(The Bermuda Sun: 6/8/2010)

An opinion piece by Stuart Hayward, BEST Chair.

This week saw the successful end of a campaign by the Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce (BEST) to protect Warwick Long Bay from the encroachment of commercial activity. A scheme for building a beach bar on that public parkland was quashed in the Supreme Court.

A little history: When the scheme was first announced in April 2008, BEST joined with neighbours and other concerned citizens to save Warwick Long Bay. We wrote letters to the Development Applications Board (DAB) who then refused the application.

The applicant then appealed the DAB’s refusal to the Environment Minister. Despite the advice of several experts — including an Independent Planning Inspector brought in to advise him — all of whom advised against allowing the beach bar for environmental and related reasons, the Minister overturned the DAB.

BEST then engaged a campaign: a public meeting, a demonstration at the site, a letter-writing campaign and a paper and online petition that gathered thousands of signatures.

Eventually, BEST asked the Courts for a Judicial Review of the Minister’s decision. When the case finally got to court on Tuesday, the government conceded that the Minister failed to give reasons for his decision.

Glaring arrogance

In essence, the government, in conceding, has admitted that the Minister didn’t do his job. For all the language of “due diligence” that accompanies almost every government action these days, this case and its outcome evidences that the Minister made a decision — a momentous and far-reaching decision — without having reasons that would hold up as reasonable, fair and unbiased.

It is really a glaring arrogance that a Minister would discount the legislation governing his portfolio, overturn the reasoned and deliberated decision of a statutory body (the DAB) disregard the advice of the Independent Inspector and scribble a three or four word decision without deigning to offer a single word justifying his extraordinary act.

But this is what we have been reduced to, a government that rips up its own rules, justifies the most glaring aberrances, vilifies and attempts to intimidate or discredit any critic, and then refuses humility or contrition when it is caught out.

I have no doubt we will hear a chorus of defenders and apologists who will attempt to rationalize the decision, justify the policy (‘anything is acceptable if it’s in the name of tourism’), play down the capitulation, distract the attention — and never an apology for abusing the public’s trust, for wasting the public’s hard-earned funds, for trying to paint as wrong the group they caved in to as right. I hope I am mistaken.

There was a time when I would take such a victory as this one in stride and not make much fuss. But my magnanimity has been worn through.

The people have been taking a beating from this government, as have Cabinet members, backbenchers, the Opposition, civil servants, some unions, some media and members of all races.

This time, the government gave up a Court fight they brought on themselves and it feels good to do a little chest thumping in victory. But the work’s not over.

Some Cabinet Ministers have been becoming more brazen in their flouting of law, convention and propriety. I am not deluded into thinking that this one case will launch some grand reform.

But it will cause some of the heretofore blind followers to open their eyes a bit more. It will give encouragement to those who have been wronged and needed a boost to stand up for their rights. And it will remind those who do wrong (they know who they are) that the days of the automatic free-pass are over.

For now, Warwick Long Bay is safe. That doesn’t mean it is safe from threats. But the level of vigilance and resolve to protect parklands is now higher. And that’s a good thing.

Stuart Hayward is the chairman of BEST.