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 Bahamas Commentary

2003-06-18 15:58:55

The Environment And Development

The government must do all in its power to make the correct judgement concerning the balance which must be struck between 'clean' industries like tourism and its 'dirty' industrial counterparts.

The Bahamas is touted worldwide for its beauty and charm. People from the industrial north of the world visit The Bahamas and similarly situated island states, most of them in search of earthly paradises. Indeed, it is this face of The Bahamas which endears it to so many people from the United States of America. Kerzner International's wonderfully beautiful Atlantis Resort complex epitomises all of this and more in tourism.

While this story is fine as it goes, there is another dimension to the matter of what happens in small island developing states such as The Bahamas when they come up against multinational giants interested in brining business to this country.

For example, the Government of The Bahamas is today trying to focus its mind on a development project which promises much in terms of jobs, but also one which is shrouded in a degree of controversy. Our reference is to the proposal for the construction of a facility which would deliver liquefied gas to a Florida destination. Some critics are suggesting that this project will expose the Bahamas to any number of unwarranted ecological stresses, thus in the long run obviating any short-term benefits. These observers also make the point that this project conflicts with the clean image The Bahamas projects for itself in tourism circles.

While some of the more extreme critics of these kinds of developments are to be faulted for some of their more dire ecological scenarios, their core concern about the fragility of the nation's eco systems cannot and should not be cavalierly dismissed.

Our considered view is that the government should review the proposal in front of it, taking into consideration the longer term implications and ramifications for the growth and development of the Bahamian Nation. This - of necessity - must take into consideration the inter-related themes of environment, investment and development.

At the broadest level, the Christie government should search for and find the best information available which would assist it in making up its mind on the potential impact of a decision in the affirmative on the gas pipeline proposal.

Second, the government would be well advised to re-examine the broader issues - related to these kinds of capital - intensive projects, to determine the extent to which jobs created can or will be filled by Bahamians, and the extent to which these returns off-set foreseeable and potential costs.

On a much broader terrain, the government is also obliged to make a judgement as to how a venture such as the gas pipeline project fits in with larger issues concerning national development.

The government must do all in its power to make the correct judgement concerning the balance which must be struck between 'clean' industries like tourism and its 'dirty' industrial counterparts.

As we are acutely aware, ecological concerns cannot be ignored when government is contemplating and considering approval for any project. Whenever a decision is made to intervene at any point in any natural system, there are consequences. Some of these can be predicted, while others are manifested later.

What is sometimes ignored in these calculations are cultural issues concerning changes to human settlements. Here again the question of costs and benefits arise. The politically important question, then, is to determine whether a proposed project is palatable to a broad cross section of informed opinion in the country. We emphasize the word 'informed' to underscore the need for the government to provide the public with information available concerning ecological best practices. Once public opinion is informed by the best knowledge available, the public which must ultimately bear the costs, would be in a better position to understand what is involved.

The point we underscore is that opinion is of little consequence when it is uninformed. Our caveat is that even where town meetings and other forums are established, they should be held under auspices which are knowledgeable, dispassionate and objective.

In the ultimate analysis, however, the proverbial buck stops at the desk of the Prime Minister, who must ultimately give or deny a go ahead for the pipeline project or any other venture. The same situation applies today as the Christie government decides its mind on the issue at hand.

Editorial, The Bahama Journal

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