Back on July 5, 1775 the continental congress, which served as the Government of the 13 American colonies that later became the United States, approved the Olive Branch Petition as a final attempt by the colonists to avoid going to war with Britain.
The Olive Branch Petition was meant to appease King George III who was facing a rebellion over a number of laws and taxes, which the colonists felt were punitive,
And even as they pledged their loyalty to the crown and asserted their rights as British citizens, they also asked the King to give the colonists their rights by repealing the unjust laws and taxes waged on them.
It is reported that King George rejected the petition without even reading it, and in 1776 the colonists declared independence from Britain.
There are no such dramatic developments in the case surrounding the Hyatt Resort Centric, which has been earmarked for Bay Street, The City, but has been caught in a welter of procedural technicalities.
And only time will dictate the historical significance of the legal action by social activist and attorney-at-law David Comissiong that triggered a series of actions that shot down the US$100 million hotel even before it got off the ground.
However, Mr Comissiong yesterday offered his own olive branch – though not a continental congress type petition – which could dramatically change the course of the Hyatt episode.
Having been involved in a lengthy legal battle with then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in his capacity as Minister responsible for Town Planning, Mr Comissiong – who in the latter days of the last election campaign revealed his political colours by openly supporting the Barbados Labour Party – told Barbados TODAY he was prepared to settle the matter if the Mia Mottley administration were willing to meet a couple of his key demands.
From the very beginning, Mr Comissiong opposed the project on environmental grounds and has insisted on an environmental impact assessment, to include town hall meetings with the people most likely to be affected, and he said he was not willing to budge on this demand.
He also wants Ms Mottley to drop the appeal filed by Mr Stuart after a High Court judge ruled that the social activist had a legal right to seek a legal review of the then Prime Minister’s decision to grant permission for the beachfront project.
But Mr Comissiong had also long contended that the planned 15-storey twin structure was out of the question because it would violate the law, which restricts such properties near the beach to five stories. Will he budge on this, or will he demand that the developers produce a new plan that comply with the law?
Interestingly, it was only yesterday evening that Ms Mottley announced she would meeting next week with Hyatt developer Mark Maloney, a man she so viciously attacked during the election campaign that it seemed at times that she considered him a worthier opponent that Mr Stuart.
The meeting with Mr Maloney will be one in a series with the developers of all major projects on the island “to begin to understand where their developments are, what are the obstacles that are currently blocking them, if any, and what are the things that need to be addressed to facilitate it”.
Let’s remind Ms Mottley of what has stalled the Hyatt. After Mr Comissiong’s repeated calls for and EIA was ignored by Mr Stuart, who proceeded to grant permission for its construction, he sought a legal review of the decision, the then Prime Minister challenged his legal standing and lost, therefore he appealed and the matter is still before the court.
Ms Mottley does not need Mr Maloney to explain this to her. It’s public knowledge. Therefore, when she meets with the developer, what will she tell him?
Will she demand the EIA? Will she ask that he resubmits a plan that satisfies the legal standards? While she’s at it, will she order him to take down the structure at Spring Garden Highway and the island at Coverley? Or will it be business as usual? And, how does she intend to reconcile the obvious differences between the needs of Mr Maloney and Mr Comissiong.
There are those who might wish to accuse Mr Comissiong of fetishizing proper process, and who dislike fastidiousness. But he takes his responsibility as a defender of our democracy seriously, and, as we saw with both the Hyatt case and the fingerprinting issue before it, he gets it right legally.
Therefore, his olive branch has put the ball squarely in Ms Mottley’s court and it will be interesting to see how she plays it. Will she, like King George did back in 1775, reject it without even seeing it and risk a lengthy legal battle? And how will be Maloney situation play out?
Mr Comissiong might not have realized it, but by offering her this olive branch he has put the Prime Minister in a situation where she might be forced to perform political gymnastics.
But she must make a decision that is in the best interest of the country. And unlike the popular television game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, she cannot ask the host.