Opposition MP Dr. Ernest Hilaire wants to know what the government has done with a “huge sum of money” it said were borrowed for the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground (DSCG) in Gros Islet – as news surfaced recently that the facility is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to the water and electricity companies.
Hilaire, former chief executive officer of the West Indies Cricket Board, said the loan was to carry out repairs and pay bills for the stadium.
“What makes it even more disturbing is one of the first acts of this government, I think it was July or August last year, was to come to this House to approve a huge sum of money. I think it was almost $1 million, and when asked why it that one of the first things they doing is to borrow so much money for Daren Sammy Stadium, they said it was to do with repairs and paying bills at the Daren Sammy stadium.”
“And you’re hearing just about a year later, that water has been cut to Daren Sammy stadium, electricity is about to be cut, groundsmen are not being paid, staff is not being paid, and you have to ask that question: what was the money used for?” Hilaire asked.
The Castries South representative and Saint Lucia Party (SLP) spokesman on investment and Citizen by Investment Programme, said he expected better from the government.
“And what really is going on at the Daren Sammy Stadium? Because you would want to believe it’s a government where you have a minister in a ministry or a cluster responsible for sports, who is also the president of the National Olympic Committee, that there would be a serious focus and priority given to sports in this country,” the former youth and sports permanent secretary added.
The facility owes power company, Saint Lucia Electricity Services Limited (LUCELEC), and Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, HTS News4orce had revealed.
The television station reported that a WASCO bill for the stadium, dated November 14, 2017, showed that it owes $312,316.32 in unpaid bills. In addition, a $250 reconnection fee and VAT on that fee of $31.25 is also due, since the stadium’s water supply has been cut.
While the DSCG still has electricity, it is believed that it owes a similar amount of arrears to LUCELEC.
Parliamentary Representative for Gros Islet and former sports minister, Lenard Montoute, said the financial issues at the DSCG is nothing new.
Montoute, who is also the minister for equity, social justice and empowerment, said there is a need to devise new measures to put an end to the problem.
He said: “…So very often government has to come in, the National Lottery has to come in to assist. I remember when I was minister responsible for sports we tried to see how we could come up with some measures that would in some way reduce the expenses by digging some ponds outside. Unfortunately it turned out that the salinity of the water in those ponds was too much for the grass and so on, and the technical people indicated that there was some bacteria in the water as well that wasn’t good for the facility and so on. We had to abandon that, but I think what we need to do now is to begin to look at other measures.”
He continued: “WASCO is nearby with the treatment plant. I don’t know if we can, in consultation with WASCO, look at means of ensuring that the water is purified to an extent that we could use it. I think what we have to begin to do is to look at sustainable ways of being self-sufficient, providing for ourselves what we want and minimising the cost, but as far as that is concerned, that is no new deal. I mean, when I became minister of sports in 2006 we inherited outstanding bills. When I left, there were outstanding bills, when we returned we inherited outstanding bills, so it’s nothing new really. So I do not make too much of it except for the fact that we need to begin to devise measures that would bring this problem to an end.”
In January 2012, sometime before Saint Lucia hosted an international cricket match between West Indies and Austrailia, the public learnt that the stadium, the Beausejour Cricket Ground at the time, owed LUCELEC over $541,000 and a similar amount to WASCO. The stadium’s electricity supply had been interrupted.
The then Youth and Sports Minister, Shawn Edward, had confirmed that the facility had not paid utility bills for three years.
Subsequently, the utility companies and the DSCG were able to develop a payment plan which was honoured by the National Lotteries Authority on the stadium’s behalf, because the company which managed the stadium, Sports St. Lucia Inc., was unable to meet these expenses.
In the past, the facility has also had troubles paying National Insurance Corporation( NIC) dues. A few years ago, the NIC wrote to the Sports Ministry that there was over $100,000 in contributions owed by the stadium for its staff.
The stadium is managed by Sports St. Lucia Inc., which reportedly receives a yearly government subvention of $300,000 to manage various sporting facilities. DSCG has a monthly wage bill of $40,000, according to news reports.
Employees of Sports St. Lucia Inc., such as head cleaner, Louisa Mona Ambrose-Montoute, are feeling the brunt of the debt issues. She told HTS that they had a tank from an activity several weeks ago but that ran out.
She said: “It’s unbearable now. [In] the toilets, the odors [are] coming up and it’s unbearable. As you can see, if you go through the toilets now you can see the area needs mopping and the there’s no water to mop it out. So we are in dire need of water, and as you know, water is life and nobody can do without water and the stadium lives on water.
She added: “Personally, no one has sat with us and discuss anything with us. All we are hearing is that this week it’s going to be sorted out this week… and as we speak right now, absolutely nothing [happened]. Well I get my directives from the facilities manager and I report to him so he is telling me what the directors are telling him, that this week it’s going to be sorted out, but this week is another week.”
“We have been patient and we will continue to be patient. We just want our directors, our employers to understand what we are going through so that they can make a move. It seems that, you know, it’s a laissez-faire attitude with them and we’re tired. We want something done, we want to get the place clean. We have visitors coming in. We have the young cricketers here every single day using the toilets and sometimes you know, they use the toilet they don’t flush it and they just leave and…coming to clean the toilet and then there’s no water, you can imagine what that is.”
Groundsman, Jonas Matthew, an employee for almost a decade, also told HTS: “With our directors, the way they try to boss us around, and sending us outside on other fields and work, that’s one of the major, major problems we have with them.”
“That’s the next problem we have, our job description have we are contracted to work Beausejour, Lindo Phillip Park and George Odlum Stadium. And up to now, from time the directors, our employers entered, they said they would talk about fixing our salaries, fixing up our description, nothing had been done for a whole year. And right now…what they do, they just boss us around to go Vieux Fort, go there, go there, and we as groundsman don’t like that,” Matthew said, adding that overtime pay to employees was stopped from November.
The head cleaner, Ambrose-Montoute, also spoke on the labour/wage issues.
She said: “We sat down with our directors and our union and they promised us zero percent.. So we felt that perhaps we were dreaming, we were somewhere else. So we asked them to think about [it], we are giving you all sometime…and we stepped out. When we came back in, we told them we want five percent, we’re not accepting nothing less. They offered us three percent and some other issues they had to discuss so… we told [them]…’we’ll give you all a week’ to discuss and to sort out the issues. Up to a day like today, they have not found it fit to call us and sit with us to discuss the situation. Right now, we had to write to the labour commissioner to sort out the matter. We’ve not heard from the labour commissioner so we are now waiting.”
“I want to say to the directors, we are a resilient, hardworking, sympathetic staff, and we understand the situation we just want you all to meet us halfway. Come and sit with us and discuss the situation. We will understand.
Matthew echoed similar sentiments: “I want to send a message to the directors. I want to tell them to fix their act inside there and pass on the information as properly as they can.”