‘What is good for General Motors is good for the country, and what is good for the country is good for General Motors.’ Charles Wilson, President of General Motors
Prime Minister Gonsalves is on record saying, ‘If the ULP looks good in 2025, the NDP could kiss the next election goodbye.’ Gonsalves’ statement is a clue to the recent flurry of announcements from the government. Party supporters, who swallow every utterance from Gonsalves as though it’s the breath of life, are becoming giddy with excitement.
Politics is the art of the possible, so no political outcome is a done deal before it happens, except to say big projects and monuments are never a sure-fire indicator of a party’s election chances. This much is certain: the ULP will have to dig much deeper than it ever did to recapture the reins of power. It has already minted its inglorious banner, ‘We have had a long run.’
That analysis is for another day. Today, we are concerned about the apparent belief and acceptance by Gonsalves and the Unity Labour Party leadership of the maxim articulated by Wilson, General Motors manager, in 1953. It clearly believes that what’s good for the ULP is also good for SVG. Increasingly, a bigger slice of the electorate harbours grave doubts.
The announcements are coming fast and furious.
The new hospital slated for Arnos Vale is to commence construction in early 2023. The hospital, which had an initial price tag of US$50 million, has a new construction price of US$82 million. This price is 64 percent more than it was when initially announced.
The Geothermal project, which failed spectacularly, has a new lease of life. The Icelandic company contracted to construct the geothermal plant, high- tailed out of here when it realised it was not feasible. A new company utilising new technology will commence work in late 2023 or early 2024, with plans to generate 10 to 15 megawatts of electricity. Is there potential or just another election gimmick?
There is renewed fanfare regarding the Hotel projects. The government-sponsored Holiday Inn, earmarked for Diamonds, has made no progress beyond the ground levelling where it is to be built. The Black Sands project is close to 4 years behind schedule. Apart from a few concrete shells, there is no clear evidence that a significant hotel construction is taking place at Peters Hope. The lack of progress is sadly unfortunate. Government, in a fire sale, gave away 37 acres of prime shoreline real estate for a meagre EC$6 million.
More than two years after the Melia Group was contracted to build a major hotel at Mount Wynn, no construction activity exists.
Royal Mills 11-storey hotel at Ratho Mill has witnessed bouts of fits and starts. There is no construction activity, although significant foundational work has been completed. The developers of the Royal Mills project are said to be the same owners who bought and rehabilitated the old Grand View Hotel at Villa and opened it as La Vue.
The Government says the unpredictability brought on by the Covid Plandemic explains the sluggish progress on many of these projects. Its explanation for the delays is questionable at best. Informed sources claim that the financiers are experiencing legal and financial difficulties regarding the Black Sands hotel development. Not to be daunted, government sources claim that hotel construction will pick up in earnest in mid to late 2023 or the first quarter of 2024.
And then, there is the US$200 million port project at Rose Place (Bottom Town). Gonsalves disclosed that construction will commence in the 4th quarter of 2023.
If these projects pan out, we can expect a great deal of construction activity in the next 2 to 3 years. These projects should result in the employment of hundreds of Vincentians, especially as labourers. Do we have skilled tradesmen – carpenters, masons, steel benders, truck drivers and heavy machinery operators to execute these projects at once? Skilled workers will have to be imported for the amount of construction work that is expected to come on stream.
These questions need to be answered so that able-bodied Vincentians can get a clear picture of what they can expect. Our unemployment rate is very high. If skilled and young people willing and ready to work do not get the anticipated jobs, the ULP will have hell to pay.
Clearly, the construction schedule points to a 2025 election timetable. If all of this construction work picks up as the ULP says it would, one can’t help but wonder if these private developers are doing the bidding of the ruling party rather than engaging and exploiting a critically important economic and financial opportunity. It is a little more than passing strange that these projects that have either ground to a halt or commencement dates in 2023 and 2024 will come to life as the election approaches.
The preceding begs the following questions:
1. How do business development, the elections calendar and the ULP’s elections fortune coincide with the national interest?
2. Are they one or the same as how Charles Wilson, the General Motors president quoted at the top of this column, saw it back in 1953?
3. Can we say with certainty what’s suitable for Gonsalves and the ULP is good for SVG?
4. Are there serious developmental pitfalls that run counter to the national interest when the governing party places its political survival above all else?
The Hospital was initially estimated to cost US$50 million. The government floated the idea of the new hospital in 2014, 8 years ago. It always intended to seek World Bank funding for the hospital. Is there a rational and plausible reason why we are borrowing now when the cost of construction, US$82 million, is 64 percent more than the original price tag? Is the ULP’s desire to ‘save’ this project for the next election cycle costing taxpayers millions more than necessary?
Are investors, financiers and developers taking advice from government officials as to when to start, stop or resume construction of needed infrastructure? Could we have gotten better terms on a lower loan amount for the port projects if we moved sooner to engage financiers?
Our refusal or refrain from analysing and answering these questions will haunt this nation long into the future.
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