One of the most galling aspects of this utterly dreadful Western Imperial Special Economic Zone (WISEZ) deal is the threat that it poses to our environment. You see, some two hundred acres, out of the total of five hundred and forty acres earmarked as the WISEZ, are wetlands, and they are at potential risk. We’re talking about the mangroves which extract harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, protect inland areas from storm surges, are the habitat for a wide variety of marine life, and act as a sieve, preventing detritus from entering our ocean. Our precious mangroves are an essential part of our ecosystem. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the WISEZ people will do to the mangroves and the wetlands, that which was done by YIDA to its holdings in the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA). What YIDA inflicted on the mangroves in the NEMMA was a desecration, bordering on criminal, except that our spineless administration winked and nodded with them. Needless to say, history will not be so kind.
Of course, as Mr Harold Lovell, the political leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) was careful to point out, in his appearance on this past Tuesday’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (VOP) broadcast, all of our oversight and regulatory agencies here in Antigua and Barbuda have been emasculated by the language in the WISEZ agreement. In other words, the WISEZ folks will be able to do whatever the hell they feel like in the WISEZ, and there is absolutely nothing that our Department of the Environment can do about it. The WISEZ is a law unto itself! They will be able to pee all over their special zone, and we will not be able to say “Boo!” And he of a high place signed-off on that! Sigh!
Anyway, here is what the political leader had to share at his aforementioned VOP appearance. In response to the question as to whether there was anything in the WISEZ agreement that could be of benefit to Antigua and Barbuda, the political leader emphatically exclaimed, “There is NOTHING! NOTHING!” Absolutely nothing of benefit to us! And he continued, “As I indicated, once you go through this agreement you will see that this is something that Antiguans and Barbudans in the future will look at, they will go the graves of the people who signed this, and who conceived of this, and they will defaecate on the graves of those people for the shame and disgrace that they have brought on this nation with this terrible agreement. . . .” Have mercy, Lawd!
In response to the question, “What are some of the lowlights in this agreement,” the political leader declared, “The major aspect of it that I find shameful is that there is NOTHING for the local business sector, NOTHING for the government in terms of taxes and EVERYTHING for people who will be coming here, over whom we will have no control . . . The fact that they have set up what is known as a Zone Management Committee . . . and they have set up parallel institutions and agencies, their Department of the Environment . . . it will have parallel powers with the Department of the Environment, they will have their own Customs gateway, they will be responsible for that, they will be responsible for granting permission to who can come into Antigua and who can do business, and there are no restrictions, no restrictions on who they can hire; they are given the right to employ a foreign labour force, there are no restrictions on that; they are given the right to demand of the government within fourteen days that all work permits must be approved within fourteen days; they can fish, they can dredge, they can destroy, they are given a free license to do anything; it is an appalling agreement, and you wonder what did these people have to give, and to whom, in order to get an agreement of this nature, because you cannot believe that anybody in their right mind could sign something like this. Something like this is where you have some little island . . . somewhere in the South Pacific or some behind-back place where they have nothing and they are willing to do anything to get something. . . .” Sigh! Seems, we here in Antigua and Barbuda have nothing to offer. As the political leader declared, the language of that last passage is as though, after forty years of independence, after the great effort to make sure that our people are well-educated and ready to seize the helm, and manage the many positions and challenges that may arise here in our fair State, we are ceding every blessed thing to the WISEZ. It is an insult, a hard slap in the face to all Antiguans and Barbudans. This dastardly agreement must be rejected out of hand by the good citizens of Antigua and Barbuda. Because when all is said and done, it stinks! It stinketh up to high heaven!
When asked what was the thinking behind the government relinquishing its oversight and its powers, the good political leader of the UPP responded, “It is an admission of failure and desperation! They have failed – after seven years they cannot point to any projects that they have brought or developed, either local investment or foreign direct investment, THEY ARE SCRAPING THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL, they want to do anything to say they doing something . . .” What a thing! These geniuses, they of high level junkets to Dubai and other parts unknown, cannot seem to attract any meaningful investment to our fair State. Nothing new and promising is coming our way. There must be something off-putting about this administration. Just watch them grab at any two-bit foreign hustler with a thick accent, a brief case and a three-piece suit!
Of course, this whole sordid affair brings to mind a line from Sparrow’s JEAN AND DINAH; “. . . . And if you catch them broke, you can get them all for nutten!” Sigh! Manifestly, the WISEZ folks have caught us broke, and they are now getting us all for nutten!
In closing, let us ponder the words of Mr Harold Lovell as he mused out loud, “For me, the fact that they would even think of doing this and it brings no benefit to the nation, I am wondering if it has brought benefit to any individual, because why would anybody do something like this, just so!!! . . . I cannot figure it out, it is still a bafflement, something that I cannot fathom, it just seems very strange . . .!” Hmmmm! Passing strange, indeed! Mr Political Leader, we are wondering the same thing as well. WHY???
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