Fresh concerns have been raised about a lack of clarity and direction in relation to Government’s plans for two multi-million-dollar projects – the construction of a new sugar factory and the establishment of a power plant using waste to generate electricity.
Businessman Andy Armstrong raised the issue on Wednesday during a question and answer segment of the 55th Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) annual general meeting. The segment followed an attention-gripping presentation by Republic Bank chairman Ronald Harford, in which he called for constitutional reform in order to give Barbadians more say on national development issues.
Armstrong complained that it seemed that “the people in the higher echelon of Government” controlled “so much” and showed some unwillingness to make full disclosure on some issues.
“Take, for example, we are thinking of spending [more than] $500 million as a country to build a new sugar factory, yet we haven’t got the sugar cane growers on board,” he said.
He went on: “I think they are spending [close to] $300 million on the waste-to-energy plant. From what I understand, even the Ministry of Energy doesn’t really know what the Ministry of the Environment is doing . . . . There seems to be this disconnect and unwillingness to really share what is going on because those two things are huge visions for the country and somehow we need to ventilate those more widely.”
Armstrong said he wanted to know how citizens could “persuade those who hold the levers of power or guard the gates that it is not acceptable to do things in secret, that we really need to open that up to a wider discussion for all of us in the country.”
About two years ago, Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resources Management Dr David Estwick announced that a US$270 million state-of-the-art multi-purpose sugar factory would be constructed.
Also in 2013, Minister of Environment and Drainage, Dr Denis Lowe, announced that Government was on a fast track to introduce a green energy programme that would include an ultramodern waste-to-energy plant that should be in operation in Barbados by the end of this year as long as everything goes to plan.
Since then, very little has been said in terms of an update on both projects.
Responding to Armstrong’s concern, Harford said while he did not have the answer, the lack of clarity from leaders was “a challenge around the world”.
“But I can tell you if you don’t play your part and let the people in power know that you are not standing for it and you are not happy about it, they will get away with it. It will continue and you need to stand as a people and say we don’t stand for this. We are not prepared to tolerate this situation,” he said.
Saying that politicians were the servants of the people, the Republic Bank chairman said democracy seemed to have evolved to “wrest the power from the people”.
“You have put them in there to do a specific job and you must hold them to account. You have to hold them to account and somewhere inside of there, you need to make a stand and have your voice heard and your tolerance level demonstrated that this not what we are going to tolerate,” said Harford.
Contributing to the discussion, construction magnate Sir Charles Williams questioned “how can a project be taken forward when the people that are going to produce the material for that project are not with it, are not advised, and do not know of all of the implications?”
“Yes, there are some things I see that are encouraging but it is a dangerous thing in Barbados to lift your head above the radar,” he added.