‘Eco-Council’ and property rights

Despite public relations efforts aimed at reassuring the Caymanian people that the overseer of the proposed National Conservation Law – the so-called “National Conservation Council” – is, in effect, a toothless advisory body, the facts speak otherwise.

Already this Council is being branded by opponents to the Conservation Law as the second most powerful body in the Cayman Islands, next to Cabinet.

Environmental Minister Wayne Panton protests otherwise in a press release (accentuated with a photo of a lovely Cayman butterfly) issued Monday: “The Council itself will not have broad ranging powers to make decisions. It will only give advice, for example, to the Planning Department. That advice must be considered or it can be ignored.”

Let’s look at some language of the bill:

Every entity in government “shall apply for and obtain the approval of the Council” before taking any action “that would or would be likely to have an adverse effect, whether directly or indirectly, on a protected area or on the critical habitat of a protected species.”

If that section of the bill isn’t clear enough already, the legislation goes on to say that “if the Council considers that the adverse impact of the proposed action cannot be satisfactorily mitigated by conditions, the Council shall so direct the originating authority and that authority shall refuse to agree or refuse to proceed with the proposed action.”

The Council can also demand bonds or fees from developers and mandate inspections of projects to ensure its orders are being followed. The legislation explicitly states that “the Central Planning Authority or the Development Control Board shall not issue a certificate of completion” until the Council is satisfied.

Who exactly will make up this eco-council? The 13 members include two representatives from the Department of Environment, one from the Ministry of Environment, one from the Department of Agriculture, one from the Department of Planning and eight appointed by Cabinet – one of whom is nominated by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, and three of whom must have “relevant scientific or technical expertise” (whatever that means).

In other words, eight of the 13 members of the board are appointed by Cabinet, and one person reports directly to the environmental minister.

We see that the proposed Council may not just be the second most powerful body next to Cabinet, it will be, for all practical purposes, an appendage of Cabinet.

In his press release, Mr. Panton states that “suggestions can be made to designate private land protected, but that could only occur if the landowner agrees.” He goes on: “Either the landowner could sell the parcel to Government at a fair market value or the landowner could agree to manage the conservation area, receiving a stipend to do so from Government.”

Mr. Panton does not address a third possibility: What if the landowner 1) doesn’t want to sell his land to Government (regardless of the price), or 2) has no interest in “managing a conservation area” (in exchange for a stipend). What if the landowner wants to bulldoze his property, which happens to be home to the final survivor of a protected species? Will the bill, as proposed, allow him to do that?

For the avoidance of doubt, we are supporters of personal property rights over any incursions by any governmental body on behalf of any species of animal – endangered or not.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps this powerful body should expend some of its energy in solving the shameful garbage problem before they start saving the lizards, rats and mosquitoes?

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  2. I hope the Cayman Compass will publish in the interests of free speech and debate, the full text of Minister Panton’s rebuttal letter which he wrote yesterday on yesterday’s editorial on the proposed legislation.

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  3. If you turn to page 2 of your newspaper you will read:

    The council itself will not have broad ranging powers to make decisions, Mr. Panton said. It will only give advice, for example, to the Planning Department. That advice must be considered or it can be ignored. Obviously, if it is ignored, it is at our own peril. And clearly I am not suggesting that it should be; I say it could be ignored to highlight the fact that the council cannot dictate the outcome on 99 percent of the decisions.

    **** The limited circumstances under which the council’s views must be followed, i.e. it can dictate the outcome of a decision, is when the proposal involves a potential impact on a valuable protected area, he said. ****

    The Council does not have power to approve or reject planning applications or anything else. The only exception is that it does have decision making power for Protected Areas ONLY. Protected Areas are CROWN land that have been designated a Protected Area by Cabinet due to the environmental importance of the land. Protected Areas are not private land.

    Why should the Environmental Council not have say over Protected Areas?

    There are by the way mechanisms that Cabinet can undesignated a Protected Area if there was for example genuine need in the future to build required national infrastructure in a Protected Area.

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  4. It seems to be a shrill and simplistic editorial position. Property rights here in the Cayman Islands are not absolute. They are qualified rights already subject to all manner of restriction and interference by Government. The concepts of eminent domain and in the public interest are enshrined in western law including here in the Cayman Islands and in practice generally protect development at the expense of property owners. I suppose the question is then, if property owners already suffer qualification of their rights for the sake of development among other things, is there a value to further infringement for the sake of environmental protection? Is the environment worth it? Clearly, the Compass says No. Not under any circumstances. I wonder if the Editor’s opinion would change if that final survivor of a protected species about to be bulldozed secreted honey that cured cancer?

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