LEADER - 9th March, 2000
Clickable Headlines
Why the PLP is passionate about Clifton
Clifton as World Heritage
Clifton's Ecological & Social Value
Shameful Government Behaviour
Developers Put On Notice
Today, I am announcing the official position of the Progressive Liberal Party on a matter of great public interest.  It is a position which foreshadows extreme measures such as I have never before articulated on any issue.  I expect never to have to do so again but, frankly, the arrogant bull-headedness of the present Government and, more recently, the complete abdication of their responsibility with respect to the proposed Clifton Cay development have left me with no alternative in this particular case.

I have given this matter a great deal of thought and prayerful consideration and I have consulted my colleagues closely.  We are all satisfied of the moral correctness of the position I am unveiling today.

More than a year ago - on February 7th, 1999 to be precise - I issued a press statement calling upon the Government to desist from approving the proposed development of some 600 acres at Clifton Cay as a gated community for 600 foreign families.  I summarized the social, cultural, historical and environmental objections to the project and offered an alternative vision for the preservation of Clifton Cay and its environs as a national park unspoiled by the grimy hand of commercial desecration.

More particularly, I invited the Government on that occasion to dedicate the Clifton Cay property as a national park emphasizing the preservation of the Wylly plantation ruins, the cliffs, wetlands, forests and beaches for present and future generations.  I also invited the Government to guarantee to the Bahamian people the same unimpeded access to the same beaches, picnic areas and boat launching sites they have always enjoyed.

I concluded my statement by saying that “it is not too late for the Government to realize the folly of its present course”.

That cry, like the cries of so many other Bahamians and residents of goodwill, fell on deaf ears.  The Government, irritated by the onslaught of public protest, seemed only more determined than ever to shove the proposed development down the throats of the Bahamian people.

Before I tell you what I intend to do about it let me first tell you why we, of the Progressive Liberal Party, are so passionately and irrevocably opposed to the Clifton Cay development and why it is an issue which arouses such deep emotions in the Bahamian people.

The ancestors of 85 out of every 100 Bahamians came from Africa, mostly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries - some directly on slaveships from the African continent, others by way of the American colonies.  The ancestors of the other 15% of our population came from Europe, mostly by way of America after the War of Independence, near the end of the 18th century.  What brought these two races together was the institution of slavery and from that common nexus our society has evolved ever since, each race being bound to the other in a common destiny and a shared heritage.

Few physical traces of Bahamian slave culture have survived.  Rather more - but still relatively few - physical traces of white Loyalist plantation society have endured.  Physical reminders of both, however, are found in abundance and in a coherent pattern at Clifton Cay in the form of slave cabins and kitchens, plantation walls, the ruins of William Wylly’s great house and numerous other structures and artifacts from the period.  In their totality, they represent one of the most complete tangible and enduring links to our ancestors and their way of life.

But there is more :  Clifton was also the site of Lucayan villages dating as far back as the first millennium and continuing up to the time of the Spanish occupation under Christopher Columbus.  These Lucayan villages, the remains of which are mostly beneath the surface at Clifton, have only recently  been discovered by the Government’s own archeological consultants, Professors Farnsworth and Wilkie.  In their January 2000 report to the Government, they state that these Lucayan villages are amongst the oldest - if not, in fact, the oldest - to be found anywhere in The Bahamas and the only sites still extant and available for further study.   In the words of the archeological consultants - the Government’s own archeological consultants:

    “the sites still preserved at Clifton may represent the last opportunity to learn about the daily lives of the people who first made the island their home”.

Thus, all three ethnic arteries of our heritage -  Lucayan Indian; European; and African are to be found at Clifton.  Indeed, as Professors Farnsworth and Wilkie concluded in their report to the Government :

      “It is our professional opinion that no single property in The Bahamas should contain as many, equally significant, prehistoric and historic cultural resources as are located on the Clifton plantation property”.

Indeed, the property at Clifton is so immensely important in the historical context that it is virtually certain to qualify as a “World Heritage Site”.  As such, it would qualify for substantial international funding aimed at promoting its conservation as a national park.  This would generate world-wide appeal.  In the process, Clifton could become a vital component of the tourism product of The Bahamas, attracting untold thousands of visitors while bringing present and future generations of Bahamians into direct contact with our heritage in a way which could only deepen our Bahamian identity and knowledge of our history.  One other by-product of this, of course, would be the creation of hundreds of new permanent jobs for Bahamians.  None of this will be possible, however, if the Clifton Cay development is brought to fruition.

A tour of Clifton is an emotional experience for any Bahamian but especially so for Bahamians of African descent.  Amidst the jagged rocks near the ocean’s edge is a narrow “bathing basin”.  It was into this bathing area that disembarking slaves - our own forefathers and mothers - were led while fresh water was dumped on them from the rocks above to wash away the filth their bodies had accumulated in the long voyage across the Atlantic from the African homeland into slavery.   This was their first encounter with The Bahamas and the New World.  Thus, when we touch those rocks, when we stand upon those rocks and peer down into this ancient bathing basin we are, in the only way left to us now, making contact with our ancestors and paying homage to them and to their struggles.  It is a sacred shrine.

That ancient bathing basin cut into the rocks is still there but if the Clifton development proceeds it will be blown to bits so that a canal for luxury yachts can pass through.  That is not progress.  It is sacrilege.

But there is a great deal more to Clifton than that, for the precious ruins of slave houses and associated structures are to be found over a much wider area.  In all, 15 structures have been discovered to date but the Government’s own archeological consultants have reported that there are probably many more structures which lay beneath the surface.  Only sub-surface testing and extensive archeological excavations at Clifton will unearth these hidden links to our past.  That is what the Government’s own archeological consultants have advised them.  In their own words:

         “The testing at the Alexandra site revealed two previously unknown, buried, historic structures to the south of the standing structures.  The wattle and mortar, mid-late 18th century structure discovered near the beach suggests that other early historical resources may still also be preserved beneath the surface, both in this area and elsewhere on the plantation.  Only large-scale excavations in this area will reveal more evidence about this structure and the possibility of similar structures nearby.  Further excavation will also be required to determine if this structure was occupied by some of the oldest African people in The Bahamas.”

It will be readily appreciated, therefore, that the idea that the developers can somehow make amends by throwing up an arbitrary 30 foot open space around the known structures is both ridiculous and hopelessly inadequate.

But it is not the historical importance of Clifton Cay which alone compels us to stand four-square against the proposed development.  There are powerful ecological and social reasons as well.

Clifton is home to some of the most ecologically important wetlands in the whole of New Providence - the source of life and sustenance for many hundreds of species of birds and other forms of plant and animal life.  The sensitive ecological balance of these wetlands and the surrounding forests would be irreparably compromised by the mammoth- scale construction that would ensue from any approval of the Clifton Cay development.   We cannot permit that to happen.

In the social context, the case against the Clifton Cay development is even more unanswerable.  New Providence is an island.  An island is, of course, a body of land surrounded by water.  And yet nearly all of that water is inaccessible to all but a few Bahamians.  In particular, nearly all of our public beaches and traditional picnic areas are being systematically lost to private developers.  The Clifton Cay development will only add to this national tragedy and egregiously so.  Bahamians will be left with a straggly bit of beach while the prime beach areas with their wonderful surroundings will become the private preserve for 600 mostly foreign families who will make up the new gated community.  How much more of this can the Bahamian people be expected to take?   Indeed, has the Government for one moment stopped to think that perhaps one of the reasons why we are beset by so much frustration, anger, interpersonal dysfunction and criminal violence in our over-the-hill communities is because we are becoming more and more caged, more and more cooped-up, without ready access to the beaches and coastal areas and vistas of the sea and sunset which are so central to our identity as an island-people and so vital to our need for recreation, relaxation tranquillity and a sense of well-being.

Further, on an island as small as ours with an ever-burgeoning population which is already more than  200,000, we can ill-afford the prospect of yet another huge swath of our coastline being tied up as yet another large-scale gated community for the few - a gated community far bigger than any before.  This is exceptionally short-sighted social planning.

We must stop looking only at short-term positions but instead focus on how these construction-booms the Government is forever bragging about will impact the long-term development of New Providence as a habitat for the vast majority of our people.  A short-term “job fix” must not be the only thing we look at as the quid pro quo for approving large-scale resort and residential enclaves which will, in the long run, cause incalculable harm to our social planning and diminish the overall quality of life in our nation’s capitol.

In summary, therefore, we are firmly of the view that the Clifton Cay property is too sacred a component of the history and cultural heritage of The Bahamas;  too valuable a part of the natural environment; and too  central to the future social planning needs of Bahamians, to be sacrificed on the altar of real estate profiteering for the benefit of the foreign few at the expense of the many.

The Government has behaved shamefully in this matter. It has now moved from intransigence and defiance to a complete abdication of its responsibility.  I refer, of course, to the recent announcement of the Prime Minister on Love 97 Radio that he was washing his hands of the Clifton Cay matter; that the present owners can sell to whomever they like and they can do what they will.  That is nonsense.  Worse still, it is madness.  The Government cannot play Pontius Pilate.  It cannot duck its duty to govern.  More particularly, the Government has no lawful choice but to decide:

    (1)  whether it will approve the acquisition of the Clifton Land by Mr. Chaffin and his associates and issue the necessary permits under the International Landholdings Act;
     (2)  whether it will give Investments Board approval to the proposed use of the land as a gated community for 600 families with all the attendant destruction of precious historical and cultural resources;
     (3)  whether it will grant the required building permits for the construction which is proposed for the development; and
     (4)  whether it is obliged under the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Act to preserve the Clifton Cay property as a historic site rather than allow the historical resources on that property to be destroyed or irrevocably compromised.

It is disgraceful that the Government has given notice that it intends to shirk those responsibilities and to duck its duty to exercise the discretion and judgment required of the Government as a matter of law, constitutional principle and political morality.

Since the Government has now decided to abdicate its responsibilities, we, of the Official Opposition Progressive Liberal Party, are left with no choice but to show the way forward.  In this regard, we have come to certain resolutions and I now declare them.

We hereby put Chaffin & Associates, the Bechtel Corporation and all other partners or financiers of the proposed Clifton Cay Development project on public notice that when the Progressive Liberal Party regains power following the next General Election we shall forthwith rescind all building approvals and permits which may have been issued by the FNM Government for that project.  Any construction then in progress will be terminated immediately and no new construction will be permitted.

Further, we will simultaneously take the necessary steps under the Acquisition of Land Act to compulsorily acquire in the public interest all of the land that would have been sold to the developers.  In so doing, we will, of course, pay compensation to the landowners in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the Constitution of The Bahamas.

If Mr. Chaffin and Bechtel want to roll the dice and gamble that the PLP will not win the next General Election or that the PLP, which won more than 40% of the popular vote in the last General Election, will change its mind, they are, of course, free to take that gamble.   Let me assure them, however, that the position I have announced is irrevocable.  The Clifton Cay development may start under the FNM but under the PLP it will be brought to a screeching halt.

Let all concerned parties, therefore, be forewarned and deport themselves accordingly.  Let no one be heard to say later that we did not put them on notice of our position before they took the plunge.  Accordingly, before anyone commits his money to this project, before anyone puts pen to any purchase of the property, and before the Government and Mr. Chaffin sign any Heads of Agreement, let them all know, in no uncertain terms, what the position of the Progressive Liberal Party, the position of Perry Gladstone Christie and the position of his parliamentary colleagues is in this most exceptional, unprecedented and sorry affair.

It should never have come to this.  It should never have gotten this far.  The property at Clifton is too precious, too priceless, too important a part of the national patrimony to be squandered on another gated community.  The Government has abdicated its responsibility.  We will not abdicate ours.

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