“Grand Etang is under threat and we the People of Grenada must come to the assistance of our rain forest”.
Those were the words uttered by Chairman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Vincent Roberts Monday at a press conference held at the party’s head office on H.A Blaize Street in St. George’s.
Congress focused their attention at the press briefing on the alleged sale of parts of the Grand Etang Rain Forest reserve to foreign developers.
Roberts called on the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell to furnish the nation with “full disclosure, total transparency and truthfulness in all matters, specifically with regard to the Grand Etang issue.”
“The total lack of transparency continues with the Grand Etang issue…we are witnessing a saga, a continued pace of misleading statements, lack of transparency, coming from our government and they are making it difficult to trust them on these and other matters…”, he told reporters.
The Grand Etang issue became topical last week when Minister for Implementation, Alexandra Otway-Noel, appeared on a programme in a local radio station and a question was posed to her about Grand Etang, which is known to be a forest reserve.
The female Member of Parliament for the South St. George constituency disclosed that “there are certain parts of Grand Etang that has been put for development purposes,” adding that “from what I know it’s all very green development, very eco-friendly.“
Congress held an emergency press conference last week Thursday in which, its Political Leader, Senator Nazim Burke dealt at length with the Grand Etang issue and the laws protecting the Grand Etang Rain Forest reserve.
Sen. Burke noted that “In June 1906…almost 110 years ago, the British Parliament passed a law known as the Grand Etang Forest Reserve Act (which makes provision for) the preservation of forest growth in the vicinity of the Grand Etang as a forest reserve for the benefit of Grenada.”
He also pointed to Section 3 of the law, which explains the purpose of the Reserve.
It said in part that all lands in the area shall form part of government land and be strictly reserved and set aside for the public purpose of forest conservation.
“So what this law does in Section 3 is to protect the patrimony, the heritage and to say that Grand Etang shall forever hereafter be treated as government lands and shall be strictly reserved and set apart for the public purposes of forest conservation”, Sen. Burke told reporters.
At Monday’s press conference, the NDC Chairman alluded to calls being made to Congress officials by members of NNP regime for them to apologise for raising the Grand Etang issue.
“I have heard activists of the New National Party (and) a Senator of the New National Party calling on the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and specifically our political leader Senator Nazim Burke to apologise for raising this matter,” Roberts said.
He referred to statements made after the initial response from Minister Otway-Noel by Prime Minister Mitchell, as well as Economic Development Minister, Oliver Joseph and Parliamentary Secretary for Information, Sen. Sheldon Scott.
He said that Otway-Noel’s response on the Grand Etang issue seems to be contradictory to statements made by the other three government officials.
The NDC Chairman spoke of the same contradictory statements made by officials of the Mitchell-led government on the Camerhogne Park issue.
He made mention of varying statements made by Prime Minister Mitchell, as well as former Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Kenny Lalsingh, Minister Otway-Noel, Health Minister Nicholas Steele, and Minister of State for Sports, Sen. Winston Garraway.
He likened Camerhogne Park and Grand Etang to be issues bordering on the protection of the environment.
“The environment matters…we are in a battle to save Camerhogne Park and it will be saved… Victory will come one day. They can have as much consultation as they want, they may delay giving a clear answer but it’s a matter of time, the people shall prevail and I say to you the same applies to Grand Etang,” he said.
“Government comes and government goes…the government has an obligation; they are custodians of the people’s property. Sovereignty belongs to the people,” he added.
The NDC Chairman charged that “the actions of our government are leading to skepticism, mistrust and this will lead to a total breakdown”.
“…We are seeing a pattern. They spoke to us about investors being lined up; we are yet to see these lines or these investors in these lines. They said there will be no structural adjustment programme…however, they came with one.
“They said no new taxes and anybody who (impose) tax the people in certain ways is a foolish government, they implemented the taxes. They spoke about tablets for students, the students are laughing at them.
They (are) coming with all types of excuses. What else are they lying about?
Roberts said Congress has been interacting with members of the public who stand firm against the sale of any part of Grand Etang.
During Tuesday’s post-Cabinet Press briefing, Health Minister Steele outlined the government’s position on the Grand Etang issue.
He said: “There is no discussion on lands for sale in Grand Etang, lease of lands in Grand Etang or for the future contemplation of any lands for sale, for lease in the Grand Etang reserve area or any of the adjoining lands at all.”
The senior Cabinet minister denied categorically any involvement or discussion on the part of government to sell lands in the Grand Etang Forest Reserve.
“There are absolutely no discussions with any foreign investor or any local investor concerning Grand Etang lands, absolutely no discussions and absolutely no intentions by this government to contemplate the lease or sale of any of those lands,” he said.