By Stanford Conway
The People’s Action Movement (PAM) Deputy Political Leader and shadow minister of Agriculture Eugene Hamilton said ex-workers of the St. Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Corporation (SSMC) were given poor financial advice by Prime Minister (PM) Denzil Douglas.
“During his address to ex-workers of SSMC at the sugar factory Social Centre, Prime Minister Douglas, among the things said, advised that when they got their money they must pay for their house, electricity bill, telephone bill and to buy some treasury bills. He also said that if the tractor drivers were popular they must buy a bus.
“I listened to the Prime Minister and thought it was a very poor financial advice. At the time, he had an opportunity to say to the sugar workers that despite the fact that another political party had offered you something which we are not able to match at this time…we cannot match the EC4,200,000, we cannot match the three years’ pay while you may be redundant and, we cannot match the three to five acres of land.
“But what we will do is to advise that when you get your lump sum, I want you to commission 20 percent of that sum into a corporation; albeit a holding company that will be called the Sugar Workers Holding Company,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton noted 20 percent of the funds that the PM said was to be paid out to the workers would have amounted to EC$8.4 million.
“With the perceived Sugar Workers Holding Company owning a capital of $8.4 million, the sugar workers would have had a great opportunity to become the next millionaires in the country; firstly, by that holding company opening some downstream company.
“For example, one company could have branched off into the hotel business and the Prime Minister had the opportunity to give the sugar workers at least 20 acres of land for that purpose. Perhaps that could have been in the vicinity of the Sandy Point project that they are working on with the gulf course,” Hamilton said.
He noted that the land would have added value to the $8.4 million the sugar workers had in their fund and it would have been enough for them to secure a loan to build the hotel because they could have borrowed over five times the capital.
“I don’t expect that the sugar workers’ fund would have been able to provide a hotel of the size of Marriott but certainly the quality of that resort…and not that sugar workers would have run the hotel, they would only be the owners with a proper management team that will come and run it; maybe Sandals, Wyndham or one of those reputable organisations,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said some people may be sceptical about sugar workers embarking on such a project and noted the National Bank, in 1971, started with a capital of EC$250,000 and is now considered the largest indigenous bank in the region with assets of over EC$1 billion.
He was also of the view that in addition to a hotel, a shopping mall and other areas of income-earning activities could have been investments under the Sugar Workers Holding Company.
Hamilton further said that if the PM had given similar advice to what he opined, it would have given sugar workers the opportunity not only to own piece of the rock to build their homes but also to own businesses.
Hamilton said he would have agreed to the removal of politics from financial advice given to the ex-sugar workers, but the PM should have invited a team from Taiwan to study his proposal and to assist in its establishment.
He was also of the view that the approach he posited ought to be encouraged by the Government because it was a policy followed by the PAM between 1980 and 1995 when that party encouraged locals to invest.
“That is why we have the Frigate Bay Beach, the Bird Rock Beach, the Gateway Inn, the Sun and Sands, and if you look at the ownership of those facilities they are owned by locals,” said Hamilton.
Conclusively, Hamilton said the ex-sugar workers should have been encouraged to be part of the “entrepreneurship” of the country where revenue would have remained in the federation and not shipped overseas.
“We talk about providing for our people, providing education, etceteras…the more people you make financially independent there will be less dependency on social security and other social services. And they, in turn, would be employers of their own people.”