Save The Bays President tells College of The Bahamas students how mega-resorts and the secret deals that underpin them are ruining the environment and compromising the rule of law.
Save The Bays President Fred Smith, QC
The practice of government forging secret agreements with the foreign developers of mega-resorts has become an existential threat to both the environment and the rule of law in The Bahamas, Fred Smith, QC told College of The Bahamas (COB) students.
Speaking at a workshop for COB’s Environmental Law Clinic, he said that thanks to these shrouded deals, known as Heads of Agreements, the Family Islands are now strewn with the “rotting” remains of dozens of failed resort ventures.
“The Bahamas is littered with the decaying carcasses of white elephants,” he said. “A white elephant is a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of; or its cost is out of proportion to its usefulness.”
Smith – President of fast-growing social and environmental movement, Save The Bays – told the students that many these ill-fated projects continue to pollute and destroy irreplaceable ecosystems while disrupting local cultures and traditional patterns of life.
Rather than take action to protect the public from this trend, the political establishment has wholeheartedly embraced it, with the first Christie administration even launching the “Anchor Project” theory of development, seeking to attract a mega-resort to every populated island in The Bahamas. Smith explained this political enthusiasm by pointing out that even though these huge projects often fail, there is still a great deal to be gained by certain stakeholders.
“Anchor projects are the bane of The Bahamas,” he said. “But the foreign developers and many of the Bahamian politicians involved make lots of money upfront.”
Smith said the rule of law is enshrined in the Bahamas Constitution, but this reality has been largely ignored by the political establishment in its effort to take advantage of lucrative or politically useful situations.
“And hence we have no environmental law for the protection of the marine or terrestrial environment; for local rights for the protection of the Family Islands; for the protection of the social, cultural and economic environment of The Bahamas; for the indigenous and historically distinct communities that have developed throughout the Family of Islands,” he said.
“Everything has given way to money and corruption; expediency; politicians in Nassau grasping desperately to hold on to power and thus opportunities for secret profit.”
The stated aim of a Heads of Agreement is to cut through red tape so a development can proceed as swiftly as possible. In practice, Smith said, this leads to the subversion of numerous laws put in place to protect The Bahamas and its environment.
“We cut through the Local Government Act, the Customs Management Act, the Immigration Act, the Planning and Subdivisions Act, the Protection of the Physical Landscape Act and so forth. Red tape is nothing other than a euphemism for the laws duly enacted by the democratically elected members of parliament that populate our lower House and our Senate,” he said.
Smith asked the students to imagine someone being able to sign a Heads of Agreement with President Barack Obama to circumvent federal, state, county, and city laws “and build an anchor project in the Florida on the scale of Baha Mar; or an exclusive cruise port facility in Florida Cays like Carnival is planning for East Grand Bahama; or to explore for oil in the Great Lakes; or to secretly receive federal land for $1 a beachfront acre as occurred at Bakers Bay in Guana Cay.”
Founded just over two years ago, Save The Bays is a unique grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of The Bahamas from unregulated development. With more than 18,500 followers on Facebook, STB is the fastest growing, most popular non-profit, non-government organization in Bahamas history on social media. The group’s petition calling on the government to enact an Environmental Protection Act, a Freedom of Information Act, stop unregulated development and end to oil pollution is climbing in numbers, with around 6,500 signatures so far. To get involved, sign the petition or learn more, visit www.savethebays.bs.