Dr. Fraser- Point of View
May 7, 2004

Palm Island’s withdrawal

I was seated at my computer pondering on what I should write about this week, when I was informed about the Prime Minister’s Press Conference that sought to inform the nation about the withdrawal of the proposal by Palm Island Resorts Ltd. for the management of the Tobago Cays. {{more}}
I have not had time to closely examine the letter of withdrawal or even to seriously reflect on the Prime Minister’s comments, but yet could not resist the temptation to touch on this topic, for certainly this was the big news of the week. Over the past weeks I had been telling friends that given the intensification of objections to the Barrett management proposal the likely result would have been a withdrawal of the proposal by Barrett, prompted or not by the Prime Minister. The criticisms about the role of Barrett in the new management scheme were bound to reflect negatively on Palm Island. In fact we have listened to a number of callers on radio relating their experiences on Palm Island. That is why it was laughable when the Prime Minister urged listeners to visit Palm Island to witness first hand its sound
environmental profile. Obviously the Prime Minister had not been privy to accounts of the treatment of Vincentians on Palm Island.
What came out clearly from the Prime Minister’s Press Conference and the letter from Barrett is the picture of a paragon of virtue and a philanthropist par excellence. Mr. Barrett is, apparently, not interested in making money, only in the protection and preservation of the Tobago Cays and the rest of the southern Grenadines. At a breakfast meeting in Antigua it was even communicated to the Government that Mr. Barrett was prepared to give it all the profits. At the same time, he was not in the way of commercially developing the Tobago Cays. “To the contrary our motivation has always been the preservation and protection of this important and irreplaceable environmental asset.” He had the best interests of Vincentians at heart and was simply attempting to give back to the community. He wanted to support the local fishermen, water taxi operators and their families, local NGOs, even including MEDO. Among his other laudable aims was to help to educate the public ‘in an effort to prevent further damage.’ Give Me a Break!
Anyone who has read the Strategic Alliance Agreement would see that it is riddled with commercial interests and concerns. All the things that Mr. Barrett claimed he wanted to do were of course to form part of the expenses that were to be deducted from revenues collected. Paragraph 2.4 of the Strategic Alliance Agreement states, “For the purposes of this Agreement, net profits derived from the public use of facilities, lands, moorings and waters in the Tobago Cays Marine Park shall be determined after all operating expenses, depreciation and Capital Reserve Account deposits… Reimbursement to the Contractor as described in the Paragraph 2.4 will be paid out of the revenue generated by the operation of the Tobago Cays Marine Park, and the Government shall not otherwise be obligated to make payments or reimbursement to the Contractor.”
Palm Island’s role is somewhat ambiguous. According to Barrett, “Palm Island’s role would have been mainly relegated to providing funding and consultation.” The Prime Minister’s understanding of that role was that of funding and day- to- day management albeit under the policy direction of the Tobago Cays Marine Park. In the scheme of things that funding would have had to be limited to start up monies, for all expenses were to be deducted from revenue collected, and remember too, that after covering expenses 50 percent of the profits were to go to Palm Island and the remaining 50 percent to the Government. Where in this picture does the World Bank’s Global Development Fund fit? 
Barrett’s letter refers to a meeting following the submission of his June 2, 2003 proposal, with the Prime Minister, Government Officials, members of the Marine Park Board, NGOs and members of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and noted that it appeared ‘extremely positive and fostered a true feeling of co-operation and mutual understanding” NGOs/Stakeholders, certainly those from the Southern Grenadines know about no such meeting. But, in any event, I have seen letters from government officials from some of the relevant departments advising against acceptance of the Barrett proposal. One such letter states, “In conclusion the Tobago Cays is too important and treasured as a national icon for it to be just parceled off as an unwanted child. We have so few, I plead, don’t part with this one!” Now that comment came from a Government Official, why then does the Prime Minister have to suggest that critics of the proposal were persons seeking an opportunity to beat the government and return to political power and others who are misguided, even if well meaning? Is there no alternative view- point except from those involved in devious machinations? There are, I know, members of Dr. Gonsalves’ own party and other supporters who were against the agreement. How then does he describe those critics?
The Prime Minister suggested that critics realized that he could not be shaken and therefore focused their venom on Mr. Barrett. Well, from the very beginning, one of the issues had to do with the track record of Palm Island. Even then the focus was not on Barrett but on the proposal itself. The stand taken by many people was that the management arrangement should not be put in the hands of a private-for-profit company. In that case, it did not matter who was the individual behind it. There were fears that the commercialization and drive for profits could endanger and contradict the need for environmental safety and protection.
The ‘dignity and grace’ of the withdrawal of Barrett’s proposal is supposed, we are told, to represent a defeat for the critics, especially since his company is still to remain connected as a consultant, providing free consultancy. But in the original proposal all the consultancy services were to be deducted as part of the overall expenses. As for the US$100,000, persons who know Barrett and have been involved with him would tell you that the donation of US$100,000 is mere talk. If one dares to speak of victory, it is a victory for the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines who demand to be heard on matters that will affect their lives. Friends of the Tobago Cays performed a valuable service in hosting the two educational forums that helped to put the matter in perspective. Today’s Press Conference was definitely not the finest hour for the Prime Minister and his appearance on Television did demonstrate that. Hopefully, some space is now provided for arriving at a new management proposal that would have the full support of stakeholders and of the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines generally.