An obsolete development policy repeated
Published: Aug 06, 2013
Apparently, the government has jettisoned promotion of small boutique resorts to reignite its strange devotion to large anchor projects. Among a number of policy failures, this initiative proved fatal to the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) re-election campaign in 2007; and yet, it has resurfaced with more vigor than ever.
To the detriment of Bahamian investors, small development proposals are being pushed aside to fast track the ostentatious large resorts with scant public review. Not once is the term anchor project listed in the PLP’s Charter for Governance. In fact it states that “high on the agenda of Vision 2030 will be policies and programs designed to enhance Bahamians’ guardianship of the physical resources that God has endowed the country with. These policies will focus in a more general sense on the relationship between these resources and sustainable development.”
But what is sustainable development? The definition derives from the report Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, as: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It is so simple, yet so complicated.
Sustainable development acknowledges the complex relationship between the economy, social setting and natural resources. By avoiding the word ‘anchor’, the government perpetuates a false perception of development proposals that are largely the antithesis of sustainable. Moreover, the frequent reference to progressive terms like sustainable development, low density and boutique hotels is nothing but propaganda.
At a recent ceremony to mark the arrival of Resorts World Bimini SuperFast ferry, Prime Minister Perry Christie boldly announced a further capital investment of $150 million on Bimini. This next phase of investment expected to be completed in three years will include “two luxury low-density hotels with a total of 600 rooms”. To envision this scale, consider that the high-end One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island has 105 rooms, suites and villas.
If two hotels with a total of 600 rooms are considered low-density, we are afraid to ask what the prime minister would consider high density?
Bimini has a population of 1,988 spread over a mere 11 square miles. It is one of the smallest major populated islands, yet it has the third highest rank in population per square mile at 181 behind New Providence and Exuma. Its population will swell daily by a purported 1,300 ferry passengers, bringing an additional 1,000 jobs while catering to existing hotel visitors and second-home owners.
Yet, the prime minister reassures us that utilities and locals will not be overwhelmed because the foreign firm ESDA is creating a land use plan. But if we are not mistaken, a land use plan should be developed prior to or at the initial stages of a proposed development, not concurrent with its construction. Undoubtedly, the resort will bring more tourists and money to Bimini, but can we call it sustainable development? That’s not likely.
Sure, there are successful resorts in the Family Islands that are looking to expand. Sandals and Club Med recently announced plans for additional capital investments and the expansion of existing accommodations, 183 and 236 suites respectively; this is good news. But let us not forget that Sandals bought the closed Four Seasons, which put over 500 people out of work. Grand Bahama continues to suffer high unemployment with a plethora of hotels closed or operating below peak occupancy rates.
What about the promised anchor projects of Mayaguana, West End Grand Bahama and Rum Cay? The world economy slowed, the money stopped, and the work disappeared leaving behind broken promises and scarred land. Moreover, the criticism for these anchor projects helped propel the Free National Movement (FNM) to win the 2007 election. So why has this government retreated to a policy that contributed to its previous demise?
At the very least, we encourage this government to consult with the Ministry of the Environment and Housing, the BEST Commission, and the Bahamas National Trust to understand the latest development lingo, not least of which would include a lesson on sustainability.