When is a consultation not a consultation?
That’s the thought on the minds of a number of environmental activists after the government yesterday tabled new regulations for environmental impact assessments. The problem? After being asked to give their input, it turns out very little of what was recommended was included.
There are few who have been so outspoken in defence of the environment than Sam Duncombe, and yesterday she described the tabling of the new regulations as “a shock and a slap in the face”.
Aside from the differences between the recommendations and the outcome, there are concerns about the process itself. The government initially gave organisations just five days to come up with their responses before agreeing to extend it. Five days to assess proposals, consult within the organisation and come up with recommendations? Are they serious?
“We all worked on those regulations for the last couple of weeks so we could submit some robust comments on what was happening, but it looks like our comments were not considered and didn’t make the final resolution,” said Mrs Duncombe.
Fellow campaigner Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, of BREEF, added: “They’re supposed to be a strong proponent of public consultation… it just seems like these regulations were rushed through, and it’s going to cause problems down the road.”
It all leaves a feeling as if the proposals were a fait accompli, something the government wanted to push through and on which they consulted for the bare minimum amount of time for show. The trouble with that is not just that they won’t receive expert feedback on the proposal on hand – but that it affects the whole reputation of government. Why bother giving feedback if it’s just going to be ignored?
Now, of course, not every piece of feedback will be approved – everything has to be weighed and considered, but campaigners, it would seem, have been left feeling out in the cold, ignored.
These are the very people who are closest to some of the issues being consulted upon and they feel their advice has been discarded.
Was it all for show? Was a consultation nothing more than a tick box for somebody to mark to say it had been done without actually listening to what was said?
We would love to hear Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira’s side of the argument – but despite our phone calls and messages to him there was no response before we went to press.
Oh, and who are the beneficiaries of the changes that have been made? The Tribune’s business team took a look at the initial draft compared to the final draft. Did the environment benefit from the changes made? No. Instead, it was the developers, who find they will foot a smaller bill than in the initial proposals for any environmental damage they cause.
Is it safe or not?
There is a conundrum at the heart of the government’s extension of the emergency powers until October 31. After all, isn’t the country planning to reopen to tourism before then?
Much fanfare was made of the October 15 reopening, with the Tourism Minister talking about the country resuming full operations and use of the beaches. He talked of rebranding quarantine as “vacation in place”, a sleight of hand with words that isn’t likely to fool any visitor. Spending 14 days in quarantine is much the same whatever you might want to call it.
But in theory, it was all systems go for that October 15 relaunch. Now? Well, the emergency powers will continue, bringing with them an extension of the curfews, lockdowns, rules applying to businesses and all.
We don’t mean to be like the boy who pointed at the emperor as he paraded around in his new clothes to say that he was naked – but is there any substance in the claims that we will be safe to reopen on October 15 if we need emergency powers that continue until the month’s end?
Frustration is mounting up at the endless restrictions – some of which seem to make no sense. Take the beach restrictions, which stop people going on the beaches after noon. At five minutes to noon, it is safe to be on the beach but at five minutes after, it isn’t? Did someone tell the virus to stay away from the beaches on mornings?
Even long-term FNM supporters have had their fill of restrictions that seem to make no sense, and there has been plenty of griping on social media.
The contradictory moves by government – opening up more then saying it’s still too dangerous to lift emergency powers – leave people wondering is it safe to proceed with opening or is it not?
People just want to know if decisions are being guided by safety. Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis says he is asking the Bahamian people for just three weeks of sacrifice. Fair enough, Prime Minister, but the Bahamian people are asking for straight answers. We’ll do our part, it’s only fair you do yours.