A showdown is in the making between the Keith Mitchell-led government and the country’s main opposition, National Democratic Congress (NDC) on the future of the Camerhogne Park at Grand Anse.
Congress leader, former Finance Minister Nazim Burke has called on the administration to come clean about the status of the Park that is allegedly needed by a foreign investor to construct a 5-star hotel.
“We call on the Government of Dr. Mitchell to come clean with the nation and tell us the true status of Camerhogne Park; If no agreement has yet been signed, retract from any negotiations with any developer to sell Camerhogne and advise the developer that Camerhogne is not for sale,” Burke told reporters at a press conference Monday at NDC’s headquarters in St. George’s.
The NDC Political Leader noted that the future of the park has affected Grenadians of all walks of life, since government’s bold announcement to consider relocating it to facilitate a request allegedly made by an Egyptian billionaire.
Burke, who is also a Senator in the Upper House of Parliament, urged the government to move with caution on Camerhogne Park.
“If on the other hand an agreement to sell Camerhogne Park has (already) been signed behind the backs of the Grenadian people (to) approach the developer and get out of that deal (and) continue to work with the developer to find an alternative investment opportunity that does not involve Camerhogne Park”, he said.
“We call on the developer, whoever he or she may be, not to enter into any agreement with the present government of Grenada to purchase Camerhogne Park and desecrate it against the wishes of the people,” he added.
Sen. Burke accused government officials of “continuing to tell blatant lies, half truths and conflicting stories to the Grenadian public about the future of Camerhogne Park.
He recalled that the Mitchell government had previously denied allegations that the park was being sold.
“When the issue first surfaced in 2013, the government flatly denied that there was any truth to it. I recall that in September 2013, Hon. Nickolas Steele, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke in an interview with Meaningful Television (MTV News) and he was adamant that Camerhogne Park was not being sold. He (Steele) said, that the concerns being expressed could be the result of misidentification between the Riviera Property and Camerhogne Park (and) this position was repeated and reinforced by other government Ministers,” he told the media.
“In a Press Cabinet briefing, (the) then Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Kenny Lalsingh told the nation that rumours going around about the park being sold are totally untrue. He (Lalsingh) said that he wanted the public to rest assured that there was no truth to the rumours at that (particular) time.
“He told the nation that the government had decided to retain the services of an Urban Planner to look at the entire area from Point Salines to Perseverance, to advise on how the area could be developed.
He (Lalsingh) said that if, after the Urban Planner submitted his report, it became clear that an alternate site can be found which will mean more to Grenada and its people, his government would consider it.”
Sen. Burke stated that Lalsingh had repeated this position both in the Senate and at a post-Cabinet press briefing.
The Camerhogne Park is located in the South St. George Constituency of former Tourism Minister, Alexander Otway-Noel, who is now serving as the Minister with responsibility for Implementation.
Sen. Burke pointed out that in September 2013, Minister Otway-Noel told the nation that government has “no plan to sell Camerhogne Park” and assured all concerned that, “Camerhogne Park is there for the residents and the visitors to South St George, to Grand Anse beach.”
The Congress leader said the most defining statement made on the issue came from PM Mitchell when he was presenting the 2016 Budget in November.
He spoke of Dr. Mitchell, who is also the Minister of Finance, making the following statement: “The Riviera Hotel is now being designed and will create a further 100 jobs during construction. During this design phase, the investors have agreed to construct a new Camerhogne Park nearby, and upgrade the vendors market and the basketball and tennis courts.”
According to Burke, “this was the first clear indication that Camerhogne Park was being given to a developer.”
He said: “Notice how he (Dr. Mitchell) said during the design phase of the hotel, the investors have agreed that they will construct a new Camerhogne Park. He does not come out and tell us whether the present park will continue to exist or not. He leaves us wondering whether the park will be scrapped and replaced by this so-called new Camerhogne Park or whether we will have two Camerhogne parks.”
The NDC leader added that “Camerhogne Park represents everything that is Grenadian – nature, openness (and) warmth, the spirit of liberty and freedom of choice.
“It is the GREEN SPACE reserved on our best beach, for the use and enjoyment of the Grenadian people”, Burke said.
He also noted that there has been “no consultations with the Grenadian people to determine what would mean more to them. To date we have heard nothing about this Urban Planner- whether he has been retained, whether he has submitted a report, and what does this report say. In fact the government is still withholding from the people whether these lands have been sold or not”.
Sen. Burke also made specific references to the many different versions given by government ministers on the Camerhogne Park issue.
During last week Tuesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Sen. Winston Garraway informed the nation that there is a proposal on the table for the relocation of Camerhogne Park.
The following Wednesday, Minister Steele appeared on a local radio programme stating that all he knew was that Grenada was going to get a new upgraded park.
According to Burke, the following Friday evening “Senator Sheldon Scott, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Information, when asked whether Camerhogne had been sold in a telephone interview (with a local television station), he told the nation it is not true that Camerhogne had been sold”.
“He (Scott) justified his answer by repeatedly stating that no agreement had yet been signed to sell Camerhogne Park”, said the Opposition Leader.
Burke went on to say: “When Prime Minister Mitchell told us that (in presenting the budget Nov 26, 2015) that the developers have agreed to design and build a new Camerhogne Park was he saying something different from what Sen. Sheldon Scott is saying? Was he (Dr. Mitchell) lying and Sheldon Scott is telling the truth or was Sheldon Scott lying and the Prime Minister was telling the truth? Who is really telling the truth?
“The NDC vehemently opposes the sale of Camerhogne Park to anyone whether local or foreign. The interest of the majority must take precedence over the interest of the few.
The NDC Political leader stated that “more is at stake than private deals and personal accolades.”
“It is a park by Grenadians for Grenadians…The very heritage of our country is under threat,” he added.
Burke stressed while “no one can deny that Grenada will benefit from an increase in the hotel room stock,” which would improve the tourism potential of the country; create jobs and increase tourism earnings and foreign exchange, it is not necessary to take away Camerhogne Park from the people in order to achieve this objective.”
“The selling of the area known as Camerhogne Park as part of any deal to facilitate the building of a hotel robs us of part of our heritage and is an insult to the patrimony of the people of Grenada,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said the NDC joins “in solidarity with all patriotic Grenadians and organisations that see it as their patriotic duty to stand up for the heritage and patrimony of our nation.”
Congress was expected to host a Town Hall meeting at the Grenada Trade Centre in Grand Anse this week to sensitise Grenadians on the issues surrounding the reported sale or gift of Camerhogne Park by the Government of Grenada to a developer and to discuss the future of Camerhogne.