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Sustainable development project cloaked by a ‘disappointing’ silence

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Thousands of Bermudians came together in 2006 to draft Bermuda's first national sustainable development strategy in an unprecedented consultation exercise initiated by then Premier Alex Scott.

But today Government has nothing to say about the project in the aftermath of blunt criticism by a civil servant.

Philip Seaman has not made any public comments in his capacity as Chair of the Sustainable Development Roundtable, despite repeated attempts by this newspaper to conduct an interview with him since his appointment in February.

Neither Mr Seaman nor Environment Minister Sylvan Richards — who has Cabinet responsibility for the Sustainable Development Department — have responded to our request made several weeks ago for their reaction to a recommendation by SAGE Commission Award winner Magnus Henagulph that the department be shut down because it had “nothing to show” for the more than $500,000 of taxpayer's money spent on it every year.

Among the Department's core objectives is to produce an annual report along with a set of sustainable development indicators meant to measure Bermuda's progress.

Department performance measures report that indicators were produced for 2009, 2010 and 2011, but no mention is made of the annual report.

Other objectives include developing year round comprehensive public awareness campaigns on sustainable development (SD), conducting sustainability impact assessments of proposed Government initiatives and monitoring implementation of the national strategy.

And the department is charged with embedding SD principles into government policies and programmes.

Sustainability advocate Stuart Hayward, a member of the first SD Roundtable, said it was “disappointing” that the indicators have not been made public, and agreed that it did not appear that SD had been mainstreamed throughout Government — seven years after the drafting of the strategy.

“Of course I am disappointed, along with the hundreds and perhaps thousands of others who participated one way or another in the surveys, focus groups and Town Hall meetings that led to the drafting of the plan,” Mr Hayward said.

“The sluggish progress of the implementation plan is disappointing and points to the need for reigniting leaders and the facilitators to regain the lost momentum. A first step would be to remove the structural obstacles, e.g. make the Roundtable a vibrant, deliberative body rather than merely an advisory body.”

In 2005, then Premier Alex Scott launched the sustainable development project with an Island-wide consultation which led to the drafting of Bermuda's first Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan.

The Department itself was created in 2006 and the SD strategy was approved by Cabinet in 2008.

Three staffers are employed at the department, which now comes under the Ministry of Environment.

And a 13-member Sustainable Development Roundtable, appointed by the Minister, is meant to function as an advisory body to Government and recommend sustainable development policy. In its original incarnation it was also supposed to play a watchdog role and was free to criticise Government if it felt necessary.

“Unfortunately, the Roundtable is caught in no-man's land in that they have an expectation to be on the front line of the Government's SD policies and actions but they have no power other than to advise,” Mr Hayward said.

“A further and related handicap is that they are, or at least were, expected NOT to make public statements especially any that raised questions about government policies.”

He added: “Much thought and work has gone into the Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan and, while the momentum has obviously slowed, the concept and the need are undiminished — if anything, they are needed more now than ever before.”

Mr Hayward and several other members of the Roundtable were dropped from the Roundtable by Mr Scott's successor Ewart Brown. He later went on to found the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Task Force.

“The concept is worth more than lip service. Sustainable development is a mindset, a culture, a way of being that informs our ways of doing in the interest of long term economic and environmental prosperity,” Mr Hayward continued.

And he lamented the invisibility of the institutions that were created to lead the effort and called for a “more open and collaborative process”.

“The work the SDD is doing may be great, or not much at all — it's unknown because of the secrecy/confidentiality built into its structure.”

But Mr Hayward said he did not agree that the Department should be dismantled.

“I would prefer a restructuring. There is a desperate need for a sustainability-centred culture and policies to be threaded through all Government departments, the business sector and the community at large.

“With the economic downturn comes the opportunity and the incentive to review and rethink the practices, especially the wasteful ones, that have contributed to our current woes.

“The SDD has a vast and valuable knowledge base under its belt, and plan for putting that knowledge into practice for the benefit of the entire Island. What is needed is a streamlining of the process and a re-energising of the people.”

The Department's mission statement reads: “To facilitate integrated and holistic decision making that sustains and improves the quality of life for current and future generations.”

The Department is leading public consultation on whether or not a marine reserve should be established in the offshore waters of Bermuda's exclusive economic zone.

But little else has been heard of its work since the One Bermuda Alliance became the Government nine months ago.

In 2011/2012, the SDD conducted six SIA's in 2011-2012, responded to “sustainability requests” within five days 80 percent of the time and attended one overseas meeting.

It also conducted 26 presentations — media interviews, public speeches school visits, opinion pieces in print media, one PSA, one SD Resource Guide and one public meeting.

It reported almost identical performance for 2010/2011. By the end of the current fiscal year the SDD is hoping to conduct 12 SIAs, make 10 public presentations and produce one set of SD indicators, according to the budget book forecasts.

For more information: www.sdbermuda.bm.

Minister of Environment: Sylvan Richards
Bright beginning for originals: This file picture from 2006 shows early members of the Sustainable Development Unit and Roundtable with then-Premier Alex Scott.

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Published October 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 12, 2013 at 12:18 am)

Sustainable development project cloaked by a ‘disappointing’ silence

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