Category: Island Talk Created on Saturday, 21 July 2012 08:06
Hon Easton Taylor,
I am sure that by now you would be aware that there is a growing concern over the GoM’s decision to bring a tobacco factory to Montserrat. Though anxious to see the creation of new jobs, for good reason, many of us believe that we must not do so by grabbing at any type of business regardless of negative moral or social implications.
It is true that tobacco or cigarette manufacture, like cigarette smoking is quite legal. It is also worthy to note that we import cigarettes and have always drawn revenue from their importation at the demand of a very small segment of the population who exercise the right to smoke. However, we must also note that to attract a tobacco manufacturer to Montserrat would mean far more. We would be partnering with a business that manufactures a product that is known to be implicated in causing deadly and expensive diseases that have killed people across the world by the thousands and millions.
No wonder that one constituent has referred to the deal as one involving “blood money”.
Across the world, radio, television, newspapers and magazines have ceased to advertise smoking, often by law. Rules are being made to label cigarette packages with bold markings that describe the grave health dangers associated with smoking. To balance the medical cost to governments in caring for victims of lung cancer and other smoking related illnesses large taxes are placed on the importation of cigarettes and other tobacco products. In Canada for instance, apart from being illegal for any store to advertise or show tobacco products, one pack with 20 cigarettes is sold for US $16 and more to further discourage the sale of cigarettes and the costly illnesses that are associated.
I am also told that the whole reason for choosing Montserrat is to avoid the EU restrictions on tobacco imports. Therefore, Montserrat would be used to give a significant advantage to the tobacco manufacturer by making Montserrat a gateway to the huge European market or cigarette smoking customers.
Should the Montserrat government then partner with what is being referred to as a “blood money” enterprise the name of Montserrat would be tarnished and turn away more meaningful investment to the Island. The damage done to the image and reputation of our country could far outweigh the benefit of an enterprise that employs fourteen or twenty people. What we should instead be telling investors and tourists across the world is that the decisions on who or what we accept into our country are guided by moral principles.
My latest discovery is that two established businesses have just been given a month’s notice to vacate the Brades factory building in order to facilitate the tobacco factory. While it is clear that the GoM is willing and anxious to assist them to move, these two businesses have no suitable location to move to. One was assisted by GoM to build a wood workshop that is quite small and next to a residential area. The other will need land and a completely new structure to operate his auto mechanic repair business that is presently equipped to do most of its work on small to very large vehicles indoors.
Are we encouraging screw driver investors who simply pick up and move on after exhausting tax and other incentives? I am sure you would agree that it would be unfair to put our two local businessmen and their employees out of business and work by forcing them, and not the new investor, to instantly invest in producing a new structure and land.
Also the level of secrecy in notifying the public of the nature of the industry in the first place has created the suspicion that the GoM was already anticipating the objections and questions now being raised, and which must be addressed and answered before moving forward. One such question is whether there has been an environmental impact study to advise on whether it is acceptable for a tobacco factory to be located in a residential area and so near to a school?
It seems that the whole deal is being rushed through without respecting the right of the people of Montserrat to have relevant knowledge in good time that would empower them to accept or reject such a serious decision that is being made by the GoM.
So apart from the moral, environmental and economic concerns mentioned it would also be politically wise even at this point for the governing majority to reconsider its decision to push a tobacco manufacturer on our people. You may find that quite a large number of our people would be against it and without the blessing of our people it would not only become an eye sore but at some stage the GoM may find a public protest on their hands if the tobacco factory it is literally forced upon our people by the governing majority.
After hearing a warning from the pulpit on Sunday added to a constituent’s use of the words “blood money” I feel compelled to appeal to you and our government to take heed to the moral, economic as well as political concerns that are being voiced more and more at the mention of the planned tobacco factory.
On this matter I believe the Opposition speaks with one voice and we urge you and your colleagues to reconsider the decision to partner our people with tobacco manufacture. Before going any further we urge you to use common sense and common decency and heed the voice of the people in guarding the moral and economic value of the reputation of the country. The Opposition and our people stand ready to support you.
May God grant you and each member of our ruling government majority the faith, courage and the wisdom needed to retract on the decision to bring a tobacco factory to our shores.
Cc: HE, Governor
Premier & Cabinet