He indicated that the issue had become a subject of debate for several months and stated that several times on his radio program and in his monthly press conferences, he had discussed it. He claimed he had been asked about the quantity of land that was going to be swapped for the debt during those interactions.
Douglas stated, “So in terms of the information being out there, and generating public debate, I personally and my government felt very strongly, that this was a matter that was up for discussion for a very long time, definitely more than a year.”
However, it must be noted that even members of his Cabinet admitted that they were only made aware of exactly which lands were to be included in the deal, at the very last moment.
Douglas is adamant however, that he felt that there is no need for more general discussion outside of the parliament, because it was a matter that was in the public domain for several months, when persons were enquiring as to how much land was going to be swapped, and it was indicated that they had identified about 1,200 acres and that when there was an exact survey map that was done, he was prepared to give the exact amount of land.
Douglas added that they first entered into the arrangement with National Bank, back in 1998, when the enormity of the debt was being looked at and the sugar industry had mortgaged to the bank, several hundred acres of land, when the bank had continued to lend money to government for the SSMC’s continued operations.
He also indicated that there is nothing sinister in bringing the bill to parliament and having the three readings in one day, and insisted that this is something that is done on a regular basis.
“We believe it was timely to do so, we were thinking about it for a long time and we felt the time had come for us to do that and so the parliament passed the relevant bill that lent support to the government’s policy of bringing the debt down,” claimed Douglas. He contended that this had been a fundamental commitment that had been given by his government and which was being demanded by the people and supported by the opposition.
Douglas also made clear the conditions under which the land would be sold to the public, stating a private company will be established by the government and the bank, and this would ensure that the interests of local people are being protected.
The Prime Minister was responding to a caller on his weekly radio program, ‘Ask the Prime Minister‘, on Tuesday 16th October, 2012. The caller had suggested that the bill should have had only one reading; then made open for public discussion, before moving to the other readings.
Since the government’s decision to transfer the 1,200 acres of former sugar lands to the National Bank to help pay down its huge National Debt, which once reached as high as three billion dollars, the Prime Minister has been severely criticized for what some consider to be a betrayal of the people. His two most senior ministers in the Cabinet actually used their presentations in parliament to speak out against the bill and the actions of their leader. Similar rebuke has come from the members of the opposition in the National Assembly, while citizens generally have scoffed at him for selling out their patrimony.