About FRANKLY SPEAKING
Beach Access: An Opinion
Resident Tourism Policy
Paralysis by Analysis
Oil Refinery - Facts or Fiction?
An Oil Refinery for Dominica? - Part 2
A Place Called Home
Annual Awards Gala - DHTA
Dominica Cabinet - 2010
Thanks But No Thanks
The People's Business
Politics of Water
Message in a Bottle
Between the Lines
The 24/7/4/12/5 Campaign
The Answers Within
Foreign Direct Investment
CSME - Where now?
"En Brera" - No Choice
Closure of OECS, Ottawa
Does Size Matter
Growing DA's Agriculture
A University of Dominica?
Made In Dominica?
© Frank Watty
Oil Refinery - Facts or Fiction?
(See also 'An Oil Refinery for Dominica? - Part 2')
There appears to be some prospect of establishing an oil refinery on the island of Dominica. That possibility seems to have excited a number of concerns in many quarters of the country, most of them apparently critical, if not negative. The issue is likely to be even more contentious because of mistrust arising from a lack of transparency thus far in conducting the discussions on the subject. Lack of information and absence of a meaningful public discussion prior to a commitment to the project are sure guarantees to fan the flames of dissent. An announcement on the subject to clarify the status of the issue is the least that can be expected in an open, democratic country.
However, assuming that discussions are indeed underway towards the possibility of such a project, it would not be inappropriate for government to clarify through a formal statement, the purposes and objectives which underlie their interest is such a proposal without a determination on the merits of any particular proposal at this time. The public needs to know why the country is even discussing this option. Is it driven by the prospect of energy self-sufficiency, local employment and income benefits, taxation revenues to be derived, the objective of foreign exchange earnings, a platform for economic diversification? What are they, and how should one intelligently assess the efforts of our government, presumably acting in our interest?
It is critical to understand the anticipated ownership, management and operation structure which will implement such a proposal, if it ever comes into being. Will this be a government-to-government enterprise; will there be para-statal institutions in both countries overseeing the project; is this a project by a private foreign entity subject to all the applicable laws and regulations of the country; will there be opportunities for government financial participation, joint venturing and/or public share ownership. All of the above are likely to colour the nature of public acceptance of the project should discussions reach that stage, and would naturally advise government's decision on the merits when the time comes.
What is obvious is that should this project materialize, it would represent a major departure along the development course which appears to have been followed by the present and past governments. Nothing wrong with that! But past government announcements are a guide to the public on what they can expect, and they in turn (the generators of investment, employment, income and taxes) deserve some explanation when there is a ninety degree turn in direction. Otherwise, what comfort do they have that they can rely on anything government says?
Since Dominica continues to be an open, democratic society, one must still anticipate that in time all of the above will be made clear. The difficulty is that without reliable information and responsible public discussion, government's decision in such a vacuum will cause unnecessary divisions and suspicions. Even worse, government might fall into the trap of making a decision without any public discussion, a veritable slap in the face of democracy. So, "INFORMATION, DISCUSSION, EVALUATION, DECISION !!"
From our knowledge of Dominica and of oil refineries in general, and even without the benefit of the facts of this case, one can understand the temptations on the one hand and the fears on the other, relating to a project such as this. Even in a large, developed country inhabiting a continental land mass and possessing a number of development options, establishing an oil refinery (of whatever size and type) is of great significance. It would require searching examination, assessment and review. In the context of a small, predominantly agricultural, developing island we should expect no less. The risks are so much higher! The onus should be on the proponent to satisfy the government and people of Dominica that this project is beneficial and does not represent an unacceptable intrusion in the national community. It is only fair to all concerned that such a documented justification be subject to an independent peer review of competent professionals. Both proponents and technical reviewers are knowledgeable as to what constitutes an acceptable standard for such justification and there is no need to prejudge that issue at this stage, analysis/paralysis whatever!! The scope of such "environmental impact statements" would require as much attention to socio-economic impacts as to impacts on natural systems, including the ecology. All sectors of the community should see their concerns addressed.
At this stage, a contention that the project should be rejected merely because it is perceived in some quarters to be contrary to the "Nature Island Image" of the country is premature and even parochial. Similarly, can it be shown conclusively that any and all oil refineries would jeopardize the island's tourism agenda? What are the facts, where are the analyses? It may well be that depending on the particulars: the location, siting, operation methods, level of technological sophistication, regulatory environment and monitoring it may be possible to secure such a project within a goal of a sustainable Dominica. BUT WE DO NOT YET HAVE THE FACTS! And these facts should be known, evaluated and discussed before any agreements are signed or approvals to proceed are given.
As indicated in a previous article, it is foolhardy to believe that Dominica can move into the 21st Century only on its own terms, on a program of "ad hockery" without regard for its responsibilities, obligations that interactions in a globalizing world entail. Discussions and agreements with other countries, hosting visitors to the country etc are strewn with political, social, economic, technological and other complexities which are compounded over time. Other countries with which Dominica interacts have their own agendas which are not always as beneficial as they appear to be. Our country has to start thinking for itself and acting in its best interest within the reality of a shrinking world, whether the subject is oil refineries, our airport needs, resident tourism, solid waste disposal, water management, etc. We have argued elsewhere that a good first step in a realistic, manageable National Development Strategy reflecting a community consensus.
Neither a bull-headed persistence to push ahead despite, nor a jerk knee or emotional reaction to see the devil behind every bush serves us well. As intelligent people let us find workable solutions that serve all our people well.
The writer, W.R.Franklin Watty, a Dominican national, is a professional economist, land use planner and tourism consultant. He is a former economist and planner with the Province of Ontario; and, the former Director of Planning and Transportation for the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. In addition, he has served for twelve years as a professional adjudicator,mediator, negotiator and arbitrator in the Ministry of the Attorney General, Government of Ontario. He is currently retired from the Public Service; is the Principal of FRANK WATTY CONSULTANCIES INC., economic, land use and tourism planners; and, is Adjunct Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at email@example.com