(Excerpts of the Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Dr Godwin Friday’s response to Budget 2024)
We have tourism as one of the pillars of the economy. I think it is the largest foreign exchange earner in the country other than remittances. So, it is critically important that we do everything we can to expand it.
We heard of the investments in hotel facilities and Sandals coming on stream next month; I believe that is something, Madam Speaker, that we had supported from the beginning. But, don’t forget that this project that Sandals is taking over should have been opened back in 2007 when you had the Buccament Bay Resort. Remember, it was being built for cricket World Cup back then. So it’s somewhat delayed, but better late than never. And I do think, Madam Speaker, that building room stock, especially on the mainland, is critically important for making the airport at Argyle viable, but also for making the tourism sector in this country, which has so much potential to take off.
There are so many other things that can be done in terms of the types of facilities that can be created. Madam Speaker, years ago, the harbour in Port Elizabeth on New Year’s Eve was packed with yachts and this was like in 2004. I counted over 300 yachts. It was huge. This season, Madam Speaker, I was happy to see that there was quite a lot of yachts in the harbour. And I’m sure that was the case in other parts, in Villa, Chatham Bay and different parts of the country. So, it’s good to see that the yachts are coming back because we have a natural advantage when it comes to yachting. The Grenadines is the best. I wouldn’t even qualify it anymore as one of the best. It is the best sailing destination in the world. People come from all over.
Madam Speaker, we have a tremendous potential and we are just at the tip of the iceberg, but we can’t take it for granted. We can’t say because we have all of this natural beauty and attraction that people will come because as I said, back in 2006 we had about 93,000 visitors. Where did they go? A lot of them went to Grenada and to St Lucia. And St Lucia, which used to be behind us came and actually surpassed us.
So we have to work at it. And that is something, Madam Speaker, that I’ve been pushing for all the time I’ve been here because it’s part of the livelihood of my own constituency, my community. But, it’s also critically important for the entire country. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, in one of its reports said that Yachties spend probably more than anybody else because there are so many things that they have to buy and service. And this is something that the Minister of Finance needs to look into, quite frankly, is to try and get back some of that business where the provisioning of the boats and the servicing of the boats basically we’ve lost it because they go to Grenada where they have all duty free concessions.
But, this is something that we have to do to attract the boats to come, because when they come, they don’t just buy the stuff. If you’re on a small boat you want to get off and go to a restaurant and do some laundry, or go to a bar; those kinds of things that generate economic activity.
Madam Speaker, one of the troubling things, is that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been always in the top rank of numbers of incidents against yachts that is crimes against yachties and we have to do something about it. I ask the minister about it last time in Parliament back in November. I asked the question as to what was being done and what needs to be done. And quite frankly, he said that things were being done, but he was very vague.
These yachts, they are very well connected. There’s an organization called Caribbean Safety and Security Net and they publish incidents almost instantaneously, when they occur. Madam Speaker, the distressing thing is that the last report from 2022, it said, “St Vincent and the Grenadines returned to the top position that is for incidents against yachties.” That year was 26 reports, and one of them was violent. Madam Speaker, it’s important to note what are the kinds of crimes that are committed.
And this report that is published says that dinghies and outboards remain the primary targets for thieves. And some of them, they have upgraded their equipment to protect them. But here is one of the things which is a concern. They said that video surveillance tracking devices have captured some thieves in action but law enforcement has not demonstrated a willingness to act on this information. I had a firsthand encounter with someone who had that experience, Madam Speaker, who had been in Chatham Bay. The dinghy was taken and the engine was taken off.
They had one of these surveillance devices on it and a tracking device on it. And they could locate where it was, but nothing was done to retrieve it up to that point. It had happened on the 27th, I believe, and it was reported to me in the 29th. And, this is the part of frustration when I said earlier that is under my comments on security and policing that we need to train the police in ways to respond quickly and to do so in a way that gives the assurance to those persons who are victimized that we are doing something about it. The notion that you know where it is and they feel that nothing is being done that’s why it was reported to me that is not acceptable.