Editorial: Who will raise a hand

After reading the Fisheries Division report on the Barbuda Fisheries Complex, we are waiting to see who will put up the hand to accept responsibility.  The April 30, 2018 report entitled “General Condition of the Barbuda Fisheries Complex Six Months post-Hurricane Irma regarding Export Readiness” was prepared by Ian Horsford, Acting Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer and submitted to Cheryl Jeffrey-Appleton, Chief Fisheries Officer.  It paints a fairly grim picture of the current state of the facility.  So grim in fact that, the Acting Deputy Chief determined that permission for the Barbuda Fisheries Complex to resume operations with respect to the packaging and inspection of live lobster to the European Union and other countries should be denied.

Putting aside the eerily accurate predictions that this move was in the works by various people on both sides of the political divide, the facts laid out by Horsford are hard to ignore.  When this brouhaha erupted, the central fight for the complex surrounded ‘ownership’ or at least, who was responsible for the administration of the complex.  The labour party administration said that it was a central government asset as it was the result of government-to-government aid, while the Barbuda Council said that it was a gift to the people of Barbuda from the Japanese and at the very least, they were responsible for fisheries under the Barbuda Local Government Act and were therefore responsible for the administration of the fisheries complex.

Now that the damning report has been delivered and it details the deplorable conditions of the complex, who will continue to raise the stained hand as being responsible?  We ask, because, Irma aside, there is a lot to take responsibility for.  To understand, we have to take a short walk through the pages of the report.

The first paragraph of the main findings alone paint a bleak picture of the facility and whoever claims responsibility for the administration of the building has a lot of questions to answer.  It states that the complex “was descending into a serious state of disrepair.” Hurricane damage from seawater flooding remained and wind-damaged doors, windows, aluminium shutters “have not been replaced or properly refurbished.” As a result of damage to the fence, “the grounds were unsecured and horses, donkeys, goats and other animals had littered the area with their faeces making it unsanitary.”  In addition, ”a maggot-filled carcass of a dog was left unattended on the grounds highlighting the general lack of supervision of the facility by its tenants.” 

Before continuing, this is a good place to pause.  The report rests blame on the “tenants,” but at this point, we must ask, to which entity does that refer?  Occupiers of the building post hurricane were the police and defence forces, but the central government and the Barbuda Council are vying for the ownership/administrative title.  We will be surprised if any entity raises a hand to claim the title and the blame for “the general lack of supervision.”

The findings of the 15-page report are damning and the deficiencies identified are too much to detail in this short piece, but we invite you to visit antiguaobserver.com to read the full report for yourself.  From the washroom facilities that carried this description, “toilet bowls had faeces and urinals were filthy and rank,” to the general pest control problem which included this unpleasant line: “Flies were common in the building due to the presence of animal faeces and carcasses on the premises,” there seems little doubt that lobster processing will not be happening at the complex in the near future.  

But you know what continues at the facility?  The use of the washroom facilities by the tourists who visit the island!  We can image the tour guide saying, “Welcome to Barbuda!  If you need to use the washroom before we head out to the bird sanctuary, please feel free to use any of the rank toilets or urinals in the filthy, rat-infested fisheries complex.  If you see any rats in any of the traps, please do not play with them.  We will not be responsible for any health issues that may occur.”

In all seriousness, who is going to put up a hand to accept responsibility, because responsibility includes accepting responsibility for the current condition and “the general lack of supervision of the facility.”

The report states, “There is an urgent need for the Barbuda Fisheries Complex to be turned over to the local and national management authority, the Barbuda Council and the Fisheries Division respectively, since the facility is rapidly descending into a serious state of disrepair,”  but we are not entirely sure what that means.  How can the fisheries complex be turned over to warring parties? 

Maybe the overarching question is how did we get to this point?  Everyone knew that July 1 was the start of the lobster season, and everybody knew that the facility was needed to support the multi-million dollar industry, but we find ourselves watching a fight for a facility that cannot fulfill its purpose in its current state.  If the Barbuda Council is claiming ownership and/or administrative rights of the facility, then they have questions to answer.  At the same time, if the central government is claiming the same, they too have the same questions to answer.  Until those underlying ownership/administrative questions are answered, both have to answer.  We will wait to see who has the candour and forthrightness to raise a hand.

Fine the full report here.

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