AS we continue to examine ourselves and our involvement with this Citizenship by Investment scheme, our concern has always been that our passports, and therefore our identities, are not to be put up for sale as a commodity under any condition.
Having said that, we agree that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Mr. Teo Ah Khing and his company, Desert Star Holdings Caribbean Limited, establishing a horse racing track in Vieux Fort, and nothing wrong with his complimenting this development with a casino, hotel and other leisure and residential facilities once the details can be agreed by everyone. Investment by an external investor in any part of St. Lucia is potentially a good thing and can lead to job creation and to growth of our economy. But no investment should be dependent on the sale of our passports for its financing.
If Mr. Ah Khing and DSH have done their investment studies and have concluded that this project is profitable, then, billionaire that Mr. Ah Khing is, it should be easy for him to raise the finance necessary to implement the project. Instead, the project seems to be entirely dependent on the sale of St. Lucian passports for the raising of the finance necessary, as even while there is talk of some form of equity investment by the developer, no details have been provided. We have therefore been happy to hear Dr. Ernest Hilaire, the first Chairman of St. Lucia’s CIP Board, raising the issue of the viability of this DSH project, as we have also long been raising this same concern with regard to CIP projects in general.
Last August, following the first announcement of this DSH project, we were told by the Prime Minister that the agreement at that time was a framework agreement, and that once finalized it would be published. We have not seen this final agreement, and all we heard sometime in November 2016 was that agreement had been reached to delete the Mankoté mangrove from the development.
But, last November 25 the Government held a sod-turning ceremony for the project, including the presentation of dazzling depictions of the proposed works. Today, more than two months after confirming that a leaked copy of a supplemental agreement between the Government and DSH was authentic, our Government is yet to publish the agreement with DSH as promised, and so now we are left to conclude that we have a project which has started but for which important details of the agreement governing it are still to be finalized and published.
Next, we had a finger-pointing exchange in Parliament just before Christmas, with the Opposition accusing the Government of mis-information on the number of passports sold and the money obtained from this, and chastising the Government for continuing with the same Board structure which it had criticized when in Opposition. The Government provided its rebuttal, and so now we have the two arms of our Parliament, Government and Opposition going at each other’s throats in an effort to demonstrate who is more responsible for this desecration of their fellow St. Lucians.
Then, on December 29, we had the announcement by a private attorney that the Government has revised the CIP regulations, and that our passport is now the cheapest for sale in the Caribbean, cheaper even than that of Dominica’s. This was followed by a press release by the CIP Office dated January 3, 2017, a public holiday, stating that the Prime Minister had issued a Statutory Instrument amending the CIP Regulations on December 22, 2016 with that press release also indicating the amendments to the Regulations. That press release confirms the attorney’s statement that our passport is now cheaper than Dominica’s, and that there is now no limit to the number of passports that can be sold in any one year.
And so, yet again, we have to thank Prime Minister Gonsalves for giving us that phrase, “race to the bottom”. Except that now we have to request of Dr. Gonsalves, former university lecturer that he is, that he also provide us with some definition of “bottom”, as there seems to be no limit in sight of the depths to which we will plunge as we scramble for this “freeness” money.
We know that those changes to the CIP regulations have been a requirement for the advancement of the DSH project although it is claimed that they do not only serve that project. Those of us who are defending this CIP scheme and who are promoting this project by suggesting that Vieux Fort has long been neglected and the project will provide much needed jobs for persons in that community, seem however to have forgotten that proposals for stimulating the development of Vieux Fort have existed since before our attainment of Independence in 1979, none of which have borne fruit.
And so, with respect to that excuse that the DSH project is going to provide jobs, two more things should be borne in mind. At the sod-turning ceremony for that project, Mr Ah Khing, Chairman of DSH, is reported as indicating that St. Lucia may not have sufficient labour to implement this project (Star, December 3). Presumably fired as a warning shot, this was bad enough, but what we were not made aware of is information provided by a DSH Caribbean Star Limited press release carried on the China Horse Club website following that ceremony. In that press release, if it is accurate, DSH indicates that two Chinese contractors were present at the sod-turning ceremony in Vieux Fort, China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited (CSCECL), and China Communication Construction Company Limited (CCCC).
Not only were we not aware of the presence of these two Chinese construction companies at the sod-turning ceremony for this project, but according to the information on the China Horse Club website, the morning following that ceremony, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of St. Lucia in which it is to play a lead role in the project’s development.
So much then for local contractors and local labour if our past experience of Chinese contractors is anything to go by. Should this information be inaccurate, then Government must hasten to reject it, but if also Mr. Ah Khing is the confirmed master developer, why is the government entering into a separate agreement with a contractor? Who is to pay this contractor, and where is the money to come from?
But secondly, the depth of our current desperation is expressed more viscerally in two statements by the Government. The first, by Invest St. Lucia in a press release dated July 29, 2016, indicated that the project would accommodate more than 1,000 thoroughbred horses. The second, by Minister Felix as reported in this newspaper on July 30, 2016, was that each thoroughbred would require 4 to 5 persons to take care of it, implying that employment will be generated for some 4,000 to 5,000 persons.
According to a statement by Mr. Li Chengcai, a board member of the centre running the horseracing facility in Ordos, China which our Prime Minister visited on Mr. Teo Ah Khing’s invitation last August, “Each horse will create five jobs for the local community (of Ordos) in areas such as growing forage grass, the auction of stallions, hygiene facilities, import and export” (The Telegraph UK, October 03, 2016). Minister Felix was therefore correct when making his statement on the numbers to be employed, although he did not describe the nature of that employment – growing grass, and “hygiene facilities”.
What Minister Felix’s reported statement to the press in July last year also did not indicate, was that each horse will produce about 26 kg of manure per day, and in addition the waste from bedding for the horses in the stalls will amount to a further 9 kg per horse per day. With a total of 1,000 horses at this racetrack, that proposed Vieux Fort racecourse will therefore produce 26 tons of manure and a further 9 tons of stall waste each day.
That, then, is what we are soon to become – a nation buried under a massive pile of horse manure, and a nation whose people can now aspire to become shovelers of that horse manure.
Through it all, the politicians and the technocratic minions on both sides of the political divide who would lead us into this horse manure filled future will alternatively beat their chests as they describe their great developmental skills, or seek to cannibalize each other as they try to apportion blame for the events which are to come. And through it all, Mr. Teo Ah Khing will keep smiling because he is guaranteed to make a profit. We have truly become a people without shame.
But not many of us. The rest of us will not be reduced to this. We will not be fed horse manure, neither are we going to spend our lives shoveling it. Because, now, we know that:
“Somebody tiefing the soul of this nation, and we, yes you and me, we have to stop this conspiracy.”
Next week, we look inside the Desert Star Holdings horseracing ventures, and then we return to looking at ourselves.