Sand today, gone tomorrow

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You have probably seen the sugar white Guyanese sand around and heard about the apparent end to sand mining in Barbuda.  Then you sifted through the budget and now you have a few questions about the sand mining industry, like we do. 
Just in case you are not one of the people described above, we will bring you up to date.  Recently, we were informed that the Cabinet has put restrictions on importing sand from Barbuda to Antigua and has banned its export to other countries.  This was according to Foreign Affairs Minister Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, who disclosed the news during a post Cabinet press briefing.
Although we asked, we never got a clear understanding about what the new restrictions are or how they will be enforced.  We were told, however, that as a result of the severe restrictions, the Cabinet had taken a decision to waive the duty and revenue recovery charge on sand imported from Dominica, Guyana and Montserrat.  Hence, we presume, the reason for Guyana sand, which we have seen appear recently.
As an aside, and for the information for those interested in importing sand from other territories, the full Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax will still be charged along with a five-dollar per ton fee. The fee will be handed over to the Barbuda Council to offset the loss of revenue from sand exports.  A good gesture in our minds.
In 2013, Arthur Nibbs – who is now the Barbuda MP, had estimated that the Council earned about five million dollars a year from sand mining.  If anyone should know, it is Nibbs, correct?  Except,  the Barbuda Council budget shows that in 2015 just $2,189,950 went into the coffers of the Barbuda Council.  What could have happened in two short years to see such a major decline – 50 per cent or more?
Experts have long-warned that the industry is causing irreversible damage to the island and leaving Barbudans severely vulnerable to storms, tsunamis and climate change.  Over two decades ago the Environment Division advised that sand mining be severely restricted and ended as soon as practicable.  We all know that never happened and instead we continued to mine the precious sand under the umbrella of “what else are we supposed to do?” 
As we, and all the environmentalists, pointed out then, the day will come when you will have to answer that question and it seems like that day has come (we hope!).    Successive administrations have turned a blind eye to this environmental disaster and now that we are scraping rocks, and have probably caused severe and irreversible damage, we are now deciding what else we are going to do.
What is interesting is, even though the Cabinet has made a proclamation that sand mining is at an end, or severely restricted, the Barbuda Council is still showing that they expect to receive $1.5 million in revenue from the “Sale of sand” in 2017.  That is the same amount that was shown as being expected in 2016.   So, before we jump to any conclusions, we will ask questions and hope that someone in officialdom will answer.
Here we go. Is there a ban on sand mining?  If yes, how was this not taken into account when preparing the budget for the Barbuda Council?  Was the decision taken on the spur of the moment and, therefore not reflected in the budget?  Did central government make the decision without consulting the Barbuda Council and the Minister responsible for Barbuda, therefore it was not reflected in the budget?  It is hard to believe that the cabinet members woke up one morning and in unison decided that “today is the day we stop mining sand in Barbuda”, then headed to the Cabinet Meeting, patted each other on the back for their environmental sensitivity, and passed a resolution that “sand shall never be mined in Barbuda again”. 
If anything like that happened then there is going to be a million dollar hole in the Barbuda Council budget.  If that is not the case, then we wait to be enlightened as to how the revenue will be made and what the restrictions on sand mining are.  Let us not forget that there are also three people who earn a living from monitoring sand in Barbuda.  A Senior Sand Monitor and two Sand Monitors (according to the Barbuda Council budget).
For the record, we are not criticising the decision to stop sand mining, that should have been done a long time ago, so we compliment the administration for that decision.  However, the current situation and similar indecisions on important matters cause us to wonder if we have a cohesive plan for our future or whether we will just continue to govern with an ad hoc mentality. 
We are especially concerned when it comes to the environment.  Outside of our human resources, it is our most precious resource.  With the impacts of climate change and pollution, it is already under siege by outside forces, so we can hardly take a reactive approach to the management of our environment.  Also, we cannot talk loosely about environmental “sacrifices” unless we are 100 per cent sure that those “sacrifices” are not going to lead to our ultimate “self-sacrifice” to the god of money.
One day, when we walk out after a storm, we do not want to have to wonder where a good portion of Barbuda went.  The same is true of our pristine North Sound marine sanctuary.  We do not want to have to slap ourselves and say “Ohhh!  That is why there were so many mangroves in this area.”  Just a few words to the wise.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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