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Slow down! TC Reef Fund launches ‘more consultation time’ petition on oil exploration

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Photo by Angie Villa, visitor to TCI, December 2017

#Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands – October 18, 2020 — For those on the front line of environmental protection and preservation, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government is moving too rapidly toward creating legislation which allows petroleum or oil exploration in TCI waters and on TCI land; over 600 people have so far signed a petition to extend the time and improve the consultation process.

In a poorly promoted process, residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands are asked to comment on the legislation which remains unavailable at the government’s website.

On October 1 the invitation for public consultation was issued by email and posted to the TCI government website.  The consultation process was due to expire on October 14 according to the notice issued by the Department of Energy & Utilities of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Many question whether there is any real interest in public input when there was no public education, no public or official announcement about the consideration of oil exploration and when the Bill is nowhere to be found.

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The Turks and Caicos Reef Fund, in a letter to authorities, made a case against the rapid pace and missing information toward the consultation process of such an environmentally invasive and potentially damaging industry.

“Firstly, two weeks is not a sufficient amount of time to allow for true public consultation and understanding of the proposed Bill. Furthermore, there is no copy of the Draft Bill available for download anywhere on the Government’s website. Only through multiple contacts working together was I able to get a copy of the Draft Bill. Without access to the information, there is no ‘public consultation’. I am now aware that it was printed in the recent copy of the Weekly News which was published on the 10th October, giving anyone who purchased the paper 4 days to digest the Bill.”

The Turks and Caicos Reef Fund also believes the Bill, if one gets their hands on a copy, is difficult to digest.

“I have some top notch environmental lawyers reading the bill and making comments so that we the people can understand. TCIG should give us a digestible version of the Bill as, I’m not a lawyer and it’s a dense 43 page document! The stakeholders are fishermen and people working in watersports, I doubt they can understand this document either.”

Photo from TC Reef Fund on Facebook

The draft legislation called:  Petroleum Exploration and Exploitation Bill 2020, essentially outlines what will be permitted to happen, who is allowed to enter the market and who will manage the industry.

Specifically the draft says:  “This Ordinance applies to activities for and associated with the search for and recovery of petroleum in the territorial waters, exclusive economic zone, continental shelf and land of the Islands.”

A Commissioner, as is stated in the draft, will govern the industry with six key functions.  Some of those functions are:  “to consider and determine applications for licences; (b) monitor licensees and determine whether licensees are in compliance with the terms and conditions of the licences and this Ordinance and (c) to monitor the effectiveness of the Ordinance and any Regulations in providing for the supervision and regulation of the activities undertaken by the licensees within the islands to internationally accepted standards…” – Excerpt from draft Petroleum Exploration and Exploitation Draft Bill 2020.

Hon Goldray Ewing, Minister of Home Affairs, Turks and Caicos Islands government

Concerns may be calmed by the fact that the draft explicitly states, the exploration process does not include drilling and no exploration can take place in areas protected under the National Parks Ordinance.

Still, the distribution, access and mixed messages linked to the consultation on the draft law is sloppily done.

“Currently, as of mid-day on the 13th October 2020, there is an update on gov.tc stating that public consultation has been extended by a week. The information however is incongruous as it now says that there is a two-week on-line consultation from 1st October to 21st October, 2020 (this is a three-week period) whilst also saying that consultation has been extended by one week to the 21st November, 2020. This extension of time for public consultation has no meaning if the Draft Bill is not available and consultation meetings aren’t happening.”

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The TC Reef Fund has reminded the Ministry of Home Affairs of best practices when it comes to consultation by outlining the guidance for conducting meaningful public consultation as crafted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC),  a recognized authority on environmental assessment and public consultation.

Among the eight actions shared with TCIG’s Ministry of Home Affairs are:  identification and engagement with key stakeholder groups; provision of a workable strategy and timeframe to the public for the proposed project; provision of available information to give background of the proposal and a public information campaign which ensures affected people are aware and have sufficient time to respond.

Consultation should make the effort to reach out to specialty groups including women, vulnerable and religious groups and the process should include public meetings and hearings, surveys and polls and in the end, reflect the concerns of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Education

Education Minister announces Platinum Partnerships for internet and tablet program amidst COVID surge

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By Shaniek Smith

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 15, 2022 – Schools did not resume in person learning in the Turks and Caicos on January 4, instead it was back to virtual classes for 7,400 children in the British overseas territory due to an omicron-driven surge in Covid-19 infections.

It was announced on the New Year’s Day holiday for TCI, January 3 in a press conference hosted by Rachel Taylor, the Minister of Education, and attended by Jamell Robinson, Minister of Health and supported by Premier Washington Misick, who was also at the live event.

In a promised update, parents got the not-so-good-news, virtual classes would resume at least until the end of January due to the surge and staff shortages being experienced.  Turks and Caicos, up to Thursday January 14 had over 800 active cases, five new deaths and a 600 per cent increase in hospitalisations.  The Minister said the decision was in the interest of safety.

The Minister also promised to get devices and internet to students in order for them to participate in learning during this virtual-only season.  The press conference on January 13, welcomed partners Flow, Digicel and the Pine Cay Project.

In her address, chair of the Pine Cay Project, Marie Landel, said that an urgent call from Dr. Carlton Mills, a member of their board of trustees revealed that about 750 students would be without internet connection and devices.

The Pine Cay Project responded to that information and has agreed to pay for internet for 30 days students, with its partner in the initiative, DigicelTCI.  It is an $18,000 investment in education continuity for hundreds of children.

“We had strong discussions on what we should do with the money that we collect every year, so yesterday we agreed to the funding in emergency situation of 300 internet connections and devices that are going to help the students in need, and we’re very proud to be able to act quickly,” Landel expressed.

Additionally, the Marketing Manager at Digicel TCI, Mr Drexler Smith, said Digicel has partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide about 1,000 tablets for public schools. Smith added that 75 MiFi devices valued at 7,000 dollars were provided; they come with free data services for up to three months for students in need.

Digicel has also created a special education plan for e-learning with specific zero-rated sites and applications. The company partnered with Pine Cay and other private entities in this regard. Various schools and educational facilities in South Caicos, Five Cays, and Providenciales have benefitted from laptops, data plans, MiFi’s, and e-learning kits.

Marketing Executive Flow TCI, Darron Hilaire, also shared the contributions Flow made to the education sector since the pandemic.

“Within the last three years, Flow TCI, through our charitable foundation, would have donated $130,000 worth of ICT equipment to 2 schools respectively in Grand Turk and in Providenciales for the outfitting of the new computer labs to help facilitate the ministry’s vision to foster an efficient e-learning environment for students,” he said.

Mr. Hilaire added that within the first year of the pandemic, Flow responded to requests from the Ministry to increase the bandwidth to public schools in the TCI. Hilaire said Flow home internet speed doubles automatically at no cost to its customers in early July.

He said that within the last 60 days, Flow TCI announced a recent donation of $25,000 dollars to two schools in North Caicos and one in Providenciales. The donation was in aid of increasing connectivity and infrastructural upgrades.

“As we come to the end of this phase of the project, our objective is to look at doing the same for other schools in the second phase of the projects to further arm our schools with the access to technology to provide the best quality education to students,” Hilaire added.

Amanyara Resort, not present at the press event, was said to be working on additional laptops for hundreds of children despite having already donated to several schools in Providenciales.

Minister Rachel Taylor and her team, including Eugene Grant, ICT Education Officer at the Ministry of Education and Mark Garland, Deputy Director of Education thanked the donors; they were labelled Platinum Partners by the Minister.

 

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Health

Government apologizes to Churches for NEW Covid-19 Testing rule

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#TurksandCaicos, January 15, 2022 – The TCI Government is apologizing for including the Church in a new raft of restrictions which mandates unvaccinated congregants be tested in order to be allowed to attend church events however, there is no change in the rule.  The rule is now delayed start for another two weeks following an announcement issued by the Ministry of Health on Thursday evening.

The apology came from Premier Washington Misick in a statement late Wednesday, where he apologized for bunching the church in with restaurants, lounges, bars and discotheques which also have to follow the regulation.

Church pastors speaking with Magnetic Media expressed shock at the announcement which was revealed, on Tuesday, as a cabinet approved decision which also includes mandatory testing for the unvaccinated to attend funerals.

While there has been no official statement from the Turks and Caicos Islands Christian Council or the Pastors Fraternity it was clear that some of the church community seemed prepared to stand firmly against the measure.

The Premier has promised that there will be consultation going forward; beckoning to Churches to comply with the temporary rule which he said would help to curb the latest surge of COVID-19 cases.

 

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Health

Cruising & Caring for Health and Wealth

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By Dana Malcolm

Staff Writer

 

#TurksandCaicos, January 15, 2022 – As the cruising industry in Grand Turk continues to get back into full swing with an anticipated four cruises or more per week, Turks and Caicos Islanders who work in the industry will again be interacting with thousands of foreign nationals on a weekly basis.

Normally this would be a cause for celebration and it is, but with the world in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and especially in light of the newest variant, the rules have changed.

As researchers find more information in regards to Omicron it is becoming increasingly clear that while the variant may be slightly milder than others its transmissibility is a major treat to populations, economies and health systems everywhere.

The following are tips that will help balance TCI tourism workers’ income and their safety, or as government often puts it, “lives and livelihoods”.

 

Prior Preparation.

Masks have become a part of life since the beginning of the pandemic, some wear them for safety, others because they are mandated. Nearly all of us have experienced that ‘oh no’ moment when we realize we’ve left our mask behind, it’s a funny anecdote to represent our new normal in theory.

In reality it can be dangerous, life threatening even, to be without protective measures especially for vendors who interact with international visitors all day long.

This means prior preparation is key. Outfit your stall with masks and the recommended cleaning agents, have extras on hand so you never get caught without. If possible put the required distance between your own stall and your neighbors. If possible create dividers for yourself and tourists that will allow you to interact safely. Place reminders in the form of signs around your stall so guests are not tempted to flout safety measures.

 

In the Moment

Cruise days can be hectic, there are so many people and so little time but as you rush to make your sales or braid hair it is important to keep safety protocols in mind.

Always maintain social distancing between yourself and guests, this is especially important in high volume situations like this as guests can be asymptomatic.

If you operate a business that will not allow you to do so e.g. hair braiding, keep your mask on at all times and insist that your guests do so as well.

Limit the amount of guests allowed in your space at once.

Establish rigorous and frequent cleaning protocols, as guests move around in their excitement they may forget to sanitize. Clean surfaces regularly with the recommended products to prevent lingering traces of anything dangerous.

 

Aftercare

When guests have departed and it’s time to close up shop don’t skip any steps that could undo a successful day of safe practices.

Wash your money, it may seem strange but bills are made from durable paper that is not susceptible to tearing or water-wear. Washing your bills and coins gently will not hurt them but will protect you from any lingering viruses. Clean regularly touched areas and items. Get tested regularly, that way if you do get infected you will be in the know early. If you feel ill, immediately self-isolate and test to confirm if you have COVID or not. Deep clean your stall regularly, disinfecting as many areas as you can.

Covid-19 has forced us into a new normal but Turks and Caicos Islanders are resilient, it is possible to balance safety and profit, remember to wash your hands and obey all the protocols so the TCI can come out of this Pandemic with as little losses as possible.

 

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