KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – An opposition legislator has called on Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to make a ministerial statement to Parliament on the operations of the five-star Buccament Bay Resort and the former offshore financial entity, Millennium Bank.
The call by Central Kingstown representative St. Clair Leacock on Thursday came amidst two cases of fire at the resort and a U.S. investigation into the bank.
Meanwhile, Millennium Bank offered financial products with guaranteed high-interest returns and U.S. officials have accused its chief executive, William J. Wise, of orchestrating a US$129 million Ponzi scheme.
Gonsalves, in ministerial statement on Thursday, spoke out against the violence in Houla, Syria. “The Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent killings and wounding of civilian men, women and children in Houla,” he said in the ministerial statement.
But Leacock said that Gonsalves was speaking about developments in the Arab nation while local issues remained unresolved.
“One can’t help but observing that while we are addressing the Syria question, and rightfully so, Mr. Speaker, domestically, there isn’t a Vincentian who is unaware of what is happening right here on the ground at Buccama Bay with Harlequin, where, for over ten months, people can’t be paid: investors, business houses, employees, and there is a potential for a business to belly up leading to violence at that worksite,” Leacock, opposition spokesman for private sector development, said after Gonsalves’ statement.
Leacock noted that a villa and machinery were burnt at the resort and added “we can’t pretend that we are unaware of that matter.
“Equally, Mr. Speaker, in the same way that we have welcomed, and rightfully so, RBC to the financial architecture, there is the Millennium Bank situation, for which we believe in St. Vincent and the Grenadines a statement should also be issued in this House because it is no less of importance to us that those that have been identified,” Leacock said.
“So, we are interested in both the acts of omission and commission and I am inviting the Hon. Prime Minister to soonest share with this honourable House what is the status of Buccament Bay and Harlequin resort in St. Vincent and the Grenadines because injury on the financial front are no greater than those on the financial front in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he further stated.
Gonsalves told Parliament that just before leaving St. Vincent on May 16, he “had a discussion with the persons who are responsible for the investment at Buccama and a number of issues where raised.
“We get a lot of statements which may or may not be factual. Part of my job is to ascertain the facts,” he told lawmakers.
“I have some of the facts in my possession and those at the time, I shared with the persons concerned — the investors concerned. This morning, one of the matters which I discussed with two members of staff at my office –senior members — related precisely to the question which the Hon. Member for Central Kingstown has raised,” he further said.
Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer, then said that there are legal mechanisms “to address certain matters including, institutionally too, workers who may have challenges.
“There is the Labour Department, which is a first port of call, which is the institution to carry out investigations and to provide the necessary advice in addition to whatever other advise is required.”
Regarding Millennium Bank, Gonsalves said that when the issue first arose, he read a full statement on the matter at a press conference broadcast live on radio and reported on in the media.
“I said then and I say now that the Millennium Bank, whatever issues were involved in persons who invested money, … that question of any fraud or anything connected to that was not dealt with in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but in banking institutions in the United States of America.”
He said the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission’s complaint had those facts.
“… and if honourable Members go back, and look at it, they will see the way in which the authority here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that is to say, the International Financial Services Authority dealt with this matter in a proper and scrupulous way.
“Like everybody else, I hear rumours about who got money from whom and so forth. Well, I don’t know about those rumours. I don’t know about those rumours. And I am not dealing with those kinds of rumours.
“But I can tell you that all the authorities involved in this thing, including the authority of the Minister of Finance, under which the International Financial Services Authority is located, all act most scrupulously in this matter,” said Gonsalves, who is Minister of Finance.