KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace on Monday called on the government to look into the operations at the EC$400 million Buccament Bay Resort amidst reports that some workers there are not being paid regularly.
Eustace further said that persons trying to recapture their investments at the resort or seeking compensation for work done have filed several lawsuits in local and foreign courts.
His comments came one week after Works Minister Sen. Julian Francis said on radio that the development must be protected from persons who want to undermine it.
“The way Buccament operates their business down there, they have quantity surveyors. When they give out contracts to these sub-contractors, there is a value placed, and, like everything else in the construction industry, you get paid in stages.
“… If the quantity surveyor does the assessment for the second phase and you have not completed the second phase, you don’t get the extra 25 per cent. You will get a 10 per cent, 15 per cent, depending on the percentage of the work done. That is norm in the construction industry,” Francis said, according to Searchlight newspaper.
The publication further reported the senator as saying that when this situation occurs, some of the contractors reduce staff or do not give them full payment, promising to pay when they themselves are paid.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in response to a call in Parliament by opposition legislator St. Clair Leacock for a ministerial statement on the resort, told lawmakers on Thursday that he had discussions with resort owners “and a number of issues where raised”
He said the fact-finding talks also related to the non-payment of workers at the five-star facility.
Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer, said that there are legal mechanisms “to address certain matters including, institutionally too, workers who may have challenges.
“There is the Labour Department, which is a first port of call, which is the institution to carry out investigations and to provide the necessary advice in addition to whatever other advise is required,” he said.
Leacock had told lawmakers that “… there isn’t a Vincentian who is unaware of what is happening right here on the ground at Buccama Bay with Harlequin, where, for over ten months, people can’t be paid … and there is a potential for a business to belly up, leading to violence at that worksite”.
Eustace said Monday that all investments here should be protected and objected to Francis’ blaming local contractors for the non-payment of wages.
“… very little is said about what is owed to the local contractors themselves so they can pay their workers. And I think that should not have been done,” Eustace said on his weekly radio programme.
He said that last week there were seven or eight cases in local courts in relation to the resort and other court matters are pending.
“So something is amiss. So one cannot simply pass on the blame to local contractors,” he said, adding, “There are people there who are trying to get back the money they invested in the project.”
Eustace, an economist, said that the situation has implications for the nation’s reputation and foreign investment here.
“… we have to be aware of this. … you cannot have investors coming here and not paying their bills. … the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines cannot afford to have a situation in which local persons are so adversely affected and they are not able to look after their families because they are waiting to get their money,” he said.
He said that the situation is “a very, very serious matter indeed and the government cannot take a hands-off approach … especially as it pertains to the local workers and surely even for those who have invested from overseas because government can’t be seen to just washing or keeping its hands away from it.
“They have to be able to comment and say something about these matters and give some guidance on the matters. They, too, should be speaking with the developers to make sure people feel at ease and relaxed, because they must know whether their investment is safe.
“If you say nothing, then you leave it for people to speculate as to government’ intention.
“So I do not agree with what is being said by a lot of people that that ain’t the government’s business. It is the government’s business. It is all of our business here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an investment of that size and scale and so on, we have to ensure that it goes well and we do what we can to facilitate it, whether by tax concessions or other concession but the investors themselves must be held accountable for things that are not going well.
“… Of course, I know what limitations there are but the matter must be dealt with … We should be right in there trying to ensure that they get their just reward, the workers of this country and the contractors of this country, in the same way that we would want those people who have invested to get something for the investment they have put in. Nobody is quarrelling about that. But you can’t expect to make profits and workers are not paid. It is just not acceptable and should be dealt with effectively,” Eustace said.