The Barbados Government recently moved to expropriate yet more private lands in a process that is as murky and suspect as any fetid swamp could be. And, once again, even a cursory look at the involved parties and their connections starts turning up a few names we've seen before: Sir Allan Fields, David Shorey (of the GEMS scandal fame), and some other "associates".
"Expropriation" An Unwelcome Word in Barbados
The phrase "land expropriation" is not used in Barbados – either by Government or the media. Instead, we use a gentle euphemism and say "the Government of Barbados acquired land…" You see, we don't want to upset foreign investors with the word "expropriation".
Land expropriation happens in Barbados just as it happens elsewhere, but in Barbados, we lack a transparent and independently verifiable expropriation process – which makes the system ripe for abuse.
Barbados Government Extremely Secretive About Land Deals
The government is extremely secretive in all its land dealings – with many tenders and land notices never being made public. Consequently, there is no way to ensure that all land expropriations are being conducted for legitimate public interests. More often than not, it seems that private interests end up profiting from government land expropriations – not to mention that only a select group of Bajans are always in the know about tax-sales and other land opportunities.
The government of Barbados could post all land notices and tenders on the internet for all to see, but that doesn't suit their style of limiting information to friends who can best profit from it.
You want transparency and accountability in government? Let's face it – you'll have to look somewhere other than Barbados.
Would you like to check on an issue being discussed by your elected representatives? The transcripts of debates in the Legislature aren't published until some six months after they happen. You want a copy of the Auditor General's Annual Report? It isn't published on line, and if you want a dead-tree version, you'd better be prepared to answer questions about who you are and why you want it.
All this leads some in government to believe that they can act with impunity, and the stories of suspect land deals in Barbados are legion.
Any Bajan has heard the rumours…
– A relative of a Government Minister ends up with a building lot after an expropriation.
– An official advises his cousin to buy a piece of useless land, and six months later the government expropriates the land and pays a very good price – far more than the original purchase price. Who knew that a new road was to be built there? Don't ask!
– For fifteen years, a farmer tries unsuccessfully to re-zone his land for housing, but then gives up and sells out. Thirty days after the new owner (and friend of government) buys the farm, the zoning approval comes through and the land is now worth millions. No one knows who the real shareholders are.
– Prime land is expropriated for "low income" government-sponsored housing, and eleven months later a Government Minister moves into a new home in the "low income housing" sub-division. Of course, his girlfriend owns the home – not the Minister.
– "Back door" land expropriations where building permissions are denied for no good reason until the owner gives up or goes bankrupt over unpaid land taxes. While one arm of the government refuses permission to build, the other arm expropriates for back-taxes… and the land eventually ends up in the hands of a friend of the government.
… and on and on and on.
But What is Rumour, and What is Fact?
Over the next month, Barbados Free Press is going to review some of the famous Barbados land deal controversies of the past – and we are also going to take a look at other suspicious activities and land transfers that haven't received the public scrutiny they deserve.
So let's start by looking at a recent land expropriation. Oh, sorry… we mean "compulsory acquisition"…
Plantrac Engineering Limited – How Much Profit from Expropriation?
On February 2, 2006, The Nation Newspaper published a piece about Plantrac Engineering Limited's involvement in a land expropriation, but true to form, The Nation asked no questions about when Plantrac acquired the land, how much they paid for it, or how much the government was going to compensate them for the expropriation. And who is Plantrac? Who owns this company? Who stands to profit from the expropriation? Anyone we know?
These sound like reasonable questions, but like an obedient little doggy, The Nation doesn't want to be difficult. Hmmmm…. I wonder if The Nation might stand to lose any advertising revenues if it's reporters start digging a little?
As it turns out, all sorts of companies associated with Plantrac or it's personnel advertise in The Nation – Banks Beer, Cable & Wireless, Barbados Dairy. Barbados is truly a small place, where the same names just keep coming up again and again…
Senate Moves To Close Land Deals
The Nation: Published on: 2/2/06.
GOVERNMENT yesterday went to Parliament to "bring closure" to two outstanding land acquisitions.
When the Senate met for the first time after the Christmas recess, Leader of Public Business, Senator Erskine Griffith, introduced the two resolutions for the compulsory acquisition of a total of 330.96 square metres – at Eagle Hall, owned by Plantrac Engineering Limited, and at Dalkeith Road, owned by the East Caribbean Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists.
The lands have been used to facilitate construction work on the Bridgetown Roads and Safety Improvement Project.
According to the addenda, Cabinet had agreed on November 9, 2000, that those parcels of land should be acquired for the road safety project; and on March 29, 2001, that lands totalling 1 481.92 square metres at Jackmans, St Michael, should be acquired to provide an access road for a National Housing Corporation (NHC) development.
Griffith said the road safety project covered eight kilometres of roadway and involved mainly infrastructural work such as road widening, installation of traffic lights and improved drainage and junctions.
He acknowledged the congestion on the roads and the consequent need to have such footpaths and widewalks to allow pedestrians to avoid the dangers posed by some reckless drivers.
"Everybody in this day and age seems to be in a hurry," Griffith noted. "The question is: where are they all hurrying to go? Because what I notice is that persons will pass you at top speed, and when you continue at your usual speed, and you travel for ten minutes or so, you've caught up with them."
The minister noted that when the 80 housing lots at Jackmans were being developed for the NHC, it was assumed that the existing road would have been used, but the ministry was advised to allow the road, which needed substantial repairs, to be left for use by the plantation and that a separate access be created for the development.
Plantrac Engineering Limited – Anyone We Know?
A little bit of Googling and we discovered that Plantrac Engineering Limited is listed with the Chamber of Commerce as…
PLANTRAC ENGINEERING LIMITED
867E, (BOSVIGO) Eagle Hall, St. Michael
Tel: (246) 430-3600
Fax: (246) 436-9892
Manufacturers' representative/retailer of automotive vehicles.
Bankers: Barclays Bank plc
CHAIRMAN: Mr. G. A. (Tony) King
GENERAL MANAGER: Mr. Andrew Bynoe
PRODUCT SUPPORT MANAGER: Mr. W. R. Pitt
But then we find that Plantrac is part of another company in Trinidad…
Neal & Massy Holdings Ltd.
63 Park Street
P.O. Box 544
Port Of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies
And is there anyone we know at Neal & Massy Holdings Ltd.?
SIR ALLAN FIELDS, Barbados citizen
Mr. Fields is the Chairman of the Barbados Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd. Formally trained in Mechanical Engineering, he has served in the capacity of Managing Director of Lucas Industries Barbados' operations and Banks (Barbados) Breweries Ltd. Mr. Fields serves on many Boards in Barbados, including the Barbados National Insurance Corporation, the Barbados Employers Confederation and the Y.M.C.A. He is also Past President of the Private Sector Organization and Chairman of Banks Holdings Limited, Barbados Dairy Industries Ltd. and Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Ltd.
Aha! Cable & Wireless… Who do we know who used to serve at Cable & Wireless with Sir Allan Fields?
None other than Mr. David Shorey of GEMS of Barbados Hotel scandal fame!
It is a small world in Barbados, but just in case you've forgotten about Mr. Shorey…
OCTOBER 25, 2002 – Mascoll attacks Arthur on his connection with close friend, GEMS boss, Rodney Wilkinson, and accountant David Shorey.
"How could you not know that your best friend [Rodney Wilkinson], who was in your ministry, who then turned around and got a job as chief executive officer of Gems that was under your portfolio, how could you not know of his elevation? . . . There is lots to be revealed. I am a researcher and I intend to research this to the bone."
". . . This is the same Shorey of GEMS fame, chairman of Hotel and Resorts Limited. The same Shorey who was consultant to Cable & Wireless at their failed rate hearing. The same Shorey that Government paid a quarter-million dollars for a cricket study for the BCA (Barbados Cricket Association)"
So if we at the Barbados Free Press are somewhat curious or even suspicious about just how much money Plantrac made from the Barbados Government land expropriation, you will have to forgive us. The same old names surface time and time again when government money is being dispensed.
How much money did some people make on this expropriation?
No one is saying.
But we've all become used to unanswered questions about secret government land deals and who profits with our public money.
Welcome to Barbados.