There is a fascinating row exploding between social and political activist David Comissiong and Government, particularly Minister of Industry Donville Inniss, over construction of the multi-million dollar Hyatt Centric Resort on Bay Street, The City.
With foreign reserves falling to dangerously low levels, and with a general election around the corner, Government is understandably eager to see the start of the project. Pictures of lots of people working on a construction site look good on campaign posters, while images of people sitting idle with nothing to do in a struggling economy do little to win votes.
In this context, it is easy to understand Inniss’ frustrations with Comissiong, who has filed a lawsuit challenging the process through which permission was granted to developer Mark Maloney to build the US$100 million, 15-storey property.
As far as the minister is concerned, it is a vainglorious attempt by the social activist to stand in the way of progress, stymie development, deprive Barbadians of job opportunities and score cheap political points.
“When you seek to damage the reputation of the country that my children have to grow up in, my nieces and nephews and my constituents, I cry shame on you,” Inniss said this week of Comissiong’s objection to the project.
On the other hand, Comissiong contends that all he wants is to protect the country for Inniss’ children, his nieces and nephews and Barbadian children yet unborn by demanding an environment impact assessment (EIA), including full consultation with residents, to determine whether or not the hotel can be built there.
It is an issue that has divided opinion, as the comments on the Barbados TODAY blogs demonstrate, and both sides are convinced they are in the right. Understandably, Barbadians who are struggling to find employment are thirsty for progress, prosperity and projects that will create jobs.
But then there are those who ask, to what end?
We are not about to take sides in this row. However, with tomorrow being observed globally as Earth Day, this is a good time to pause and reflect. It is a good time to ask what kind of country we wish to have, to nurture, and to leave for the minister’s children, his nieces and nephews, and Barbadians yet unborn?
Are we prepared to so radically change our landscape that we lose what has made us attractive in the first place? Must we allow the degradation of our environment in the name of progress?
There will always be conflict between the desire for profit and the protection of our environment; for greater development and the need to safeguard our planet; for the thirst to create wealth and the pressure to save Mother Earth.
The point is we need not sacrifice the environment at the altar of jobs; we ought not ransom the quality of the air we breathe or the waters in which we swim in the name of development; we must not mortgage the ecosystem and call it progress.
Rather, we must find the right balance by taking a long term view – remember it is about our children, our civilization, which we must not sacrifice for short term luxury.
What, then, can we do?
We must ensure that any developmental project subscribes to high and strict environmental guidelines; and existing ones should be given a deadline by which to adapt and meet these standards or face stiff fines. We must transition decisively away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, including getting rid of diesel guzzling public buses; we must be serious about creating enterprises in renewable energy; and we must give people a say in major development projects that stand to impact on their immediate environments. If anything, we must learn from the Cahill project fiasco. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will be a start, and Governments must play a leadership role to make this happen.
On a personal basis, we really must stop stifling our marine life by the wanton and indiscriminate dumping of rubbish, including plastic and styrofoam. And, let’s begin to go shopping with our reusable bags.
We must move forward with a common understanding that we owe it to ourselves and Mother Nature to protect the only earth that we have, and to recognize that what we do to our surroundings, we do to ourselves.
So let is act now, otherwise we might be destroying the very attributes that make Barbados stand out, thereby stealing from ourselves, while depriving our children and generations yet unborn, all in the name of progress and development.
Happy Earth Day!