A recent event that has probably been already forgotten by many really holds deep national significance and needs to be formally addressed. The signs that were erected at the beach adjoining the Marriott Hotel declaring it private property raise concerns well beyond the incident itself.
It brings into sharp focus our national position, if such exists at all, regarding use, access and ownership of the foreshores and waterways in Guyana. This issue will inevitably re-emerge and requires a clearly articulated official position that is reflective of the dispositions of the populace. It would be a shame to be confronted with this issue again in the future without having utilised the opportunity currently presented to engage in a national conversation to devise appropriate regulations.
This has been and continues to be a highly controversial issue in other countries in the Caribbean. It pits the interests of businesses against those of average citizens. It raises vital questions regarding how natural treasures should be treated.
In some countries where private beaches exist, citizens feel deprived of what they deem as their birthrights. They lament the fact that foreigners are able to enjoy the most attractive beaches and other natural treasures which citizens can only access at a prohibitive cost. There have been various accounts of the embarrassment faced by citizens being barred from beaches.
In addition, the beaches where there is public access are usually of lower quality and poorly maintained. The prevailing mindset is that the country has been sold out to foreign commercial interests at the expense of the locals.
This has led to suspicion and even antagonism towards commercial entities which, ironically, have critical importance to the economic standing of the country.
Whether or not, from a strictly legal perspective, one has any such birthright, it raises more fundamental questions as to what is in the country’s best interest; who should make the decisions and on what basis.
In addressing the issue of private beaches in other Caribbean countries, one writer emphasised the fact that it speaks to the culture of the citizens of the country—highlighting the fact that their citizens would never allow their beaches to be privatised.
This indicates a national consensus on the topic which we as Guyanese have never officially arrived at. Strong arguments can be put forward from both perspectives and lessons can be learned from the experiences of our sister territories. It would therefore behoove us to begin the consultation process and devise for ourselves an official position that is reflective of a national disposition.
It is vital that these decisions are made with transparency and are reflective of such consensus. The existing laws should be examined and where necessary updated to ensure they fit the contemporary context.
More importantly, widespread sensitisation should be done to fully inform our citizens as to the prevailing official position, their rights and responsibilities in relation to same. Once Guyanese have a stake in determining these regulations there would be greater support for the positions arrived at.
This avoids the demonisation of commercial entities and creates a basis whereby all can co-exist in the interest of national development. We must, as a nation, develop a strong culture of collective responsibility for the preservation and development of our resources.
These exercises go a long way in instilling such a culture and lead to greater social cohesion.
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