Nowhere to turn

On a number of occasions in recent years, residents living near the Arawak Cement Plant at Checker Hall, St. Lucy have complained about the dust from the plant with which they have had to put up.

On quite a few occasions as well, we at Barbados TODAY, as well as other news organisations, have highlighted the problem, seldom with any credible response from the operators of the plant.

The fact that the problem persists with some degree of regularity would suggest that not only is Arawak and its parent company, Trinidad Cement Limited, failing to respond verbally to the residents and the media, but to correct the problem as well.

The general area of Checker Hall has always been one of the more heavily populated sections of the island’s most northern parish and many of the residents, or at least the residences, predate the plant, which originally was a joint venture between the Governments of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, before being sold to TCL.

Since Checker Hall has grown, it is also possible that some of those who are affected by the dust problem that originates with Arawak, move into the district since the plant became operational. In either case, no reasonable person would expect to have an industrial neighbour and not be impacted negatively in some way. After all, such is the nature of the industrial beast.

Our question at this point though is simply: At what point does the impact cease to be reasonable? Its a question some residents and business operators in St. Lawrence Gap have had to ask in relation to noise from nightclubs. It would be unreasonable to live next to a place of entertainment and not suffer some inconvenience. Again the question is: At what point does the inconvenience cease to be reasonable?

But we return to the matter of Arawak, because we also have an issue with political representation. We may be wrong, but we cannot recall hearing the voice of St. Lucy Member of Parliament, Denis Kellman, on this vexing issue. What should be the role of an MP in such a matter?

Certainly, no one can ever accuse Kellman of being unaware of what happens in his constituency because if there is one MP who has a reputation for always being on the ground where he get his votes, it is the St. Lucy representative. Add to that the fact that he operates a business a mere stone’s throw from the Arawak Cement Plant.

Our position here is not to condemn the MP or cast him in a negative light, but to again highlight a weakness in our system of governance which really offers no credible avenue for the governed to seriously address such issues.

Our system offers nothing even remotely resembling a city council meeting, at which residents can voice their concerns and force elected representatives to act. And please don’t tell us that aggrieved constituents can do so at a political branch meeting, because they are so rabidly partisan that only the suicidal would consider such — especially when such a character is unlikely to be carrying a party passport anyhow.

The issue also speaks to the way Barbados’ regulatory agencies are established and how they work. Since we are dealing with a dust issue at Checker Hall, one would automatically think that the Environmental Protection Department would have some jurisdiction in this matter. Do they? And what would be the prescribed avenue for getting that agency involved?

Ought they to naturally respond to complaints voiced via the news media? Is an affected resident to write the department? Does the act governing its operation place any duty on the head of that office to act once notified? Is he or she obligated to let the complainant know that action is being taken? Do they have the legal authority to take action if the entity is found to be offending some standard/statute?

There are so many areas of the way we govern our affairs that are in need to massive reform that we could write articles like this until the end of the year, but what difference would it make? Even the system for initiating reform needs to be reformed!

In the grand scheme of things the number of persons affected at Checker Hall may be too small to influence those who could act, and there is a very good chance that one of the retorted responses would be: “Don’t rock the boat in these challenging economic times”. But one can’t help but get the impression that there is a gross “unfairness” taking place in the north.

Whether the problem affects one resident, 11 or 111, somebody with the power to act needs to do so; and those who govern ought to look at the implementation of structured ways so any such matters, regardless of their colour or character, can be addressed by their affected.

Then again, if constituency councils were not set up to be partisan political entities (regardless of how their creators portray them) we could have the makings of genuine representative reform — the city council-type meeting at which constituents can represent themselves and their causes. And where those who sit in positions of authority are required to act.

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