KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has described as “a nationalist victory” the outcome of a longstanding legal battle that will result in 100 acres of beachfront land in Union Island in the Southern Grenadines returned to the State.
The London-based Privy Council has ordered that the government pay before January 25, next year, US$244,968.87, to the Chatham Bay Club Ltd. and Chatham Bay Corp over the sale of the land purchased from the State in 1987.
The ruling by the Privy Council, the island’s highest and final court, came after both parties agreed to a settlement that allowed for the companies to withdraw its appeal.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, in announcing the ruling at a press conference on Monday, said that the lands have been forfeited to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by operation of the Alien Land Holdings Act and judgment of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Privy Council’s consent order.
“This is a case that involves the reclamation of our patrimony,” he said.
The companies bought the lands in 1987, under Sir James Mitchell’s New Democratic Party (NDP) administration.
The US-owned companies received an Alien Land Holding License from the government on condition that they spend EC$15 million (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) to build a 50 room hotel and a restaurant, within three years.
Gonsalves said that the EC$15 million that was to be invested in the hotel was “not a great deal of money as far as hotel infrastructure is concerned”.
Gonsalves’ whose government came to office in March 2001, applied for forfeiture in 2006, because of the failure of the company to carry out the terms of the agreement, he said.
He said that from the beginning, his government had intimated to former attorney general, Parnell R. Campbell, the lawyers for the company, that his administration would pay the companies the money spent on the land, plus interest, telling reporters that is what eventually happened at the end of the legal battle.
“They went through the whole legal battle over the years and eventually we settled, and the settlement involved the payment of the EC$477,000 which they paid for the lands, plus interest of five percent annum from January 25th, 2006,” he said.
“And the lands belong to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said, adding that the lands have a market value of between EC$80 million and EC$100 million.
“This is a nationalist victory, a massive victory for the people, a reclamation of our patrimony and a clear message that this Government is interested in foreign direct investment, at the same time that the investors must live up to the conditions of the Alien Land Holding License. That is the story very simply,” he said.
Gonsalves pointed out that his Government didn’t have to say, initially, that it would repay money and interest to the two companies.
“But we are a people who are reasonable, and, in any case, we were advised by our lawyers that it was possible for such an order to be made at the Privy Council. In any event, we didn’t want to take the lands for nothing. We didn’t want to forfeit it,” he said, adding that it seemed that the companies couldn’t attract investors.
He said the companies held further discussions with Sir James, who said that his government would not give permission to build a cruise ship facility on beachfront land.
Gonsalves said that Sir James also told the owners of the company, which includes a businessman who is now deceased, that if they were having problems finding investors and were getting impatient, they could return the lands to the Government.
However, Gonsalves said that Sir James did not raise the issue of forfeiture.