Good Morning members of the media, and persons listening to Nice Radio locally and internationally, I have called this press conference to address a number of issues which are important to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and our Vincentians living abroad as well. This morning I wish speak on a number of matters of critical importance to the image and standing of our nation.
OUR CONSULATES AND MISSIONS ABROAD
The circumstances surrounding the recent removal of Edson Augustus from the Vincentian Consulate in New York have prompted all Vincentians to question the conduct, performance and suitability of those appointed by government to represent us at our consulates and missions abroad.
This government continues with its flawed foreign policy to alienate our traditional allies and to have scant regard for the people of our nation, and our need to be properly advised of what happened with this matter. I made the call for information regarding the recall of the former Deputy Consul General to be shared with the public. I did this on February 10th, on Nice Radio and while I still on air, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a press release to say that Augustus was recalled since February 5th. Today we know that on February 7th, his salary was stopped. Why wait on the Opposition to agitate, in order to come clean with the state of affairs? Were Vincentians to be ignored?
The former UN Ambassador’s brush with authorities in New York prompted the Prime Minister to find me when I was having dinner at a restaurant after nine in the night, to inform me of what was going on and to seek our support, for his battery of lawyers to go to the aid of his son, our Current Foreign Affairs Minister. In this scenario, it is the Opposition whose calls for information, and for the removal of Augustus’ diplomatic status, prompted the Government to speak with any clarity on this issue. To date there has been no firm statement to repair our Foreign Affairs image in the eyes of our US and other allies. Add to this other incidents like, the unforgettable refusal of this government to distance itself from anti US statements uttered by Hugo Chavez on Vincentian soil, and let us not forget the condemnation of Vincentian passports and consequent imposition of Visa restrictions on Vincentians travelling to Canada. These matters, added to this latest issue, with Edson Augustus’ apparent involvement in a green card scam, all point to the urgent need to review not only our foreign policy but especially what is taking place within our missions. As yet, we do not know all the matters in which Augustus was involved. We have questions about how our assets are being used abroad. What is a Vincentian diplomatic vehicle doing regularly at the Stony Brook Medical School? What is the relationship between the
Consulate and the Premier Ford/Lincoln Car Dealership located at 5001 Glenwood Road
Brooklyn New York? These are questions which must be answered.
RELIEF EFFORTS AND DUTY FREE CONCESSION
Attached to this release is a letter with attachments, which I have sent to institutions and governments referring to the flood relief efforts here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. All indications are that relief supplies sent to the opposition NDP for distribution to persons affected, will be subject to import duty VAT and the Customs Service Charge. We regard this as unfair, discriminatory and punishment for those persons who are in dire need of these relief items.
The NDP expects in the next week to receive approximately 45 barrels and cartons of relief mainly from the Canadian Diaspora.
THE ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES ECONOMY
The economy continues to be a major source of worry to the people of this country. Things are getting worse. With little or negative economic growth for the past five years, there is nothing to be proud about given our economic performance. I expect that in 2014 that we will continue to have high current deficits. That is we will continue to spend more than we earn from taxes. That deficit will be in excess of 140 million dollars. Given the significant duty free imports of lumber, galvanize, food, clothing and other items, related to the relief effort, we expect a decline in government revenue. We expect the businesses which are normally involved in the sale of such items, to have a significant decline in their profit margins this year, because of lower sales. This will lead to a decline in receipts of company taxes. This situation will be made worse by the fact that the government continues to owe the private sector millions of dollars. This will lead to higher overdrafts, to cover increased expenditure on the part of the private sector, and again, this will result in less profits being realized. I expect a slight improvement in the construction sector because of repairs to roads and buildings associated with the flooding.
We must look at this situation against a backdrop of increased NIS contributions being required of employers and employees, including the government, this year.
Banana exports are expected to be very low and therefore, our balance of trade in relation to goods will decline further when compared with our imports. With respect to financing our projects, this year, the leeward highway will be delayed; the international airport will not be completed, and according to the estimates provided by the government the government indicates that having borrowed 212 million dollars for the airport, in the latter half of 2013, only 97 million will be spent on the airport in 2014. The airport therefore will not be completed in 2014.
In addition to this, in the history of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the government has NEVER spent over 160 million dollars on its capital budget, and if you examine all of the projects to be disbursed on in 2014 including projects related to flood repair, our disbursements on expenditure of projects amounts to approximately 300 million dollars. Government simply does not have the implementation capacity to make this level of disbursements. 300 million dollars will not be spent. There is little hope for increased permanent jobs.
DAVID AMES, CAROL AMES AND MATTHEW AMES
We all know that the Harlequin Development Buccament Bay has been a troubled project. We know that lawsuits have been filed against the company and against its principals in the United Kingdom and locally. Today I can tell you that a UK based Law Firm Carter Lemon Camerons LLP represents 23 UK claimants and one US claimant in a group action against David Ames and Carol Ames proceeding in the High Court in London. The claimants are all investors in various Harlequin developments at Buccama here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. David Ames we remember is the sole director of Harlequin Developments and was granted Vincentian Citizenship by the Prime Minister. Carol Ames is his wife and Matthew Ames is their son.
The UK and US claimants allege that Mr. and Mrs Ames are responsible for a number of false statements that were made in order to persuade investors to purchase off plan properties at Buccament and elsewhere. One of the allegations is that Mr. and Mrs Ames claimed there was bank finance behind the project when there was not.
Another allegation is that Mr. and Mrs Ames falsely claimed that their investors would all be offered guaranteed mortgage finance on completion. It is also alleged that Mr. and Mrs Ames represented that they owned the land on which they were selling properties when this was not always the case. A further allegation is that the Harlequin scheme was sold in breach of the UK law on promotion of investments set out in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
Mr. and Mrs Ames deny all the allegations and are defending the claim. The claim brought on behalf of these twenty four people is against Mr. and Mrs Ames in person. Mr. and Mrs Ames assets are frozen to a value of £2.5m pending the outcome of this matter.
Their son, Matthew Ames who I am told was previously employed as a manager at Buccament Bay was convicted on multiple counts of fraud in Isleworth Crown Court in London last week. The frauds totaling around £1.6m, related to various phony “green” investment opportunities and were not related to the Harlequin companies. We have been informed that Matthew Ames has been remanded in custody. We understand he was initially held at H.M. Wormwood Scrubs prison in London.
We continue to watch the Harlequin Development at Buccament with much concern.
ST KITTS NEVIS IMPASSE
The Heads of Government of Caricom will meet in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the
10th-11th March, 2014 under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Gonsalves. Throughout this region, we are all aware that the Opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis, which has the majority of elected members in Parliament, has for more than a year been attempting without success, to have a no confidence motion debated in that parliament. In the last few days, the Opposition in that country has attempted to present to the Governor General, a letter showing the support of six, that is, a majority of the elected members are now throwing their support behind Dr Timothy Harris a member of the Opposition.
I am informed that the letter was not accepted by the Governor General. This blatant disregard of the constitution and rules of Parliament is totally unacceptable and sends a dangerous signal to this region, which undermines our democracy as a Caribbean Community.
What I find most disheartening, is the deafening silence of the other Caricom governments who appear to wish that this situation in St. Kitts did not exist. The Caricom Chairman Prime Minster Gonsalves and his colleagues should hang their heads in shame for condoning this unacceptable state of affairs. Caricom ignores the situation in St. Kitts but makes a firm statement in support of Maduro in Venezuela indicating “that no democratic society can reasonably pursue disorder or any unwanted subversion of democratic
inst it ut ions.” Is this not what is taking place in St. Kitts? What hypocrisy!
Here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as Leader of the Opposition, as I reflected on the ceremony commemorating Caricom’s 40th Anniversary, and the wonderful speeches delivered, I wondered what the silence on the St. Kitts situation means for the future of our integration movement.
Like Keats, “my heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense, as though of hemlock I
AWAKE! Heads of Government, our region is dying because of your inaction.