Development boom concerns OECS Director General

ROSEAU, Dominica, January 23, 2008 – OECS Director General Dr. Len Ishmael is expressing concern over the potential long term negative effects of the current boom in development in some OECS member states. 

Addressing the opening ceremony of the forty-sixth meeting of the OECS Authority in Roseau, Dominica, Dr. Ishmael pointed in particular to the booming resort developments; the growing tendency of the developers to restrict beach access to locals or to create gated inland communities, and how this is rapidly reducing the realistic chances of locals to enter the land owning class and to utilize their country’s assets.

“All of our beaches, including most remote ones are surrounded either by plans for  a new resort or by resorts – some of which are installing their beach furniture right down to the waters edge as if in first line defense to deter a wandering local public; others are erecting fences and gates on the beach with security guards posted at the entrances,”   Dr. Ishmael told the audience.  “Hikes through the rain forests reveal mile after mile of newly surveyed acreages earmarked for eco  resorts, villa development and the like; huge signs emblazoned with the London and USA addresses proclaim that the world’s foremost real estate entities are buying and selling our land to an international clientele. Seemingly overnight, one after another , they have set up expansive operations to oversee booming  sales – one such entity boasting recently of US thirty million dollars in pre-construction sales in one day. Our islands are being bought and sold day and night”, Dr. Ishmael said.

Dr. Ishmael noted that while some of this money will trickle through the economies and some jobs will be created, several negative effects are fast emerging.

“The first is the fact that land prices have no realistic basis anymore, and the average OECS woman and man is finding it increasingly impossible to break into the class of land owners within their own countries making home ownership – an indisputable social objective for all Member States, increasingly out of their reach.”

Another effect comes from the sale of the lands on the foreign market. “When it leaves local ownership once, it is never traded on the local market again.” Additionally, “huge acreages of scenic landscape are being alienated from the quiet use and enjoyment by locals as increasingly large chunks of countryside are being developed, fenced and gated.”

“What are we doing in the name of development?” she asked the audience. “At what price is development? Is no price too high? Is alienation of the rights of islanders a realistic price for what we define as progress? After the land is gone, what’s left?”

Dr. Ishmael said she is not unmindful of the daunting task faced by OECS leaders of balancing the need for foreign exchange, employment creation and infrastructural development, with the need to advance and safeguard the heritage of the people. In that regard, she has put forward for discussion some possible new approaches drawn from small island governments in  various parts of the world, including Anguilla and Tobago in the Caribbean.  These include a moratorium on the construction of resorts directly on beaches; provision of development rights as opposed to free-hold tenure for certain types of investments; inclusion of conditions in the planning permission granting rights to develop which clearly articulate the rights of the local population and requirements for certain types of social investments. The suggestions also include delimitation of the physical areas within which certain types of development are to be encouraged and ensuring that certain types of tourism related investments are reserved for locals.

Dr. Ishmael said the “tiny specks in the Caribbean sea” are all we have and “we have an ethical and moral responsibility to ensure that the fruits of development which we see around redound to the benefit of every man, woman and child in the OECS first and foremost. (OAS)