By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — Opposition member of parliament, Dr Ernest Hilaire, has called on Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet to explain what happened to approximately US$20 million in citizenship by investment programme (CIP) donations that the developer of the Ritz Carlton project, Range Developments, generated and thereafter expected to be made available as initial construction finance.
“In pursuance of the agreement with Range, the developer brought in about 250 CIP applicants. Given each donation is US$100,000 and, less commissions, the developer expected about US$20 million to be available. We asked why was no money was available. Where is the CIP money?” Hilaire said at a press conference on Thursday.
The opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) has been calling on the prime minister to provide full public disclosure on the now abandoned Ritz Carlton and the financing agreement with Range Developments.
“We learnt that Range Developments requested a settlement of about EC$20 million for costs incurred and that this should be settled by July 1. Apparently, there was no settlement even after the prime minister had publicly accepted responsibility for the delays in the project. We would further learn that Range Developments had served the attorney general a notice of intent to sue. This time the claim will be for cost and aggravated damages totally over EC$100 million,” Hilaire said.
Accordingly, the SLP called for the following:
1. That the minister with responsibility for investment, Bradley Felix, and Pinkley Francis, chairman of Invest Saint Lucia, make a public statement on the Range Development matter;
2. That the prime minister accounts for the CIP monies that have been earned since the launch of the citizenship programme; and
3. The Cabinet makes every effort to settle this matter in the best interest of Saint Lucia and avoid taxpayers having to be burdened with a decision of the court which may not be favourable to Saint Lucia.
“Hon. Bradley Felix and Pinkley Francis did not see it necessary to provide any explanation to the people of Saint Lucia,” Hilaire continued.
He noted that the prime minister explained that he had used the money thinking that he can use it until the attorney general told him that this was wrong. But he also argued that he had permission to use the money.
“It makes no sense to state that you had permission as it was stated in the Estimates then say that you were using until your attorney general advised otherwise. In the same comments, the prime minister contradicts himself over and over,” Hilaire said.
According to Hilaire, the Cabinet has agreed that the government should settle with Range and pay the sum of about EC$20 million. Range has in the meantime closed its offices in Saint Lucia and relocated to St Kitts where it is planning to build a new Six Senses luxury resort. Range has removed the Ritz Carlton project at Black Bay in Saint Lucia from its website.
“Yet, we have heard no official word or explanation from the government,” he said, adding, “Accordingly, we are asking the government to be accountable and inform the people of Saint Lucia whether the government has in fact signed a settlement deal of EC$20 million with Range Developments for its responsibility in the failed project.”
Range Developments declined to comment on any such settlement agreement with the government, saying that it could neither confirm nor deny the report.
“For government action or inaction to catastrophically destroy an investment project causing the people of Saint Lucia to pay EC$20 million is a sad indictment. Worse, it is the second time that the prime minister has been involved in a fiasco involving Black Bay. The first fiasco cost the country about $60 million and now another $20 million!” Hilaire continued.
In 2014, then prime minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, said that Chastanet, as tourism minister in the 2006 to 2011 United Workers Party (UWP) government, was at the centre of an earlier failed project in Black Bay that ended up costing Saint Lucia taxpayers almost EC$60 million (US$22 million).
“This government is a failure. Every single project that it puts its hand on is tainted or grossly mismanaged. And every time it is the people of Saint Lucia to pay the price. We cannot continue with such gross incompetence in government. We must mobilise and demonstrate our rejection of the UWP government,” Hilaire concluded.