By Rupert Missick Jr
AFTER one year of the new Christie administration, the Bahamas National Trust has been able to put past conflicts with the PLP behind them to embark on a renewed partnership with a government they say has demonstrated its commitment to both their work and the environment.
During the 2012 election campaign, the Bahamas National Trust was lambasted by the then opposition PLP for giving its blessing to the controversial dredging in the Exuma land and Sea Park around Bell Island, which is privately owned by Aga Khan Shah Karim al-Hussaini.
The dredging was conducted to accommodate the Aga Khan’s yacht and a marina at Bell Island. Compounding the outrage about the heavy dredging in the pristine marine park was the fact that the Bahamas National Trust was said to have benefited from a $1m donation from the Aga Khan.
The PLP alleged that 600,000 sq ft of the sea bed had been excavated from Conch Cut south of Bell Island, to make way for the inland marina, destroying the habitats of numerous marine animals, including lobster and conch.
However, the then FNM administration said that the PLP’s estimates were “far wrong” and that less than five acres of natural area was affected by excavations, with areas for the yacht basin and barge landing being only a third of what the opposition had claimed was destroyed.
Yesterday, Eric Carey, Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust, said that the ill feelings over the Bell Island controversy are now a thing of the past. “Since coming into power they have addressed their concerns about Bell Island with us. We have sat with the Minister of the Environment (Kenred Dorsett) and we expressed to them that for us it had always been about the right of a private property owner with a private home in a national park. The issue for us was one of the rights of a private owner,” Mr Carey said.
The government sought no retribution against the BNT, Mr Carey said, and the organisation was not negatively impacted in anyway.
“Over all the Trust’s interaction with the government has been positive. We have a good relationship with Minister Dorsett,” he said.
The Christie administration has maintained its support for the National Trust at the level of the former FNM government, meaning that $1 million a year of public funds goes to support the trust and its work.
“The government has made it clear that funding is tight but that is no secret. The Minister of the Environment has said that to the greatest extent possible the government is not seeking to see any job loss and we have showed them that we are operating at our maximum efficiencies, there is no fat in our budget,” Mr Carey said.
He said the trust is also seeking to assist Prime Minister Perry Christie with his vision of establishing a botanical park on every island.
“As a part of his legacy, the Prime Minister wants areas on each island where people can walk through and enjoy similar to what we did with the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera,” Mr Carey said.
Going forward, the government and the trust are working on the “Conch-servation Programme”, the BNT’s effort to ensure sustainable fisheries for Bahamian conch stocks.
“The administration has endorsed the programme and we have begun discussions with the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment our next move is to again the support of the Bahamian public and help them see the importance of protecting our fisheries stocks for the future,” he said.