Wednesday 27 May, 2020

Pierre slams PM for using 'pension funds of Lucians' for golf course

Opposition Leader Philip J Pierre gave the following statement at an SLP press conference earlier today, July 9, 2019:

"In November 2017 and on June 27th, 2019, I counselled the Prime Minister, indeed advised him, warned him, put him on notice that he should not utilize the pension funds of the people of Saint Lucia held by the NIC for his grandiose politically driven projects. As usual, our advice to the Prime Minister has fallen on deaf ears as we have now learnt that a multi-million dollar foreign-owned golf course project to be located at Cap Estate is to be facilitated by funding from the NIC.

On June 15th, it was announced that Saint Lucia had broken ground on an 18-hole golf course at Pointe Hardy in Cap Estate. According to the Prime Minister, Cabot Saint Lucia will feature not only the 18-hole golf course but a resort with amenities including a 50 room hotel, villas and sale of lots. Cabot Saint Lucia is being built by the Canadian concern, Cabot Links. The Prime Minister never revealed the true story on the investment.

One would have expected that in Saint Lucia Cabot Links would have meant direct foreign investment into the country by that company. However, we are now learning that the project will receive funding from the NIC. In other words, the pension funds of St. Lucians are to be used for the project. On 5th July, the NIC issued a press release purporting to defend its decision to invest in the Cabot Saint Lucia project, arguing that the investment is within the “parameters of its investment policy and guidelines” and that it has passed its “rigorous investment process”.

However, while the NIC Press Release states that NICs “recent investment in Cabot Saint Lucia meets the requirements of the NIC Act, the Investment Policy and Guidelines and its Mission and Vision Statements”, it has failed to disclose the nature of this investment. Has NIC indeed loaned Cabot $30 million? Is NIC’s investment by way of shares or bonds or debentures? Why aren’t the people of Saint Lucia being told how their pension funds are going to be used by Cabot and why and how Cabot was given access to them? Where is the transparency that should have accompanied this announcement? The Press Release further states that the NIC obtained security “which is three and a half times NIC’s investment”, but what is the nature of that security?

If Cabot has access to such sound security, why hasn’t Cabot been able to raise the finance it requires for the project from its own base in Canada where it is reputedly so successful? The Prime Minister does not seem to understand that foreign direct investment in a country means that a non-national or foreigner brings money into a country from overseas sources in order to invest in that country. Instead, for the Prime Minister, foreign direct investment means that he gives directly to a foreigner our lands, our beaches and our money.
There are environmental and other aspects of this Cabot St. Lucia project that raise questions about the efficacy of NIC’s involvement in it. There is the impact of a large golf course’s demand for water in a dry area where water is already in short supply; there is the fundamental matter of how the project will affect the right of access by the people to the beaches and the Queen’s Chain in that area.

As I said to the Prime Minister at a Press Conference on 27th June, while the NIC appears to be very liquid now, this must be taken in the context of the Actuarial Reports on the NIC; and it is not a reason to view the NIC as an ATM machine to which the PM can resort to at any time. We have had an $11 million sourced from the NIC to facilitate the DSH project, the payment of $100 million of Government bonds last year, and now a $30 million to the Cabot Group from Canada for their proposed golf course project in Saint Lucia.

The monies held by NIC are the pension funds of hard-working St Lucian who are depending on this to survive during their retirement years. They are to be invested wisely, to attract maximum returns and not to finance high-risk private enterprises like Golf courses owned by foreign nationals or used to fund other grandiose private sector projects dreamt of by foreign friends of the Prime Minister. Once again, I wish to warn the Prime Minister to divorce himself from the dangerous belief that NIC funds are his to use on demand. 
Let me reiterate that there must be prudent use of the financial resources of the NIC for they are a guarantee of our people’s future.

It seems that the interest of the PM is paramount. Whatever the PM wants, the PM gets. The NIC exists solely for the purpose of financing the pipe dreams of the PM to help him to win the next general elections. The entire portfolio seems to be at the disposal of the PM.

I urge the directors of the NIC to take a pause and consider their responsibility to the present and future generations of our country.

These transactions are questionable and lack transparency. They are likely to cause irrevocable damage to the public's trust in the organization. Why would anyone want to trust the NIC, when it operates in the dark?

The Bank of Saint Lucia where large amounts of NIC funds are held made a similar error a few tears ago and is still reeling from the disappearance of its investments in three hotels in the North of the island. Why did the investors not secure investment funds in their own markets?

The recent NIC statement on its involvement in the Cabot project has not addressed a number of pertinent issues that may have reassured stakeholders of its proper use of the contributions of St Lucian workers. Once more I expect answers from the NIC to the following questions.

1. What is the size of NIC’s investment in the Cabot project?

2. Is NIC’s investment in a golf course or a project involving a hotel, villas, lots for sale and a golf course?

3. What are the proceeds of the investment to be used for?

4. At what stage of the project will those funds be required?

5. What is the extent, if any, of local ownership of the project?

6. The Vision statement of the NIC speaks to,” playing a leading role in national development “, given the environmental concerns of residents in the area about the proposed development, has the NIC addressed those issues with the National Trust and Archaeological Society?

7. The Saint Lucia Labour Party is always supportive of development that will improve the quality of life of citizens but such development must be conducted in an environment of transparency, fiscal prudence, fairness and accountability, especially when NIC funds, the only source of income for most pensioners of this country, are involved.

If NIC wants to calm people’s fears they must provide more information about the exact nature of the investment.

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: