DSH: Only race­track deal sealed!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Spe­cial STAR Cor­re­spon­dent

Maybe with Christ­mas in the air MPs on both sides of the aisle had de­cided at last Tues­day’s House ses­sion to keep their guns hol­stered. Which is not to say the usual shots, cheap and other­wise, were not taken; whether or not at shad­ows. Sur­pris­ingly, it was Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet who lit the fuse that some ex­pected to set off at least two bombs among the op­po­si­tion. There was hardly a sound when he turned to what he de­scribed as one of his “favourite sub­jects,” the con­tro­ver­sial Cit­i­zen­ship by In­vest­ment Pro­gramme.

Ear­lier in the day Ernest Hi­laire, the CIP’s former chair­per­son and high com­mis­sioner in Lon­don, now MP for Cas­tries South, had cited what he con­sid­ered the prime min­is­ter’s neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to­ward the pro­gramme. In his re­but­tal Chas­tanet in­sisted he had never been against the CIP. What had caused him con­cern, he said, was the in­di­vid­ual head­ing it. In sup­port of his po­si­tion, he read aloud one of two re­lated let­ters he had writ­ten “to Civil So­ci­ety” while his United Work­ers Party was still in op­po­si­tion.

“When mem­bers come to this House they like to threaten peo­ple,” said the PM, point­edly. “Nowhere in my let­ters does it say I was against the CIP.” More­over, his gov­ern­ment was in the process of re­design­ing the pro­gramme, said Chas­tanet. Then he switched di­rec­tion to ad­dress an agree­ment signed by the former ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I would like to ask the MP for Cas­tries South whether I am at lib­erty to make doc­u­ments of this House agree­ments signed by the prime min­is­ter on 24 May and also on June 2 in ref­er­ence to Black Bay. I would sug­gest to him that the gov­ern­ment signed the agree­ments just four days be­fore the elec­tions and that those agree­ments are con­fi­den­tial, with no out clauses; very sim­i­lar to some other agree­ments we found. I would like to ask him if I am at lib­erty to tell the pub­lic how much the lands were sold for!”

“Ques­tions are be­ing asked in the usual quar­ters about how DSH got to be a CIP project,” he went on. “We have not made DSH a CIP project, not yet any­way. In the frame­work agree­ment we have said how we would go about do­ing it—un­like when the mem­ber was chair­man of the CIP, and his gov­ern­ment was giv­ing CIP sta­tus without plan­ning ap­proval, or a master plan. We don’t know where they are get­ting the money for th­ese de­vel­op­ments. I would like the mem­ber’s per­mis­sion be­cause I re­spect the fact, whether I signed it or not, that there is such a thing as con­fi­den­tial­ity. As for DSH, I am will­ing to con­sult ev­ery­body, to have dia­logue with ev­ery­body in Saint Lu­cia, be­cause it is our in­vest­ment.”

The prime min­is­ter of­fered this re­lated up­date: “We have signed off and con­firmed that we are go­ing to do the horserac­ing track. The horserac­ing track is go­ing to be in the Beause­jour area, an area right now that’s gen­er­at­ing no jobs, gen­er­at­ing no taxes and I have not yet seen any plans for any ma­jor in­vest­ment in the area. The horserac­ing track is a busi­ness that is not go­ing to make money for the de­vel­oper. It is a cat­a­lyst to spur peo­ple’s in­ter­est in the project. So we are go­ing to lease the land for that area at $1 an acre a year, for 99 years. In ex­change he is in­vest­ing the money for the horserac­ing track. He is bring­ing his name and his rep­u­ta­tion to it and we are ex­pect­ing that we are go­ing to gen­er­ate in ex­cess of 1,000 jobs for young peo­ple cur­rently un­em­ployed.”

The PM has said he had been hear­ing for years about de­vel­op­ments in the south that have borne no fruit. “You have the area of Il Pi­rata. How many plans have you seen about putting a ma­rina there?” he asked. “How many plans have you seen for ho­tel de­vel­op­ments there? The Anse Sable point be­low Moule a Chique, in front of Bruceville, our gov­ern­ment has put de­signs for ho­tels there.”

He re­turned to the touchy mat­ter of what had so far been agreed: “What we have said is that we are go­ing to put to­gether a master plan for those ar­eas. That is what the frame­work agree­ment says. The frame­work agree­ment says wher­ever there is go­ing to be com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity, a ho­tel or a casino or a ma­rina, we will sell that land for be­tween US$60,000 and US$90,000 an acre. There will be pub­lic space, space to which the pub­lic will have full ac­cess. Un­til we know ex­actly what are the plans, there is noth­ing to talk about. What the gov­ern­ment has en­tered into is a frame­work agree­ment. The only thing we have pro­ceeded on and re­ceived de­tailed plans for is the horserac­ing track.”

Re­fer­ring to the chair­man of Desert Star Hold­ings Ltd, the prime min­is­ter said: “Here is a man who grad­u­ated from Har­vard School of Ar­chi­tec­ture; a renowned master plan­ner. Did he do the things he claims he did? Was he in fact the pri­mary ar­chi­tect for the gov­ern­ment city out­side of Kuala Lumpur? The an­swer is, yes, yes. Was he in­volved in ma­jor de­vel­op­ment projects in Sin­ga­pore, with the gov­ern­ment and also with the pri­vate sec­tor? The an­swer again is yes! Was he the main ar­chi­tect in Dubai, who came up with the idea of the Palm Is­lands? Was it him who de­signed and helped build the horserac­ing track now deemed one of the world’s most ex­cit­ing? Did he do that? The an­swer is yes! Is Mr. Teo Khing the per­son he says he is in the horse-rac­ing world? I went to China to find out. I met the top breed­ers from Ken­tucky, the top breed­ers from Ire­land, the top breed­ers from the UK, in­clud­ing the Queens Blood Stock [rep­re­sen­ta­tive]; all the top breed­ers from Aus­tralia, from Sin­ga­pore, from Malaysia and from Rus­sia. When I met with th­ese peo­ple on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, man for man they said how much they love and are in­spired by Teo Khing. So does he have ac­cess? Yes he does!”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “What he has agreed to do is be in­volved in an in­vest­ment in which he is look­ing to build a ma­rina and a casino. He is also look­ing to build some ho­tels and de­velop some real es­tate. We are go­ing to be open­ing up that de­vel­op­ment and in­vite Saint Lu­cians, and oth­ers from the Caribbean, to in­vest. We are go­ing to put the in­fra­struc­ture in . . . and that is where the CIP money will go. We want to re­claim land in front of Il Pi­rata. No­body can take that away with them. But here’s the deal: from the day I met Mr. Teo Khing I have been open. Ev­ery meet­ing has been fol­lowed up with pic­tures re­leased to the pub­lic. There has been doc­u­men­ta­tion, trans­parency.”

The PM as­sured the na­tion that there will also be full con­sul­ta­tion. “I can as­sure ev­ery­body that we will con­tinue to act as we have been do­ing and as soon as we have fi­nalised some of the ba­sic draw­ings and ideas re­lat­ing to this de­vel­op­ment com­ing past the horserac­ing track we will share them—un­like the former gov­ern­ment that talked trans­parency but has never walked the walk!”

“When mem­bers come to this House they like to threaten peo­ple. Nowhere in my let­ters does it say I was against the CIP.”

Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet (front left), with DSH per­son­nel to his left, at the sign­ing of the frame­work agree­ment in July.

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