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Following the recent passage of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank (Vesting of Certain Lands) Bill 2012 in Parliament on Friday, September 21, SPIRIT, SPACS and CIPEO wish to raise serious concerns about the manner in which this Bill was introduced into Parliament without proper consultations with the people of Sandy Point and other relevant communities.
We have assessed the recent Act and understand that of the 1200 acres of land to be transferred to that private institution over 400 acres are located in three of the prime estate ranges of Sandy Point including Sir Gillies’, Farms’ and Bourkes’. While we appreciate that the provisions of the Bill may well be in pursuit of worthy objectives and supported by noble intentions, we must publicly note our disapproval of such far-reaching decisions which fundamentally affect current and future generations of Sandy Pointers, with an asset as important as land, without widespread consultation with the communities which stand to be affected.
Land has long been among the most critical assets to Sandy Point’s success and forms the base of the town’s own history. From the British and French disputes over the town, to the agrarian culture set by the many of the town’s former estate workers, land has formed much of the heritage of Sandy Point. Some of the greatest moments of community empowerment came from the use of land, including the land grant donated by Edward Pogson upon which the town’s medical centre now stands; a famous land deal to secure the site on which the Sandy Point Primary School stands; and the new recreation ground which has been pivotal in meeting the increasing demands of a growing town. In fact, land has been one of the few means on which small-scale farmers could sustain their trade and provide fresh produce to the town and its nearby communities. SPIRIT, SPACS and CIPEO are of the view that St. Kitts’ Amerindian name Liamigua (fertile land) means that deeply-rooted in our lands is our livelihoods and thus our empowerment and independence. And so, any decision which attempts to make major changes to lands in Sandy Point without due consultation is an issue of grave concern for all with an interest in this town.
We are appalled by the manner in which a Bill of such importance, involving such a valuable asset to the future development of communities, was introduced to Parliament and passed with the three readings within one day, all without the nation having the benefit of being consulted. We make clear that though our response is local, this issue has far-reaching national consequences and we can no longer be silent as the principles of participatory democracy are shelved, as a matter of convenience.
It therefore falls squarely within the scope of SPIRIT’s founding Pride, Virtues and Civics (PVC) campaign to protest every action which threatens to affect the interests of Sandy Point, especially if this is done without engaging the people of Sandy Point.
SPIRIT finds the passage of the Bill especially unfortunate as it comes at a time when we, as a community and as an organization, are observing the second anniversary of the renaming of the Sandy Point High School and the five-week campaign for consultation that we launched. It is clear that as a nation we have much more work to do to change this culture of refusing to consult. We maintain that major decisions that stand to affect the future development of a community must only come after thorough consultation with the people. Our last campaign was in relation to a school renaming. This time it is in relation to acres of land being transferred to reduce national debt. SPIRIT is concerned that these instances are setting a wider, worrying precedent for future decision-making. This can only be viewed as a growing threat to our democracy.
SPACS is particularly concerned that such a serious decision could be destabilizing if it is made without consulting the very people it potentially will affect. The decision affects lands on prime estate sites where farmers have for decades been able to develop farmlands, maintain a consistent production of ground provisions and fruits and strive toward food security in the fight against hunger. We believe that this decision threatens to undermine the pledge made by the government to support young farmers and future generations. Sandy Point thrives on agriculture and that this many acres have been earmarked for this land-swap deal without anybody in the community knowing how it will be used is a serious cause for concern.
CIPEO is deeply concerned with the non-inclusion or involvement of our people when major decisions like this are made. We have set as a group a number of objectives which we believe will advance Sandy Point and among them is the need for people to be more involved in decisions that ultimately affect them. It is regrettable that such a big decision was made with no involvement with the people of Sandy Point although our particular community will be affected greatly.
We wish to note our disappointment with the Department of Constituency Empowerment for failing to engage communities on a matter as important as this. The Department, under Hon. Timothy Harris MP, has a mandate to include communities in such decisions and ensure that people are empowered to revive their communities, in an environment of support by the government. We intend to meet with the Minister to record our position and to work on a closer partnership going forward.
In the past week, the Executive Committees of SPIRIT and SPACS, along with a CIPEO Executive representative, have held intense discussions with their membership and with various community stakeholders about the issues involved and the potential consequences the Act might have on the community. We have noted the concerns of the farmers and eminent businesspersons who have echoed their strong belief that consultation is a necessity when such decisions have to be made.
In an unprecedented move, an emergency conference was convened with members of the SPIRIT Executive, the SPACS Executive, a representative from SPIRIT’s Department of Community Empowerment and a representative from SPIRIT’s Department of Agriculture and Environmental Conservation, with Hon. Shawn Richards, MP for the constituency. In that meeting, we raised our objections to the fact that no consultation was granted on the matter, the manner in which the Parliamentary Debate was handled and the absence of MPs when it was time to vote on the Bill. We believe that on a matter of such great significance, which stands to affect Sandy Point and other communities, it was critical for the record to show that the MP for Sandy Point opposed, either in principle or until proper consultations granted. We have thus urged for increased lobbying efforts and for a renewed commitment to represent, advance and protect the interests of Sandy Point at every opportunity and in every way possible inside and outside of the Parliament.
SPIRIT, SPACS and CIPEO recognize that any fulfilling mission toward community empowerment must involve access to land and land ownership, whether in the form of agriculture, housing, recreation and leisure or protecting and preserving our special environmental sites. It also must involve engaging people to be part of decision-making and to take pride in their ownership of these developments. We will therefore continue our projects and programmes to ensure that the interests of Sandy Point can be protected and that consultation becomes a given step in the process of decision-making.
This statement has been advanced by the general membership of Sandy Pointers Inspiring Real Improvement Throughout (SPIRIT) and the Sandy Point Agricultural Cooperative Society (SPACS). It has been approved for dissemination by the Executive Committees of both groups. Also co-signed are Community Improvement and Personal Empowerment Organization (CIPEO), SPIRIT’s Department of Agriculture and Environmental Conservation and SPIRIT’s Department of Community Empowerment.