Prime Minister the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris has reaffirmed the government stance against the 2012 Land For Debt Swap but indicated when they took office some of the lands had already been sold.
In 2012 the government led by former Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, passed the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank (Vesting in Certain Lands) Act.
The legislation effectively transferred more than 1200 acres of government land that had been held as collateral, over to the bank in order to wipe away $900million of the governments debt with the Bank.
Prime Minister Harris, then a senior Cabinet Minister in Douglas administration, spoke out against it during the bills debate. So too did then Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor. Both subsequently broke from the Labour to join forces with the opposition to form the coalition Team Unity.
Members of the Unity Government from all three parties decried the loss of crown land and its repeal was one of their major campaign promises.
According to the Prime Minister when his administration took over the reins of government a deal had already been in place with some of the lands.
Dr. Harris explained, When we got in office it was already put together. The last government signed legal and binding contracts with respects to the Social Security for the sale of land to Windsor University.
He said the particular contracts made the government legally bound to honour them, which it has done. One of the issues we had raised was that an option was the Social Security holding those lands but it was never accepted by the former administration. Social Security belongs to the people so we could offer no valid protest.
That was one of our options that the government had vested the lands to the Social Security and that would have been better for the people. The sale to Social Security we did, but was legally prohibited from doing anything pertaining to that, Dr. Harris noted.
The Prime Minister disclosed however, that any sale of land that has occurred is as a result of binding legal arrangements made by the former administration which they followed through on based on legal advice.
He also indicated that his government was able to save hundreds of acres of land in LaVallee from being sold under the same programme. The government then had made commitments with respect to LaVallee and when we came in we said no, we will not have all that 500 acres of land that the government had put as part of the Land for Debt swap. We had determine it would be prejudicial to the people of Sandy Point and Fig Tree to be denied all that lands because there were not a lot of other options.
Dr. Harris indicated the lands they were able to save would be made available for the ordinary people. It is a bad deal and we are going to review it. Part of the review has led to the fact we have been able to draw back from the 50 acres committed for LaVallee and we have said we will preserve at least 300 for the ordinary people.
He added that the Cabinet met and said that it will review arrangements for the sale and in any event would not part with such a quantum of land.
Dr. Harris was questioned a whether they were still committed to a repeal of the bill that was passed in 2012 allowing for the Land for debt swap.
I would not put it in the language you have put it. Do we still believe the land for debt swap was bad, yes it was very bad and the more we know about it the more we become convinced.
He indicated however, thought the Government are against it the economic implications of repealing it now will have a negative impact if not handled correctly. A commitment has been made and if we were to go now and attempt to unravel it immediately, it will create significant negative repercussions.
He noted that such a move could severely undermine the National Bank which has built its framework around that deal as well as Social Security which had already spent large sums of money on the lands.
Our plan is to ensure the growth continues apace so that we kind find the monies to pay down the debt and thereby releasing more of the lands for other activities.
Dr. Harris also said they wont rush to take any action Having regard for the importance of the national bank and social security and having regard for the economy that had suffered four consecutive years of negative growth from 2009 to 2012 accumulatively of 10percent…we have to take all of these things and not be hasty.
He continued, We will resolve it over time we have been getting advice from the IMF, we are in consultation with the bank regularly to see how we are going to deal with some of the issues.
He indicated that the issue will be managed delicately. We have created healthy buffers all those surpluses we have had year after year we now have a little cushion we could pay on the land for debt swap.
He also disclosed that there were other commitments that did not materialize.