COLUMN – Some questions for Dr Estwick
Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick seems to be openly blaming the Government for the failure of his proposed 46-acre industrial complex at Andrews to start, following the withdrawal of the organizations who had allegedly offered funding –– financial terms unknown. Is it because he can be a spoiler without sanction or discipline from the Prime Minister because of Government’s razor thin majority in Parliament, Owen Arthur notwithstanding?
Dr Estwick is now suggesting that, if private investment is found, this questionable and ill-conceived project can now go ahead. He is quoted as saying that the Ministry of Agriculture “has agreed to shift the venture from a mere public venture, to a public-private partnership, with financing from the United States-based National Standard Finance (NSF)”, and that “under the new proposal, which was put before Cabinet in September, the St Lucian-based Inter-Sugar Partnership Ltd (ISPL) was also identified as the private entity which would manage the project for a period of time and then lease it back to the Government”.
All of this without a published feasibility study, which Dr Estwick has previously refused to divulge to the Barbadian public.
Firstly, the many original concerns of the residents in the St Andrew and St Joseph areas appear to have been totally ignored by Dr Estwick and all state agencies involved. These concerns include, but are not limited to, the noise from approximately 100 20-tonne trucks a day, all year round, bringing river tamarind to burn to produce electricity and pollution –– the pollution from a wood-burning electricity plant up against Parris Hill Village –– damage to roads by these vehicles, and the effect on the local water supply.
Secondly, it appears that legal requirements have also been ignored. For examplae, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Andrews has not been published; there has been no properly convened public meeting to discuss the proposed project; hence Town & Country Planning approval has not been granted; and no agreement has been reached with Barbados Light & Power to take the electricity to be generated.
Barbadians need to be told that the EIA for Bulkeley in 2007 strongly stated that Andrews was the worst possible location for a centralized sugar factory to serve the entire island. Dr Estwick needs to publish the EIA and tell the country what is his apparent obsession with Andrews as the location for this ill-conceived development.
Despite all this, Dr Estwick closed down the Andrews Factory early last year, sent all the workers home at considerable cost, and then we wonder why the 2014 sugar crop was such a disaster! As a small farmer, I am quite upset.
By Dr Estwick’s own technocrats’ admission, the entire project is feasible if cane production is more than double the 2013 figures –– some 350,000 tons per annum! Really!
Apart from pursuing answers to the above, what Barbadians should also be asking Dr Estwick are:
Where is the feasibility study for this 46-acre Andrews Industrial Estate? I ask that it be published now!
Where is the EIA for both the Bulkeley and Andrews locations? Publish them now!
Who exactly is behind this “private entity” ISPL, based in St Lucia?
Behind this opaque corporate veil, who are the directors and beneficiaries, and what experience do they have that warrants them overseeing such a project over Barbadians, who surely have more experience in both the financial sector and certainly
the sugar cane industry?
What do they stand to get from providing such a service? They were already on board when it was a Government project; so this recent suggestion by Dr Estwick that they have experience in public/private projects is, shall we say, convenient to say the least?
Who really make up this United States-based National Standard Finance, and what do they expect to receive (or give) for seeking funding
for a private project of this nature? US$250 million is just the starting figure, and does not include all the infrastructural works that will have to be carried out to the surrounding road network.
Either way, Bajans will end up owing in excess of US$350 million if by some magic such a huge sum can actually be borrowed when Barbados is already in such difficult economic straits. No doubt, a few people in and out of Barbados will make enormous financial gains, but our grandchildren’s children will still be paying for the minister’s refusal to do anything but push ahead at all costs, even if the end result is dire for the country.
Finally, Dr Estwick or the Prime Minister should tell us what will now happen to the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation. Taxpayers moneys are at stake in this difficult economic period in our 49th year of Independence.
(Ronald Beckles is a small farmer.)