Government still committed to reversing Land For Debt Swap

Basseterre, St. Kitts – The government of St. Kitts and Nevis is still committed to reversing the Land for Debt swap passed by the previous administration, but admitted that the best solution for the country will be adopted.

At his most recent press conference on Wednesday, the prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Honourable Dr. Timothy Harris, responded to a question from the Observer by disclosing that consultation on that matter is ongoing.

“We will do what is in the public interest and we are aware of some significant issues attendant upon the way in which the Land for Debt swap had been formulated,” Harris said. “We are having consultations within and out of the country with a view to arriving at the best possible position. What is important is that we do what is in the national interest and we are committed to doing that.”

Harris noted that in another few weeks, the government will have a “fuller position” on the matter. “We are having discussions with National Bank and that is why certain things can’t be rushed,” he said. “We are having consultation because we have to be a responsible government and take count of the consequences. Do we still believe it was a bad move? Yes we do!”

However, he admitted that some aspects of the arrangement may have to be accepted for the economic interest of the federation.

“Just as when the premier came to office, he had discomfort with the Land for Debt arrangement there, but in the end, he had to take certain positions having regard to the fact that you had a signed contractual arrangement and they had other issues that had to be looked at,” he said. “You have to look at the broad macro-economic picture and take a relevant decision on it and finding where the best interest of the country would be served and that is what we are doing.”

Harris also announced that a significant portion of those lands had already been restored back to the people.

“I can say though that what we know for sure is that some of the lands that had been denied, say, to the people of Sandy Point, we have already taken a decision that we are going to restore a substantial portion of that back to the people of Sandy Point,” he said, “and there are other areas where we would make adjustments.”

He promised to bring a more substantial government position in the coming weeks. “I would be able, in the next couple of weeks, certainly by September, to bring a fuller picture as to where we are at with that,” he said. “The conversations are not just with National Bank, although that is a significant player because it is three-fourths of a billion dollars were involved in the Land for Debt swap. Most of the [people] in the country only know about the $0.5billion that came to the parliament with respect to the Vesting of Certain Lands some 1,200 acres. There was a further 500 acres at LaVallee the government brought in.”

Harris also indicate that the transactions that will be problematic to overturn will be pursued in the national interest.

“Those that can be avoided will be avoided without undermining the stability of any institution within the country or public confidence and investor confidence in St. Kitts and Nevis,” he said.

In May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called for the sale of land under the Land for Debt swap to be completed in a matter of urgency to limit financial risk in St. Kitts and Nevis. In a staff-concluding statement of the 2017 Article IV Mission to St. Kitts and Nevis, the IMF indicated that a clear action plan and timetable as it relates to the Land for Debt swap with concrete milestones are needed: “Completing existing purchase proposals and stepped up marketing to generate sales, including through real-estate agents and the SLSC website, will help establish momentum and remove the policy uncertainty. The global financial institution indicated that cooperation with Citizenship by Investment Unit and SKIPA is welcomed and should support these efforts. We welcome the ongoing discussions on the renewal of the dividend-guarantee agreement with banks at renegotiated terms.”

The statement added that further delays in in the Land for Debt swap parlayed with a sharp drop in CBI inflows due to more acute competition and global security concerns are risks that can affect the medium-term outlook.