Archive | November, 2014

Save The Bays, Bahamas Waterkeeper Join Forces to Commend BREEF on Undersea Sculpture Garden

Save The Bays commends BREEF on the commission and installation of undersea sculpture garden in the waters off Southwestern New Providence. (Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor)

Save The Bays commends BREEF on the commission and installation of undersea sculpture
garden in the waters off Southwestern New Providence. (Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor)

Two major marine environmental voices today joined forces to congratulate the Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF) for commissioning and installing an underwater sculpture garden off New Providence’s southwestern shore, calling the work “a stunning example of why it is so important to draw attention to the need to protect and preserve the marine assets of The Bahamas.”

Praise came from the newest local entry in the growing clamour to protect Bahamian waters, Bahamas Waterkeeper, and from the fast-growing environmental movement that has gathered more than 6,000 signatures on a petition (www.savethebays.bs) calling for an environmental protection act, Save The Bays.

“The living art gallery funded by BREEF adds yet another dimension to the amazing underwater environment of the waters off Clifton, home to stunning coral reefs and one of the most popular and frequently filmed dive sites throughout the Caribbean region,” said attorney and environmental consultant Romi Ferreira, a Save The Bays director and member of its legal team.

“But because of the contrast of the beauty and what is happening not that far away with ongoing oil pollution along the shores of Clifton Bay, we need to look at this as the tipping point and act on it now, not tomorrow, now.”

BREEF created the Coral Reef Sculpture Garden as “a one-of-a-kind snorkeling and scuba diving experience for Bahamians and visitors that serves as a multi-purpose hub for the marine environment.”

The underwater garden is intended to be “a perfect fusion of art, education and marine conservation, provide a habitat for fish, corals and other marine organisms, create an exceptional outdoor classroom for environmental education and keep divers and snorkelers away from threatened reefs, giving those reefs a chance to rejuvenate naturally.”

BREEF is a community partner of Save The Bays, the organization that has hit a chord with those concerned that unregulated development and oil pollution are threatening marine life, including fragile organisms that make up coral reefs that sustain conch, crawfish and fish populations.

“This could be the tipping point because government can no longer ignore what is happening in the waters off Clifton,” said Ferreira, an authority whose expertise was recognized when he was selected by CARICOM to help develop a legal framework for the energy sector in eight countries in the Caribbean.

“In the last weeks with divers sending selfies around the world of themselves and their dive gear covered with oil from diving in an area that is supposed to be one of the world’s finest dive destinations, The Bahamas’ image stands to be tarnished and action must be taken. At the same time, we have this beautiful new sea garden drawing more attention to the area nearby and we just hope it will help sensitize everyone to the need to protect our waters and to stand up and say we will no longer tolerate abuse of the environment,” said Ferreira.

Save The Bays has been a clarion voice in a growing cry for strong environmental protection legislation and since its founding 18 months ago, has found its message resonating with a wide audience. Its Facebook page has more than 17,100 Likes and its petition calls for an end to unregulated development, transparent government and other legislation to protect the environment.

Fred Smith, QC, Appointed Save The Bays Chairman

Fred Smith, QC, newly appointed chairman of Save the Bays.

Fred Smith, QC, newly appointed chairman of Save the Bays.

The rapidly-growing environmental protection advocacy group Save The Bays has announced the appointment of Fred Smith, QC, as chairman.

Smith, managing partner of the Freeport office of Callenders, an award-winning law firm established more than 100 years ago, is an outspoken advocate for human rights, the environment and civil justice. His current practice is devoted almost entirely to human rights, constitutional and administrative law, regulatory litigation relating to the Hawksbill Creek Agreements and Save The Bays-supported litigation.

President of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association which he helped found 25 years ago, Mr. Smith is a former president of the Freeport Law Society. A Harvard Law School certified Arbitrator and Mediator, he has twice been called on by the Bahamas Bar Association to chair key committees, including the Bar Association’s Constitutional Law section and its Human Rights Committee.

“We are extremely honoured that Fred Smith has accepted the position of Chairman of Save The Bays,” said CEO Lindsey McCoy. “Fred’s passion for those causes he believes in is matched only by his ability to fight for them, both through the court of public opinion and through the legal system which he holds in the highest esteem. Seeking justice, redress or regulatory enforcement, he is committed to ensuring that a new day dawns in protecting our environment against the ravages of unregulated development, oil pollution or other influences while stressing the benefits of a blue and a green economy. Those values mirror ours in every way and we could not ask for a stronger, more compassionate leader.”

Mr. Smith succeeds William F. Hunter, Jr. who served as founding chairman since its launch in April 2013. In the 18 months under his guidance, Save The Bays has grown exponentially, breaking all records for a non-profit in social media with 17,200 Facebook friends and more than 6,000 signatures on a petition (www.savethebays.bs) calling for freedom of information and an environmental protection act among other tenets.

Born a British subject in Haiti in 1956, Mr. Smith became a Bahamian citizen in 1973 upon the country’s independence. As child, he along with his parents divided their time between Haiti and The Bahamas and it may have been that experience that made him sensitive to what he later saw as abuse of early immigrants from Haiti at the hands of those in authority. A strong supporter of the law being administered justly and with fairness, he took a petition alleging breaches of human rights against the general Haitian population to Washington, DC, where he was granted an appearance before the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States in Washington in the mid 1980’s. It was then he formed the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association.

Mr. Smith, who was schooled and studied law in England, has been admitted to practice at the Bar of England, Wales and The Bahamas and has been in active private practice since July 1977. In 2009, he was admitted to the Inner Bar of The Bahamas and appointed Her Majesty’s Queen’s Counsel. He has practiced before the lower civil and criminal courts, administrative boards, various tribunals and at the bars of the Supreme Court, The Court of Appeal and the Privy Council in London, England and has appeared in the courts of and provided expert testimony regarding matters of law in The Bahamas in cases conducted in England, the USA and Canada.

QC: Stop the secrecy ‘Every deal should be out on the table’

Noted environmental and human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, chairman of Save The Bays, addresses the Rotary Club of East Nassau, urging an end to secrecy, patronage, worship of leaders and a more open and transparent investment policy.

Noted environmental and human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, chairman of Save The Bays, addresses the Rotary Club of East Nassau, urging an end to secrecy, patronage, worship of leaders and a more open and transparent investment policy.

One of the country’s top lawyers is calling for an end to secrecy in government, questioning how The Bahamas can compete in a global investment climate or how the public can believe in its system of governance or its leaders when every potential investor has to see the Prime Minister personally to make a deal.

“Why is the Prime Minister of The Bahamas walking around with a private person deciding what land he should have or not have?” asked Fred Smith, QC, noting the practice was particularly flagrant outside New Providence. “The Family Islands are not colonies of The Bahamas.”

Smith, chairman of Save The Bays, made his comments during a near standing room only crowd at the October 31 meeting of the Rotary Club of East Nassau. Among the guests was long-time Rotarian Sir Durward Knowles, the Bahamas’ first Olympic gold medalist, who was celebrating his 97th birthday and reminisced about playing rugby with Smith’s father. But those were far more innocent days, the two local heroes from different generations agreed, and now Smith worries that The Bahamas is headed in the wrong direction.

“The biggest problem we face in The Bahamas is that we worship the people in power,” said the legendary litigator whose court appearances draw law students and garner media attention. Blind worship of leaders, he said, leads to acceptance of practices that would not be tolerated elsewhere.

“If I want to invest in a residence or a business in Florida, I don’t go to Tallahassee (the capital) and walk around with the governor,” he said. But in The Bahamas, the foreign investor who wants to build a resort or a development has to go through the Office of the Prime Minister, pay homage and discuss all the proposals in private and seek a Heads of Agreement – all cloaked in secrecy, barring those who might be affected by the proposed development from even commenting on it.

The practice, he said, also adds to the Bahamian distrust of foreigners.

“Bahamians don’t have to go to the Office of the Prime Minister. We are able to conduct business without having to go to the Office of the Prime Minister. But the foreigner does.” And that, he believes, leads to a suspicion of favouritism.

“We rely on foreign investment and we need foreign capital,” Smith said. “But we believe that what is white and what is foreign is evil.” And that, he thinks, is due to the perception that those secret meetings lead to secret deals with the foreigner emerging with more benefits than locals, including quickly being granted Crown Land for bargain prices while 3,500 applications for Crown Land grants by Bahamians await review, some on file for years.

“The way we are conducting business now is a recipe for economic disaster, for corruption and for dictatorship,” he charged. “The government needs to remember they are employees and we have a right to know what they are doing. Every deal that the government enters into should be out on the table for everyone to see. The proposals should be presented, debated, every part – property tax exemption, Customs duties, Crown Land grants. We are completely ignorant about the business of government and the business of government should be in the hands of businesspeople.

“This entire system makes Freedom of Information a real issue in this country.”

Urging passage of Freedom of Information act is one of the major tenets of Save The Bays, along with an end to unregulated development, accountability for oil pollution and passage of an environmental protection act. The fast-growing environmental advocacy group has set records in social media with more than 17,100 Facebook friends and over 6,000 signatures on a petition on www.savethebays.bs supporting its principles.