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.