The National Conservation Bill has long been a contentious subject in the Cayman Islands.
The bill failed to be tabled prior to the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly last month. This means that the National Conservation Bill is an issue that has been left for the next government to deal with, despite undergoing extensive public consultation in 2010 and being presented to government three years ago.
The most recent draft of the bill, drawn up in 2009, amalgamates sections of the Animals Law and the Marine Conservation Law and also includes provisions of international agreements on biological diversity, climate change, wetlands, marine life and migratory species.
The minister responsible for the environment, Mark Scotland, has said that the law as written may need to be re-examined. Mr. Scotland told a Chamber of Commerce district candidates forum in Bodden Town that considerable work had been done over several years on the bill and acknowledged that the bill, in its current form, remains controversial.
“There are a number of things which it needs to achieve, it needs to protect species and it needs to protect habitat. The bill goes quite a lot further than that,” he said.
Mr. Scotland pointed out that even candidates at that forum from the same party could not agree if the bill should be tabled in the Legislative Assembly in its current form, which he said was indicative that the bill was “not fully understood”.
“I believe we need environmental legislation, we need to protect our species and our habitat. We need environmental legislation, the bill needs to be passed, but in its current format, I think it still needs further discussion, further consultation along with an education process,” Mr. Scotland said.
Among the other political candidates in 22 May election, views on the National Conservation Bill are widely divided.
The issue was raised at almost all the candidate forum meetings hosted by the Chamber of Commerce in recent weeks. While all candidates said they supported environmental conservation, that support did not always reach as far as agreeing to support the bill, at least in its current form.
West Bay incumbent MLA and the current deputy premier Rolston Anglin pointed out that the proposed legislation had been bandied about for more than 10 years, so it obviously had “some serious issues”. He said standalone pieces of conservation legislation are already in place and that legislation applying to specific areas of the environment, including marine and flora and fauna, should be considered instead of the complex proposed law.
“We really, really ought to get back to step one … I believe that we need to get back to a very commonsense approach to how we move this type of legislation forward,” Mr. Anglin said.
Another West Bay candidate, independent Mervin Smith, who is endorsed by the Coalition for Cayman, supports the proposed legislation, which he said had failed to be passed into law due to a lack of political will and because of close relations between politicians and investors and developers. “This has led to the situation we find ourselves in … We don’t have individuals who, in my opinion, seem to understand that we have to keep a certain percentage of our flora and fauna and our natural environment or coastlines and so forth that’s a part of what has made us the attractive country that we have,” said Mr. Smith, who added that he would undertake to pass the legislation in his first year in office if elected.
United Democratic Party candidate Bernie Bush told the forum that he agreed it was a lack of political will over the past decade that had prevented this legislation from being implemented, adding that Cayman’s government had to accept that a pristine and protected environment was a necessary component in tourism, one of the backbones of the local economy.
“We should be able to take care of our tourism product and that’s part of where the conservation bill comes in, so yes, we do have to support it. We have to sit down and work with every sector and make sure that it is protected,” Mr. Bush said.
People’s Progressive Movement candidate in Bodden Town Osbourne Bodden told the Chamber forum that it was about time to stop discussing the bill and to finally pass it.
“When is it [the discussion] going to stop. We need a National Conservation Bill, there is no two ways about it. The Cayman Islands is way behind the other territories … It is dangerous to our future [not to have a bill]. We have to realise that it is what we don’t do that will affect the future of these islands and our young people … We have to bite the bullet on this. The next government has no choice but to pass the law and we can make amendments if things are not working,” Mr. Bodden said.
Over on the Sister Islands, all four candidates said they were in support of a National Conservation Law. Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, the PPM’s Moses Kirkconnell and independent Maxine Moore agreed the bill needed more public consultation and to be updated before going forward, but independent David Bodden said he did not know why the law was still being talked about, as there was no point in trying to perfect a piece of legislation this complex before putting it in place. “We need to get something as close as we can to what’s acceptable and have the will to get it passed and then amend it as need be,” he said. “It’s embarrassing that we don’t have the law passed,” Mr. Bodden said.