The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines is moving ahead with the new $600 million Kingstown Port project, the largest national project since the construction of the Argyle International Airport.
There is little doubt that the existing container port in Kingstown has outlived its usefulness and that at this stage of our development, our country urgently needs a container port that can rise to modern international standards.
However, given the multifaceted nature of the project and the size of the financial outlay, it should be expected that certain project activities may come into conflict with and face push back from interest groups and members of the public.
This necessitates that government pay serious attention to public reservations and concerns when they arise lest the wider strategic importance of the project and its necessity be drowned out by critical public concerns.
One contentious issue to surface over the last two weeks has been the dredging in the waters off the South Windward/East St George area to provide landfill material for the project in Kingstown.
A number of environmental and livelihood concerns have been raised by fisherfolk and residents of the area about the possible detrimental effects of dredging in the area.
In response the government has said that while planning permission has been granted, Cabinet has not yet given permission for the dredging to take place or decided on the matter of compensation to the state for the resource. Indeed both Prime Minister Gonsalves and Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves admitted that Cabinet itself has a number of queries and concerns and has balked up to now with giving its stamp of approval.
This matter is a critical one and it is important that it is handled with maturity and transparency. The worst thing that can happen is that rather than examining the issues dispassionately, the government should take the view that those raising concerns have political motives or wish to halt what is for the government another flagship project. The issues raised must be addressed to ensure the best interests of the country, our environment, the livelihood of many who may be affected and the Port Project as a whole.
Another related matter to surface this week has been the complaints of fisherfolk who were relocated from Rose Place to Lowmans Bay to make way for the Project, in relation to necessary infrastructure, including indoor toilets and electricity not having been put in place months after relocation. This is inexcusable. We cannot have people living in such primitive, unhealthy and unsafe conditions in the 21st century.
We urge the authorities to address these concerns with due care and attention, ensuring both transparency and accountability. Public support for the port project is as necessary as it was for the international airport; we also cannot allow long-term environmental and livelihood issues to be given short shrift on the altar of expediency – political or otherwise.
Too many countries and people have suffered from serious errors in that regard. We cannot afford to repeat costly mistakes.