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Robert Barrett’s Palm Island Resorts Ltd (PIRL) has withdrawn its proposals to manage the Tobago Cays.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves made the announcement to local media Wednesday.
Barrett, chairman of PIRL, himself appeared at the media conference alongside Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Tourism and Culture Minister Rene Baptiste, Foreign Affairs Commerce and Trade Minister Louis Straker, Chief Fisheries Officer Raymond Ryan and Laurence Basham, an Attorney-at-Law working with Barrett. {{more}}
The issue of the management of the Tobago Cays Marine Park became an issue after Barrett’s PIRL proposal to government dated June 2, 2003 to manage the resource was made public with copies sent to the media.
The four-page document promised that management of the Cays would result in, among other things, the sustainability of the area, increased visitation, excellent employment opportunities, and estimated increased Government revenue to the tune of about EC$672,050
per year.
Opposition began to mount with the Mayreau Environmental Development Organization (MEDO) circulating its own proposal dated September 19, 2003 and which had also been sent to the Prime Minister for consideration. MEDO’s extensive document promised among other things, an estimated EC$560,000 as income from regular annual fees with other possible income from other fees including for filming, wedding ceremonies and boat visiting.
Opposition to Barrett’s proposals heightened with the formation of a group calling itself the Friends of the Tobago Cays. This group wrote to Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves seeking an audience to discuss management of the Cays. This group also circulated a petition seeking an audience with the Prime Minister.
In fact, Wednesday, the Prime Minister made reference to this, which he ridiculed since, as he boasted, he is “one of the most accessible Prime ministers” in the world.
The opposition New Democratic Party too had been active in their opposition to the PIRL management proposals and mounted a flotilla protest in the Cays.
And the issue was very frequently discussed across the nation with the Friends of the Tobago Cays holding a major seminar here last week on the issue.
Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves lamented the turn of events Wednesday and said those in opposition to these proposals must be ashamed and not see Barrett’s withdrawal as a victory.
He however said that Government would still be pursuing its own management of the Tobago Cays without the management of the Palm Islands Resorts.
He hinted at the appointment of a female whom he indicated is “a good manager” currently employed with the Ministry of Tourism.
The Prime Minister read the complete text of the four-page letter of withdrawal from PIRL in which Barrett pointed out: “it appears that opposition to our involvement with the Marine Park has continued to intensify.”
He made it plain that his intention was not to make profit, but “preservation and protection of this important and irreplaceable environmental asset.”
Barrett, a California born businessman who has been in the Caribbean for the past 42 years stated that “a number of continuing, hurtful, and disappointingly inaccurate allegations have been leveled against Palm Island and me personally since we submitted our initial proposal.”
Barrett also took issue with Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace whom he said claimed that “our proposal was drafted by the law office of Rene Baptiste.”
Barrett referred to the claim as a “complete falsehood.”
“We find lies of this magnitude to be utterly distasteful, irresponsible and ultimately disrespectful of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he added.
Barrett mentioned that he was “saddened to read the unending string of unfounded, and quite often untrue, personal attacks in the local newspapers.”
He refuted suggestions that “all our expenses in relation to the Tobago Cays would be borne by government.”
The businessman added: “Palm Island’s role would have been mainly relegated to providing funding and consultation.” And for Barrett his intention was towards “creating a world-class ecological and environmental model that we could all have been very proud of.”
He justified his pull out of the project to “all of the negative publicity surrounding our proposal has caused our organization significant hardship.” He added that “our good relationship with the Vincentian community has been damaged, and would be further damaged should we proceed with the management of the Marine Park.”
Barrett was worried that tour operators, travel agents, industry publications and others were concerned that the controversy may compromise the safety and good treatment of their clients while traveling in the Grenadines.”
And he expressed concern about the negative impact of tourism on the Grenadines. Barrett mentioned disappointment that those opposed to Palm Island Resorts, never contacted his office directly to discuss.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves outlined his intention to contact the company in the British Virgin Islands, which was going to do the moorings on the Tobago Cays project.
He expects them to meet him and the technical people.
The Prime Minister is hoping to fashion plans along similar lines as Barrett had proposed and get the venture on the waters.
Notwithstanding the PIRL change of heart Barrett offered the government US$100,000 as a parting gift. Government still stands to net some $60,000 in dividends this year from this country’s 12.5 per cent shares in Palm Island Resorts.
Those funds will form the basis of a new thrust in efforts to get the management of the Marine Park in a different gear. Dr. Gonsalves is expected to work with the local Port Authority and study that master plan, in preparation for the new stage of the Tobago Cays Marine Park management.
Barrett, for his part, boasted of his company’s resources world wide, and of his having increased the circulation of currency in the southern Grenadines since he put down his stakes there.
Barrett, who runs a 37-room hotel on Palm Island, on the fringes of Tobago Cays, used the occasion of Wednesday’s press conference to highlight his all year round employment of nearly 100 Vincentians.
He also spoke of threats made to kill him, as well as plans to burn his boat and his property.
However, even though Barrett will not be directly involved in the running of the alternative arrangement, Prime Minister Dr. Gonsalves said he is happy to count on his consultancy services.
Dr. Gonsalves said government will be working towards getting a boat to take the staff from Union Island to Tobago Cays, two patrol crafts for a 24 hour operation, a Rangers’ Lodge, among things needed to have the operations run smoothly.
The Prime Minister announced that he had earmarked a woman to manage the venture, and a Marine biologist as part of the new dispensation.
Dr. Gonsalves looked aggrieved and he wiped tears from his eyes while the press conference proceeded.
Barrett on the other hand expressed hurt on being unfairly attacked and described the onslaught as “sad.”
As for the threat, Barrett said he was not going to be bullied as he dismissed the threats.
Wednesday’s session was a prelude to an Environmental session which saw the participation of Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Programme Officer Keith Nichols, Adolph Laidlow, Economist in the Planning Ministry, Chief Environmental Officer Dr. Reynold Murray, Lieutenant David Robin, Commander of the Coast Guard, and Andreas Wickham, Permanent Secretary in the Tourism and Culture Ministry.

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