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Trinidad & Tobago and the International Whaling Commission

NGOs come in for blows

Mark Meredith

Trinidad & Tobago Express

12th April 2004

The Institute for Cetacean Research
claims that Japan's yearly whale hunt
in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary is for
'scientific' purposes. Greenpeace charges,
however, that this programme is illegal
and primarily an attempt to pave the way
for a resumption of commercial whaling.

Photo ©Greenpeace

Mark Meredith continues his examination of why Trinidad and Tobago may be wanting to join the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Yesterday, in the Sunday Express, he reported on an interview with William Benjamin, the adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, and on a recent symposium at which whaling was discussed.

In today's conclusion of his report, he explains what upset the non-governmental organisations at the symposium.

SOME local NGOs expressed "outrage" at comments made at the Sustainable Use Symposium, especially at what they said was the "general slandering of NGOs". Dr Owen Day, a director of the Tobago-based NGO the Buccoo Reef Trust, said: "Unlike its stated aim, the meeting dealt primarily with whaling and the threats from NGOs and eco-imperialism. The presentations were in my opinion very biased and there were very few representatives from the private sector, academia and NGOs.

"While the issue of sustainable whaling in the Caribbean deserves proper debate with informed scientists, these scientists were not there. Dr Robin Mahon-probably the leading fisheries scientist in the region-was not even aware of the meeting. Day noted that President George Maxwell Richards "gave an excellent feature address in the opening ceremony, stressing the need for sustainable development and the importance of civil society, CBOs and NGOs in the formulation of regional solutions. He would have been very disappointed to know the real agenda of this meeting".

His sentiments were echoed by a delegate at the conference from the T&T-based Caribbean Network for Integrated Rural Development (CNIRD), whose public comments followed two contentious presentations on the NGO movement.

"For those who have had ears to hear at this meeting it is quite evident what the real agenda has been. It is unfortunate that in the process of trying to satisfy that agenda we have been willing to put at risk the positive and productive relationship of both governments and NGOs in the Caribbean, which we have fought so hard for for years, working so hard to develop and establish.

"The amount of time we have spent NGO-bashing, could have been much better spent devising strategy or possible solutions."

So what upset the NGOs? The two final speeches of the conference were the last straw for some.

The first was by Alan MacNow, described as an international journalist and a consultant to the Japanese Fisheries Association in Tokyo. His topic was on sources of funding. These are the excerpts relating to NGOs that took up much of his presentation.

...I said money is there from foundations and the UN agencies. Much of it is going to NGOs. If you look at what the NGOs are doing with it, some are doing a fine job, helping people, providing medicines and hospitals. "But others, I feel, are using the money for trivial purposes, and just to build their own incomes. Or, they use the money to fund-raise-what they call awareness programmes. They claim raising money makes people aware of problems.

"In the case of sharks, they'll say, 'save the sharks/, and send out fund-raising letters to millions of people around the world and say this beautiful animal is being driven to extinction.' Incredibly, 50 per cent or more of the money that these fund-raising NGOs get is being used for further fund-raising-or to pay their travel expenses to various conferences. "At these meetings on the environment they stay in lovely places like Bangkok, Geneva-always seem to be high-priced places which are very attractive to the bright executives of the NGOs."

"A recent poll of African schoolchildren found that 60 per cent wanted to be NGOs. Well, of course, it's a lovely life, if you can afford, or if you can get other people's money to live well on. I don't want every NGO to take this as a slant because there are some very fine NGOs who have used money well and gotten good results. "But we should ask them, 'what kind of results are you getting for all this money you are collecting through grants and contributions ? What are

you actually doing? What actual results are you getting?'

"Those that can't show them say, 'well, it takes a long time. You need years and years of education in order to educate people'. Maybe. But the world is hungry now, they're sick now. We have to address these issues now, not wait years and years for education to change the world.

"Enough lecturing. My friend McIntyre Douglas is going to do more of that when he gets up." He did. His presentation was called "NGOs-Who drives the NGOs and Why?"

McIntyre Douglas was adviser to the late Dominica prime minister, Rosie Douglas, his brother. He was introduced as a "vibrant and vigilant pro-sustainable use activist".

Douglas prefaced his remarks by saying that because of the drive for profits in this world of multinationals, watchdogs were needed to keep tabs on environmental wrongdoers.

But that was as good as it got for the NGOs. The remainder was a vehement attack on the agendas of international NGOs like Greenpeace and The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), their alliances and data.

Special scorn was heaped upon the founder of Greenpeace, David Mactaggert, who was labelled as a failed real estate promoter who ran off leaving investors in the lurch.

"It is not difficult to see how a worldwide movement like Greenpeace, with over 5 million members, could be ruthlessly manipulated by a maverick, idiosyncratic leader or leadership to remodel the world in his or its own image. We are in danger of ending up with a new world order, blighted by the warped vision of this new breed of cultural and economic, ecological imperialist," said Douglas.

I decided to get a viewpoint on whaling in the Caribbean from a notable absentee NGO at the symposium, the Caribbean Conservation Association. I spoke with Dr Joth Singh, the executive director.

Q: What is the CCA's view on Caribbean countries being targeted by Japanese aid in return for votes at the IWC?

A: The principle of providing development aid in return for votes at the IWC is very wrong. This mechanism for securing support has received widespread international criticism and ridicule. The Caribbean region receives aid from many developed countries who are against commercial whaling. These countries include Germany, UK, USA to name a few. These countries have not tied their aid package to guaranteed support at IWC by beneficiary countries.

The reality is that if you tallied up the support received by Caribbean countries from these anti-commercial whaling countries you would recognise that it is several multiples of what is being provided by Japan. What would be the position of Caribbean countries if this aid was tied to votes at IWC?

Q: Does the CCA support the moratorium on commercial whaling? If so, why?

A: The CCA absolutely supports the moratorium on commercial whaling. The decision for the moratorium on commercial whaling was not one of choice but an imperative to prevent the wanton slaughter of whales to the point of extinction of some species. Pro-whalers are anxious for the moratorium to be lifted. However, there is not enough scientific data to show that various whale stocks have recovered to be out of danger if the ban on commercial whaling is lifted.

Furthermore, the CCA believes that non-whaling activities, such as whale watching, are proving to be much more lucrative in the Caribbean, where tourism is important to the mainstay of the economies of many of the region's nations.

Q: Is there an economic case to be made for whaling in the Caribbean region?

A: Commercial whaling has never been practised in the Caribbean. There is no evidence which supports whaling being a commercially viable venture in the Caribbean. Indeed, it is our sense that engaging in commercial whaling in the Caribbean could have very negative impacts on the tourism sector which relies on the region's tranquil and natural beauty.

In other words, the opportunity cost of engaging in whaling as compared to non-whaling activities is tremendous and does not make good economic sense.

Q: What is your view on the contention that whales are swallowing up the fish stocks?

A: This argument that whales are consuming fish stocks and therefore they should be hunted and removed is preposterous. There is no scientifIc evidence to support it. The greatest threat to fish stocks is mankind. Some 75 per cent of fish stocks are depleted and over-fishing by humans is the primary cause of declines. Whales and other top predators are components of healthy marine ecosystems, and removing or depleting their populations may even have negative consequences for fisheries.

The pro-whaling interests have introduced this 'misleadingly attractive in appearance' argument into fisheries fora around the world to cloak their true agenda, which is ending the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) ban on commercial whaling.

Q: In 2002 Japan's technical cooperation to T&T is listed on their website as 1,776 million yen. It seems a lot. Are these figures comparable to amounts given by Japan to its Caribbean allies on the IWC?

A: Most of the aid from Japan going into the Eastern Caribbean countries are Fisheries Grant aid. They get significantly more money. For example, Antigua & Barbuda received US$1,680,000 during March 2004 for a Fisheries Centre Construction Plan. However, the more relevant question is: should voting in support of the Japanese position at the IWC be a necessary condition for receiving Japanese aid? We say, no sir!

Click here to read Mark Meredith’s previous article investigating Caribbean whaling.