Not for the first time in St Vincent and the Grenadines, citizens of a community have taken a stand in relation to matters affecting their quality of life and what they perceive as economic development and the profits of investors being placed above the concerns of local communities.
We refer here to the objection of residents of the Leeward coastal town of Layou to an application (in principle) made by a business entity for the construction of what would be a third jetty on their limited coastal front to facilitate the movement of heavy equipment and aggregate from a quarry in Palmiste, the mountainous area in what is called the Layou mountains.
SEARCHLIGHT has given extensive coverage to the protests by the residents in both last weekend’s issue and our Midweek issue this week as well as on our social media platforms. The protest is however not unique. In recent years similar protests have been organised by community residents in Canouan and the Marriaqua valley for instance, each raising the banner of the health and welfare of citizens of those communities in the face of perceived threats of an environmental or developmental nature.
It will be simplistic to consider this as just another clash between economic development and the maintenance of traditional life and customs. Indeed, economic development can only be sustainable and meaningful if it takes into consideration all the other factors which contribute to human well-being. As a Christian community, we must be always mindful of the Biblical saying that “man cannot live by bread alone”.
Every project which aims to bring economic progress must bring in its wake the enhancement of the quality of life of the citizens of the affected community. This is why in today’s world each proposed major project must be accompanied by an Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) outlining not just the economic benefits but also the social and environmental conditions which impact the lives of community residents.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to downplay the factors which impact on community life and the well-being of citizens. Emphasis tends to be placed on what economic benefits are perceived, highlighting job creation, even when as in the Layou case, they tend to be “temporary jobs for construction workers”. Is that a sufficient basis for the community to give up the social and health benefits of which residents are well aware?
The residents made it clear to our reporters that the community will not tolerate a “third wharf” in Layou because of the threats to their livelihood (fishing), health and recreation (sea bathing) especially of the elderly, the environment (dust and pollution) and even to free access to their beloved beach. They also have concrete alternative proposals.
This raises the obvious question of if the company making the application had done even a cursory consultation with the community. One resident told SEARCHLIGHT that he does not know of any consultations taking place. In light of these developments, the residents are perfectly in order to raise their objections. We also note that they have done so peacefully and are anxious for it not to become a partisan political issue.
Their stance is a reasonable and commendable one. It cannot be taken in isolation though. The residents of Richmond have similar concerns. Does this not clearly indicate the need for community development via some form of local government? Is it not time for the reinstitution of some form of People’s control over their community affairs?