Archive | November, 2015

NGOs challenge Christie’s environmental claims

Fred Smith

STB and GBHRA to seek joint United Nations hearing to respond to the prime minister’s comments at summit on sustainable development

 

 

Two local NGOs have accused Prime Minister Perry Christie of preaching environmental stewardship abroad but riding roughshod over the concept at home – and announced their intention to seek a joint hearing before the United Nations to set the record straight.

 

The groups said Christie’s recent speech at the UN Sustainable Development Summit was completely at odds with the reality in The Bahamas today, thanks in no small part to the actions of his government.

 

“Save the Bays and the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association were in equals parts pleased and shocked to hear Prime Minister Christie express his support for sustainable development during his speech in New York,” said Fred Smith, QC, a noted attorney who works with both non-profits.

 

“As Christie told the summit, nothing could be more important to our future than for the government to truly recognize the value of maintaining a people-centered, planet sensitive and inclusive approach to development.”

 

Smith said STB and the GBHRA wholeheartedly agree with Christie’s comments regarding the critical importance of ensuring a sustainable future for present and future generations; one which does not sacrifice the country’s treasured natural resources at the altar of short-term gain, only to leave citizens wanting and deprived of basic needs in the future – both environmentally and economically speaking.

 

“The problem is that Christie’s speech smacked of insincerity. While impressing on the UN The Bahamas’ belief in the responsibility of every country ‘to protect the earth, its resources and its people’ his government’s actions tell a radically different story. It is a story of might makes right and a willingness to sell off our most precious assets to the highest bidder,” Smith said.

 

“Building the stronger and more sustainable Bahamas to which, according to the prime minister, his government is committed means not abandoning the rule of law for the benefit of favored foreign developers, in the process ignoring or even seeking to silence the voices of local people who have concerns about how major developments will destroy precious environmental resources and established community traditions.

 

“There is nothing sustainable about development which effectively denies those who are most affected the chance to have a say in their future. Yet this is the type of development that Christie’s government has shown it is willing to promote and encourage time and time again.”

 

“It certainly does not mean government lawyers demanding public interest groups provide hundreds of thousands of dollars up front if they wish to mount a legal challenge over a developer’s plans to irreversibly damage world-renowned reef sites.”

 

Such action, as has been seen in the case of the Bimini Bay development and several others, in no way fits with Christie’s claim to the UN that his government wishes to ensure “the protection of our oceans and its species”, Smith said.

 

“Sadly, the incongruity between Christie’s words and his action when it comes to the environment are plain to see for anyone who takes the time to check,” he said.

 

“His insincerity threatens our credibility as a nation. We should not be surprised if other countries, when called upon by Christie to lend a hand to reduce the climate change that disproportionately threatens our shores, scoff at our ‘do as we say, not as we do’ approach to these matters.

 

Smith said insincerity when it comes to protecting the environment does not breed confidence among the Bahamian people, nor on the international scene.

 

“Local activists believe it is time Christie’s actions fit his speech when it comes to sustainability and we intend to raise the matter of this government’s doublespeak in a hearing before the UN, to which the GBHRA is an accredited NGO,” he said.

 

“We have already begun reaching out to the UN and other international partners, and will appraise the public of our progress in this regard in short order.”

Blackbeard’s Cay: An open letter to Prime Minister Perry Christie

 

Urgent action needed on Blackbeard’s Cay

An open letter to Prime Minister Perry Christie

 

Dear Prime Minister Christie,

 

Save The Bays (STB) hereby indicates its full support for the call by our civic partner, reEarth, for the immediate closure of the Blackbeard’s Cay development on Balmoral Island.

 

The Supreme Court has ruled emphatically that the facility was constructed in breach of the law and ordered that it be closed and the marine mammals housed there be removed immediately. STB therefore considers its continued operation to constitute an affront to the authority of the judiciary and a blow to respect for the rule of law as enshrined in the Bahamas Constitution.

 

In January of this year, the developer, Blue Illusions limited, was found by the court to have proceeded in the absence of necessary permits and approvals. The company’s dolphin import licenses and the site plan approval granted by the Town Planning committee were also quashed and it was ordered that the land be returned to its original use and condition.

 

To date, none of this has happened. Indeed, we understand that in defiance of the order, Blackbeard’s Cay continues to operate and market itself to cruise passengers stopping in The Bahamas.

This high profile flouting of the law could have serious implications for the good name of The Bahamas abroad, as reEarth has rightly pointed out. Aside from the increasing global opposition to marine mammal captivity, the abysmal handling of this matter has raised alarming questions about the state of governance in a country that depends on a reputation for stability and adherence to the law for its survival.

 

Reputable foreign investors seeking to undertake projects that have the potential to create considerable financial and employment opportunities for this country will no doubt be turned off by the impression that The Bahamas has become a ‘wild west’ where the rule of law means little to nothing in practice.

 

At the same time, a failure on your part to treat the court’s order with the respect it deserves will only signal to those wishing to engage in unregulated development, to the detriment of the interests of The Bahamian people, that the government has effectively given them a green light to do as they please.

 

STB has repeatedly spoken out against foreign developers engaging in unregulated development, damaging our environmental heritage and defying of our sovereign laws in the process. We call upon the government of The Bahamas, as the defender and guarantor of the public’s rights – and particularly on you, prime minister, who serves as the custodian of the nation’s patrimony – to take action on this matter immediately.

 

If the status quo persists, in due course, we intend to bring our concerns to the attention of the cruise ship industry, whose members would no doubt be considerably alarmed to learn that they may be contributing to a facility that has been deemed unlawful by the courts. We urge you to intervene and ensure that the law takes its course before such a step becomes necessary.

 

Sincerely,

 

Vanessa Haley-Benjamin

CEO, Save The Bays

vbenjamin@savethebays.bs

STB: Gomez must honor anticorruption pledge

Eight months and numerous scandals later, still no anticorruption taskforce 

Following fresh revelations of missing funds from a government department, Minister of Legal Affairs Damien Gomez is being urged to honor his pledge to fight official corruption.

Joseph Darville, chairman of social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays (STB), noted that in March of this year, Gomez told a high level meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) that The Bahamas would establish an anticorruption taskforce in accordance with its international obligations.

“The revelation of more than half a million dollars missing from the Road Traffic Department is but the most recent in a long line of scandals to emerge on the watch of his government,” Darville said. “Yet as the final year of its term approaches, the minister’s pledge remains glaringly unfulfilled.

“For example, the police are also investigating the disappearance of $25,000 from the Freeport Passport Office, while the Public Accounts Committee continues to probe the expenditure of $3 million on small home repairs that in many cases were not completed or even begun.

“We have yet to hear a full account of the $600 million Letter of Intent signed without Cabinet approval and the audit showing $10 million in pharmaceutical inventory missing from the Public Hospitals Authority has yet to be adequately explained. Some members of parliament continue to fail to disclose their assets in defiance of the law and there is even money missing from the College of The Bahamas.”

Darville noted that as a signatory to both the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC) and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), The Bahamas is obliged to create effective and independent instruments to prevent corruption, criminalize certain forms of corruption and cooperate with other countries in international bribery and illicit enrichment investigations.

He noted that eight months have passed since Gomez made his pledge to a committee of experts at the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, yet no taskforce has been appointed and as far as the public is aware, no other steps have been taken to curb official malfeasance.

“At the meeting, Gomez paid tremendous lip service to the idea of official accountability,” Darville said. “Sadly, as is increasingly the case with this government, his pretty words were not followed up with any kind of meaningful action.

“Meanwhile, the other key pillar of good governance – official transparency – has been likewise woefully neglected and we continue to await a Freedom of Information Act despite this government’s repeated promises to implement one more that three years ago.

“This means heads of agreements for major developments continue to be signed in secret, details of the use of the people’s own Crown Land are still kept from us and countless other critical decisions are being made in our name, behind our collective backs.

“I call on Minister Gomez and his Cabinet colleagues to stand by their word and take immediate and decisive steps to create a culture of official transparency and accountability in this country. They can only fool the world with pretty words for so long; the chickens will soon come home to roost, to the severe detriment of our international reputation. And it will be the Bahamian people, and not Gomez and his colleagues, who will end up suffering as a result,” Darville said.

Luxury yachts offer hurricane relief to The Bahamas

The Enchanted Lady and crew have been in the southern Bahamas providing invaluable help to the ongoing hurricane relief efforts as part of Yacht Aid Global (YAG), a pioneering international humanitarian organization that uses yachts to deliver aid to coastal disaster areas around the world.

The Enchanted Lady and crew have been in the southern Bahamas providing invaluable help to the ongoing hurricane relief efforts as part of Yacht Aid Global (YAG), a pioneering international humanitarian organization that uses yachts to deliver aid to coastal disaster areas around the world.

Innovative humanitarian outfit uses luxury vessels to deliver critical supplies and ongoing support to natural disaster sites around the world

 

As relief efforts continue in the islands hit hardest by Hurricane Joaquin, a pioneering international aid organization has offered an invaluable helping hand to The Bahamas.

 

YachtAid Global (YAG) delivers humanitarian, developmental and conservation aid onboard yachts to isolated and underprivileged coastal communities worldwide. In times of natural disasters, YAG has the ability to mobilize and shift resources quickly to provide disaster relief in ways that others have not explored.

 

“Yachts are essentially self-contained disaster relief platforms that work perfectly in the geographic arrangement of isolated island communities,” said Mark Drewelow, YAG founder.

Supplies are delivered by the crewmembers to local officials who then disburse them where the need is greatest

Supplies are delivered by the crewmembers to local officials who then disburse them where the need is greatest

“The Bahamas has long been a fantastic host to luxury yachts; as such, our industry is obligated to help out in times of need. Every visiting yacht has the capability of contributing to the hurricane Joaquin recovery effort.”

 

The California-Based nonprofit organization works closely with yacht owners, crew and industry professionals to determine the needs of a particular area that yachts cruise to; sponsor or raise funds to meet those needs, acquire the necessary goods, resources and supplies; and transport and distribute the relief.

 

YAG recently undertook a disaster relief effort in the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam, successfully delivering 140,000 liters of water and several tons of aid over a 10-day period, as well as administering critical medical care, helping re-build schools and homes, clearing roads and undertaking needs assessments in collaboration with local partners and national crisis management agencies.

The Enchanted lady offloading supplies to a smaller vessel off the coast of Rum Cay

The Enchanted lady offloading supplies to a smaller vessel off the coast of Rum Cay

Drewelow said the team is eager to bring the lessons of that experience to bear on the relief effort in The Bahamas.

“It became clear that on disaster-struck islands, there is a great need for safe drinking water and the challenge is working out how to move in bulk as fast as possible with the least risk possible,” he explained. “We also learned about making sure aid is ‘pulled’ from the impacted area and not  ‘pushed’ from donors; this means deliveries must be determined by properly vetted needs assessments so as to ensure that the right resources are going to the right places as quickly as possible.”

YAG’s policy is to work through the official disaster response agencies in each impacted country. Their offer to help The Bahamas has been welcomed by Stephen Russell, director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

 

“We are most grateful for the donations and strategic support that have been offered by YachtAid Global,” Russell said. “The southern Bahamas remains in great need of help and they are globally recognized experts in disaster relief in small islands and coastal communities.”

 

Waterkeeper Bahamas, the local branch of a worldwide alliance dedicated to protecting the planet’s waterways, is collaborating with YAG in this effort.

 

“Partnering with Waterkeeper Bahamas has been and continues to be an outstanding experience,” Drewelow said. “They respond with care and thoughtfulness to requests for information and intelligence and they ask the right questions to YAG. They facilitate meetings for YAG with high-level people. Bahamas Waterkeepers is exceptional in all regards.”

 

Founded in 2006, YachtAid Global has worked with more than three-dozen yachts and brought aid to over 50 different remote or underprivileged areas of the world. Drewelow, a luxury yacht captain for 20 years, said he created YAG when he realized there was huge potential for the industry to make a meaningful contribution to the communities he had visited and come to love during his career.

 

 

Save The Bays Praises Government for Marine Protected Areas, Calls it ‘Single Most Important Act Ever to Protect Our Waters’ Urges Protection of North Bimini, ‘Under Worsening Threat Every Day’

Environmental movement Save The Bays lauds government for announcing 18 Marine Protected Areas but urges declaration of the long-promised North Bimini Marine Reserve. Photos show dredging and land acquisition underway this week, churning and silting waters, suffocating sea grass and impacting coral reefs, taking its toll on both sides of the island, the ocean and critical wetlands that serve as nurseries for marine species and protect the islands and the population against hurricanes and storm surge.

Environmental movement Save The Bays lauds government for announcing 18 Marine Protected Areas but urges declaration of the long-promised North Bimini Marine Reserve. Photos show dredging and land acquisition underway this week, churning and silting waters, suffocating sea grass and impacting coral reefs, taking its toll on both sides of the island, the ocean and critical wetlands that serve as nurseries for marine species and protect the islands and the population against hurricanes and storm surge.

Fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays today praised Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett and government for what it called “the single most important act ever undertaken to protect the waters of The Bahamas” – naming 18 new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including Southwest New Providence.

“The incredible waters of The Bahamas are what defines us geographically and sets us apart from all other nations and destinations,” said Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville. “This single act, the most important ever undertaken to protect our waters, will help turn the tide of years of neglect, particularly off the southwest coast of New Providence which has been especially vulnerable and where scientists have said we have already lost up to half of our precious coral reefs and the marine life they support.

“We congratulate the government which listened to all those voices who called for greater protection of our 100,000 square miles of open ocean and our many bays and cuts.”

At the same time, said Darville, Save The Bays and its community partner Bimini Blue Coalition are increasingly worried about what is happening to those waters and urged government to “take the bold and necessary step of creating the long-promised North Bimini Marine Reserve before it is too late and we lose some of the most precious coral reefs and wetlands on the planet.”

The Coalition’s Facebook page featured a photo on November 3 taken the day before polluted waters, gray-green with silt from dredging. There was no curtain to buffer the impact and it takes little to smother the reefs, suffocating living coral to death. On the other side of the island, dredging is silting up waters bordering on wetlands that Darville says are essential not only as nurseries for young species but to protect the islands against strong surges and hurricanes.

Some 22,000 have visited the Facebook page with photos the organisations both say are mind-boggling and heartbreaking.

Southwest NP Bays Protection Critical

Southwest NP Bays Protection Critical

Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, who began working on the establishment of marine protected areas while heading up the research arm of another environmental organization before being named to head Save The Bays, echoed Darville’s words about the team effort.

“This action demonstrates that when environmental groups work together, our voices are heard,” said Haley-Benjamin, noting that The Nature Conservancy, BREEF and the Bahamas National Trust along with Save The Bays had urged government to declare the marine protect areas. Southwest New Providence was one of the bodies of water of greatest concern.

The new Southwest New Providence Marine Managed Area will encompass the waters of Clifton Bay and further south, a vast area that has been a major attraction for divers, snorkelers and researchers studying its array of corals and marine species. More recently, the Southwest Bays have been the dumping ground for oil leaks that have left those once-enamored divers covered in oil, and the country’s largest dive operator, Stuart Cove Dive, battling to keep its passengers, guests and boats free of the thick black goo. Photos with divers from around the world emerging with oil on wet suits and faces looking like they were dressed for Halloween have spread through social media.

“We are particularly pleased by the announcement of the Southwest New Providence Marine Managed Area,” Haley-Benjamin said. “When Save The Bays was launched in April 2013, one of our original six goals was to stop unregulated development in Clifton Bay and to protect these very waters off southwest New Providence. We have been campaigning for this ecologically significant and diverse area to be protected against the many threats it currently faces due to industrial pollution and unregulated development.”

Creation of the new MPAs is part of a bid to preserve 20 percent of near shore environment by the year 2020 – an international goal that includes deep-sea habitats, coastal waters and the continental shelf.

The Nature Conservancy has been at the forefront of that mission. Last year when its local branch commissioned a survey of some 900 persons some 90% of respondents said government should do more to make protecting the environment a priority and more than 80% said they would vote for a government that protected the environment. Even among those who make their living directly or indirectly from the sea, including fishermen, the support for marine protection to avoid overfishing was overwhelming.

“This is an important victory, 18 steps in the right direction, but there is one more step that would show absolute commitment and that is the creation of the North Bimini Marine Reserve, protection which has been promised, but not realized,” she said. “Along with our community partners and sister conservationists, Save The Bays urges protection of that slice of our unique ecological heritage.”

BEC is dumping oil

The Bahamas is the most beautiful place on earth but for how long? Please share, tell, tweet and tag these photos and sign the petition to demand that oil laws are put in place.

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