Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mining and Development

At a recent public consultation on the new mining policy, Minister of State in the Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications, Hon. Laurie Broderick, challenged the audience (largely those engaged in the mining industry, particularly bauxite, along with the usual five or so members of the public) to name five countries which had developed without exploiting their mineral resources "for the benefit of their people." Wish I'd been there to respond to this question. I'm doing some research on such countries (Egypt? Switzerland? Israel? Barbados?), although the question Minister Broderick asked also requires a definition of that slippery term "development" and possible even the word "benefit." More on this soon...

But a counter question occurs to me and I'd like to ask the good Minister to name five countries that developed, presumably for the benefit of at least some people, WITHOUT using a range of practices we now regard either as crimes or highly undesirable. I'm compiling a list of these practices and invite you all to contribute to the list...


Conquering other people's territory and taking away their land (including the minerals)
Expelling people from their home places, turning them into refugees
Murdering entire populations of native peoples, a.k.a genocide
Eradicating entire ecosytems and species
Systems of wage labour that make people sick or cause them injury
Systems of wage labour that use children
Systems of wage labour that involve people in degrading and harmful work
Annihilating languages, religions, cultures, rural communities

The logical extension of the Minister's argument is : if others have done it and it brings the (often highly dubious) benefits of development, proceed. So why not use any or all of the above tried-and-tested practices, Minister Broderick?

Like tourism in Jamaica, bauxite mining is something of a sacred cow. You're not really allowed to wonder about its net benefits - to ask perfectly reasonable questions about mining practices, the enforcement of the laws to protect people and places, the short- and long-term costs and benefits. To ask these questions is to expose yourself to personal attack and ridicule.

Well, now Jamaica's Parliamentary Committee on Economy and Production is asking those very questions with regard to bauxite mining:
In a report dated December 2008, the Committee makes a raft of recommendations, including closing ecologically important areas to mining, finding uses for the enormous amount of waste generated, the enforcement of laws (including arms' length monitoring, instead of the self monitoring now tolerated) and a thorough investigation of bauxite mining's costs and benefits. Hopefully the august committee's recommendations will be treated with a bit more respect than those which come from the common folk...even though it IS chaired by a member of the opposition...

1 comment:

Esther said...

yes well lets look at the slippery term "development" ...
i am completely heart broken and upset by the deaths of the rio grande community members who plunged to their deaths friday night on their way to coronation market (which is one of jamaica's greatest institutions and was swarming on saturday morning). while we have broad and smooth bauxite roads and rapacious highways that take decades and billions to build so that tourist resorts can be joined together and so that the megalopolis of kingston-spanishtown-maypen can happen the heart of jamaica - the place where what little food we still grow comes from - is ... there is really no word strong enough to describe the criminal neglect of our rural people and our inner cities - the road that caused these people to die cannot really even be called a road - after all the politicians were helicoptered in - without the valiant route taxis there would be no that is zero transportation for the majority of rural jamaicans. that the market people have always had to take their wares to market in the most unsafe and uncomfortable manner has been with us forever. so who do we care about when we develop jamaica? who are the people who really keep jamaica alive? and how we make them suffer everyday and die this way is a shame that is beyond shame.