NDP VIEW: The Ottley Hall Marina

(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Budget presentation)

The Finance Minister stated that this Budget rests on “10 principles for jobs, growth and transformative sustainable development.”  Among the 10 principles, he included the following: “diversifying the bases of economic growth” and “supporting job creation.” Then he lists ten “significant government” and five private projects that he says will exemplify those principles.

The point I wish to make, is that once again, this government has no place for the Ottley Hall Ship yard in its plans for the economy. When the Ottley Hall project was conceived, it was intended to create modern jobs and to diversify the bases of economic growth.  The very things the Minister is said to be pursuing in this Budget. Yet, there is a deafening silence on the project.

Every time I think about the Ottley Hall shipyard;  I conclude that the government is failing this country. For years, under this government, the shipyard has been left to rust and rot.  Why has nothing been done by the government to make it work? It wasn’t always so; when they first came to office, it was not so. Back then, it was Ottley Hall this and Ottley that!  You could not get them to shut up about Ottley Hall. When they were talking about the Ottley Hall project to lambast Sir James Mitchell and the NDP, you could not get a break from them.

They wanted to prove that Mitchell and the NDP were corrupt. Well, the NDP government had the idea to develop the marina and shipyard because they wanted to promote development in the country. We can all accept that the financing arrangements went wrong and we paid a price for it.

The ULP rode to power on the back of Ottley Hall, and one of the first things they did, was to set up the infamous Ottley Hall Inquiry, not to find out what went wrong with the financing of the project, but to investigate what the terms of reference said was the “failed” Ottley Hall Project.  They had already concluded that the project had failed even before the project was completed or the commission of inquiry had started its deliberations.

The Inquiry is now history.   The government spent millions on it, and it found nothing, but the ULP got what they were after: political power! Then what? There has been no serious interest on the part of the government in making the project work. And it can work, if the will is there to make it succeed. Anybody with any knowledge of boats and shipyards will tell you so.

In fact, recently I was with a gathering of friends in Bequia and someone raised the question with me.  “What’s happening with Ottley Hall?”  He asked. I was pleasantly surprised that he had raised the matter. So, I said “I don’t know. You tell me.”  And he responded that it is a “damn shame” because it is the best shipyard in the Caribbean.  Those were his sentiments. He was no doubt referring to the covered dry dock which makes the shipyard unique in the Caribbean.

So, why does the government not recognize this and act accordingly?  Right now, the dry dock is not functioning. Why is that so? The Prime Minister answered my question in Parliament last week. He said the dock gate had been removed for repair, and that was why the workers were redundant. But that the gate would be fixed by February 15, and work will resume. I visited Ottley Hall to see for myself.  The gate is massive. It must have been very difficult to get it out of the water and onto the dock concrete yard, and credit to the operator for doing so. But there is a lot of work to be done on it. There is no way that gate will be repaired by February 15 or March 15.

Meanwhile, over thirty workers are idle.  No money for them. I wonder what their union, the National Workers Movement, is doing for them. The main business at Ottley Hall now seems to be the cutting up of scrap metal and selling it abroad.  I am told that the company that leases the facility has the right to do so under its lease. But, Ottley Hall is not a scrap yard; it was built to be a shipyard. It makes me angry to see that the facility is being neglected by the government.  They will say oh we have leased it, what more you want us to do?  Well, we heard last week that the lessee is in arrears on the rent.

It is time for a full assessment of the project, to see what is needed to bring it to its full potential. The fundamental problem with Ottley Hall is simply this: The PM and the ULP want to destroy the legacy of the NDP. Having said so many bad things about it, they cannot bear to see it succeed.  How else can we understand the years of utter neglect of it under this government?  So much so, that it does not ever factor into their plans for the development and diversification of the economy. Ottley Hall is not only an NDP legacy; it is a legacy of the people of SVG.  It belongs to the people and they expect their government, however constituted, would govern not out of spite and pettiness, but in the interest of the people of SVG. Ottley Hall has so much to offer this country, even now.

The facility can be an excellent training place for students from the technical college and other TVET programs.  Then it can offer well-paying jobs to our young people. The Minister says he is doing so much for young people.  Well, you are letting them down here.

Sadly, I have concluded that Ottley Hall cannot succeed under the ULP government.  They will not allow it to fly.  As someone who knows the project well recently put it; the setup they have down at Ottley Hall right now is designed to fail. Sad but true.