Archive | October, 2014

Bid to Protect Bimini Mangroves Goes International

Experts call on the Bahamas government to live up to its promise and protect marine resources that sustain crucial local industries.  Save The Bays recently released a video which was taken when experts visited the proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve  recently.   Pictured is an excavator digs near mangroves in Bimini as part of RWB’s mega-resort construction. Watch the video via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skAN-53eWcI&feature=youtu.be

Experts call on the Bahamas government to live up to its promise and protect marine resources that sustain crucial local industries. Save The Bays recently released a video which was taken when experts visited the proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve recently. Pictured is an excavator digs near mangroves in Bimini as part of RWB’s mega-resort construction. Watch the video via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skAN-53eWcI&feature=youtu.be

Experts call on Bahamas government to live up to its promise and protect marine resources that sustain crucial local industries

International conservation experts are urging the government to fulfill its promise and protect Bimini’s unique ecological heritage and the local industries that have depended upon it for generations.

The experts, hosted on a tour of Bimini by fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays (STB), called for the official establishment of the North Bimini Marine Reserve. Among other important natural resources, the NBMR would protect mangrove forests that serve as a nursery for the abundant sea life that has attracted so many visitors to the island over the years in the latest Save The Bay’s release on their youtube channel (http://bit.ly/1wb4rJ4).

“From an ecological perspective, its incredibly important to maintain these mangroves in order to maintain the whole marine ecosystem,” said Rachael Silverstein, the Waterkeeper for Biscayne Bay, Florida.

Map of Proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve

Map of Proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve

“This is one of the only mangrove locations in this area and all of the important species that come from the Gulfstream, that people like to fish, have habitats here and live in the nurseries here and if we destroy that we also destroy our fishing industry and our diving industry and the repercussions can be felt across the Caribbean, across The Bahamas and certainly in Miami – we won’t be able to come here anymore to fish, to dive or snorkel.”

Like Silverstein, several of the visitors are senior members of the global Waterkeeper Alliance, a leading NGO that coordinates more than 200 stewards of the marine environment, or Waterkeepers, who are assigned to rivers, bays, lakes and coastal areas around the world.

Sharon Khan, international director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the NBMR is one of several key protected areas that the organization is advocating for around the world.

“I believe there is nothing more important than establishing marine reserves in ecosystems throughout this world that sustain our global life,” she said.

Alex Matthiessen, former Hudson Bay Waterkeeper, now CEO of the Blue Marble Project, said: “The (Bahamas) government’s already established that they want to create this reserve, but they need to formalize it. They need to make it a legal reserve.

“The wetlands at the north end of the lagoon are incredibly important and are therefore vital to the local businesses and industries here.”

The voices of these and other noted international conservationists have leant strength to the many concerned Biminites and other Bahamians who want to see the island’s rich ecological heritage preserved.

North South East Point at Proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve

North South East Point at Proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve

But Prime Minister Perry Christie has yet to respond to any of these entreaties, including a letter from Bimini’s local council requesting that the NBMR become reality as soon as possible.

The council asked that the Christie administration commit to the protected area swiftly, in an effort to ensure that developers do not construct a golf course on the island and to prevent any further development on the northern tip of North Bimini.

The letter said: “It has become commonplace that major developments occur on our island without notice to its residents or to this elected council. We therefore respectfully ask that you respond to these requests as quickly as possible.”

The golf course in question was among the plans for Resorts World Bimini’s (RWB) controversial resort and casino development which has already caused extensive damage to the island’s renowned reef system, including many of the top dive sites in the region.

Local advocacy group the Bimini Blue Coalition has issued a petition calling on the government to establish the NBMR as repeatedly promised. It has more than 600 signatures to date (http://chn.ge/1te6YzD).

Despite RWB’s insistence that the golf course is now off the table, STB director Romi Ferreira said the pattern of frequently changing plans has left many skeptical and in need of official assurance.

As for the claim by Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray that the government is only waiting for conservationists to decide on the boundaries of the NBMR, Ferreira pointed out that its proposed parameters have long been established.

In 2012, the Bimini Marine Protected Area Campaign submitted detailed images and descriptions of the proposed boundaries to government, including precise map coordinates.

Ferreira said the ball is now in the government’s court – and a continued delay will be interpreted as a sign that the Christie administration is not serious about preserving the country’s priceless environmental resources for future generations of Bahamians.

To learn more about the conservationists’ tour, and the ongoing efforts to protect the environment and traditional way of life in The Bahamas, visit: https://www.youtube.com/user/ProtectCliftonBay.  You can also learn more about Save The Bays on their website or Facebook page.

 

Students Urged to Stand Up For Their Rights

The Harry C. Moore Library at the College of The Bahamas was filled to capacity for the lecture on the importance of a Freedom of Information Act

The Harry C. Moore Library at the College of The Bahamas was filled to capacity for the lecture on the importance of a Freedom of Information Act

Attorney tells packed COB lecture hall that lack of government transparency threatens access to justice in The Bahamas

Local attorney Dawson Malone challenged College of The Bahamas (COB) students to stand up for their rights and join the nationwide groundswell of support for the swift passage of a Freedom of Information Act.

Malone, attorney for pioneer social and environmental advocacy movement Save The Bays (STB), addressed a capacity crowd at COB’s Harry C. Moore Library Wednesday during the first installment of the “Our Right to Know” lecture series. Other presenters included retired Justice Jeanne Thompson and assistant professor Lisa Benjamin.

“If I were to ask any of you in this room, do we have rights in this country, you would most likely say yes, we do. You would say, ‘I have a constitution’. But it makes no sense to have a right if you don’t have a way to ventilate that right,” Malone said.

He said the culture of official secrecy that dominates The Bahamas continues to stifle citizens’ rights and access to justice in a number of ways.

Save The Bays attorney Dawson Malone addresses the first installment of the “Our Right to Know” lecture series at COB. He urged students in particular to join the fight for a more just and transparent Bahamas

Save The Bays attorney Dawson Malone addresses the first installment of the “Our Right to Know” lecture series at COB. He urged students in particular to join the fight for a more just and transparent Bahamas

Pointing to STB’s ongoing campaign against the detrimental effects of unregulated development, Malone explained that frequently, requests for information about large-scale projects are simply ignored by government officials.

But when, as a final resort, concerned citizens take the matter to court, they often find the deadline for legally challenging a given project had long passed – often before the existence of the project even came to light.

“If there is a decision by a government official or a minister who is vested with a duty under an Act of Parliament, and you are aggrieved by that decision, you are at liberty to move the court in order to challenge that decision,” he said.

“Now that seems simple enough – but is it? Under the principle of judicial review there must be a decision you can point to and challenge. So in order to do that, you must have knowledge of the decision.”

Malone gave the example of the Wilson City Power Plant case, which made headlines in 2008 when Abaco residents first became aware of plans for the facility, where the government had intended to burn highly toxic Bunker C fuel.

Residents sought to challenge the proposal due to health and environmental concerns – only to discover that because the decision was actually made back in 2005, but kept secret, the six-month deadline for judicial review had already passed.

Malone said: “If I’m relying on access to the court to vindicate my rights, then I need access to the information, otherwise the process is meaningless. Why is everything kept secret? Why am I shut out of court?”

The Wilson City decision was ultimately overturned by the Court of Appeal, but at a significant cost to its opponents.

“Who in here is going to be able to afford that kind of legal work?” Malone asked. “Why must I have to fight for what I am entitled to? The constitution tells me I am entitled to protection under the law, so why is the law not protecting me?”

Even worse, he said, Wilson City turned out to be a pyrrhic victory; since the facility had already been built, despite agreeing with the residents the Court of Appeal decided against removing it.

“All of it may have been avoided,” Malone said. “If we had a Freedom of Information Act, we may not have had a power plant in the location it is today.”

He went on to discuss other recent high-profile cases, including the challenge against the large-scale dredging operation that destroyed a huge swath of pristine coral reef off the coast of Bimini.

Despite a valiant effort by Save The Bays and other concerned citizens, this case had to be abandoned after the challengers were order to pay a huge amount of money “just see the case continue,” Malone said.

“Security for cost was ordered in the sum of $315,000 simply to challenge whether or not permits exist to dredge – to destroy the reef – in a community where persons live off of sea life. It’s sad. That is difficult to swallow as an example of access to justice,” he said.

Retired Justice Jeanne Thompson said the Freedom of Information Act passed by the former government was deficient in a number of areas and needs to be completely rewritten.

Retired Justice Jeanne Thompson said the Freedom of Information Act passed by the former government was deficient in a number of areas and needs to be completely rewritten.

Malone said yet again, the outcome could have been different had an FOIA been in place, as residents could have applied to see all the relevant permits and approvals without ever having to go before a judge.

“Study, read and know your rights”, he told the students. “I want all of you to take up the charge and make a contribution to the concept of ‘I need to know’.

“I mean that seriously. Because, if that power plant was built outside your bedroom, how would you feel?

“Without the passage of a Freedom of Information Act, as perceived under the international treaties, your fundamental rights may, in given circumstances, be rendered otiose – it’s that simple.”

The treaties to which Malone referred were the subject of Professor Benjamin’s earlier presentation.

She explained that developing out of a number of recent international agreements, there exists today a strong movement in Latin American and the Caribbean towards a comprehensive regional instrument that would guarantee access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters.

The aims of this instrument, Professor Benjamin said, will be to strengthen democracy and uphold the rule of law in a way that makes governments accountable to the citizens.

“Every country that signs on to the regional instrument will have a national focal point, where you request information, where you request to participate, where you request access to justice,” she said.

There are now 18 countries involved in this process, however The Bahamas is not yet one of them.

“Little St. Vincent and the Grenadines – they say they can do it. I don’t see why we can’t do it as well,” Professor Benjamin said.

Justice Jeanne Thompson’s presentation focused on the shortcomings of the FOIA Act passed by the former Free National Movement government.

Among other deficiencies, she noted that under the Act, the minister tasked with overseeing the process is permitted to reject applications for information if he or she deems disclosure to be against “the public interest” – yet the meaning of this term is not defined in the law.

Justice Thompson added that the Act also allows for whatever “exceptions, adaptations, or modifications” to a requested document that minister considers appropriate; and that in some cases, the decision to reject an application cannot be questioned or appealed.

COB assistant professor Lisa Benjamin explains how the Caribbean-Latin American region is moving towards a common standard of ensuring freedom of information and access to justice.

COB assistant professor Lisa Benjamin explains how the Caribbean-Latin American region is moving towards a common standard of ensuring freedom of information and access to justice.

“If he says the record is exempt, there can be no judicial proceedings or quasi-judicial proceedings of any kind entertained in relation to his decision,” Justice Thompson said.

“The question I ask myself is, if this Act were in force now, the things that we are asking for information about, would we be getting it? I don’t see it.

“We would still be in the position of awaiting a whistleblower to tell us what is going on. I really think this entire Act has to be reworked,” she said.

The “Our Right to Know” lecture series is part of a two-year collaboration between Save The Bays and the College of The Bahamas to raise awareness of the vital importance of citizens’ rights and government transparency.

The focus of the second installments in the series, the date of which will soon be announced, will be importance of conducting transparent Environmental Impact Assessments before developments are given the green light, and the critical need for an overarching Environmental Protection Act to preserve the natural resources of The Bahamas for the benefit of future generations.

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of the archipelago from unregulated development has transformed into a broad-based coalition that is at the forefront of both social and environmental issues.

Nygard’s Attorney Letter Branded ‘Pathetic Smoke Screen’

Fred Smith, QC, says a conspiracy claim by Peter Nygard’s US attorney is no more than a smoke screen designed to keep potentially damaging evidence from being produced.

Fred Smith, QC, says a conspiracy claim by Peter Nygard’s US attorney is no more than a smoke screen designed to keep potentially damaging evidence from being produced.

Unsupported claims of FNM conspiracy dismissed as a weak attempt by fashion designer to mask his own ties to the governing PLP party

 

Nassau, Bahamas – The claims that the opposition FNM is involved in a conspiracy against Peter Nygard were yesterday dismissed as an “utter fiction” designed to disguise the controversial fashion designer’s own ties to the governing PLP.

Fred Smith, QC, legal director for Save The Bays, said the conspiracy claim by Nygard’s US attorney Marc Kasowitz, made without any supporting evidence, is also an attempt to keep the lid on a wealth of potentially damaging video evidence produced by whistleblower and former Nygard employee, Stephen Feralio.

“This irresponsible conspiracy theory is nothing more than a pathetic smokescreen, an utter fiction concocted in an attempt to stop the truth from getting out. Quite frankly, it smacks of desperation,” Smith said. “The truth will come out!”

“Clearly, they will try anything to stop Feralio’s footage from seeing the light of day, as they fear it may not only reveal the true extent of Nygard’s questionable dealings with the PLP, but also may prove what we’ve been saying all along – that the construction work at Nygard Cay was undertaken unlawfully.”

For nearly two years, STB has been waging a legal battle to show that Nygard’s imposing Mayan-themed development was constructed without the proper permits and approvals, and in a manner that caused significant damage to the surrounding environment – all while doubling the original size of the property by reclaiming publicly-owned Crown Land from the seabed.

Smith said his group has never conspired with the FNM or anyone else, as its only concerns are protecting the environment, and upholding due process and the rule of law.

STB has filed subpoenas with a New York court requesting the release of thousands of hours of footage taken by Feralio. In his letter, Kasowitz called for the scope of the discovery to be narrowed considerably, claiming the effort is wasting valuable time.

Smith panned this suggestion however, noting that if anyone has been stalling court matters, it has been Nygard’s team and the government.

He pointed out that the fashion designer’s former lawyer Keod Smith caused the original case – concerning the legality of construction at Nygard Cay – to be delayed for more than 18 months through a variety of “irresponsible” tactics, including unfounded personal attacks on the presiding judge.

“The time sensitivity of judicial reviews is a point that our side has stressed from the very beginning,” Smith said. “For a member of Nygard’s legal team to suddenly show concern over delays therefore smacks of hypocrisy.”

Smith explained that while the main case was being held up by Keod Smith’s “wild claims” – which included the suggestion that the judge herself was biased towards the FNM – the government decided to launch a consultation process over Nygard’s recent application to lease the land he illegally accrued, along with permission to continue expanding.

STB was granted two injunctions stopping this process, having argued that it was essentially meaningless as the majority of the relevant documents were never released.

“It is hypocritical of them to claim STB is causing any delays. In fact in STB JR1, the government, Nygard and Keod Smith each at the very start of the action filed applications for striking out the action, security for costs, and damages.

“In addition the government failed and refused to make discovery as per the initial court order. It was later agreed to hear the government’s application to set aside the discovery order. All of those applications will have to be heard before the trial of the JR.

“So quite apart from Keod Smith’s recusal delays, the JR 1 trial will be delayed as a result of all of their applications. At all times the record will reflect that we have tried to have matters heard.

“In addition, strike out applications have also been filed by the government in STB JR2 and 3. It is the government, Nygard and  Keod Smith who have consistently engaged in a pattern of delay , and in relation to the government, they have refused and failed  to make discovery of a matter that ought to be of public record; i.e. what is happening with our Crown land at Nygard Cay. Again, this is why the Bahamas desperately needs a Freedom of Information Act.”

In his letter, Mr Kasowitz claimed the driving force behind the alleged FNM-involved conspiracy is Nygard’s neighbor Louis Bacon, who has been accused of wanting to gain ownership Nygard Cay.

Smith said: “It is utter nonsense that STB’s  court case is part of some far-fetched plot to benefit Mr Bacon – an utterly laughable suggestion backed by no evidence whatsoever, and a clear example of the truism that paper will stay still and let you write anything on it.

“On the other hand, the evidence that this PLP government feels beholden to Mr Nygard and eager to grant his wishes, whether or not they are to the detriment of the Bahamian people, is overwhelming.”

He cited the 1992 letter in which Nygard reminds now Prime Minister Perry Christie of his generosity to the party and asks for certain tasks to be completed; the video “Nygard takes back The Bahamas” released shortly after the 2012 PLP victory; and images of current Cabinet ministers being entertained at Nygard Cay.

“Considering the close nature of this relationship, it is telling that Kasowitz has asked the court to narrow the focus of Feralio’s evidence to specifically exclude conversations and dealings involving government officials,” Smith said.

In particular, the US attorney’s letter described as “irrelevant”, any information sought on “payments, donations, gifts, presents, favors, monies, assistance and other consideration to current or former public officials or employees or their relatives.”

Mr Smith said: “On the contrary, we consider any such evidence to be of the utmost relevance, as we believe Mr Nygard has been allowed to blatantly flout the rules and regulations of this country to his own benefit and the detriment of the public interest, precisely as a result of his relationship with PLP officials – current or former.

“Save The Bays believes in the rule of law, whichever government is in power, PLP or FNM. The law is the law of the land – not the law of Nygard. That is why the courts are here; to uphold the law, irrespective of which party is in power.

“The law is the law, and the courts will apply it. This letter just shows how Nygard thinks.

“Yes, the process takes time. But, it is important for it to be measured, reasoned and deliberate, not rushed as in the way Nygard and the government have undertaken a crisis-driven consultation process to just try and rush his permits through.

“Simply put; there is no conspiracy as alleged by Nygard and STB is not guilty of any delays. We are not using the New York action to delay any court case in the Bahamas. If there is nothing to hide in those videos, why fight so hard to keep them secret?” he asked.

Smith: Bahamians are Last on PLP List of Priorities

Prominent attorney Fred Smith, QC, accused the PLP government of putting Bahamians last on its list of priorities – far behind the need to fulfill election-time promises to key party backers.

Prominent attorney Fred Smith, QC, accused the PLP government of putting Bahamians last on its list of priorities – far behind the need to fulfill election-time promises to key party backers.

Top lawyer says govt cares more about passing stem cell laws for a key party backer than freedom of information for all Bahamians

With stem cell therapy now officially underway in The Bahamas, prominent attorney Fred Smith, QC, accused government of fast-tracking laws for this controversial area of medicine at the behest of a key financial backer, while shelving legislation that is vital to the wellbeing of all Bahamians.

Responding to this week’s announcement that a stem cell facility in The Bahamas has performed its first procedure, Smith said that while a handful of connected individuals – most of them foreigners – are set to benefit from this contentious industry, Bahamians still have no Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to protect their most basic interests.

“Despite the PLP’s election promises, more than two years after they came to office, how can the government claim the still need time to work on an FOIA? It should have been among their very first considerations,” he said.

“Contrast this to the government’s sprint towards stem cell legislation. Just over a year after the election, they had already passed laws permitting and regulating this this hugely complex and highly disputed area of research, which has proved a conundrum for governments around the world.

“It was a move that hardly anyone was calling for, save admitted PLP backer Peter Nygard, who stated publicly he donated $5 million for stem cell research. I guess making him happy was more important than moving to bolster the rights of every single Bahamian.”

Swiftly enacting an FOIA was a stated priority of the PLP in the run-up to the May 2012 election. But once successful, the party went quiet on the issue.

Then, last month, following sustained pressure by advocacy groups – particularly Save The Bays (STB), of which Smith is a director – Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald announced that a revised version of the FOIA passed by the FNM administration in 2012 will not be presented to parliament before spring 2016.

“It is simply unacceptable,” Smith said. “Five years after the election promise and on the eve of the new election is far too long for the public to wait for transparency and accountability in government.

“An FOIA is exists in some form or other across the entire civilized world. It is a disgrace that The Bahamas is lagging so far behind in granting its citizens the fundamental right to know what is being done in their name and with their money by public servants and elected officials.”

Meanwhile, as early as November 2012, the government announced it was creating a special task force designed to review the pros and cons of stem cell research.

In April 2013, Nygard announced that he was planning to invest between $50-$55 million in constructing a stem cell research-focused medical facility at his Lyford Cay home.

Confidential minutes of a meeting between Mr Nygard and Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) officials obtained by the press, detail the Canadian multi-millionaire’s plans to add commercial uses to the property.

The very same day this story broke, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced that the government had met with researchers and investors interested in the country’s stem cell research plans.

Nygard has said he already donated $5 million to stem cell research. In early 2013, the opposition FNM claimed an inappropriate relationship leading to a Stem Cell Bill being introduced to parliament at the request of Nygard.

In response, Christie said he “can’t wait” for his chance to take the House floor and clear up the controversy, but then failed to set the record straight for months.

When on August 8, 2013 he finally broke his silence, it was only to say that Nygard’s stem cell research applications would be subjected to the same regulations and scrutiny as others.

“That is entirely beside the point,” Smith said. “No one asked the prime minister how he plans to treat Nygard going forward; we want Christie to explain why in the first place, he fulfilled the stated wishes of a financial backer before living up to his promises to The Bahamian people.

“Clearly, the Bahamian people are last on the PLP’s list of priorities – this after being elected to office with a slogan campaign of ‘believing in Bahamians’. An objective look at the way in which FOIA has been treated compared to stem cell research proves that in Bahamian politics, you can say almost anything. But at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words.”

STB has repeatedly criticized Nygard’s perceived influence over the PLP, most frequently with regard to the government’s failure to stop the fashion tycoon from expanding his imposing Mayan-themed development in Lyford Cay.

The group claims that over the last 30 years, Nygard Cay has nearly doubled in size as a result of construction works undertaken without the appropriate permits, and in a manner that caused significant damage to the surrounding environment of Clifton Bay.

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of the archipelago from unregulated development has transformed into a broad-based coalition that is at the forefront of both social and environmental issues. Calling for an environmental protection act, oil spill legislation, an FOIA and much needed conchservation laws, STB now has more than 500 registered members, almost 17,000 followers on Facebook and has just reached 6,000 signatures on its petition on change.org.

Freedom of Information Lecture Announced

Romi

Save The Bays and the College of The Bahamas set to host first in a series of talks entitled “Our Right to Know”

 

Save The Bays (STB) and the College of The Bahamas have announced a two-year partnership to raise awareness of the vital importance of citizens rights and government transparency through a series of lectures and panel discussions.

The first in the “Our Right to Know” series will be held on Wednesday, October 22 in the Harry C. Moore Library from 6 – 8:30pm. It will focus on the urgent need for a freedom of information act in The Bahamas. The Bahamas National Trust, BREEF and re Earth have also agreed to be sponsors of the lecture series.

Lisa_Benjamin_web

The panelists will be: retired Justice Jeanne Thompson, assistant professor Lisa Benjamin and attorney and social activist Romi Ferreira. Their discussion will be moderated by reEarth founder and STB director Sam Duncombe.

“Access to information is important for transparency within governance and to foster public participation in developmental decisions,” said Professor Benjamin, a lecturer in COB’s law program.

Sam-Duncombe

A key focus of the series will be the current lack of government transparency when it comes to the approval of developments – particularly those that are likely to have a negative impact on the surrounding environment.

Professor Benjamin said: “In a small island developing state such as ours, public participation is arguably necessary in order to promote better environmental decision making, and to assist with the delicate balance of sustainable development.”

Duncombe, a longtime environmental advocate said: “I am delighted that COB has partnered with the NGO community in bringing these poignant issues to the public. We look forward to collaborating further with the college to bring current critical issues and knowledgeable speakers to the fore and have the public actively engage in discussing them.”

Ferreira, also an STB director who has worked for decades to bring the law, citizens’ rights and environmental conservation together, said the timing of the lecture series could not be better.

Jeanne Thompson

“Save The Bays has been working very hard to transmit its message of transparency, accountability and environmental responsibility to the next generation of Bahamians, understanding that the fight to preserve the natural treasures of The Bahamas will ultimately fall to them.

“This partnership with COB will bring many bright young minds together with other concerned citizens and experienced advocates, just as the battle for freedom of information is coming to a head.

The lecture comes just days before a Freedom of Information Street Party, to be held on October 25 from 4 – 8pm at Van Brugels on Charlotte Street, hosted by STB and its community partners.

The event is free and will feature live music and food and drink for sale.

“The goal of the street party is to attract a huge turnout and demonstrate to the government that two years is too long to wait for a Freedom of Information Act. I have no doubt that very soon, all the concerned citizens of The Bahamas will join forces to present a unified front to our leaders in demanding transparency, accountability and the rule of law,” said Lindsey McCoy, CEO of STB.

The focus of the second installments in the series, the date of which will soon be announced, will be importance of conducting transparent Environmental Impact Assessments before developments are given the green light, and the critical need for an overarching Environmental Protection Act to preserve the natural resources of The Bahamas for the benefit of future generations.

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of the archipelago from unregulated development has transformed into a broad-based coalition that is at the forefront of both social and environmental issues. Calling for an environmental protection act, oil spill legislation, the freedom of information act and much needed conchservation laws.

Advocacy Giants Join Forces

Citizens for a Better Bahamas Partners with Save The Bays Fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays has gained a crucial partner in the fight for enhanced civic rights and government transparency in The Bahamas.  Citizens for a Better Bahamas is a non-partisan advocacy group that believes the government should exist to serve the needs of society and provide peace, order and in particular, good governance.  Pictured is a member of Citizens for a Better Bahamas going door-to-door to spread the message of good governance, transparency and accountability.

Citizens for a Better Bahamas Partners with Save The Bays
Fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays has gained a crucial partner in the fight for enhanced civic rights and government transparency in The Bahamas. Citizens for a Better Bahamas is a non-partisan advocacy group that believes the government should exist to serve the needs of society and provide peace, order and in particular, good governance. Pictured is a member of Citizens for a Better Bahamas going door-to-door to spread the message of good governance, transparency and accountability.

Citizens for a Better Bahamas the latest group to partner with Save The Bays as emerging ‘citizens’ rights revolution’ continues the march towards a unified front

 

Fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays has gained a crucial partner in the fight for enhanced civic rights and government transparency in The Bahamas.

Citizens for a Better Bahamas is a non-partisan advocacy group that believes the government should exist to serve the needs of society and provide peace, order and in particular, good governance.

“Citizens for a Better Bahamas is excited to join with Save The Bays as a community partner in our sustained commitment to create an engaged and informed society on matters of national importance,” said the group in an official statement.

“Our ongoing efforts to achieve the enactment of an efficient Freedom of Information Act and other key elements of good governance go hand in hand with the Save The Bays initiatives to improve the processes through which our precious environmental resources are employed and preserved.”

Founded in 2013 by a small group of Bahamians concerned about the government’s plant to impose Value-Added Tax on the nation, The Citizens quickly grew into a formidable voice for change on the national scene, sharing many of the aims and concerns of Save The Bays.

Save The Bays Gains a New Partner in Their Fight for an FOIA The Citizens advocate for the preservation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual; support ethical, accountable and transparent governance.  Founded in 2013 by a small group of Bahamians concerned about the government’s plant to impose Value-Added Tax on the nation, The Citizens quickly grew into a formidable voice for change on the national scene, sharing many of the aims and concerns of Save The Bays. (Photo courtesy of Save The Bays)

Save The Bays Gains a New Partner in Their Fight for an FOIA
The Citizens advocate for the preservation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual; support ethical, accountable and transparent governance. Founded in 2013 by a small group of Bahamians concerned about the government’s plant to impose Value-Added Tax on the nation, The Citizens quickly grew into a formidable voice for change on the national scene, sharing many of the aims and concerns of Save The Bays.
(Photo courtesy of Save The Bays)

The Citizens advocate for the preservation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual; support ethical, accountable and transparent governance; provide platforms to facilitate dialogue between the citizenry and government; deliver broad-based educational campaigns on social, economic, environmental and political issues impacting The Bahamas; and encourage unity, cooperation and collaboration across the Bahamian Diaspora.

“We believe that through the combined efforts of our organizations an even greater impact can be made in the development of a vibrant and relevant civil society sector in the Bahamas, thereby enhancing and broadening the scope of the national dialogue and fostering a culture of cooperation and mutual respect,” the statement said.

“Citizens For A Better Bahamas is encouraged by this partnership with Save The Bays as it demonstrates our commitment to our founding principle, which is a firm belief that: “Together We Are Better! Together We Can Build A Better Bahamas!”

Save The Bays CEO Lindsey McCoy agreed that the two groups are “natural partners” and said the alliance is an important development in the ongoing wave of social activism that has swept across The Bahamas over the last few years.

“In many ways, the progress of the Citizens mirrors that of Save The Bays,” she said. “Both groups were founded only a short time ago, both began with a handful of concerned citizens and a few core issues, and both have grown in both scope and influence, now commanding the attention of thousands of Bahamians.

“A partnership between these two giants of social advocacy, grounded in mutual recognition of the urgent need for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but also covering many other aspects of the fight for good governance, is a huge step forward in this ongoing citizens’ rights revolution,” she said. “We are thrilled to be working with them on our upcoming Freedom of Information Street Party on October 25 from 4 – 8 at Van Brugels on Charlotte Street in downtown Nassau. The event is free and will have live music and food and drink for sale. The goal of the event is a huge turn out to demonstrate to the Government that two years is too long to wait for a Freedom of Information Act.”

“I have no doubt that very soon, all the concerned citizens of The Bahamas will join forces to present a unified front to our leaders in demanding transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of the archipelago from unregulated development has transformed into a broad-based coalition that is at the forefront of both social and environmental issues. Calling for an environmental protection act, oil spill legislation, the freedom of information act and much needed conchservation laws.

STB now has more than 500 registered members, almost 17,000 followers on Facebook and has just reached 6,000 signatures on its petition on change.org.

Other community partners include: Abaco Cares, Andros Conservancy and Trust, Bahamas National Trust, Clifton Heritage National Park, Bahamas Reef Environment Foundation, Earth Care, The Island School, Friends of the Environment, reEarth, Save Guana Cay Reef, Responsible Development for Abaco, Swim for Ocean Survival, The Nature Conservancy Northern Caribbean Programme, the West End Eco-Fishing Camp Association and Young Marine Explorers.

Hundreds expected for massive Freedom of Information block party October 25

Freedom Call – FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis supporting Freedom of Information legislation at a rally in Rawson Square that drew representatives from some 20 organizations representing more than 60,000 members. A block party reinforcing the need for transparency in government is set for Charlotte Street South Saturday, October 25.

Freedom Call – FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis supporting Freedom of Information legislation at a rally in Rawson Square that drew representatives from some 20 organizations representing more than 60,000 members. A block party reinforcing the need for transparency in government is set for Charlotte Street South Saturday, October 25.

A massive downtown Nassau street party aimed at creating an urgent call for transparency in government transactions is expected to draw a capacity crowd Saturday, October 25.

Set for Charlotte Street South from 3 to 8 pm, the block party with a cause is part of an increasingly vocal campaign for a Freedom of Information Act. It is being organized by Save The Bays in partnership with a combination of diverse business and civic groups including the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, Citizens for a Better Bahamas and the Coalition for Responsible Taxation with numerous sponsors including Van Breugel’s Restaurant, Bristol Wine & Spirits and Sands.

“The momentum demanding passage of a Freedom of Information Act is gaining strength every week with more individuals and groups signing petitions, talking about transparency and urging legislation that will prevent all governments – not just this government, but all governments — from engaging in secret deals in which the very public being affected do not even have the right to participate in decision-making that will impact their lives,” said Joseph Darville, Education Director for Save The Bays. “The public has a right to know and to participate in the public’s business.”

Darville’s claim of growing momentum in the demand for transparency is supported by the activity Save The Bays, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups have experienced. More than 6,000 people have signed the online petition at www.savethebays.bs calling for passage of a Freedom of Information Act, an Environmental Protection Act and other measures and Save The Bays’ Facebook page has set a record for a local non-governmental organization with more than 17,000 friends and fans.

Chamber Chairman Robert Myers said freedom of information is one of the basic tenets of the Chamber’s platform.

“The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation is proud to support the efforts of civic society and the private sector who strive to promote open, transparent and accountable governance,” said Myers. “It is through the legislation of a Fiscal Responsibility Act that includes freedom of information, whistle blower and ombudsman acts, and the enforcement of the rule of law that The Bahamas will attain the kind of open governance and stability required to provide real progress and opportunity for its people and the country at large.”

The party, free and open to the public, will feature performances by The Bahamas’ best-selling musical artist, KB and the Rhythm Band. In addition to music, there will be food, drinks, t-shirts and other entertainment.

According to Save The Bays CEO Lindsey McCoy, interest in legislation bringing government into the sunshine has mushroomed since the first demonstration in March in Rawson Square.

On This We Agree – DNA Leader Bran McCartney calls for Freedom of Information legislation during a rally in Rawson Square in March, the kick-off to a campaign that has steadily gained momentum urging The Bahamas to join the vast majority of the world’s nations that ensure the public possesses the right to know the public’s business. The DNA and FNM both called for transparency during the rally. A Freedom of Information block party, free and open to the public, is set for October 25 on Charlotte Street South.

On This We Agree – DNA Leader Bran McCartney calls for Freedom of Information legislation during a rally in Rawson Square in March, the kick-off to a campaign that has steadily gained momentum urging The Bahamas to join the vast majority of the world’s nations that ensure the public possesses the right to know the public’s business. The DNA and FNM both called for transparency during the rally. A Freedom of Information block party, free and open to the public, is set for October 25 on Charlotte Street South.

“The day of the demonstration we had a terrible downpour and yet even that did not dampen spirits,” she said. “When we counted the groups and how many people they represented – including union chiefs from the country’s largest unions and associations of unions – we realized that more than 60,000 people were represented. And it was amazing to see how many visitors coming off the cruise ships or walking through historic Nassau were interested – most stunned that we did not already have Freedom of Information.”

Proponents of transparent government, particularly in approvals of developments impacting lifestyle, culture and the environment, have consistently pointed to the small number of countries still operating in the dark. Among them are North Korea and Guyana, the latter, however in the process of implementing legislation. Other hold-outs that recently enacted freedom of information legislation include Brazil, El Salvador, Malta, Mongolia and Yemen.
“The Bahamas is in the company of a diminishing few outliers,” said McCoy. “We hope that all this attention will bring results and make it possible for all informed citizens to take part in the processes that impact them.” She also encouraged.

Because of tight security at both the north and south ends of Charlotte Street, which will be closed off for the block party, numbers will be limited for any given hour. Vendors are being invited to take part and offer food, crafts and t-shirts supporting the cause.

McCartney to be praised for his stance against crowd buying

A pro-Peter Nygard demonstration in Rawson Square in July, at which Save The Bays members and supporters were branded liars, frauds and subjected to racist and intimidating jibes. Respected church leader Rev. CB Moss claimed that many of those who took part were paid to be there.

A pro-Peter Nygard demonstration in Rawson Square in July, at which Save The Bays members and supporters were branded liars, frauds and subjected to racist and intimidating jibes. Respected church leader Rev. CB Moss claimed that many of those who took part were paid to be there.

Save The Bays supports DNA leader’s assault on culture of political inducements; says it has been the victim of personal and racist attacks by ‘rent-a-crowds

Branville McCartney is to be praised for his attack on crowd buying and the many other forms of underhanded inducement that have contaminated our political system from time immemorial.

In hitting out at cronyism, vote buying and mutual back-scratching arrangements, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader identified the festering infection at the root of many of our woes as a nation.

Political inducements – whether monetary or otherwise – have encouraged a culture of dishonesty, favoritism and entitlement that over the years opened an enormous divide between the political elites and their friends on the one hand, and the rest of Bahamian society on the other.

McCartney was also correct is calling seasoned politicians hypocrites for accusing others of giving political inducements, but failing to also criticize the behavior of their own party in this regard. Corruption has featured in all political contests and all previous administrations, whether they be UBP, FNM or PLP.

The practice known as crowd buying and renting, in which individuals are paid to take part in gatherings or demonstrations in an effort to create a false impression of genuine support, is a particularly insidious form of political inducement for a number of reasons.

It cheapens our democracy and instills a demoralizing cynicism in the hearts of those who decide to – or feel they have no choice but to – accept the inducements. These are overwhelmingly members of the most disadvantaged class of Bahamians in the two-tiered society created by the political class. As such, the practice represents a case of those at the very top taking shameless advantage of those at the very bottom.

In addition, Save The Bays can warn from personal experience that rented crowds are often vehicles for the most incendiary and even dangerous forms of propaganda, as they allow the puppet masters to avoid personal responsibility for what is said, again leaving their unfortunate pawns to shoulder the blame.

 

In July of this year, a demonstration was held in Nassau, purportedly in support of Canadian developer Peter Nygard. Instead, it turned out to be a vicious and hate-filled attack on certain STB supporters and members, including myself.

Rev CB Moss, executive director of the Coalition to Save Clifton Bay and close partner of Save The Bays, is on the record insisting that those who took part were paid for their presence. He said some of the participants themselves told him so.

In this way, the true organizers of the demonstration were able to avoid having to answer for the menacing spectacle, which left many of us in fear for our safety.

Save The Bays calls on all political entities to follow Mr. McCartney’s lead and declare for the record that crowd buying and all other forms of political inducement will no longer be tolerated in The Bahamas.

We also take this opportunity to once again strongly urge the government of The Bahamas to honor it promise and enact a Freedom of Information Act as soon as possible, to cast some long-overdue sunshine on the political goings-on in The Bahamas. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant.

 

– Fred Smith, QC, director of legal affairs for Save The Bays

Save The Bays Praises Government Action, But Says It Took A Crisis for a Wake-up Call

Photo shows oil slick in waters of Clifton Bay this weekend where divers were sending images of The Bahamas around the world. Save The Bays praised government for calling in consultants on an urgent basis but said years of reporting leakage had been ignored and urged more transparency, including sharing of results of consultants’ findings.

Photo shows oil slick in waters of Clifton Bay this weekend where divers were sending images of The Bahamas around the world. Save The Bays praised government for calling in consultants on an urgent basis but said years of reporting leakage had been ignored and urged more transparency, including sharing of results of consultants’ findings.

With massive globs of oil bogging down beaches, choking fish, smothering marine life and coating dive equipment and divers with a slimy black mask, the country’s fastest-growing environmental organization today praised government for taking action following the latest oil spill in Clifton Bay, but lamented it took a crisis to give rise to a wake-up call.

“Respective governments have been given warning time and time again of oil leaks in Clifton Bay,” said Save The Bays CEO Lindsey McCoy. “Those leaks have gotten increasingly worse and in recent months have erupted into oil spills covering vast areas of Clifton Bay, one of the most valuable marine environments in The Bahamas, a place that draws hundreds, if not thousands from all over the world, to dive its reefs every year. Now, those reefs are in danger of being smothered and divers are coming up with their wet suits and gear covered with a greasy coating that is like something from a bad movie.”

In a day when photos of the conditions can be e-mailed, texted and tweeted around the globe in seconds, the reputation of The Bahamas is at stake, she added.

The horror drove government to act, she said, noting that Save The Bays with its more than 17,000 Facebook friends and followers welcomed Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett’s words today when he announced experts had been flown in on an urgent basis.

“On Thursday past,” Dorsett said, one day after the first new oil slick was spotted, “it was reported to the Port Controller that there was a smell of oil and an oil slick seen in the Clifton area.” The Port Department, he said, went out to investigate and found nothing. Two days later, it happened again and another, a larger group including BEST Commission, and representatives from various ministries, went to inspect.

Oil in Clifton Bay dead fish October 2014 Stuart Cove

“The assessment revealed that Albany had closed its beach restricting access to it by its guests,” Dorsett said. “It also revealed that fuel had ‘washed’ alongside the coastline of Stuart Cove’s operations and entered the canal, where their boats are docked. There was also evidence of oiling along the coast in the vicinity of the dive operation. The Government immediately engaged the services of Coastal Systems International Inc., a United States Environmental Firm to come to the Bahamas as a matter of urgency to assist in investigating and confirming the source/sources of the oil spill, assess the impact of the oil spill, to address the mitigation of this spill, advise on the preparation of an environmental management plan for the Clifton area and to make remediation recommendations.”

“We applaud government for calling in consultants immediately, though we also believe that there are Bahamian firms perfectly capable of assessing the damage and preparing a mitigation and action plan,” said McCoy. “But why did it have to take such a catastrophe to create a wake-up call? This alarm has been sounded for years and just like climate change, it falls on deaf ears until it becomes so dramatic that there is no longer a way to avoid dealing with it.”

Again, said McCoy, the oil slick calls attention to the ongoing cry for a Freedom of Information Act and she urged government to share the findings from government consultants.

“If we were in most other countries and this happened, we would know where the oil came from. The cause and the cure would not be a mystery and people would not be complacent,” she said. “There would be a demand to know how it happened and for those who were responsible to be held accountable. Why is it that we the people are being kept in the dark about what is threatening the very environment that makes The Bahamas so special, our waters? These waters do not belong to any one corporation or government entity, certainly not to BEC. They belong to the people.”

For Stuart Cove, who runs one of the largest and most photographed and televised dive operations in the region, the oil slicks have been a disaster.

“A large part of the thick oil slick gets trapped by our marina. Many of our ropes and fenders are saturated by this tarry substance. All our boats have a tremendous amount of it on their hulls. Many of the fish have died and floated to the surface. All the while hundreds of visitors to our country with mobile phones have witness it. Many of the staff are suffering from upper respiratory illness from the toxic fumes. Who is going to pay for the damage? Government will not admit even though we have multiple images and video of it coming from the BEC water outfalls,” he said.

According to environmental activist Sam Duncombe, founder of reEarth and a director of Save The Bays, there have been reports of oil leaking into the bay for years without any answers provided to the public. “But this is the first time I have seen oil at Adelaide,” she said.