Plett's proposed, and very controversial, Small Boat Harbour Development by Western Cape Marina Investments comprises an 87 000 m² intention that will require extensive dredging of the Piesang River mouth and relocation/destruction of a R30million desalination plant so that a harbour can be built next to the Beacon Isle Hotel. Concrete breakwaters will be installed and 8 residential blocks and 2148 parking bays added. For a small town, this presents the possibility of an entirely new future, not necessarily a good one.
This development is a convoluted affair, emphasised by different developers having attempted versions since, as a local businessman claimed, 1983. The current process began in 1998 when the fishing industry had begun to collapse and the local council had called for tenders. Both sides make valid points but seem to ram them home in the media with emotional supporters rather than healthy debate.
There is a clear distinction between those who prioritise nature as part of the future and their opposites who claim that development will give jobs and life to a dying town. The former state that 4 years of development will close the beachfront and kill the small businesses that are left whilst the latter seek any hope that their unemployed existence ends. There's a serious lack of middle ground which does not bode well for a happy ending where there's compromise and change is handled responsibly.
What is most concerning is the lack of transparency and due diligence by local government. Although this process started under the ANC, it now falls into the lap of the DA who wrestled away the reins of power 2 and a half years ago. The DA's response, essentially, is to say, "no comment, we don't want to interrupt the process and get sued." Contrarily, the Save Plett Alliance says that public participation, not only an essential part of the process but a legal requirement too, will have utterly failed if the Bitou Municipality (under which Plett falls), waits until all reports are in before making a decision.
The council and municipality failed to address massive objections and instead green-lit phase 2 which is the environmental impact assessment, bolstering fears that the DA, provincially, is no different to the ANC, nationally, in that it's sometimes big business first, the will of the public second. One only has to look at the controversial ISDF tender award in Knysna or Princess Vlei in Capetown to share some of that concern.
One could be cynical and say that in a tempestuous South Africa, developer's take massive risks and none of their projects, and much needed investment, would succeed if there was transparency from the outset as small interest groups would likely kill it.
Most worryingly is why no one has determined where the funding for this massive project will come from. "Follow the money" is as logical as it gets. This extract is taken from a statement by the Plettenberg Bay Community Environment Forum:
"Western Cape Marina Investments (Pty) Ltd has no track record, and not even a website. However, some details about all companies are a matter of public record with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commissioner (CIPC).
We find that the directors of the company are Peter Ahern, based in Johannesburg, who has been dealing with our municipality all these years, and one Gerald Zadikoff, who is based in Miami, Florida, and is CEO of GM Selby Inc, an international consulting engineering firm, which advertises on its website that it is involved in the Plett development.
According to CIPC, Peter Ahern is director of 8 companies, none of which has a website. He is also director of no less than 18 deregistered companies, and of 2 companies in voluntary liquidation. We somehow doubt he has the several billions needed for this project.
Since the only other director is an American national working all over the world as consulting engineer, one has to come to the conclusion that Western Cape Marina Investments is merely a shell working for someone else.
The question is: who?"
How can local government believe in a long-term project that will affect the future of the town (more than anything before it) if they haven't verified that there are sufficient funds to complete and maintain the project?
Although there's no proof of such, there's doubt that the eventual Bitou council decision will be made on merit and that they will either vote according to 1. their corrupt relationship with big business or 2. according to the wishes of the electorate most likely to vote them into power in the next election. None i've encountered have faith that they will simply vote according to right or wrong i.e. what's best for Plettenberg Bay.
The "will of the people" is a difficult beast to define but whether public outrage is justified or paranoia (as a by-product of a lack of transparency), the fact remains that the people of Plett feel let down and have little faith in local government, no matter who is in power.