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Exuma Park: We Deserve Full Disclosure

EDITOR, The Tribune

With great interest I read the October 30, letter regarding the apparent lack of transparency with the Exuma Park deal the Bahamas National Trust cut with Albany. I was travelling and missed the original story in September and the Trust’s “lacklustre” reply on October 11. 

I was employed by The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) for 25 years. I joined as its Education Officer, and was then first promoted to Director of Education and then to Deputy Director. During the latter years of my tenure, I served as lead in the BNT’s first-ever Strategic Planning Session and authored its first Five-Year Strategic Plan. I am also a BNT life member. I state these things only for disclosure and to give a back-drop to my perspective. 

I certainly commend the Exuma Citizen for writing and I support his/her remarks and concerns. Moreso, I question the basic wisdom of this type of corporate partnership. For certain, corporate partnerships in conservation are hugely important and employed globally with great success. But most of these partnerships are project-specific.

After a full and lengthy disclosure and demonstration of ability and commitment, a stated amount of money comes in for a clear list of deliverables. The reporting mechanisms to monitor the application of funds is rigidly structured. Accountability is integral and not negotiable. It certainly appears as if the BNT’s deal with Albany is not project-specific. And, in the absence of real information from the BNT and the lack of public disclosure in advance of the announcement of the partnership, one can reasonably question if there was a process at all. If that’s true, it’s terribly unfortunate. 

The Exuma Citizen was spot on when he/she called the Exuma Park special. In fact, just a few days ago, the Marine Conservation Institute announced its 2018 Global Ocean Refuge Awards. The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park earned the coveted awards’ Platinum status, a true testament to the extraordinary marine conservation achievements which are taking place in this, our oldest Bahamas national park. It is a place of unmatched beauty and unrivaled in its role of replenishing the neighbouring seas with priceless marine resource of intrinsic and commercial value. 

The BNT’s October 11 article made mention of $10 million needed to fund our national parks. I do not know where that number comes from. The Exuma Citizen spoke of $300,000 per year for the Exuma Park. I do not know where that number comes from either. I do know that parks in The Bahamas, and for that matter, around the world, are chronically underfunded. With national economies the world over in their current fragile states, private fund-raising becomes more and more challenging and more competitive. As it does, the need to develop creative financing mechanisms becomes more acute. But need and creativeness do not entitle any organization to carte blanche with the process. Transparency is imperative.

The Exuma Citizen’s concluding sentence rings with irony (intended or otherwise). He/she wrote “the BNT receives $1.5 million in funding from the government; they owe transparency to the Bahamian people.” A tax-payer (i.e. source of money) feels real stake in the game and wants a say.

That exactly is the rub. How will the BNT handle Albany when they demand a say in conservation matters in the Exuma Park? Or demand additional development rights? The BNT’s model - mandate, actually -  is National Parks are open to all people. I do not believe this corporate partner’s model is similarly based.

I would suggest the BNT to put a hold on this partnership with Albany. At the very least, BNT members and tax-paying Bahamians deserve full disclosure. Further, if a transparent process was not detailed in advance and/or followed, the organisation should admit their misstep and take aggressive steps to correct the situation. 

SUSAN HOLOWESKO LARSON

Nassau

October 31, 2018

Comments

Porcupine 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Thank you for this letter, Ms. Larson. These are serious matters that call into question the entire governing structure of BNT and how to proceed from here.

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