The third presentation in the Chamber’s Be Informed series focused topically on the National Conservation Bill in July. About 50 Chamber members turned out to hear Department of Environment officials and the Minister responsible for Environment Mark Scotland, brief them on the proposed legislation. The Minister said he knew everyone recognised that the government was there to promote “continued growth and development” and so he recognised that “that is what makes this (the legislation) even much more important that we are able to put in place the parameters to respect that ever needed balance between continued growth, but that growth being sustainable as well.”
The National Conservation Bill has had a long journey in the efforts to create a permanent and effective framework for environmental conservation. The Department of Environment, under whose auspices the protection and conservation of Cayman’s natural environment lies, has over the years developed its own operational framework within which it works. None of which, up until this point has been written in law, save for the Marine Conservation Law and some species and area protection elements within the Animals Law, both of which are outdated in their content. The department itself has not been defined in a legal sense, making for an easily manipulated system of token environmental protection efforts.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, and her team have not been content to just propose their new legislation that will give them the desired framework needed to be effective in their work; they have also made great efforts to engage the public in its content and purpose. This Be Informed series presentation to Chamber members was the culmination of a week-long series of district meetings that connected the public to what has often been a daunting and controversial subject for many Cayman residents over many years.
Among those Chamber members attending were representatives from the Cayman Islands Real Estate Brokers Association, the Cayman Contractors Association and the Cayman Association of Architects, Surveyors and Engineers; all of whom have a vested interest in the parameters of the law and how it will affect their business practices.
Chamber CEO Wil Pineau spoke for many when he said,
“There has been much public discourse on the draft legislation. Some people believe that the Department of Environment will be given too much control and power. Some people are concerned that the Bill will hamper development and introduce onerous requirements that will drive up the cost of business and make some pieces of valuable and limited land undevelopable. Others believe that the bill is long overdue and should be adopted immediately to prevent further destruction of our already stressed eco-systems, species and plants. Environmental advocates, in particular, warn that unless we act now, Cayman’s environmental capital will continue to be depleted and the country will lose many of its precious plants, species and eco-systems.”
This sparked a passionate debate and Ministry and Department officials did their best to assure the Chamber members that this Bill is designed to protect both our environmental and economic interests. They stressed that in an effort to assist the public in properly understanding the proposed legislation a guide has been developed by the Department of Environment titled ‘Cayman Islands Conservation Law – Your Questions Answered.’ This document walks people through the entire law in a comprehensive manner drawing our attention to commonly confused objectives. Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie emphasised the importance of adopting a proper environmental legal framework and explained that at present there are no legal requirements for environmental issues to be taken into consideration when it comes to the planning process, resulting in inadequate protection for habitats and species.
It is a debate that could continue for years, as it has already – conservation versus progress. The Ministry is convinced however that this proposed law is a good balance for all concerned.
Although the Bill was slated for review at the Legislative Assembly this September, the Ministry of Environment had agreed to extend the date for submission and comment until the end of September allowing for the final draft legislation to be presented later in the year.