Land For Debt Swap Act To Be Repealed by LK Hewlett
The new government has vowed to repeal the Land for Debt swap legislation which saw 1200acres of government land turned over to the National Bank to cover 900mil of government debt. “The government will reverse the biggest theft of the future of our people. We will return the land back to the people where it belongs,” Governor General’s Deputy Tapley Seaton QC announced in Thursday’s Throne Speech. The St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank (Vesting in Certain Lands) Act, 2012 was passed late October of that year amid much controversy. It was one of the most contentious pieces of legislation brought before the parliament by then Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas and was the subject of endless debate in the National Assembly. Dr. Douglas’s administration was struggling under an insurmountable national debt and by swapping the land, the government had slashed the debt to GDP ratio significantly. The then Opposition members of the PAM and CCM argued against the bill accusing Douglas of undoing what the founding fathers of his own party had fought so hard to achieve, putting ownership of the lands in the hands of the people through the Crown. The controversial bill also tore a rift in Douglas’ own Cabinet and two of his most senior ministers, Dr. Timothy Harris and his Deputy Prime Minister opposed the legislation. Dr. Harris was summarily fired and Condor resigned in protest not long after. The two eventually crossed the floor and joined the Opposition, a move which led to the formation of the tri-party coalition Team Unity. The Observer asked Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris two days before the announcement if his government intended to repeal the Act once parliament was opened. “Land is a sensitive matter, but we are committed to ensure that land is available to all our citizens and residents at affordable prices,” he responded. Attorney General Hon. Vincent Byron Jr told The Observer the land for debt swap issue was an important one for the Unity government. He said the Cabinet would have to properly discuss the way forward with regard the legislation before he could speak to their plans. “This matter will now come before the Cabinet. At that time we will determine at what time, and what form, and what stage we will be moving forward with this matter. It will be a little premature for me to say what exactly will happen, but during the course of the next few month we will be determining the way forward,” the AG said. The lands were placed under the control of a Special Purpose Vehicle, namely a company owned and controlled by the government and the National Bank. In order for the Bank to have recouped the $900,000,000 from the asset, it would have had to sell the land at a minimum of $17.21 per square foot. While the first tranche of land was swapped for $530 million of National Bank debt in July 2013, there have been no official reports of any of the land being sold.