By Carl Joseph
The Chairman of Cabinet, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, has taken aim at another arm of government he alleges is attempting to stymie development projects on the twin island state – the Department of the Environment (DoE).
Soon after he announced that he will be going to Parliament to amend the law to strip the Barbuda Council of some of its powers, Browne told local radio that DoE officials have been “taking standalone decisions on their own to stop projects”.
He said that DoE officials have been making reports – such as the department’s recommendations on proposed development projects – available to the public without first informing the Cabinet.
He also took issue with the fact that the DoE officials did so without first giving developers a chance to mitigate against any potential environmental risks the department may have outlined.
“If you give these written reports from the onset, and you say that the project cannot happen, because you have these concerns, what if the environmentalist is wrong?” Browne said.
While the nation’s leader acknowledged the authority vested in the DoE, he argued that, “environmental science is not a precise science. They extrapolate, they predict, but they may well be wrong.”
At the start of the year, Browne, as Minister of Finance, outlined an expected total investment of $425 million in Barbuda projects for 2020.
Most of the scheduled investments are coming from the PLH Ocean Club group, which has had resistance from the Barbuda Council since it began reconstruction of the former Coco Point property in 2015.
“If the developer can’t mitigate against the risks, then clearly the project will not be able to proceed,” the PM said.
“It is not for the technicians to make decisions. Politicians make decisions. The executive, we make the decisions,” Browne asserted.
Browne argued that the technicians’ role is merely advisory and that if they did not see their role as such, his advice to them was to “simply resign”.
“We’re not being dictatorial here. We’re not asking them not to be professional or for them to make any decision to satisfy any outcome of any politician. But if they are going to exercise that kind of authority in which they can stop projects on their own, they are making us redundant,” Browne stated.