutions to address matters of erosion and other issues that arise.” Finally Khing said: “This is a five- to seven-year project. It will create lots of jobs, so many that we are worried there might not be enough people to do available work.”