Panton pledges transparency

| 03/12/2013

CNS): The advisory body established under the National Conservation Bill will be publishing all of its agendas and minutes and wherever possible the Conservation Council will hold meetings in public, the environment minister has vowed. On Monday evening Wayne Panton told a very small audience at a West Bay meeting about the proposed law that the PPM was practicing truly open government with this new legislation. As environment officials begin the last public consultation on the long awaited bill, the minster told the audience that one of the amendments that this draft would now include before passage would be the commitment to transparency.

“We want this council functioning in the open,” Panton said and told attendees that the entire law contemplates significant consultation. He said contrary to the myths circulating the Conservation Council was not all powerful and was simply an advisory body, except for land owned by government that was designated a protected area, where it would be managing the land.

The legislation will be debated in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, and while the opposition leader and independent members have signalled their objections to the law, the bill has the support of the government benches and is expected to enjoy safe passage.

Panton pointed out that the law was not being rushed or forced on people. It had been under discussion for more than a decade, had gone through several rounds of consultation and was part of the campaign agenda for the PPM and the C4C leading up to the elections. On being appointed to the post of environment minister after the election, Panton immediately indicated his intention to bring the bill to the Legislative Assembly before the end of the year.

As a result of Panton’s commitment, after more than a decade of talking about it, Cayman will finally have some legislative mechanism that will help it meet its international treaty obligations, comply with the 2009 Constitution and manage its natural resources lawfully and sustainably into the future. It will also give Cayman’s unique and indigenous flora and fauna, such as the vulnerable silver thatch, the critically endangered ghost orchid and the islands endemic anoles and other lizards, some protection.

Despite the myths circulating, the bill is far from draconian and merely creates a framework and regulations for how the natural resources of the island are to be considered in the face of future development.

Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie pointed out that in many cases developers are surprised, even shocked, by the uncertainty surrounding environmental issues when they come to develop in Cayman and want to see laws in place that they can follow. The DoE director explained that they want to know what the guidelines and regulations are so they can conform and be more certain that the plans they submit for development will be acceptable.

“Developers required a clear road map and a level playfield so they know what they need to do to get planning permission,” she said, pointing to the confusion that currently surrounds the requirement for EIAs.

She also noted that while everyone talks about sustainable development, without the law there is no framework for it. Over the years, she said, she had seen people entirely misunderstand the term, as it is not “sustained development”. She said many people confuse the concept of development that the environment can cope with or sustain without adverse consequences with simple ongoing development that gives no consideration to the natural world.

To date, the environment is almost never considered during planning applications and when pressed Ebanks-Petrie was unable to think of one single occasion when her department’s recommendations, which are submitted on almost every significant project, were even considered. While she said there had been occasions where modifications may have been made to smaller projects as a result of DoE submissions, she was unable to think of any major development where that had happened.

Even under the new law there is still no compulsion for planning to follow the exact recommendations of the DoE and force a developer to do things differently in order to get planning position. However, with the NCL, in the same way that the Central Planning Authority will usually consider the recommendations of the Water Authority, the National Roads Authority and the planning department, it will now be required to consider the environment as well as socio-economic and infrastructure issues and suggest changes to developers to mitigate environmental damage.

Panton pressed home the issue that the law provides for full public consultation on everything, from the species that will be designated as protect as well the land for sale that government might contemplate buying for conservation purposes. Cabinet, not the council, will have the last say on all decisions and all of them will be made, he said, based on feedback from the people.

Regardless of the late objections to the law coming from the printed media, Panton said that after more than a decade, now was the time. Once the law was passed, Cayman would no longer be embarrassed by its complete absence of environmental legislation compared to other overseas territories and will finally have a mechanism for managing its precious natural resources, which are critical to maintaining the country’s tourist dollar.

Meetings continue through this week across the six districts. The environment minister, the DoE director and her team will all be in Bodden Town Tuesday evening at the Civic Centre.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It will be verydifficult for a conservation law to encompass the concerns of both the extreme tree huggers and the extreme developers. The fact of the matter tough is that without it we are doomed in the long run.

    We are all good people with good intentions; but we are a lot better if we are watched and clear rules are in place. The law it is needed urgently. As it is now we have many laws that people of "well to do" do not comply in a daily basis. Imagine without them. It will be chaos.

    Cayman stands to loose more than already has lost in regards to the environment. Lack of respect and greed almost took all our groupers and many other fish that used to be abundant. Mangroves gone, canals silted and polluted, mountains of trash and so on.

    Land owners (and I admit I am not one of them) need to understand the fact that their rights as land owners ends up where my right as a citizen of these islands start. No, you can not build as you please and do what you want because it is your land. If it is going to effect others in the long run, your right ends up there. Period.

    If things are not controlled, there will be nothing left fifty years from now. I will not be here then, but others will. Lets leave them something to sustain themselves rather than a bunch of empty buildings that no one will occupy because, who will want to come here to see and do what?

    In many instances the consequences of over building will not be known until many years have passed. Why should we take the risk of not been able to go back after the damage is done?

    Many people reading this Law find more in between the lines but they are not experts at reading laws either. Many are just happy not to have anything at all so they can do as they please ignoring what the consequences could bring. Again, many of them are not going to be here either 50 years from now.

    The Department of Environment is seen as "Public Enemy number 1". But thanks to them you are not eating imported fish only, the conchs have bounced back and we still get to see some lobsters around.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Make transparency law, not just a nice gesture whenever people in power feel like it.

  3. Anonymous says:
    Hearing people speak to how they endeavor to "protect the natural environment" is becoming oh too common these days.
    While I absolutely agree that protecting our nature is important, approaching it this way can be very dangerous. The Department of Environment is known to be opinionated, bias towards developers and irrational. 
    FOI their objections to any sort of development in recent years and you will see that at times their objections are loose, and often attempt to speak to factors not only outside of the scope of the DOE, but also give opinions to factors that they are not qualified to do so (feasibility, funding, architecture, operational).
    There are so many holes in this law; however it is being advertised as the strong ship that will usher in a new era of responsible development as though it was not there before. The bottom line is that this law provides the Department of Environment far too much influence over development in the Cayman Islands.
    The right approach to this would have been to sit down with a collection of the largest developers in the country and openly discuss each environment (marine, wetland, agriculture, residential, commercial) in layman’s terms so these companies have a true chance to give their opinions of the things proposed by the DOE. These companies can also echo their opinions to other stakeholders in their industry and truly give the public a chance to understand the NCL. Instead clauses are written in a lengthy document clouded by legal jargon in an attempt to hide the most controversial clauses in plain sight. 
    Gina, while I appreciate that you are trying to protect the environment, I hope that you are giving a good amount of thought to how much power this will give to your predecessors. Let’s hope they will use their new founded powers responsibly.
    Remember, development is just like the environment. You do not know what you've lost until it is gone.
    • Anonymous says:

      I am glad that 'the largest developers' aren't speaking for me on any issues. I can speak for myself quite well enough. But I guess those poor babies need special consideration.

    • GR says:

      First time I have ever heard that DoE is in favour of development.  Developers have nothing to be concerned about

    • Anon says:

      Yes.  Let's do put the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

  4. Anonymous says:

    All government boards should be releasing its minutes and agendas to the public.

    Planning, Work Permit, BSPB, Trade and Business should all be held in public at the GT Town hall.


    • Anonymous says:

      Here here!  They work for the people of the Cayman islands and we have a right to know what they are up to.

    • Anonymous says:

      On my drive in this morning, I listened to Ezzard on Rooster still complaining  and Austin and other calling in tried to pin him down on exactly what it is he is against in the Conservation Bill and all I could come up with was he that he is against the Council, even though it has been stated on numerous occasions that the Council has very little power in itself. Then he switched to his tirade about it should have been agreed in the house instead of Cabinet . So I gathered that he is upset that it is in Cabinet and he is not and  and also he is not a Member of the Council.  Ezzard has been against this from day one, he would never be happy with it no matter the wording.  He has discouraged everyone island wide to reject it. Can't he tell by the sparse turnout in his own district that his bombastic tactics are not working.  Mr. Miller if you really have something positive to offer on the Bill please do so but to try to delay it with recycled rhetoric that has been going on for the past 1o years is meaningless.  PPM pass it into law now before we loose everything that is worth saving!! Posterity will rise up and Bless you.

      • Anonymous says:

        It is obvious you did not read the bill!!! Or you would be concerned too, assuming you are a land owner. Or perhaps thats just it, you don't own any land that could possibly be affected and it would please you to see this garbage passed into law.

      • And AnotherTing says:

        Ezzard is a big land owner in North Side and is afraid that his land which has a lot of local fauna could be subject to seizure by the Government. Self conservation. That's the tale. And Another Ting

      • Anonymous says:

        Mr. Miller needs to take into account that this government is cleaning up the mess he and his cronies made of Cayman when his "gowment" was in charge years ago and Cayman was nothing more than their cash cow.  Please list one benefit from his days in power.  Anyone?? Anyone?? 

    • Anonymous says:

      Honestly, I'm not that interested in what they do. Why go to the expense of larger rooms, providing parking, etc., for things which most people have no interest in attending? Let them meet wherever and send copies on email request. Why even bother pay the pennies of server space over teh coming years keeping all of that stuff on-line? – Though, as an aside, would you consider web-cast meetings a suitable alternative to having a public viewing gallery in the meeting room? That way they could meet in a broom closet and anyone could still 'attend' the meeting. Sort of like CIG shows the LA. How many people watch that waste of money (CIG-TV)? (I don't.)

    • Anonymous says:

      This was actually recommended in late 1998 by the Open & Accountable Government Committee of the Vision-2008 exercise. We envisaged (hoped, anyway!) that it would be implemented by 2008 – hence the title of the exercise. Oh dear. What innocents we were, and what cynics the MLAs since then have been to scorn our recommendations!

      Gordon Barlow, a member of the Committee