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Will PM Chastanet take responsibility for the Black Bay fiasco? (commentary)

By Gideon Aurelien

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Chastanet (right) and Fedee

A year and four months after the Allen Chastanet administration and Vice Chairman of Range Developments Mohammed Asaria signed a definitive agreement to establish a US$130 million resort in Black Bay, Vieux Fort, the deal is now DEAD.

What killed the deal is yet to be revealed, either by the government or Range Developments, however the government, which has been in the news lately defending the sums of money it paid out to Range Developments on account of the deal falling through, seems to be dodging questions about the failed deal.

Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee promised to issue a joint statement from the government and Range Developments explaining, among other things, what led to the collapse of the deal.

Mohammed Asaria (left) and Chastanet

But that statement will in no way appease the hundreds, if not, thousands of St. Lucians who were waiting for such a development in their part of the country.

It must be noted that the development was touted as significant enough to change for the better the living conditions of persons in that part of the country.

LUXURY HOTEL AND JOBS

It was in May of last year in the conference room of the Office of the Prime Minister that Prime Minister Chastanet and Asaria shook hands after signing the agreement.

The development was supposed to have been a 180-room-branded luxury hotel and villa and both gentlemen gave the assurance that they would work to make this deal a reality.

Asaria said he looked forward to working with the farmers in the area, almost all of whom had to be relocated to make room for the resort.

Prime Minister Chastanet not only praised the developers but pointed to the jobs that will be coming with the construction of the hotel, jobs that would make a great difference in the lives of people in the south of the island.

In fact, it was envisaged that over 500 persons would have been hired during the construction phase of the resort, with an equal amount obtaining indirect employment, and a similar number hired during its operational phase.
All of this has been washed away. The hope given to residents in the south of gainful employment from the hotel has been dashed. Who else but the government should take responsibility for that? And what about the farmers who had to give up their lands in Black Bay? How are they faring?

The country no doubt has suffered a loss, especially residents in the south who had set their eyes on gainful employment from the hotel construction, and when it became operable. No amount of political wrangling and political spinning could take away that fact. The government definitely owes the people in the south not only an explanation for the loss of the hotel, and subsequently the loss of the jobs the hotel was envisaged to provide, but an apology as well. Nothing else will do.

FEDEE AND THE FIGURES

Fedee’s claims that the settlement between Range Developments and the government, over the failed agreement, resulted in a net gain of about $21.6 million to the government should not be interpreted as a cushioning of the project’s failure. St. Lucia and the people in the south of the island lost big time. The hotel that was to uplift their standard of living is no longer being built. Their hopes for improved living have been dashed and no one but the government, particularly Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, should take responsibility for that.

Fedee’s dispute with Opposition MP Ernest Hilaire over the amount paid to Range Development is shifting focus away from the tremendous loss of jobs to Southerners, now that the hotel is no longer being built. Many were hoping, expecting, looking forward to employment from the hotel. With this option no longer on the table Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee should be stepping up to the plate to fix that issue.

Jobs that were promised to people in the south of the island as a result of the agreement signed between Range Developments and Prime Minister Chastanet have been lost. Can Chastanet and Fedee bring those jobs back?

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