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Arthur: Pickering a facade

Wade Gibbons

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FORMER PRIME MINISTER OWEN ARTHUR says Government has not given Barbadians the full facts on its mooted billion-dollar Pickering Town Centre project in St Lucy.In fact, Arthur charged last night that Government had been feeding Barbadians a lot of propaganda, trying to create a “feel-good” effect, rather than trying to stem the slide into which the country had slipped.Speaking at a Christ Church West branch meeting at Arthur Smith Primary School, Arthur said the people behind the project did not even have money to pay initial start-up costs.He said they had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a company from Ireland to borrow money to pay basic fees.“Developers had to borrow $600 000 to help pay pre-investment costs and they are now looking around to find an investor,” he stated.Arthur added: “They [St Lucy investors] have not yet even bought the land. They have acquired an option to buy the land on the understanding that the option is going to be meaningful if they get planning permission.”PropagandaThe former prime minister said he did not mean to be disrespectful, but he did not know how many people would want to invest in central St Lucy.“. . . Because if you are going to invest that kind of money, you will be looking to recover your capital and get a return on it. But these people do not have any money. They do not have any investors to work with them, but you had a groundbreaking ceremony in St Lucy to create the image that something is happening,” Arthur said.The St Peter MP said Government seemed to believe that feeding the public a lot of propaganda to create a good feel in the country was a substitute for serious policies and programmes. “Week by week all the fundamental things the public should be having a voice about that concerns their welfare are not being addressed,” he said, revealing that Government was now secretly selling off shares at the Insurance Corporation of Barbados to raise capital.Arthur noted the David Thompson-led administration had promised in its 2008 manifesto that it would seek a two-thirds majority in Parliament to change agricultural land for development purposes, but had not kept that commitment with respect to the development at Pickering.Greatest concernHe warned Barbadians that their greatest concern should not just be the poor ratings international agencies had given Barbados’ economic performance over the past two years, but they should be alarmed that the structures which held that economy together were all starting systematically to crumble.Arthur said Government had failed to do anything about the continued recession and enterprises were starting to buckle. He said many of them had been drawing down their reserves from the banks to maintain their viability but this could not continue forever.He added that while Government remained nonplussed as to what to do, Guyana’s economy was on an upward economic curve. He noted that while tourism officials in Barbados were crying that they were losing the British market, British visitors were flocking to Jamaica, even in the face of the negative worldwide media associated with the recent Tivoli Gardens upheaval.Arthur said Barbados had prospered as a premium destination but now Government was deviating from a tried and tested policy by looking to low-end markets in Brazil and Panama and taking “a slow boat to China”.