Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Exporting water – for whose benefit?
The controversy in the west coast town of Layou, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, over plans to export Big Gut spring water, ought never to have occurred.
As we understand it, proposals to export the natural spring water from Layou were in the pipeline for the last five years. All Government was awaiting was an international concern to market the precious St. Vincent product.
Now a California-based company is not only coming to market St. Vincent’s water in the United States and beyond, but it is investing US$ 6.5 million in a project that includes piping water from Big Gut to the industrial estate at Campden Park, where it will be bottled for export.
There have been questions, in many quarters, over the jobs - variously reported as 136, 150, 176 – the project is expected to generate. Since the infamous mathematical calculation: ‘one from ten leaves nought’ by Trinidad and Tobago’s Eric Williams, after Jamaica broke away from the ill-fated West Indies Federation in 1962, this region’s political arithmetic always seems out of touch with Caribbean reality.
But job creation is not at the heart of Big Gut controversy. It has more to with perception: who owns the Big Gut water and why should Government attempt to take away from Layou villagers what they consider to be theirs – water in its natural and purest form.
Government made a mistake. The local parliamentary representative ought to have known the feelings of the villagers and their emotional attachment to the Big Gut natural spring and the storage tank built around it on lands said to have been donated by villagers. He ought to have discussed the bottled water project with them – not with a handful of so-called leaders ‘who would be able to comprehend the details’ of what he was saying, but with those whom he asked to vote for him just two years ago.
One does not have to be a high school or university graduate to understand the basics of earning foreign exchange by exporting bottled water from Big Gut. Rather than avoiding villagers, angered because they were not consulted about what was happening in their village, the local parliamentary representative should have explained the project – before it was officially announced – and how it was expected to benefit Layou and St. Vincent and the Grenadines at a public (town hall type) meeting.
It is not too late. The damage can still be repaired. There is still a chance to meet with the Layou villagers and talk to them about the water project. Not all will agree but they will understand if they are well informed.
No investor is comfortable risking his millions in a venture that is mixed up with demonstrations and political controversy in a small Third World country. Those holding the purse in this particular company are no exception. St. Vincent and the Grenadines could well be left holding an empty bucket.
Adapted from an editorial in The Vincentian newspaper, 6 June 2003
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