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Slapping of IPA and the land issue

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I really should not be surprised that more Vincentians are not speaking out on the issue surrounding the slapping of IPA. If the matter was not so serious it would really be funny. The incident took place on October 24, 2007. IPA was apparently sitting near to his home with a group of friends when a police vehicle with 4 occupants approached the group.{{more}} According to IPA, when the Police were about to search his pockets, he volunteered to empty them. The Officer in Charge, who was identified by IPA, was alleged to have made a statement ordering or urging one of his men to slap him, which he did. The incident was also witnessed by IPA’s wife and 13-year-old son. The matter was taken up by IPA’s lawyer, Jomo Thomas. Prime Minister Gonsalves, who was out of the country, informed the media on his return that on enquiring about the matter he was informed that an internal police investigation was in progress. He is reported to have said that “…You cannot have police men acting unlawfully with civilians”. So far so good!

But then here is where the comedy begins. IPA’s lawyer received a letter on January 9, dated December 8, indicating that after investigation they were unable “to identify the police officer against whom the allegation was made.” I believe it was the Vincentian newspaper that fittingly suggested that the letter must have been delivered by a tortoise. But let us be serious. The slapping of IPA seems not to be in doubt. The Senior Officer with the group of plainclothes policemen who had approached IPA was identified. The names of the others would obviously have been known from police records, how is it possible to indicate that the investigation carried out failed to identify who committed the act? If in a situation where the names of the persons are known, the police are unable to resolve this matter, how can we expect them to solve any crimes, particularly in situations where there are no eye-witnesses? This matter hopefully would be pursued through the Courts but the public must express its dissatisfaction. Did the Senior Police Officer deny the allegation that he urged the slapping of IPA? Why were the four officers not disciplined, perhaps suspended until they were able to identify the perpetrator of this abuse? What kind of investigation was carried out and by whom? IPA is well known in the Calypso world. He is a cultural artiste, well respected. If this can happen to him in full view of witnesses what else might we not expect? Can the police seek respect from the public when such absurdities occur? The slapping incident is one thing, but what appears to be emerging is a cover up, and this is what is dangerous and stinks to high heavens. If Vincentians had been more assertive and willing to question things, no such letter would ever have been written, a letter that insults our intelligence. There should be an outcry about this. It is extremely absurd.

Dr. Len Ishmael Speaks Out

I was pleasantly surprised by the candid remarks made by Dr. Len Ishmael, Secretary General of the OECS. It is really unusual to have these frank comments coming from a regional public official, especially when they represent a criticism of policies embarked on by regional governments. She was speaking about the sale of lands to foreigners, which has become an issue not only in St.Vincent and the Grenadines but also in other OECS and Caricom countries. Her concern was with the negative impact of the sale of these lands, and clearly it was something about which she seemed to be quite passionate.

Let me quote from the comments she made recently in Dominica and which appeared in the Nation newspaper of January 20. Dr. Ishmael stated, “All of our beaches, including most remote ones, are surrounded either by plans for a new resort or by resorts, some of whom are installing their beach furniture right down to the water’s edge as if in first line defence to deter a wandering public.” But her concern is more than access to the beaches as these other comments from her would indicate: “Our islands are being bought and sold day and night”. She expresses the view that land had become too expensive for locals to afford and, while admitting that the task of balancing imperatives was not easy, suggested, “If we do not take this issue seriously, we will find that our policies and efforts to grow new industries to provide jobs are in mutual conflict with the outcome of those which we use to attract investment.”

The comments by the Head of the OECS Secretariat commanded the attention of the BBC, which immediately took it up, so that last week it did a programme on the sale of lands in the region to foreigners and interviewed Pat Mitchell of the Bequia Action Committee. In recent months the sale of lands to foreigners has surfaced as an issue in this country, particularly in Bequia and at Cane Grove where some farmers were forced to relinquish their lands for the building of the Buccama project. In the two examples given, we have had activity by different groups protesting what was happening. In the case of the Cane Grove lands the Friends of the Environment Group, along with some of the affected farmers and other residents, had started some agitation, speaking out against what was happening and trying to provide information to the public. It was at one of the meetings convened in Buccament that Ordon Graham was charged for statements he made warning the government of the possible consequences of such policies. In Bequia we have had the formation of the Bequia Action Committee which began to protest against the sale of lands for prices which the locals could not afford and in a small island, at that, where land is at a premium.

Dr. Ishamael clearly understood that the sale of land has to do with attracting foreign investment to the different countries, although in St.Vincent and the Grenadines it apparently has to do with getting funds to pay for the displacement of homeowners at Argyle. Dr Ishmael warns about possible conflicts which can exist, even in a situation where the aim is to attract new industries and provide jobs. Her statement that our islands are being bought and sold day and night speaks to the issue of the country’s birthright and she makes the point that locals cannot afford the prices which are geared to attract foreign buyers. The patrimony of the country becomes a question and the seeds of future conflict are sown in situations where resort type investments naturally except some measure of exclusivity. The project at Buccama which seems to be drawing a demarcation line between areas belonging to the residents and the investors sends that kind of signal since it doesn’t seem likely that residents or Vincentians as a whole would be allowed to encroach on the white sand beach that is being created. I had suggested before that the introduction of projects of that kind in areas where there is a vibrant community should never be undertaken without careful discussion with the residents. A lot of sensitivity is always involved in these situations.

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