‘It’s purely political,’ QC hired to fight on anti-campaigners behalf
Political and irresponsible to the highest extent
That’s Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin’s take on the legal challenge led by anti-Genetically Modified mosquito campaigner Dwene Ebanks, who successfully obtained a stay of execution last Wednesday (13 July) preventing the scheduled release of just over 75,000 GM mosquitoes in West Bay.
Premier McLaughlin, speaking for the first time publicly on the issue, made the comment when he appeared on the “For the Record” talk show with Orrett ‘OC’ Connor on Radio Cayman on Monday (18 July).
Mr McLaughlin did not mince words as he defended the Oxitec/ MRCU project and pointed fingers at Mr Ebanks as he contended that his (Mr Ebanks’) anti-GM mosquitoes campaign had ulterior political motives.
“I know that what is being done by Dwene (Ebanks) is purely political. He has been a political candidate before. He is no doubt intending to be a political candidate again and he wants a platform from which to launch his campaign, but this is irresponsible to the highest extent,” the Premier declared as he addressed concerns about the project on the talk show.
He also asserted that opposition to the GM mosquitoes “is well funded – they have hired a top law firm that is managing this thing.”
However, Mr Ebanks, when contacted for a response to the Premier’s claims, defended the steps he and his group Caymanians United to Suspend GM Mosquitoes Project has taken to challenge the release of the mozzies.
“When people cannot control you they try and control people’s perception of you. It is a very sad day in this county when the tenets of a good democracy are scoffed at and the genuine concerns and questions by lay citizens are ignored with an indifferent eye by its government and those elected to lead,” he contended.
He said the Premier as the leader of Cayman and Minister of Health has a duty and responsibility to not only respect the rights and freedoms of every person in this country; especially and including, those who shed light but ensure and encourage that those voices are heard and safeguarded.
“The Premier and his Cabinet have failed us in that regard and have done nothing short of using the engine of government to abuse, malign and degrade us in this process. He would be better off focusing on this injustice,” he argued.
As for his political plans, Mr Ebanks said, “I have no plans at this time but to stop, to try and seek help from this abuse we feel in West Bay in this process.”
Last week Mr Ebanks filed an application, through the HSM law firm, seeking judicial review of the National Conservation Councils’ decision to grant a permit to Oxitec/Mosquito Research and Control (MRCU) for the release of the mosquitoes.
Today (Tuesday 19 July) the matter comes up for hearing in the court where it is expected that attorneys for the state will mount a defense to the application and argue for the stay of execution to be lifted.
Queen’s Counsel Stephen Truman has been hired to head the legal team mounting the challenge to the Oxitech/MRCU project.
The Premier, who said he did not intend to speak on the GM mosquito issue, was forced to address the legal challenge head on after Katina Anglin, one of the anti-GM mosquito campaigners called in to the programme accusing the Government of “manipulating” the public.
She also alleged that government was not sharing all the facts on GM mosquitoes nor was there sufficient consultation with the public before taking the decision to release the mozzies.
However, Mr McLaughlin fired back declaring that “this government is acting most responsibly.”
He pointed out that Cayman has the attention of jurisdictions all around the world because “we are actually doing something to control the vector. We know now we have three recorded cases of Zika that are imported. What do you think the impact of not controlling the Aedes Aegypti mosquito and their biting those people who have Zika and spreading Zika across Cayman?”
He questioned if consideration was given to the impact the spread of the virus would have on the local population and the impact that knowledge will have on tourism industry and the travel of people coming to Cayman.
“But I can tell you as Health Minister and Premier that I cannot and will not sit by and have a major health threat go unaddressed because that would be even more irresponsible,” he declared.
Premier McLaughlin, in his defence of the project, pointed out that in 2010 there was a pilot programme in which a significant number of GM mosquitoes were released in East End and surveys conducted to determine the population of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes.
“The results of that exercise demonstrated that they had reduced the number of the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, through this exercise, in the area by 93 per cent. 93 per cent. I do not know, none of us has heard anyone of us complain about any adverse consequence as a result of that,” the Premier contended.
Government, he said, is not about exposing people to risk.
He reminded listeners that he and his family also live in Cayman “so please believe that we are satisfied with the results and the research that has been done.”
Mr McLaughlin stressed that, “this is an entirely safe exercise and we also have to bear in mind the huge risk of Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika not just to the local population, but our reputation as a jurisdiction that relies so heavily on tourism.”
He pointed to the current situation in Brazil, which is being ravaged by the Zika virus, that even with the Olympic Games people’s concerns remain about traveling to a jurisdiction where Zika is prevalent.
The Premier said he believe the judge will consider the urgency of the situation in deliberating on the legal challenge.
Mr McLaughlin, in endorsing the safety of the project, went at length to explain the science behind what Oxitec and MRCU is trying to do through the mozzies.
He said all the mozzies that are being released are male mosquitoes.
“The objective is with this male mosquito (injected) with this life shortening gene will mate with the wild females, the females only mate once their life span is about seven to nine days and once they have done their job they die. The mosquitoes which hatch, the larvae that hatch, does not survive into maturity to be able to take the next generation forward. That’s the way this works so the chances of this, in anyway, impacting humans is beyond me,” the Premier said.
He also pointed out that the research work is supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international agencies.