Open Letter to David Chow

Dear Sir,

First let me congratulate you for the persistent and strong determination to invest in the capital city of my country, specifically on the islet of Santa Maria (Djeu).

It is, indeed, highly commendable the patience with which you did address all the twists and turns of this Casino-Hotel dossier over the years. And now that the agreement has finally been signed, it is my duty to congratulate you for your ever strong interest in the development of this country which, I have been told, is not new.

Nevertheless, and quite frankly, I will not lie to you by saying that I like the Casino-Hotel project as it has been sold to us by some of the Cape Verdean newspapers. I strongly feel that from both the architectural and the return on your investment points of view, the project leaves much to be desired. Your team of architects and engineers is certainly capable of doing much better.

This open letter stems from my duty to question the acts and the decisions made by those in responsible positions, as far as the sound management of this country’s public affairs is concerned. You will certainly concur with me that every free and independent citizen in any country has the right and the duty to ask legitimate questions on matters pertaining to his (or his children’s) future.

Unfortunately, the truth is that regarding the transparent and sound land management in Cape Verde, history clearly teaches that no Cape Verdean official, either elected or appointed, is ever to be trusted. These people, especially at Cabo Verde Investimentos agency, are utterly untrustworthy!

The propaganda machines of the two main political parties in this country are trying to convey the message that I am against the Casino-Hotel project on Djeu because I am against the development of Cape Verde, and of the city of Praia, in particular. These propaganda lines are not new.

Fortunately, I seldom change my beliefs and personal convictions, and my very hard 17-year journey trying to promote and defend a competent, visionary and transparent land management system for the whole country is here to prove it.

Nine years ago, in my capacity as the President of the Cape Verdean Order of Architects (OAC), I sent for the paid publication (on three of Praia’s newspapers at the time) of an official statement from the OAC, addressing the issue of urban development on Djeu. Unfortunately, that document was the object of a shameful censorship, as two of those newspapers refused to publish it altogether and the third did publish it but had to narrow it down to a half-page format with the clear intention of making it difficult to read, and so forsaking the extra money it would certainly earn with a full page publication.

Today, it is a precious document that establishes, on very solid foundation, my authority to question all the points that, in my view, are still not clear in this whole matter pertaining to your project, namely, the terms and duration of the concession and the reason why it is not going to be built on Djeu itself.

I would kindly invite you to ask one of your collaborators to download it from my blog (http: // OAC – Comunicado n.º 5. It is a document that speaks for itself.

Therefore, I should make it crystal clear that anyone who approaches you saying that I am against your Casino-Hotel project is a despicable liar. Unlike many hypocrites who were vying for the spotlight at your side last week, namely the people from the main opposition party, MPD, which in 2006 fought desperately to derail your investment, in that document I not only stated that Djeu should have been developed long ago, but also defended the Government’s legitimate prerogative to allow for any industry to be based there, even the most controversy-prone of them all.

I believe that you still remember the hysterical campaign carried out by MPD in 2005-2006, to derail your investment on Djeu, which they managed to achieve.  And the Government made a gross mistake by cowardly backing down and stop promoting the project. It was a gross mistake, since at that time PAICV enjoyed solid majorities both at the national and municipal assemblies.

Fast forward to 2014-2015. With the economy in very dire straits and the state treasury in sour shape, the Government is forced to bring the project up, again, only to be ruthlessly blackmailed by MPD which now controls the City Council (Câmara Municipal da Praia – CMP).  In the last two years the Government has had its hands completely tied up, and has been forced to forsake all of its responsibilities in the city’s governance just to ensure MPD´s support for the Casino-Hotel project.

And as a result of this behind-the-scenes deal between the two main political parties, the City Council (CMP) agreed not to hamper the implementation of the Casino-Hotel investment on the condition that the Government ratifies the Municipal Master Plan (PDM) which, unfortunately, was illegally approved by the Municipal Assembly last September.

And today, lo and behold, PAICV and MPD are hugging and kissing each other, while vying to get the most political and material benefits from the go-ahead to your Casino-Hotel investment!

The only spoiler to this whole scheme is the fact that since October 2014 I have been presenting to both the Government and the Attorney General (Procurador Geral da República) four irrefutable reasons that justify the annulment of this illegal Master Plan.  And in February I officially informed the Government that in case it ratifies such plan, I will take them to court, as a last resort option.

Regarding the Casino-Hotel project specifically, obviously there is this feeling in the air that if this agreement had been negotiated in 2006 the result would have been much more advantageous to Cape Verde. Everybody can see that this whole negotiation was carried out clearly out of desperation, due the sour state of the country’s economy. In business, nobody should ever negotiate out of desperation!

At the very least, there is the consolation that our Order of Architects, under my direct responsibility, did not oppose your project in 2006. It did, however, raise some rather pertinent questions, still as valid today, be it about the time span of the concession (our document particularly stated that, when it comes to the gaming industry, any  concession longer than 40 years would  be excessive), be it about the preferred destination  of the financial compensation from the gambling operations which we suggested should be used for the betterment of the  peripheral areas of the city, where the poorest and most vulnerable citizens struggle to survive every day.

Please, be assured that I personally do not dislike the idea of the whole ​​Djeu being turned into a gaming fortress, with restricted access and everything else that goes with it provided, of course, that the concession time span is not too long and the arrangement is reasonably generous to the city, financially speaking.

After all, that small islet has been abandoned for centuries. So, a strategic option to establish on it, with exclusivity, a powerful gaming industry would, I firmly believe, have the support of a large majority of Praia’s population, since everybody in this country knows that Djeu is the city’s biggest asset.

And such move would most certainly allow Praia to finally start the long overdue public works program it badly needs if it is to become a capital city in the truest sense.

It is precisely because Djeu is an unoccupied piece of land, lying there up for grabs to this very day and having in itself the potential to become a privileged  gaming industry fortress, that I personally have great difficulty trying to understand the very poor option (at least that´s what is being sold by some newspapers) of building an artificial islet on which to locate your Casino-Hotel  which, in turn (again, if such newspapers are to be believed), would clearly obstruct a channel that has become vital for the renewal and the good health of the Gamboa Bay waters.

On the one hand, Cape Verde’s capital city urgently needs a consistent and predictable funding system so that it can sustain the public works program I mentioned earlier, which would allow it to expand and grow quickly, albeit in a planned and controlled manner.  It also has urgency in tackling its housing deficit and to be able to meet the urgent housing needs of more than 70% of its population dwelling in unsuitable and risky locations (steep slopes and flooding-prone areas).

On the other hand, there is definitely urgency that we stop planning and manage a “city” just for Cape Verdeans. Praia must be able to attract and retain very sophisticated people (and distinguished brains) from all over the world. And, in order to do that, new and high-quality neighborhoods must be built from the ground up.  Right now, it definitely cannot compete with other capital cities in the region, especially Dakar, and of course it won’t be able to secure its place in the international network of cities, having so few comparative advantages and no competitive advantages at all. It is a very backward city and also a very dangerous one, since any downpour lasting a few hours would quickly translate into an indescribable human tragedy.

Hence my hope that you will consider these facts and hopefully decide to rethink your investment , submitting a concrete business proposition aiming at occupying the whole islet, firmly aligning the results you expect from the project with the urgent needs of the city. This way we would undoubtedly achieve a fruitful symbiotic relationship, from which everybody would surely benefit. The more fair, intelligent, pleasant and beautiful the city becomes, the more beneficial the impact on your business on Djeu.

I sincerely hope that these concerns of mine will be properly taken into consideration by you and your team of experts, since they stem from a genuine desire to seek a win-win situation for all.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Yours truly,

Cipriano Fernandes