Archive | February, 2016

Bahamas Press Club, Save The Bays Unite to Urge Freedom of Information

Bahamas Press Club and Save The Bays shake on the need for Freedom of Information

Declaring the public’s right to know the public’s business, two organizations representing powerful interests and ethics convictions officially joined hands this week to urge passage of the much-touted and long-awaited freedom of information act.

The Bahamas Press Club, composed of journalists from print, electronic and social media, united with environmental rights advocates Save The Bays, saying together their voices would be louder and their call for ‘the public’s right to know’ more emphatic.

“It has been said repeatedly and with great accuracy that Freedom of Information is the bedrock of democracy,” said Anthony ‘Ace’ Newbold, a legendary journalist and icon of the fourth estate. “The public has a right to know what business the government of the day is conducting on its behalf. Whether that is how revenue is spent or what loans are being considered, government’s business is the people’s business. For years, journalists in The Bahamas have been forced to resort to begging for information that by every international standard would be considered in the public domain.”

Save The Bays Chairman Joseph Darville said the environmental group made seeking freedom of information among its five initial major campaigns.

“There have been far too many cases of developments being approved without consultation even with those in neighbouring settlements or communities, cases where a plant spewing noxious fumes is located next to a school because no one knew before it actually happened,” said Darville. “The public was kept in the dark. It is only through transparency that you can achieve accountability.”

Freedom of Information legislation has been a political football, tossed between parties like a firecracker about to explode. It was first passed by the FNM government but not funded. It was later repealed by the current administration which said it wanted to amend regulations it called onerous. It has been reported that amended regulations have been drafted but without freedom of information, both groups say they are still trying to obtain the most recent version in order to provide comments.

“Until we have a truly transparent government, we shall never be able to trust fully or to provide the kind of respectful commentary and consultation that could make The Bahamas a better place for all,” they said in a joint statement.

Save The Bays launches two radio shows

Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville, a regular on radio, will host his own show dealing with a wide range of environmental matters at 5:15 pm on Thursdays starting February 11. The show will be broadcast live from 97.5 studios in Grand Bahama and Nassau. Thursday’s show features special guest Fred Smith, QC.

Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville, a regular on radio, will host his own show dealing with a wide range of environmental matters at 5:15 pm on Thursdays starting February 11. The show will be broadcast live from 97.5 studios in Grand Bahama and Nassau. Thursday’s show features special guest Fred Smith, QC.

Voice of The Bays to Bring Environment Back to Radio Thursdays, Youth Environment Ambassadors Get Saturday Show  

Educator, human rights and environmental advocate Joseph Darville will host a weekly radio show dedicated to environmental news, challenges and opportunities starting Thursday, February 11 at 5:15 pm, according to the fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays, which is sponsoring the show.  The conversational style chat show called ‘Voice of The Bays, The Environment Speaks’ will feature different guests each week and will air on Love 97.5 in Nassau and Grand Bahama.

While Darville will host the drive-time show on Thursdays, a group of youngsters will be interviewed every other Saturday morning as the popular Youth Environment Ambassadors makes their new show, ‘Rise Up, Bahamas’, part of their activities.

Darville spoke today about the re-launch of the Thursday show.

“Some of our guests will be soft spoken, others outspoken. But all will have one thing in common – knowledge of and love for the environment,” said Darville, chairman of Save The Bays and the Bahamas Clifton Bay Waterkeeper Alliance delegate at the recent conference on climate change in Paris.

“When we are at meetings like the climate change conference in Paris, we are surrounded by people whose depth and breadth of knowledge is profound. It is that knowledge which motivates them to protect the natural resources and wonders of the world. You cannot set out to protect and preserve something if you don’t understand what the threats and dangers are or if you do not know the importance of its role to begin with. So our purpose in taking environment to the airwaves is to share information y and engage the general public. We want every single Bahamian and every single person living in this beautiful archipelagic nation to feel personally involved, to realize that the environment matters. It’s everyone’s business.”

Topics will range from coral reefs to climate change, solar power to proper mosquito control, unregulated development, proposed legislation, what household products impact health, why a closed grouper season, what role sharks play.

“We will cover any topic that involves resources that make The Bahamas what astronaut Scott Kelly called the most beautiful place on earth,” he said.

First guest will be immediate past chairman of Save The Bays Fred Smith, QC, Managing Partner Callenders & Co. law firm and the man who has led the legal campaign for Save The Bays, filing cases alleging violations surrounding unregulated development and environmental abuses.

“Radio is such an important means of reaching the public,” said Darville. “That is why in addition to ‘Voice of The Bays, The Environment Speaks’, resuming broadcasting with a new format, we are also sponsoring ‘Rise Up, Bahamas’, aSaturday show featuring our Youth Environment Ambassadors. The first show, which aired last week, featured three internationally certified environmental leaders, Rashema Ingraham, Ruth Godet and McMahon Campbell, in Grand Bahama.

Radio is one of several means Save The Bays is using to drive home the message that the environment matters, it’s everyone’s business. It has been particularly successful on social media where it has gathered nearly 19,000 Likes. Among the organisation’s missions – calls for accountability and transparency in government, freedom of information legislation, an end to unregulated development and tough regulations around oil exploration. Save The Bays has also lauded government for certain steps, including the announcement that new marine protected areas would be declared. Its online petition www.savethebays.bs is nearing 7,000 signatures and its newest petition urging government not to scrap the 2010 Planning and Subdivision Act is quickly gaining numbers.

Enforce The Rule Of Law Throughout The Bahamas

STB PSA FB cover

By ADRIAN GIBSON

ajbahama@hotmail.com

The rule of law, as noted by the great philosopher Aristotle, is preferable to that of any individual.

British philosopher Thomas Hobbes opined, in his work ‘Leviathan’, that without the rule of law, life would be “nasty, brutish and short”. No one is above the law … or, at least that’s how it’s supposed to be.

In The Bahamas, not only are we seeing an absolute disregard for the rule of law by the common criminals and so-called bad boys on the streets, but we are also seeing such criminal and seemingly lawless conduct on the part of many of our elected officials. Clearly, there is no respect or regard for the court when ministers openly dismiss rulings and, by their contemptuous statements, breach and/or attempt to breach the Bar Code of Ethics (for those who are lawyers) and mount blatant and insidious attacks that bring the courts into disrepute.

I have, on numerous occasions, been discussing a case or law with Fred Smith QC and he has, several times, urged that we must “hold the line”, that we must stand in the stead of the Bahamian people and fight against any abuses by government, elected officials and wayward public servants, that we must pursue justice and serve as those guardians of the Constitution.

I believe that the courts, as was so nobly espoused by Viscount Simonds, hold a “residual power to enforce the supreme and fundamental purpose of the law”, not only in criminal matters or civil matters but in any matter or dispute that leaves one feeling affronted, not in agreement, injured and so on.

The governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has seemingly rolled from one scandal to another. Operatives and ministers have generally shown a disregard and disrespect for the law. A perfect example of this is the ruling in Blackbeard’s Cay. The ruling was given on July 17, 2014, and Senior Justice Stephen Isaacs on August 31, 2015, issued an Order to enforce the judgment. In the Blackbeard’s Cay matter, Senior Justice Isaacs ruled that the development was in contravention of the Planning and Subdivisions Act and had conducted extensive development without site plan approval.

The ruling called for the immediate end to all activities, the return of the dolphins and for the government to cause the cay to be reverted to its original condition. It was also found that Prime Minister Perry Christie and the Town Planning Committee had breached their statutory duties.

Needless to say, Blackbeard’s Cay remained in operation even after the government was handed a court order to shut down the controversial tourism project. What’s more, Blue Illusions – the developer – allegedly invested a further $4 million after the Supreme Court issued a judgment calling for the government to close the project.

So, if Blue Illusions invested a further $4 million and built new structures on the property, how was the developer purportedly allowed to continue construction in defiance of the judgment? From whom did Blue Illusions obtain permits? How were permits obtained at Town Planning without public hearings? Who authorised the Exchange Control approvals? Why has the government not seen to it that the court’s ruling is and was enforced immediately? This approach has denigrated the justice system and could be seen as an attempt to reduce the courts to powerless panels whose rulings are simply dismissed and ignored. There is clearly a serious disengagement between laws passed by Parliament and the executive branch of government’s enforcement arm.

Recently, Jean-Mary Justilien, a Haitian national acquitted in the Magistrate’s Court but released to the Department of Immigration, was unceremoniously deported although a notice of a writ of habeas corpus and a writ of habeas corpus were served upon the Office of the Attorney General, who represents the government’s interest in matters of state or matters involving public officers. Notwithstanding the service of legal documents notifying them of extant actions before the court and several news reports, Justilien was deported without due process. How are such actions lawful?

The problem I have with this notion of simply ignoring the rule of law is that it leads to anarchy and abuse. What happens to Justilien or in the Blackbeard Cay matter or to the police officers when they won their case for the overtime pay could happen to any one of us. No government is above the law and it cannot be selective in what it enforces, who it pays and how it treats cases.

And then there is the newly proposed Planning and Subdivisions Bill (PSB) that will repeal the current Planning and Subdivisions Act (PSA) and grossly water down the original legislation. Is the new draft bill repayment to the governing party’s major electoral donors?

The draft Bill is overly lenient and leaves little to no legal recourse relative to the preservation of our environment from developers who may have little regard for such concerns. We are seeing what is no doubt a politically motivated, radical redrafting and alteration to the current PSA.

As it stands, the draft asserts that the public will only be consulted on some developments while certain other developments will proceed without public consultation, those developments being repairs to harbour installations, any and all dredging, land reclamation and works to ports and harbours that are not a part of an infrastructural project. Even more, any developer who builds on crown land or any property without the proper approvals is no longer required to demolish such structures but instead would only be fined $10,000 if convicted.

Here’s the kicker … environmental impact assessments are no longer imperative but are optional depending on the kind of development being undertaken. Do we really trust our government officials with such power, particularly when they regularly kiss up to high net worth donors with such interests and could easily fall into such a person’s pockets?

The PSB also proposes to remove the requirement for land use plans being created for development throughout the Bahamas. Considering the fact that Hurricane Joaquin left so many communities under water, do we really want to remove this valuable aspect from the Act? Not only do these land use plans assess the impact of development on a place, but allow for sensible town planning and zoning, for flood prone areas to be identified before people invest their life savings constructing their dream home in a disaster zone, for ordered development. So, why should this be struck from a new Act?

On February 10, 2014, the chairman of Arawak Homes – the former PLP MP, political donor and newly knighted Sir Franklyn Wilson – told The Tribune that the government “absolutely cannot” enforce and implement the statutory processes in the Planning and Subdivisions Act 2010 due to a lack of expertise, resources and manpower. Effectively implying that it will cost the government money it does not have to uphold its own laws, Mr Wilson backed Michael Major, the Director of Physical Planning, as “dead right” for his alleged assertion that properly applying the Planning and Subdivision Act would send the administration ‘bankrupt’.

This, he explained, was because the failure to follow the Act’s statutory processes would potentially expose every Bahamas-based development project to potential Judicial Review challenge in the Supreme Court.

In his wrap up of the debate on the Planning and Subdivisions Bill (current PSA) on October 28, 2009, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham stated that it sought “to codify an improved standard for our town planning and subdivision approval. This Bill when enacted and brought into force will apply to development in New Providence and eventually to development in every Family Island. This Bill when enacted will provide greater assurance that developers will not be permitted to develop subdivisions in unsuitable locations or to sell lots prior to the installation of required infrastructure. The provisions in this Bill increase transparency in the approval process permitting those who are likely to be most impacted by a development to view and comment upon the proposal, to raise objections and to have their objections heard.”

Indeed, I have heard countless horror stories about Bahamians purchasing property and building in certain so-called subdivisions where the developers never install the utilities or hardly ever live up to their end of the agreement, leaving them with nightmarish experiences and additional expenses they cannot afford. The current PSA protects against that.

Notably, although Sir Franklyn asserted that the enforcement of the current PSA would leave the government bankrupt and that the government lacked the manpower, expertise and resources, in his 2009 speech Mr Ingraham accounted for such new personnel, stating:

“The enactment of this Bill will clearly require substantial changes in personnel at the Department of Physical Planning. We have already begun the planned increase in the allocation of funding to the Department of Physical Planning and such increase in resources for the Department will become more evident in the next Budget cycle and before, in the mid-year budget exercise. We have already advertised in The Bahamas to fill a number of vacancies at the Department. The response has been disappointing. We will now proceed to advertise vacancies outside of The Bahamas in an effort to fill the posts of Chief Physical Planner and other posts with a view to ensuring that the Department is properly staffed to administer this law and planning generally. Additionally, personnel, trained in planning and environment, will be engaged in most Family Islands to ensure appropriate approval and oversight of development.”

So, shouldn’t the manpower, expertise and resources already be in place?
Frankly, the draft Bill appears to be another attempt on the part of the government to ram certain developments down our throats without question, namely the developments of their benefactors, lobbyists, political financiers and the monied bloc! After all, an election is coming and, like they did for the numbers men, they have to now do something for their tin gods.

If the draft PSB passes in its current state, the gates to the holy grail of corruption will swing wide open and in will run these politicians with their hats in hand and their pseudo offering pans, all begging and hustling for a few dollars. The ‘all for me baby’ syndrome has taken hold and the PSB, in its current state, could be manipulated into yet another get-rich-quick scam for political con artists to cash in on the backs of the gullible and/or unaware. Is it repeal-old-PSA to unleash-a-new-PSA that yields political/personal profit?

If we think Baha Mar, Ginn, the I-Group and other stalled or failed developmental projects by land speculators were massive land grabs, the draft PSB opens the door for Bahamians to be displaced, wetlands to be destroyed, crown land to be forever out of the average man’s reach and picturesque beachfront property to only be available to the rich or slick talking foreigner/connected Bahamian who, when it no longer favours him, will dump the Bahamas much like the Genting Group/Bimini Superfast is doing to the people of Bimini. I have always held the view that my six-year-old son is a better negotiator than many of those who negotiate on our behalf; so just imagine how much easier it would now become for land speculators to swindle us all.

All amendments to the current PSA should go through a period of public consultation and should not be watered down to the disadvantage of the Bahamian public. The Planning and Subdivisions Act is a vital tool in the regulation and enforcement of all development throughout the country and any inability to ensure its application will again raise fears about widespread unregulated construction in this nation.

We must demand greater accountability. We must demand a Freedom of Information Act. We must ensure that our courts are seen and promoted as having the power and authority to generally censor and guard public morals and our fundamental rights and that rulings rendered will be enforced across the board, without exceptions. We must ensure that law enforcement is not selective.
Indeed, the rule of law is preferable to no one!

The Oil Fiasco – The government of the Bahamas must stop its duplicitous and deceitful fairy-tale on the benefits of oil for this country

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Government in the Dark – Bahamas for Bahamians

On the one hand they TALK about preserving the Bahamas. On the other hand the government actively keeps us in the dark and persists in approving developments that devastate the environment.

 

Given that this government in the dark never chose to bring any of the petroleum bills to light for public comment or consultation, its standard operating procedure for them to pat themselves on the back and tell us what a wonderful job they have done on our behalf just doesn’t cut it- how would we know? And why in the world would we trust them? It’s not like they have a track record of putting the welfare or concerns of Bahamians first.

 

Peanuts for Damages

The $10m penalties for damage in oil exploration are a joke – no a bloody insult, when you consider the extent of the damage that could happen during oil exploration – and what about the actual drilling?  Do the fines cover actual drilling for oil? How would we know?

 

Just think back to what British Petroleum did to the Gulf of Mexico – they have yet to contain that ongoing catastrophe and the fines (in the BILLIONS) do not even come close to “restoring” the damage – to the marine environment, to the health of the people in the area or to the catastrophic economic damages borne by fishermen and those in the tourism trade. Oil disasters are not restorable – that is the crux of the matter – if you look at the Exonn Valzez 1989 disaster they are STILL finding oil more than 25 years later! when they test areas that “look” like they have been cleaned up.

 

Drilling muds used in oil exploration cause damage to the environment by suffocating reefs and causing fish to leave the area. Who exactly gets to quantify what “damage” means? Do dead reefs, fish, sea birds, or marine mammals count as “damage”?

 

Damage Before Drilling

Even before the first exploratory well is dug the seismic testing used to analyze where the most likely place to find oil blasts HUGE sound into the marine environment. In Trinidad and Tobago this sound blasted craters in the seabed that were 25 meters across, and the fish disappeared and did not return.

 

Seismic testing creates extreme underwater noise that disturbs marine life, in particular whales and dolphins who live in a world of sound.  Who knows what damage Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC)’s seismic testing did – No one. Even when asked, the BPC scientist said they never saw whales and dolphins. Did they listen for them before they blasted their home with noise that is as loud as standing next to a 747 while taking off? Apparently not.
Seismic testing can also have extremely serious, or lethal effects on fish because their

​s​wim bladders can be ruptured with the intensive local noise,  increasing mortality and disrupting fish populations. This testing can also damage plankton – the base of the food chain in the ocean.

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Imagine… Oppression, Devastation and Exploitation

All the Bahamas government keeps “selling” us is that we will be rich IF we find oil – and that we should imagine what our future might look like IF we found oil. The Attorney General Allyson Gibson asked us to look at countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Dubai – where, their countries had transformed into much admired modern cities, and the people enjoy a high standard of living.

 

But what more can we, or should we expect when we have Wayne Munroe calling for the flogging of immigrants, and suggesting that women don’t need Women’s Rights, that women should be satisfied, because after all, we can be educated – unlike women in Muslim countries. Are we as a country actually aspiring to the worst countries benchmark and being told to be satisfied because we are marginally better than them?

 

It is somewhat difficult, if not impossible to speak of these countries with such glowing admiration especially when they are morally bankrupt societies built by slave labour, including the sex slave trade of children. The environment, and human rights (especially women) are at the bottom of the barrel – just like The Bahamas – so it is fitting after all for the Bahamas to aspire to that greater model of oppression, devastation and exploitation. And, like the countries mentioned above, the government knows full well that there will be no wealth to be shared among “regular” Bahamians, the wealth will be distributed at the “top” where politicians will be there with their outstretched grubby greedy hands to benefit off the backbone of this country – our environment – at our collective expense and at the expense of future generations.

 

Cheap Gas

Additionally, to try and tell Bahamians that we will benefit from cheaper gas is just another bold face lie. Any oil extracted from the Bahamas will go to a refinery and will be sold back to us at full market value. The dishonesty of this government just has to stop!

 

Speaking of the “selling value of the petroleum prevailing market”, in case the government does not have access to the internet, the “prevailing cost of petroleum” today is $32.28 per barrel. In Feb 2015 it was $54.79 and in the same month in 2014 it was $104.83. So given the general decline in the price of oil how much money is the Bahamas going to realize IF oil is found? Why are we allowing them to rip up the seabed for pocket change? What does the government know that they are not telling us? Have the back door deals been concluded? This is outrageous!

 

Global Oil Glut

And who are they selling this oil to; when according to this article, tankers can’t offload their crude because storage space has run out. Having exposed the world yesterday to the 2-mile long line of tankers-full’o’crude heading from Iraq to the US, several weeks after reporting that China has run out of oil storage space we can now confirm that the global crude “in transit” glut is becoming gargantuan and is starting to have adverse consequences on the price of oil.”  Have we been completely duped?

 

More Money Please – the Audacity and Hypocrisy of it all!

While the Bahamian people pay for entire junkets for the Bahamas government to attend United Nations forums to beg for funding for adaptation to climate change – the government, has the audacity to push full speed ahead committing us to an industry that directly and severely impacts climate change, sea level rise, pollutes the air we breathe and wreaks havoc on the marine environment which is the basis of our economy! The hypocrisy is astonishing!

 

Transparency Accountability Rule of Law and Democracy are DEAD

As if the government doesn’t already lack transparency accountability and complete disregard and disrespect for the rule of law, they are currently proposing scandalous changes to the Planning and Subdivision Act which will essentially gut it, leaving the law useless – will oil exploration developers be let off the hook as proposed in these changes?

 

We can talk about fines all day every day – but here it is, BEC at Clifton and other sites in The Bahamas are haemorrhaging oil DAILY, in plain sight, and absolutely nothing is being done to stem the flow of oil into the marine environment and ground water. The changes to the Planning and Subdivision Act would let BEC off the hook – so that they would never have to clean up the disastrous mess at Clifton and other sites. With BPC’s oil drilling who is going to be the watchdog for this industry – or are we to believe that the industry and government will be honest with us. That is simply laughable.

 

Meanwhile, the government is pushing through with the National Intelligence Agency legislation so they can legalize spying on their citizens and other suspects, but the Bahamian people can’t get a Freedom of Information Act and the Planning and Subdivision Act gets gutted!

 

 

Ghost Move
And what is a classic, but fully expected, low and underhanded move from the government in the dark’s oil propaganda camp, Attorney General Allyson Gibson remarked in the Nassau Guardian 4th Feb, 2016 that “Research shows Bahamians don’t want oil referendum.” Where is that research? Was it conducted in a Cabinet meeting? That could be the only place where such research would have been conducted and resulted in the desired outcome. We were promised a referendum BEFORE any oil exploration was conducted – then it got moved to after oil exploration in the hopes that IF we find oil the government will continue to appeal to the lowest common denominator – greed of the average person – so they can finish up their back door deals, and leave a legacy of environmental destruction and degradation in their path which our children will have to deal with. Shame on all of them!

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