(DNO)In a resolute response to recent speculations, the government of Dominica has rubbished claims of the sale of the Botanic Gardens amidst the announcement of development plans for the area. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit over the weekend addressed concerns by citizens during his live discussion on The Next Level Programme on Kairi FM.
Emphatically denying claims of a sale to foreign entities, the Prime Minister voiced his government’s resounding commitment to preserving this space
“I want to very, very clearly [say] to the country, that this is a malicious rumor. There’s absolutely no truth to this,” the Prime Minister declared firmly. “There is no way this government under my leadership, or any other Labor Party leadership would divorce the country from the Botanic Gardens. This is part of our patrimony, that we should never depart from, or detach ourselves from. And people know me as an environmentalist, not by words, but by actions.”
He added, “So this talk about we sold it to Saudi Arabia or the Chinese amazes me that people will hear and not even ask the question and believe and then want to take action.”
The Prime Minister expressed disappointment in the spread of misinformation, calling on the public to seek information based on facts and not hearsay.
“To those who wish to protest, I urge you to first investigate the facts. If you want to stand up for something, let it be based on truth,” Skerrit urged.
“We should be an enlightened people, seeking education and understanding.”
Concerns sparked following the pronouncement by the Parliamentary Representative of the Roseau Central Constituency, Melissa Poponne-Skerrit, of development plans for the Botanic Gardens.
During her address at the 2023/2024 budget debate, the Housing and Urban Development Minister unveiled a slew of transformative projects, which according to her fall under the “Urban Oasis Capital project.”
“This will include the installation of greenhouses and hydroponics in this well-loved space.”
Minister Skerrit also shared plans for the development of a commercial kitchen for small agro-processors, emphasizing the need to empower local businesses, as well as a state-of-the-art multi-purpose entertainment facility aimed at enriching the cultural and recreational landscape.
“Mr. Speaker, the proposed entertainment centre will be a modern and flexible space boasting amenities such as a bowling alley, miniature indoor golf course, dance theatre, movie theatre, restaurants, shopping, offering unlimited entertainment options for every Dominican and our visitors as well. We also plan to include age-appropriate activities
such as an amusement park or waterpark to ensure a holistic and family-friendly experience,” Mrs. Skerrit revealed.
Another notable project she highlighted is the Roseau Enhancement Project, for which the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has stepped in as a benefactor.
“I am pleased to announce that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be taking over this project. They have committed to US$ 2 million…and they have performed a site visit in Roseau and they have agreed to fund this as their first project. We are well on our way to making this a reality in Dominica.”
Citizens then voiced their concerns, fearing that the announced plans might entail the sale or privatization of the Botanic Gardens. The government’s commitment to urban development further stirred worries about potential consequences for the gardens and accessibility, preservation, and the unique experiences it offers.
However, following the public’s scrutiny on August 11, 2023, a release from the Office of the Prime Minister whilst refuting the claims of the sale added “nor has the Government entered into any agreement to develop a golf course or any other project at the Botanic Gardens. The public is further informed that proposed plans for the development of the
Botanic Gardens being shared via social media were generated four years ago and were not considered or approved by the Government of Dominica.”
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Skerrit during his discussion over the weekend revealed his government’s desire to “redevelop the Botanic Gardens.”
“As early as 2014 or 2015 I engaged a number of local Dominicans, people who had an interest in this Botanic Gardens. The vision is to enhance it, to create a place where tourists and locals alike can experience the beauty of Dominica,” the Prime Minister explained.
Elaborating on the plan, the Prime Minister emphasized the need to improve the current state of the area. He acknowledged the effects of natural disasters on the site and revealed the intention to create a water feature using water from the Roseau River at the area which houses the agricultural station.
The cricket field, a well-loved spot within the Botanic Gardens, would also be in line for the proposed improvement. A new pavilion with modern amenities would be built to enhance the overall experience for sports enthusiasts and spectators alike.
Additionally, the Prime Minister proposed the creation of a designated children’s playground, ensuring a safe and enjoyable environment for families. Skerrit averred that his government’s visionary approach extends beyond beautification as he unveiled plans for a bypass, relieving the gardens of vehicular traffic and transforming it into a pedestrian paradise.
“So, we would build a bypass from the UWI going all the way across onto Bath Road so that vehicles do not have to go through the Botanic Gardens. As it is now, a 10-wheeler can drive through the gardens with aggregate on it as well as a trailer in the daytime when tourists are there. So when you have tourists and children coming to visit the Botanic Gardens right now it is a very, very unsafe place.”
The Prime Minister further touched on the aforementioned indoor entertainment center proposal. This multifunctional facility, housing amenities such as a miniature golf course, bowling alley, skating rink, movie theater, and recording studio, aims to provide families with engaging activities, he noted.
“Then there’s another option, where we have the derelict vehicles and the abandoned buildings it was suggested we put an entertainment center there,” he said. “Then we would relocate the tennis courts, the netball court, basketball court, and some facilities where the Dominica club was resident before. We would turn it into a sporting mecca because what we have done in Windsor Park clearly is not working because it is used most times for cultural entertainment activities.”
Skerrit emphasized that private sector involvement would be encouraged, creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs to flourish.
“We are not building this for the government to run; we want Dominicans to make money,” the Prime Minister asserted. “It really pains me as a country when we appear not to be interested in development. Let us embrace this vision, and together, we will create a Botanic Gardens that not only honors our past but propels us into a bright and prosperous future.”
While acknowledging various options for the redevelopment, the Prime Minister underscored that no agreements or contracts have been signed. He affirmed the government’s commitment to consult stakeholders and the public before any decisions are made.