On Thursday last week Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet convened his first press conference of the new year. In his opening remarks he cited some anticipated improvements in the justice system, the police in particular. “We have to do more work in the schools, more work in the community. Our policemen should not be looking only to arrest people, but they should be part of the process of preventing crimes in the first place.”
The prime minister repeated some announcements first made in 2016, including the construction of a fourth Sandals: a six-star resort to be named Sandals LaSource.
“We will also be announcing further developments in the south end of the island,” he promised. “We’ve already spoken about the DHS project and the commencement of the racetrack. As indicated, we’re working with Mr. Teo Khing to put together a master plan for the other parts of Vieux Fort. Meanwile we’re also working on developments in Black Bay, Sabwisha, as well as Canelles. I’m hoping to make other announcements very soon as to what is going to be happening with those projects.”
Where agriculture was concerned, he said that despite the challenges in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Matthew, his government had been able to pump money back into the sector in an effort to increase production. “Government is currently in talks with regional and international banana producers and marketing companies,” he said. Additionally: “Our meetings with banana producers in Martinque, as well as marketing companies in France, are going well. As you know, we’ve commenced exporting bananas to London, through Paris, and in the next few months we’re going to be testing bananas in that market.”
In the area of infrastructure the prime minister said serious consideration was being given to the expansion of the island road network. “We’re having several meetings with donor agencies to be able to get additional resources. We’ve decided to curtail the amount of money we were going to spend on the Gros Islet to Castries highway, and we’re going to be spending more on the back roads. We are looking at resurrecting the highway from Gros Islet all the way to Vieux Fort. We believe that this is the long-term solution to some of the traffic problems now being experienced.”
The PM’s opening remarks were followed by questions from attendant media representatives, most of whom were there to ask about the recently modified Citizenship by Investment programme. Doubtless the prime minister anticipated this, considering the wide interest in what is now being called, since last Sunday’s 60 Minutes programme on CBS, the “passports-for-cash programme”.
“This is a very complicated business,” said the prime minister in response to a reporter’s question. “It’s a very competitive business. It didn’t start in the Caribbean, although Saint Kitts has had it for some time, but the United States of America has been in the Citizenship by Investment business for a very long time; so have Canada, the United Kingdom; I can go down the list. When you tell me this is a grab for money – I think that’s what the 60 Minutes show said – what’s the difference between them going after the best athletes, the richest people, and the brightest people? Is that not to make a financial contribution to their country?”
The prime minister went on: “The critical thing here is the scrutiny of the applicants. We’re not allowing despots to come into the country and, so far, that’s not happened. Where the programmes have gotten into problems in the past . . . well, it concerned diplomatic passports. You do not have to have a CIP program in order to give a diplomatic passport. The controversy behind CIP has always centred on diplomatic passports. I can say to you that the United Workers Party and this government is not in the business of selling diplomacy. That’s a value issue. It has nothing to do with CIP.”
On a lighter note, the prime minister said he was looking forward to 2017, and the many changes. “It’s going to be difficult,” he noted. “It always is difficult leaving what you are accustomed to doing, to try something new. But we have no choice. Honestly, the country is in a financial quagmire. There is a tremendous amount of potential, but we now have to convert that potential into reality. It’s going to require fundamental change, and the one thing I want to ask Saint Lucians is to bring back that Saint Lucian pride. Let’s wave our flag. Let’s celebrate who we are. Let us not make excuses.”