Mr David Comissiong is not the archetypal enemy of the state. Nor for that matter is any citizen of Barbados who exercises his or her democratic right to question the actions of Government or seeks to ensure that all legal and traditional processes are followed in the conduct of the state’s affairs.
We applaud the Freundel Stuart Government in attempting to attract investment into Barbados, to generate foreign exchange, to provide employment opportunities for citizens and generally, to further the development of the island. Barbadians should be mature enough and sufficiently patriotic to support any initiative that redounds to the benefit of the country, irrespective of who occupies Ilaro Court.
And we also laud Mr Comissiong for insisting that all processes – legal and customary – be followed in ventures undertaken by Government. As a trained attorney-at-law, Mr Comissiong does not appear outlandish or political for insisting that all the necessary and established protocols be followed in the Hyatt Centric project.
When ordinary citizens attempt to build or extend their homes, businesses, horse stables or pig pens, they must first conform to any rules or regulations which might be in place to regulate such construction or extension. It is true that often the process of getting approval and meeting certain requirements can be tedious and frequently seeming a waste of time. But rules are rules.
We do not suggest that the major players behind the Hyatt Hotel project have broken any rules. No sane developer would attempt to pour millions into a project without first ensuring that all the necessary paper work was in place. However, we have had examples before where because of political promises and patronage, certain procedures were circumvented or simply ignored because it was expedient to do so at the time.
That Mr Comissiong has insisted on an environmental impact study being conducted before the project gets off the ground is not an unreasonable request. And this is whether required by law or not. Such studies in Barbados have been the norm previously on other major state and private sector projects. Thus there is precedent to support the social activist’s call. That Mr Comissiong has insisted on town hall meetings where residents and business owners in close proximity to the project get the opportunity to ask questions and voice any concerns, is not an unreasonable request. Again, there is precedent to support his call.
With a General Election due within the next ten months, it comes as no surprise that Government would wish to have the project started as soon as possible. Projects such as that at Pickering, St Lucy and Four Seasons have not come to fruition under the Freundel Stuart administration’s watch and the Hyatt Hotel would be a timely political boost. If the Opposition Barbados Labour Party were the Government of the day, it would also be pushing for a speedy start to the project and for the same reasons. It is politics. We understand that and neither party would be diminished in our equation for seeking to gain political mileage.
But Mr Comissiong’s main contention – on the surface – does not relate to the politics of the situation, but with Government’s compliance with established procedure. He has been consistent in his public articulation of the reasons for his objections to the project and with his application before the High Court that has stalled the start of construction.
Now the controversy has taken a rather peculiar turn. And if history can be used as a guide, it does not ring strange that St Lucy Member of Parliament Mr Denis Kellman is the individual taking the argument into outer space. Mr Kellman had this to say on the floor of the Lower House yesterday: “I find it very shortsighted of some people who cannot appreciate that any development that comes close to London Bourne Towers or Nelson Street or so on, can only be a positive and not a negative.
“And anybody who stands in the way should be seen as an enemy not only of the State, but must be seen as an enemy to the people who are also living in the London Bourne Towers, because they are depriving them of an opportunity of having a job, of being able to provide a service to service the debt, or service the liability that they have with the NHC [National Housing Corporation] at some point in time.”
Really, Mr Kellman?
We believe that even in the hurly burly of politics, there is nothing wrong with logic occasionally nesting and the cranium being regularly engaged whenever the mouth is opened. We have seen no instance in this matter where Mr Comissiong has sought anything other than for Government to follow established practices. The Hyatt Hotel project might prove to be the greatest thing to come to the City of Bridgetown. It might be the greatest complement to the London Bourne Towers. But that has not been Mr Comissiong’s focus.
There are too many instances in Barbados – from Greenland, St Andrew to Brittons Cross Road, St Michael – where protocols were not followed and the voices of the people ignored to everyone’s detriment. Perhaps a few more enemies of the state are needed to ensure that transparency, accountability and procedure are respected.