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YOU KNOW THAT A POLICY is dead on arrival when the usually accommodative local chamber of commerce breaks its silence to say so. That, to me, was the big game changer last week.
The threat posed by the Cahill energy plan is so potentially damaging to this country that the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to its credit, did not wait for its critique to wind its way through interminable meetings of the umbrella private sector organisation.
Instead, president Tracey Shuffler let it be known clearly and without equivocation where the chamber stood in a simple speech at the chamber’s final monthly luncheon before the summer break.
There may be a waste to energy solution which could suit Barbados’ needs in terms of cost, and environmental compatibility, she said, and she was confident that the same rigour with which the Town and Country Planning Office had used to review wind farming projects, for example, would be applied to the Cahill Energy waste to energy project.
Then she drove in the knife, adding that “I am presently fully assured that from the reviews we have seen, it may well be roundly rejected if some significant changes are not made”.
Noting that the environmental levy had been rubbished because it broke World Trade Organisation rules, the municipal solid waste tax had to be trashed because of its inherent inequity, and that the current tipping fee had to be modified, Shuffler characterised the current Cahill Energy proposal as overkill, saying “we need not use the proverbial sledge hammer to kill an ant”.
Shuffler said, no doubt as charitably as possible, that “one could reasonably assume that the policy or strategy surrounding waste management in Barbados and its financing for the future is either yet to be fully defined or there just continues to be challenges in its implementation”.
Not that the Government was waffling, or indecisive, or anything like that, but the country, she said, “still had some distance to go toward having a fully developed, widely shared national framework for waste management and its financing into the future”.
The main problem, she added, was that while the separation of waste and recycling had become a regular part of the landscape in many countries, it was still not a common practice in Barbados, and needed to become part of the culture both in business and at home if real progress were to be made.
The chamber president, in diplomatic terms few of us could muster with equal grace under pressure, thus clearly set her organisation apart from the failing policies of the administration on how to deal with the garbage, and let it be known that in its opinion, the whole Cahill Energy proposal must inevitably fail if the professionals just do their jobs.
It is perhaps fitting that an administration which has wasted the country’s precious time, trashed its economy and turned is national debt rating into junk should have been brought to its proverbial knees by its lack of a coherent policy on garbage.
Having allegedly signed an agreement that essentially hands over the people of Barbados’ inherent rights to having their garbage disposed of in a safe and non-health threatening manner to Cahill Energy for the next 30 years, the Dolittle administration sat back and watched as Cahill suffered an ignominous defeat at a recent “town hall” meeting.
To put it mildly, its attempts to defend the indefensible - the idea of bringing plasma gasification to solve Barbados’ waste management problem - was consigned to the rubbish heap long before that meeting, mainly through the so far unchallenged charges made by the Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley, in her Budget reply.
To put it in pirate terms, Cahill has been made to walk the plank, and it is about to fall off the end, in terms of public credibility, if it hasn’t done so already.
Presumably unable itself to answer any of the dozens of most basic questions and concerns about the cost, environmental danger and suitability of such a plant for this country, the Dolittle administration has once more gone back to doing what it does best, which is, of course, little or nothing, to assuage the public’s concerns and overcome their reservations.
To be fair, the thesis, which I can quickly summarise, may be hard to disprove: “That the Government of Barbados has given up all of the country’s future rights to determine its waste to energy management to an unknown company, whose plan is to build a plant using highly dangerous technology that has failed in every attempt made so far to turn garbage into electricity.”
Not even the four horsemen of this particular apocalypse can be found to say anything meaningful in its defence.
The arrival of Dr Doolittle himself at the podium in defence of his administration’s garbage policy, such as it is, is still eagerly anticipated.
He will no doubt get around to it after he has changed the Constitution to turn us into a republic and to deal with the trade union movement, as per his “new wine needs new wine bottles” policy so passionately enunciated a few weeks ago.