Environment Minister Mark Scotland says he hopes to bring the long-delayed National Conservation Bill before the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly by the end of this year, but it may be in an “toned down” form.
In recent months, there have been repeated calls for the conservation legislation to be passed as a matter of urgency as threats to stingrays, rock iguanas, parrots and orchids have been highlighted in the media.
Mr. Scotland, in an interview with the Caymanian Compass, said a draft of the National Conservation Bill had been reviewed and amended by legal drafters and was now with the Department of Environment and his ministry’s technical team.
“This has been in draft format for 10 years, it’s been that controversial,” Mr. Scotland said. “I think we need to take it to the point where it’s more widely accepted across the community, even if it means we tone it down a bit, because then at least we’ll have the legislation. Legislation is never perfect the first time it’s ever tabled, that’s why you bring amendments and changes as time goes on.”
The minister said the legislation would not be included in the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly, due to begin on 5 November, but “we should have another sitting in December, so I’m hoping [to bring it] then.”
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said her department completed its review of the Legal Department’s amendments “quite a while ago” and had had two meetings with the ministry’s chief officer to go through the review.
Conservationists argue that the National Conservation Law would legislate against the removal of stingrays from the wild as in the recent case of wild stingrays from the Sandbar being housed at Dolphin Discovery; better protect endangered Sister Islands rock iguanas that are being forced from their natural habitats by new developments; offer better protection to the native Cayman green parrot, which researchers say could face extinction within the next 40 years; and help preserve the local ghost orchid, which was recently featured among the 100 most endangered species in the world.
“The legislation obviously is very controversial,” Mr. Scotland said. “Yes, there is very strong need to bring the conservation legislation to protect the environment, but it has to be balanced. It’s not about us saying ‘we want development, we want development’; it’s about ensuring the law itself is not draconian in the way it seems to be in some regards.” He added: “Of course, I want to be able to make sure our parrots don’t become extinct and we don’t want the problems we’re having with the stingrays now. My issue is that in the reading of the draft legislation, in some ways, it leaves too much discretion to individuals in how to enforce the law.”
He said among the issues surrounding the draft legislation were elements that seemed to give discretion to conservation officers to determine whether to penalise a person who had carried out an offence under the proposed law.
He cited an example of a dog killing a parrot that flies into the dog owner’s yard and said that, under the current draft of the bill, such a situation would be dealt at the discretion of the enforcement officer, adding that the legislation was being reviewed to remove “grey areas of how it’s enforced”.
In May last year, Minister Scotland said he hoped to bring the bill before legislators by the end of the 2011/2012 financial year, which ended on 30 June, but that did not happen.
The National Conservation Bill was initially drafted in 2002 and has undergone several revised drafts. The latest draft of the bill was drawn up following a wide-ranging public consultation exercise in 2010. In 2010, the Department of Environment held seven district meetings throughout the Cayman Islands, and gave several briefings to the business community, the media, property owners, developers and government officials about the proposed law. That was the second round of public consultations the bill had undergone.
The previous People’s Progressive Movement administration had also indicated it would bring the National Conservation Bill before the Legislative Assembly before the May 2009 election.
The only legislation that offers any environmental protection to any of Cayman’s lands is the Animals Law of 1976, which legally protects only 0.5 per cent of the Cayman Islands by preserving small areas in which endangered animal species live. There is no law to protect the Islands’ native plant species. The only other law that protects the environment in Cayman is the Marine Conservation Law.