The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kayra Wil­liams

Asur­pris­ingly per­son­able and charm­ing Teo Ah Khing pre­sented to the lo­cal me­dia on Wed­nes­day this week the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in the pro­posed Pearl of the Caribbean project. On the oc­ca­sion he wore two hats: that of pro­fes­sional ar­chi­tect and plan­ner, and as chair­man of Desert Star Hold­ings. With Saint Lu­cia’s Prime Min­is­ter, Mr. Allen Chastanet, he com­man­deered the spur-of-the-mo­ment meet­ing at the of­fice of the prime min­is­ter be­fore a full house of me­dia at­ten­dees. The meet­ing was be­hind sched­ule by some 30 min­utes, but once it got un­der­way the prime min­is­ter more than made up for the de­lay an­swer­ing in de­tail all ques­tions from the me­dia.

He re­vis­ited the con­tro­ver­sial DSH ven­ture as it had been when first an­nounced, when it still in­cluded the Makote man­grove. “That’s how it was ini­tially de­signed,” he said. “You had the horse-rac­ing track and the ho­tel de­vel­op­ment /re­sort de­vel­op­ment that was sup­posed to be tak­ing place within the man­grove, with the idea of en­hanc­ing it.” He said Makote had been dy­ing, “and we wanted to be able to in­cor­po­rate the de­vel­op­ment and prove you can have de­vel­op­ment and at the same time be eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive.”

The prime min­is­ter noted that a nearby garbage dump had “been seep­ing for many years into the man­grove,” which proved a ma­jor prob­lem.

“The re­spon­si­bil­ity of clos­ing the man­grove, as well as re­lo­cat­ing the dump, fell upon the State,” Chastanet said. “At a meet­ing with DSH, we in­di­cated to them that we did not have the tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity to do that, and we would have to pass on that re­spon­si­bil­ity to them.”

The end re­sult was un­cer­tainty, and the re­al­iza­tion that time­lines could be ad­versely af­fected even with the pos­si­bil­ity of DSH tak­ing on the con­cerns. Al­ter­na­tive sites were sought over a wide area in­clud­ing La­borie and Choiseul.

In­vest Saint Lu­cia, un­der both the Labour Party and his own gov­ern­ment, had iden­ti­fied the lo­ca­tion at Il Pi­rata as a de­vel­op­ment site, also at Pointe Sables. More­over, the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment had ac­tu­ally re­lo­cated peo­ple at one point, think­ing the project was about to get un­der­way. The dis­placed had since moved back.

Plans for the Il Pi­rata site in­cluded a casino, a ma­rina, and a cruise ship berth, along with a ho­tel, and some res­i­den­tial ar­eas. The as­sess­ment stages had in­cluded ref­er­ence to his­tor­i­cal graphs, which was nec­es­sary to find out where the wa­ter nat­u­rally went pre­vi­ously. Much work had to been done, the prime min­is­ter re­vealed, to re­train the sur­face wa­ter com­ing down from the hills.

The se­cond part in­volved an area to the front of Pointe Sables, which had been iden­ti­fied for con­struc­tion of apart­ment build­ings, and some small ho­tels. “A na­tional park was main­tained, and we in­di­cated there were go­ing to be no ho­tels on the beach, so the sandy beach area re­mained a pub­lic stretch,” Chastanet said. It was dis­cov­ered that the wa­ter in Pointe Sables Bay was shal­lower than ex­pected. Ini­tial stud­ies re­vealed it was about 5m deep.

A new pro­posal was pre­sented to Cab­i­net that in­cluded a cause­way in the bay. Said Chastanet: “Cab­i­net ap­pre­ci­ated and ac­cepted the fact that this was not clearly the fi­nal draft, but agreed to the con­cept of be­ing able to re­claim land in that bay, given the ba­sic in­for­ma­tion pro­vided.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “The rea­son we came out with the orig­i­nal plan: I did not want, while we were still do­ing the study, to have that de­sign make its way into the pub­lic and cre­ate the im­pres­sion we were in any way seek­ing to hide any­thing . . . it was bet­ter for us to come out and say, ‘This is a pre­lim­i­nary pro­posal,’ that the in­ten­tion is for us not to touch Maria Is­lands . . . and that what we’re hop­ing was that in the next cou­ple of weeks we would have had a bet­ter de­sign that would have in­cor­po­rated a lot of the eco­log­i­cal is­sues peo­ple nat­u­rally brought up, also some we were our­selves con­cerned about.”

Chastanet em­pha­sized that de­spite all the talk the only part of the DSH project that has been ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment is the horse-rac­ing track. It is also the only part of the project for which draw­ings and an ap­pli­ca­tion have been sub­mit­ted to the DCA.

“There’s been no other ap­pli­ca­tions to the DCA,” he un­der­scored. “Un­til we reach a con­cept that we both sign off on, and I’m hop­ing we’ve got­ten to that point now, and now the de­vel­op­ers work out the de­tails with the DCA to make sure it’s in keep­ing with the stan­dards of Saint Lu­cia.”

For the umpteenth time Chastanet em­pha­sized that the frame­work agree­ment rep­re­sented a work in progress. He said the frame­work agree­ment, while to some ex­tent bind­ing, al­lowed the in­volved par­ties to work through cer­tain things. They were mak­ing de­ci­sions on things they were not yet sure of. “As we reach those bar­ri­ers, and we de­ter­mine for our­selves what the truth is, then it be­comes part of the fi­nal con­tract,” said the prime min­is­ter. “We’re hop­ing that very soon we will be able to sign the fi­nal con­tract with DSH.”

The DSH chair­man made a point of high­light­ing some of the other projects his com­pany had worked on, their suc­cesses, and the phi­los­o­phy of Desert Star Hold­ings. But be­fore he got to the heart of his pre­sen­ta­tion, Khing took a mo­ment to re­call the con­tri­bu­tions of the late Win­ston Trim to the de­vel­op­ment.

“We have lost a com­rade in Saint Lu­cia,” he said. “It was Win­ston, one of the guys who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally came to see me, and al­lowed me to have a chance to come here. I’d like to say it’s a great loss to us, but the coun­try, the vi­sion, the dream, must move on. We re­mem­ber his con­tri­bu­tion. I also would like to visit the fam­ily very soon.”

Af­ter that, Khing gave a a power point pre­sen­ta­tion with pho­tos of the Palm Is­lands project in Dubai - in which DSH played a sig­nif­i­cant role - and the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment in Saint Lu­cia. He also made a point of de­tail­ing his com­pany’s plans. Khing opened him­self to me­dia ques­tions con­cern­ing tech­ni­cal as­pects of the de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing the re­vised plan re­lat­ing to the Maria is­lands. Like the prime min­is­ter be­fore him, the DSH chair­man guar­an­teed the is­lands would not be con­nected.

“This will not be built in one night . . .” Khing said, adding that the recla­ma­tion would be done in parts, phase by phase. He also ad­dressed waste man­age­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is­sues: “If you de­stroy the en­vi­ron­ment, af­ter five years no­body will come here. The de­vel­oper will be at a great loss. Af­ter our ex­pe­ri­ences in Dubai and Asia, we know what can be done and what must not be done. Best prac­tice will ap­ply here to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.”

At one point dur­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion a sur­pris­ingly af­fa­ble Khing pleaded with his crit­ics in the me­dia and else­where not to scare him away.

“As a for­eigner,” he said, “I came here and I’ve been hear­ing things about south, north and so on. But to me this is one coun­try. I think par­tic­u­larly there’s a great op­por­tu­nity where the prime min­is­ter and his Cab­i­net are putting fo­cus in an area that, to my pro­fes­sional mind, has been ne­glected. You have im­por­tant in­fras­truc­ture, what we call a district. An air­port is a district, and a district needs to have sur­round­ing fa­cil­i­ties and ameni­ties to sup­port it. That’s what we’re try­ing to do to the best of our abil­ity.”

Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chastanet (left) lis­tens as Malaysian de­vel­oper tells re­porters his com­pany fully in­tends not to dis­turb the ecol­ogy or beauty of Saint Lu­cia!

Lo­cal me­dia turned out in large num­bers for a press con­fer­ence this week that fea­tured a pre­sen­ta­tion from DSH Chair­man Teo Ah Khing.

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