Few respond in extended conservation deadline

The Department of Environment
received some 265 responses during the public consultation period of the
proposed National Conservation Law, with just a handful being received during
the six weeks added to the original deadline.

During the extra six weeks, two
detailed written submissions were sent to the department, which also received a
small number of online feedback forms in that period.

Department of Environment senior
research officer John Bothwell said: “Most people clearly made a concerted
effort to get their submissions in for the original deadline of Friday, 16
July, as we had a number waiting for us when we came to work the next Monday,
as expected. While only a couple of submissions did come in during the extended
consultation period, we were appreciative of the time those persons took to
give us their feedback.”

In total, the department received
about 250 written and online feedback forms, as well as 15 longer written
submissions on the proposed new law.

The original month-long
consultation period for the draft law, which aims to give protection to
Cayman’s animals, plants and ecosystem, was 16 July, but environment minister
Mark Scotland extended the deadline by six weeks to 27 August to give the
public more time to give comments on the bill.

Mr. Bothwell said the department
was due to present its report on the public feedback to the Ministry of Health,
Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture by the end of this week. It will then be
presented to Cabinet and it is possible the draft law, which is currently being
amended to take into account the public feedback, could go before the Legislative
Assembly in November, the senior research officer said.

Second consultation

This was the second round of public
consultations on this draft of a National Conservation Law. An almost identical
version of the proposed bill was expected to go before the Legislative Assembly
last year, but did not get tabled before the May election. An earlier version
of the bill, dated 2004, also did not make it as far as the Legislative
Assembly.

Submissions received during this
latest extended consultation period were “objections are on general principles
and not specific to the proposed (draft) National Conservation Law itself”, Mr.
Bothwell explained.

In public meetings and in feedback
from the public and interested organisations, it was suggested that sustainable
development issues addressed in the bill could be handled through changes in
the Planning Law. “While recognising their generally good ideas, we had to
recognise that the proposed (draft) National Conservation Law is not a Planning
Law, nor does it do several other things that the public have asked us about
during the consultation.

“To expand the bill into these
other areas would be to enter territory that we and many others would see as
being the remit of other branches of government,” Mr. Bothwell said in a
written response to the Caymanian Compass.

Another issue that regularly
appeared in the feedback from the public was that the regulations and
directives relating to the proposed new law should have been made available for
consultation at the same time as the legislation itself. “This was a common
request and, while we tried to meet it during the consultations by presenting
what we would recommend for consideration as the basis of the regulations and
directives, it was not something we could completely fulfil because we could
not produce those documents without the law being in place,” Mr. Bothwell said.

International agreements

Several people were apparently
surprised to learn that Cayman was already party to several international
environmental agreements. Despite being a signatory to such agreements or being
committed to enacting them, until a conservation law is introduced, there are
no legislative means of implementing those agreements locally, the Department
of Environment repeatedly explained to participants in a series of seven
district meetings and other briefings with interested parties throughout Cayman
in July.

“There was also an unfortunately
common misapprehension regarding the effect of Multilateral Environmental Agreements
on Cayman,” said Mr. Bothwell. “Some persons… suggested that the proposed
(draft) National Conservation Law be delayed until some future time so that
more consideration of these agreements could occur, or even that local
legislation should make no reference nor borrow in any way from other
environmental legislation internationally.

“The agreements which the (draft)
National Conservation Law tries to operationalise are ones that Cayman has
already agreed to or otherwise committed to enacting.”

One of the detailed written
submissions received by the Department of Environment during the extended
consultation period “castigated us strongly for not putting forward a draft law
more in line with conservation management regimes found elsewhere in the
world”, Mr. Bothwell said.

“The bill was drafted to work
within Cayman’s socio-political and legislative structure and, while there were
other conservation models we could have suggested, we felt that what was in the
(draft) law was most in line with Cayman’s current socio-political and
legislative environments,” he explained.

“We recognise that not everyone
will be happy with all aspects of the draft bill. However, we feel that the
bill reflects the most achievable compromise between differing schools of
thought on how things should be done,” Mr. Bothwell said, adding that the draft
legislation would empower Cayman’s people to “be part of the decision-making
process to protect Cayman’s future by safeguarding Cayman’s biodiversity”.

The feedback from the public showed
that some thought the bill did not go far enough, while others believed it went
too far, but overall the feedback has been in support of the aims, if not all
the provisions, of the draft law, Mr. Bothwell said.

He added: “Hopefully, once we have
finished making changes to the draft bill to reflect as many of the issues
raised as possible, a majority of people will continue to think that the
(draft) National Conservation Law continues to achieve an acceptable balance
between preservation of Cayman’s unique habitats and species and conservation
of the general environmental benefits which we all appreciate while allowing
continuation of the socioeconomic benefits we have reaped from the exploitation
of that same environment.”

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