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A long question

Published: Sep 25, 2013

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Dear Editor,

Last Monday, at the GEF opening ceremony the Minister of the Environment Kenred Dorsett emphasized the government’s commitment to protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development especially given our reality as a small island developing country. This begs a number of hard questions, and of course they are not happy soft feely questions.

Dorsett was bookended by Manuel Messina and Dr. Arun Kashyap. Significantly, both speakers addressed the growing inequalities in The Bahamas. The Human Development Index has shown the country slipping in this regard (of course the country has been unable to submit data recently). As both speakers, barring Dorsett, mentioned, The Bahamas boasts a high GDP and an apparent high standard of living – that is, if we do not examine the gene coefficient. However, the inequalities are becoming far more glaring. Many of us choose not to see them, though.

According to Dorsett, there was a great deal of talk about the government’s commitment to sustainable development and especially to environmental protection that would work to empower the people economically and financially. What was missing from Mr. minister’s speech was the nuts and bolts. He did say that the government was putting together a task force that would create a road map with partners in environmental and sustainable development.

So, given that land is a premium and we are an island nation developing in a hostile environment considering the global reality of climate change and the local reality of low-lying land, barely above sea level, how does the government plan to work through all of this? There also seem to be some crossed messages, or are these merely misconceptions? The government opens its mouth and says three things all at the same time. According to facts uncovered by reporters, the government plans to lease a certain businessman land for $25,000 a year that he may have acquired illegally. How does the government see paying down the enormous debt while undervaluing prime real estate? Moreover, what does the government plan on saying about equality and access? Can everyone then apply to lease the same amount of land for the same amount of money? Is there no threat to the sovereignty of the country should everyone decide to follow this trend? Where do the small folks factor into this equation?

Silence has once again descended over the Simms Point discussion despite the confusion that remains over whether both Clifton Land and Sea Park were created by the existing legislation or just the land park. Apparently, it was the only the land park. Is this misinformation or simply a mistake of understanding?

As the country slows to the post-school fee September crawl and a lack of tourist dollar injection encouraged by high crime rates and numerous warnings not to venture far afield nor with money, the danger that we seem to be venturing towards is even clearer than the Titanic running into the glacier, or apparently so.

What this all brings to mind is a special relationship another Caribbean country had with another fabulous character. Antigua, if we remember, created a kingdom or fiefdom that unraveled gloriously in the press and spectacularly on the world stage. That relationship saw great riches being shared with a few entrusted conspirators. It also saw the rise of unsecured insurance companies and banks that gave people great deals, but failed to be there when they needed them. To some degree, that country basically became the private playground for a private person. This kind of personal plantation is an interesting consideration given the long hard fight for democracy during slavery and colonialism.

That country, when the dust settled after the 2008 debacle and the demise of Stanfordshire or the kingdom, has still not recovered from the fallout. Yet we in The Bahamas seem to have decided that we want to go down that path. The road has already been paved with a very crimson tar that warns drivers along this high way to drive carefully if at all. Why privatize an entire country? Do we want to follow the pattern of the rich eastern countries that are effectively kingdoms run by one family or a few corporations? Could this be the government’s answer to development? Be that as it may, the country has decided to sell the highway to the knight and the knight can do with it what he will. We are here to be used. In the meantime, at the GEF conference, the government is committing itself to sustainable environmental or green development. How is privatizing the land to one person sustainable? Land does not re-grow or expand; it is not replaceable.

The worry with all of this is that when Stanford left Antigua, or was forced to leave, he left an economy quite devastated by his impact. He also had devastating influence across the length and breadth of the Caribbean. This is not dissimilar to the CLICO disaster that left hundreds of thousands of people reeling from the insurance company’s failure while national leaders insisted that citizens continue to pay their policies, the company was dead and gone, and people were caught paying thousands of unrecoverable dollars for ineffective policies.

So, how is it that the Clifton Sea Park has been created as well as the land park, according to some, when only the land park exists? Where is the sea park enacting legislation? Kindly show us where the knight has paid for the protection of the area, when others were providing the funds. History is a dangerous field, especially when it can be so easily and so completely rewritten to say what the new writers want it to say. There was a book that said we must be particularly careful of self-proclaimed saviors, which one was it?

When did it become legal to empower someone who has illegally obtained goods to lease those same goods? But The Bahamas, like Antigua, is a land of pirates and privateers. What precedent does this set nationally as well as through the region, not to mention across the common law? How does government plan to make equitable such investment? Is it understood that by privatizing these lands without any clear legal right to control, they are surrendering them to become private kingdoms? Shall we then begin to sell the sea as well? Or has this already been done and no one realizes it yet? Is there a plan to contain the fallout from these deals?

Sustainable development is more than a catch phrase of development and it is certainly more than a few people running a private enclave or taking back a country that was never theirs, as they had claimed. Bahamians, where are our brains? We have suddenly started believing what public persons say even though they sang to a different tune a few years ago when their lawns were otherwise watered. How does the government claim to be striving towards national sustainable development and equality/equity when fewer people are being left with the entire pie? In all of this, perhaps the biggest question to ask is who is really benefiting from this, is it the country? Or are a few very well-known persons who have a vested interest in every aspect of the place, but have questionable objectives, making out like bandits?

Is the role of government to work to dis-empower the masses through insane land deals, bogus legislation and privatization grants, to get rid of Crown land which they hold in trust for the people of the country at fire-sale prices, or to work on behalf of the people and promote inclusive development as many of the speakers offered today, including the MP? Perhaps he needs to send his speech to other ministries in the system. They obviously missed that memo.

The Internet reveals a great deal of misconduct especially. Is it for this reason that people feel they cannot speak out against national destruction in favor of territorial privatization? The trend seems clear. National TV has become a space that can be bought to speak to the masses, much like BP did after the disaster in the Gulf. Stanford was unable to defend himself in such a manner because, while he owned the country, there was no need, and once he was removed from his kingdom he was no longer able to speak on anyone’s behalf, except to and through lawyers and judges. While the example has already been clearly set and the road is obviously paved in diamonds and rubies, not to mention the gold curbs and the titanium boulevards, how can we still entertain simply giving over government to one private man? Did someone vote for him? Did the country decide to empower him to run government? How can we condone allowing one man to legislate what happens in government and so the country? How can we simply sit back and allow our patrimony to be divvied up like a pie and the population left with nothing?

In Marie Antoinette’s words “let them eat cake”. Only, the cake is done and the rats took the container and the roaches the crumbs. There is nothing left. Do the benefits of privatizing paradise far outweigh the risks of creating another Stanfordshire?

– Ian A. Bethell Bennett



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