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What is the NDP tourism policy?

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Editor: I read with amusement, but not surprise that the New Democratic Party (NDP) is opposed to the recently announced sale by the government of 31 acres at Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope to Canadian hospitality industry developers (Searchlight newspaper, Friday, September 30, 2016, p. 18):{{more}}

“[Arnhim] Eustace [leader of the opposition] noted that he and his party have taken a stand and firmly oppose the sale of what he describes as prime real estate.

‘I therefore say to you … that we are totally against the sale of Mount Wynne/Peter’s Hope to foreign interests … [that] would deny unborn Vincentians an opportunity to have a stake in their own land and therefore be reduced to second class citizens.’

He noted that the area could have been developed without selling 31 acres of land of prime real estate.

He said what shocked him even more was that the land was sold for a mere XCD$7 million, which he says boils down to about $5.18 per square foot.”

Of course, the NDP’s angry response was no surprise because opposing government policies is, well, what an official opposition party is supported to do, regardless of whether it is warranted or not.

In this case, however, knee-jerk opposition is nothing short of foolish hypocrisy, for which it deserves to be roundly condemned. This is because the Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope area has been earmarked for tourist development since the 720 acres making up the two former estates were bought by the James F Mitchell government in 1989 from the Casson family, the last of a long series of private owners since the partitioning and sale of Crown lands after the British gained control of St Vincent in 1763.

So, the land was private property for 226 years and public property for only 27 years, hardly grounds for such outrage.

The Mitchell government bought the land for peasant resettlement (at Peter’s Hope) and to attract foreign tourism investors. Indeed, according to no less an authority than Karl John, by the early 1990s there were serious negotiations with a group of British investors to build a 100-150 room hotel, leisure complex, marina, and 18-hole golf course at Mt Wynne, the latter made possible by the sweeping inland road diversion that exists today as the only remains of the failed effort.

Mitchell’s goal was to sell or lease the lands not earmarked for peasant cultivation, with the probable exception of the Little Bay area (that currently hosts sea bathing, picnicking, and special events, almost exclusively attended by locals). Currently, Invest SVG lists 400 plus acres at Peter’s Hope/Mt Wynne as available for tourism investment, suggesting that the Dr Ralph E Gonsalves’ regime is simply following the previous NDP policy of reserving Little Bay for exclusive public use.

The rest of the lands have been off limits to the general public since the last days of the Mitchell era. Big Bay is available for limited use “by request only” and the Peter’s Hope road has been long blocked by big stones to prevent the sand-mining and garbage dumping that was destroying the area and lowering its potential value.

As for the alleged low price of the land, it was surely based on the law of supply and demand. Those who claim the land should have been sold for $EC20 a square foot or more need to be reminded that no one wanted to buy or lease any of the acreage for any purpose for decades. This land has not been “prime real estate” since the long ago days when “sugar was king.” In a market economy, land has no human value or price if no one wants it.

As for leasing the land instead – what Mr Eustace must have been referring to when he said “the area could have been developed without selling” — a 100-year lease is usually the minimum period in such transactions which would have still seen a loss of land (31 acres or a mere 4.3 per cent of the entire 720 acres) for five generations, which would have still allegedly “reduced Vincentians to second class citizens” in the interim.

My guess is the Government opted for a sale instead of a lease, the latter being the more common way to transfer land to foreign hotel developers these days, since it is more politic to do so, because it is so strapped for upfront cash to finish the airport and pay its bills.

The hypocrisy of the NDP position is even more glaring than the repudiation of its own historic policies. Its December 2015 election manifesto acknowledges that, “Tourism is our largest foreign exchange earner. It is largely undeveloped and has enormous potential for growth.” The party’s two most ambitious projects for realizing this potential are: (1) “A major international construction group will partner with the NDP to finally get the Argyle Airport into a state of readiness” and (2) “a major international development group will build a 1,000 unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St Vincent” (http://www.ndpsvg.org/our-plan ).

No name is attached to the “major international construction group” leading to the speculation that it does not exist. No location is given for the “1,000 unit integrated residential and hotel resort complex on St Vincent,” but based on their other plans for tourism development in the Grenadines, it could not be anywhere but the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area, the only suitable venue in the entire country for such a complex.

So, what actually is the NDP position on international tourism? Who knows. All they seem focused on is opposition for its own sake, rather than for the greater good.

Since it is clear that there is little development alternative to international tourism and since the ULP is going full speed ahead – for better or worse — to make this happen, the NDP opposition to this new project is disingenuously silly.

C ben-David

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