Tobago Business Chamber: PM’s adversarial stance on EMA laws ill-advised

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a post-Cabinet press conference at Whitehall, Port of Spain on June 13. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

THE TOBAGO Business Chamber says the somewhat adversarial stance the Prime Minister has taken in referring to the environmental management laws may not be the best position to adopt if the government intends to develop the country along a particular path.

At the post-Cabinet media briefing on June 13, Dr Rowley said the government would have to revisit the EMA Act, as people in the country use it to obstruct development rather than help it.

He believes the misuse of the act has robbed TT of projects such as a Sandals resort and an aluminium smelter plant.

But Rowley said the proposed construction of a $500 million brand hotel and property development at Rocky Point, Tobago, which is to be undertaken by a group of private developers, Superior Hotels Ltd, will not suffer the same fate.

Some environmentalists and a surfing group have expressed serious concerns about the project, which on completion, is expected to comprise a 200-room hotel, 28 duplex residences, 11 single-family luxury villas and 12 fully outfitted townhouses. It will also contain facilities for scuba diving, jogging, cycling, local food vendors and craftsmen, among other amenities.

The project was announced in September 2021 during the PNM-led THA’s term in office.

But speaking to Newsday on June 14, Tobago Chamber chairman Martin George said the government and the EMA must find common ground.

“One can understand the Prime Minister’s frustration in this regard. But we are confident that there must be a way to straddle that divide so that you are able to have development occurring in an environmentally sensitive and in an environmentally sustainable manner,” he said in a WhatsApp voice note.

“We don’t think that the two are so impossibly far apart that they can’t meet. We think that there are ways that you can do it in a way that you still preserve and maintain the environment and you still are able to proceed with your development while showing that respect for the island and that respect for Tobagonians in the process.”

He added, “So the carte-blanche dismissal of even the objectors as being entitled, weed-smoking babies that are just idling all day and surfing and smoking weed – I am not sure that that is a fair or just characterisation.

“And even if they were, the reality is that at the public town hall meeting, lots of young men came there representing the interests of the surfers and the beachgoers, and they were very well-prepared, well-rehearsed in their presentations.

“So we have to be always mindful and respectful to take on board the views of others, see how we could adjust and compromise to get a result that is a happy ending for us all.”

Saying the Tobago Chamber was fully on board with the project, George said it must be done to consider objectors’ concerns “in a manner that is both respectful and sustainable so that you end up with a win-win all around.

“We have to step away from these highly adversarial positions where it is daggers drawn and you approach things with a sledgehammer-type approach. Sometimes, the subtlety and precision of a surgeon’s scalpel can help us to find that fine line between one view and another, and you can thread the needle to get to where both sides are able to say we have been able to weave a beautiful tapestry as a result that is satisfactory to everyone in this circumstance.”

He said the chamber is urging all stakeholders to continue discussions with the EMA.

“The EMA is a necessary body – let’s not get around that or ignore that – for protecting the environment. It may be sometimes that they need to look at themselves, their operations, make adjustments, make adaptations.

“But to make a carte-blanche statement which seems to say that their laws are being used in this manner may not necessarily be the best way of resolving this going forward.

“So we think dialogue, reasoned discussion, logic and common sense ought to dictate this process going forward, as opposed to going in with guns blazing on both sides because that will end up in a scenario where basically there are no survivors left and you really have made no progress at the end of the day.”

Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Curtis Williams said the organisation also welcomed the project in the context of the island’s overall development.

He told Newsday the process must be carried out within the laws of the country.

Williams urged the developers and investors to meet with the various community groups, fisherfolk and village councils to discuss their concerns.

“The island is open for business. But we must operate in conjunction with the laws of TT.”