In May 2015, on the insistence of Civil Society and as a precondition to them participating in the so-called Social Compact, Government set up the National Development Plan 2030 (now 2035).
The NDC, wholeheartedly believing in long term development planning, have to date participated in this effort. Unfortunately, we doubt Government’s sincerity because very little resources have been allocated and after 6 consecutive years in office, the administration shows no real appetite for long term development planning.
A vital component of long term development planning is robust and well thought out urban planning policy, backed by strong laws that are enforced.
Just as Gregory Bowen is a failure in the Ministry of Works, so is Mitchell as the Minister responsible for Physical Planning.
Despite repeated amendments to the Physical Planning Act, the lack of a clear Land Use policy and Governmental commitment have resulted in no real improvements taking place over the years.
To compound matters, the Physical Planning Unit has been consistently understaffed and under equipped.
In November 2018, the Unit was re-named, the Planning and Development Authority, this was only a name change. The Unit is still poorly staffed with only 8 persons. Moreover, it lacks real autonomy in the conduct of its affairs as the level of political interference is reported to be acute.
Political meddling in the work of such an entity can have long term devastating consequences for the country. We need only to consider the recent issues with the Silver Sands project, where there were clear breaches of the law to which the developers appear oblivious and the officials of the Physical Planning Unit seemed not to be part of the decision that permitted the breaches of the law.
With this political meddling, the Unit is unable to do its work professionally and without fear or favour.
Government well know of the deficiencies in the unit because reciting them is a recurring decimal in the annual budget speech. It is time to stop the “ole talk”.
Rather than implementing a strict land use policy and adhering to the Building Code, it is commonplace for Ministers to “approve” occupation of state lands without following the required procedures. In effect, this is ministerial approved squatting and many citizens who wish to own land are unable to do so, even though a politician, to them, someone in authority gave permission to occupy the land.
A well thought out Land Use Policy will empower our people by regularising their status on Crown Lands.
The penchant to haphazardly allow good agricultural land to be converted for alternative uses without regard for future food security needs shows Government’s lack of proper focus as our food import bill increases.
Granting long term leases on some Government controlled agricultural land has not yielded dividends. The Laura Estate in St David’s and Grand Bras Estate in St Andrew are two prime examples. Meanwhile, real opportunities for agricultural investment are passed up.
The unplanned, chaotic development in the south of the island is already resulting in dire environmental consequences. Studies advising against further development on Grand Anse are blatantly ignored.
Damaged sewerage lines polluting the sea are not addressed while more strain is brought on the system with uncontrolled construction and drainage is not attended to as areas such as Morne Rouge reek with putrid waste water.
Even more glaring is Government’s complete recklessness in treating with our heritage buildings and historic sites. Our heritage buildings were left to waste and rot after hurricane Ivan. Recently, we learnt of a secret arrangement with a foreign entity which will put certain heritage buildings in the town of St. George, including Government House and York House, out of the hands of the people of Grenada.
In the face of increasing lack of transparency, we sincerely hope that this secret deal was in fact not struck. We call on Government to tell us to who and under what conditions our properties are being transferred.
We in the NDC understand the need to protect and preserve our natural and historic assets for present and future generations. That is why in our 2018 election Manifesto we said we would: “Zealously protect ALL of our National Parks, heritage sites and Protected areas, and ensure that they remain the patrimony of the Grenadian people forever not to be sold or given away to any person.” and that we would:
“Introduce and enforce urban planning legislation to include provision for the restoration and conservation of buildings and sites of special historic and architectural interest and value, with a view to declaring areas such as the Town of Saint George as specially protected historic districts.”
The situation seems now out of hand and it will take a herculean effort to correct this travesty against the present and future generations.
The NNP and Mitchell in particular as the longest standing Minister responsible for Physical Planning, must shoulder the blame and take responsibility for fixing this.
However, the issue will only be properly addressed if we as a people are prepared to hold them accountable.
(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)