Promise and Practicality of Hyatt: Sifting Through the Absence of an EIA

Dr. George Brathwaite

Dr. George Brathwaite (PhD)

In recent times, the Barbados Government has not done the best job of communicating with its citizens and residents. Worse, numerous persons in the island are calling out for enhanced transparency and accountability – perhaps in vain; but receiving calculated spin and often deft silence to their appeals. The governing continues to deride such practices of good governance, and make manifesto promises and administrative best practices seem elusive and far adrift from the ideal. The saviour on many occasions has seldom been investigative journalism from the local media. Rather, the Leader of the Opposition and her team continue to expose and push back against the secrecy that has become normal in the scheme of governance under the intellectually stirred but sluggishly compromised Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. There will always be consequences for the choices made.

Activists such as David Comissiong and ‘independent’ advocates for good governance are repeatedly speaking out against perceived and actual infelicities by the government. These persons continue to be adamant that the local officials must do much more to meet the expectations of the people while advancing the national interest first. There can be no doubt that both the executive and legislative branches of government, although leaving much to be desired, ought to be more informative to the public. Government decisions must engender greater national participation and major projects must become implemented with adherence to stipulated laws and regulations, especially regarding procurement, concessions, and payment details. Politicians’ choices, pronouncements and actions will ultimately affect people’s livelihoods and those of generations to come.

It is precisely against this overarching setting of good governance for sustainable development that this article intends to examine the promise and practicality of the proposed Hyatt project to be constructed in Barbados. Why should the construction of any major project consider sustainable development? The concept of sustainable development has rightfully become inherent on any serious discussion of policymaking and project implementation in the annals of national development. The term sustainable development can be described as enhancing quality of life and thus allowing people to live in a healthy environment and improve social, economic and environmental conditions for present and future generations (Oritz et al., 2009: 29).

Furthermore, over the last decade, there have been several proposals and initiatives pushed by the Government of Barbados for bringing the notion of ‘greening’ into national development. PM Stuart, in the foreword of the Green Economy Scoping Study (GESS) contended that: “What is critical for Barbados and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is that the Green Economy debate recognizes our structural vulnerabilities, offers a model to assist us in further realising our sustainable development aspirations, and creates the institutional platform that would enable us to participate in innovative partnerships in the fight to save our planet, against mounting unsustainable consumption and production patterns”. Surely, as the leader of Government, and the person with whom planning permission for the Hyatt revolves, PM Stuart must believe what he is on record of advocating.

The construction is proposed for the Carlisle Bay area which is within the precincts of the UNESCO designated world heritage site of historic Bridgetown and the popular Browne’s Beach. Indeed, the intended construction will be done beachside, and it is to be multiple-storeys (15), and is expected to bring significant economic returns to a virtual dormant city area. Unfortunately, the seeming attempts by the current administration to sift through the broiling political exchanges and to go ahead with the project even in the absence of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) are alarming. An EIA is the ‘process of evaluating the likely environmental consequences of a proposed major action significantly affecting the natural and man-made environment’ (Wathern, 1988). The concerns in Barbados and specific to the Hyatt are crucial and are inclusive of social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors.

While it is fair to say that urban development and renewal are necessary for the greater Bridgetown area, there are several constraints mitigating against the Hyatt project. The sheer magnitude of the proposed Hyatt project makes it economically promising. Yet, one cannot refuse to engage the residents and citizens of Barbados, and certainly one cannot get around discussing the key issues of resource efficiency, reducing waste and the use of toxic substances, enhancing water efficiency and sustainable site development, transportation, as well as raising the consciousness of practitioners in the construction in a Heritage area that is also on the coastline offering a major open-window to the sea. Despite the potential economic goods, the Hyatt project may negatively and profoundly alter the character of the Bridgetown area in ways that are unrecoverable. The very thought of likely creating environmental disaster is antithetical to sustainable development and fashioning a green economy.

In real terms, Barbados is falling short on governance. By governance, this article considers “how one gets to act, through what types of interactions (deliberation, negotiation, self-regulation or authoritative choice) and the extent to which actors adhere to collective decisions. It involves the level and scope of political allocation, the dominant orientation of state, and other institutions and their interactions” (Eden and Hampson 1997, p.362). After 50 years of Independence, there is no doubt that Barbados is compelled to ensure that its governance structures organise negotiation processes, determine objectives, influence motivations, set standards, perform allocation functions, monitor compliance, impose penalties, initiate and/or reduce conflict, and resolve disputes among the many stakeholders some of whom would obviously be external to Barbados.

Nevertheless, and specifically dealing with construction in a sustainable manner, the GESS recognises that: ‘The construction of commercial and residential buildings puts a strain on natural and human resources through energy use, land use, the removal of natural materials, transportation of construction materials, liquid and solid waste generation, poor utilisation and recycling of building materials and the use of hazardous building materials’. With the Government knowing and articulating these factors, why would the Freundel Stuart administration appear to be dodging the prime opportunity to discuss at a national level these environmental and greening concerns as they relate to the Hyatt project?

The DLP’s 2013 Manifesto pledge at page 49 states that: “The preservation of the natural environment is absolutely critical to the social and economic future of Barbados. For example, tourism, the major foreign exchange earner is dependent on the natural resource base of the economy as a source of land to provide tourism infrastructure and the provision of water, food, a clean marine environment, and natural attractions such as the Harrison’s Cave. Government has an inescapable responsibility to assume the lead responsibility for ensuring that the environment is managed effectively. The process of environmental care is the concern of every citizen and resident of Barbados (my emphasis in bold italics). Is it a definite walk away from the DLP’s pledge of 2013 when the Prime Minister and his Cabinet fail to utilise the tools of an EIA and make available forums for engaging the public on the Hyatt project. The EIA is therefore an anticipatory, participatory, environmental management tool, the most visible manifestation of which is the environmental impact statement that would be derived from the findings of the technocrats and state officials (Wood and Dejeddour, 1992: 3). There are too many interlinking issues that are critical to Barbados’ sustainable development which cannot be overlooked if good governance best practices are to be followed.

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