Govt’s commitment to Sustainable Development is on the back burner, former Premier claims
Former Premier Alex Scott has decried what he sees as ongoing “disintegration” of the sustainable development initiative.
And he called on Government to dust off the Sustainable Development Strategy and Implementation Plan and read it.
“Take up that book, just read through it and it would be pellucidly clear,” Mr Scott said.
“Take it off the shelf. It's a handbook, and its Bermudians talking to you. Its very progressive, very informative and very important that you understand that if you are going to have a sustainable development programme, as envisaged by the initiators, then you need to go back and see where we were. Bermudians ratified it by their support.”
But he also admitted that the initiative received some kickback from his own cabinet colleagues.
Sustainable development was a landmark initiative of Mr Scott's administration, one of several he saw as a way to “institutionalise the management of change” in a way which empowered the public.
“I'm not too surprised that you don't hear too much from the sustainable development group now because it means you need a Government and a Cabinet and a Premier who are confident enough to really listen to the critical comments of the community and respond to it.”
On the fact that Government has not published annual indicators or an annual report, Mr Scott said “how can you have indicators if you lose your way? If you're not developing programmes to measure, what type of indicators can you put on a programme that's just marking time?
“Your public relations exercise is to inform the public about those things that are being done in their interest.
“But if nothings being done in their interests, therefore the PR programme goes away. You don't want to see a report of that, because they are liable to ask you what are you doing. Hard to answer if you're doing nothing. That becomes the ultimate spin.”
Put to him that the former PLP administration also did not publish indicators or an annual report, he said: “You don't see me defending.
“I certainly will robustly defend what was happening under ourselves and it was certainly successful under ourselves.
“And I was not surprised at the kickback I got from within because my cabinet colleagues were on a learning curve too. This was uncharted waters.”
Mr Scott's remarks came in an interview with The Royal Gazette yesterday. He was asked his reaction to criticism that the Sustainable Development Department was not delivering value for money and should be cut.
He said: “If you have a sporty car sitting in your yard and you never use it, don't blame the car in the hands of someone else.
“It is a valuable machine and it will give you impressive performance. Sustainable Development is a sporty solution for a Government that's mature enough to realise its worth and capable enough to utilise it. If not, its worthless if it just sits there.”
But he said it would be a “tragedy” if the department was cut.
“It would be turning the clock back — if we haven't already done so. Somebody, somewhere has lost the way when it comes to sustainable development.
“I found it extremely helpful and valuable. It was very important. It connected us with the Bermuda public like no other initiative we undertook. And if you step back that's what supposed to happen in government.
“The Government is supposed to be so connected with the people it serves that it serves them well. And a viable sustainable development programme allows them to serve the community well. Take it away and you'll probably find that the government very quickly loses its way.”
Environment Minister Sylvan Richards who is responsible for the SD department, has repeatedly failed to respond to queries about the $500,000 a year programme.
Philip Seaman, who chairs the SD Roundtable, requested an opportunity to discuss his work over the weekend but decided against it yesterday morning, saying he had consulted an attorney and the government who had advised him he did not have to speak with the press.
Mr Seaman also directed further questions about the Roundtable to the SD Department, noting that it is tasked with producing recommendations which are issued to the minister via SD Department or the permanent secretary responsible for that ministry.
Mr Seaman's declining to to speak to The Royal Gazette is “ridiculous”, Mr Scott said, adding: “Its like the Minister not wanting to talk to his congregation. Because you are a conduit to the public that he's supposed to be serving. Lawyers?
“You need the public, you need the press, you actually want the criticism, the criticism becomes potential advice.”
Mr Seaman's refusal to speak publicly indicates that he does not understand what sustainable development is about, Mr Scott said.
“He should be happy that you are interested in it. He should want to explain where they are and what they are about.
“But I fear they are at sixes and sevens as to what they're really about now. Because it's a very complex theme.
“Not too many governments want to give that much authority to any one group. But I was prepared to do it in the interests of moving Bermuda into a whole new way of management. We took it to heart and it works if you commit to it.”
Premier from 2003 to 2007, Mr Scott launched the Sustainable Development Project in early 2006 with an island-wide public consultation to draft a national sustainable development strategy.
“Sustainable Development was one of the most successful initiatives we had.
“One of our last meetings was in St Paul's A.M.E. church and it was three quarters full. It was a mixed audience a really diverse audience.
“It was embraced by a very large and significant number of Bermudians because they recognised, I believe, what we were attempting to do. It was not a political programme, it was a national strategy. It was in the interests of all of Bermuda.”
The SD Roundtable was meant to be a representative advisory body to the Government which would publicly champion sustainability.
The strategy and implementation plan was approved by the cabinet of Mr Scott's successor in 2008, Ewart Brown.