Minister Panton responds to Compass editorial

To say that I was dismayed to read the editorial in the Nov. 25, 2013, edition of the Caymanian Compass is putting what I was feeling quite mildly.

While I don’t expect the newspaper to support everything that government does, at least show the people who read your daily missives the courtesy of reading the proposed National Conservation Bill and not relying on hearsay and rhetoric before making unfavorable comment.

We wholeheartedly believe in the rights of Caymanians who own land and other property owners.

There is absolutely nothing in the proposed legislation that lets government take people’s land to make protected areas, not even for private land adjoining government land that gets made into a protected area – NONE.

There is absolutely nothing in this bill that gives government the power to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land. The so-called plans you mention don’t even exist and nothing in the legislation gives the proposed Conservation Council authority to approve any plans. The Council is advisory. Members of Cabinet will be the ultimate decision makers and those decisions won’t be made until there has been extensive public consultation.

You do this country a disservice by calling the draft legislation ill-conceived and ill-drafted.

This legislation is a ghost of the original proposed law, which many considered too Draconian. The legislation before the public today is, frankly, a watered-down version and it’s watered down because we have spent almost 11 years listening to the desires of the Caymanian people.

If, as you say in your editorial, people don’t have a clue what’s in the proposed legislation then they should educate themselves and quit listening to the lies that are being spread about this proposed law, including those in your opinion piece of Monday.

You say in your editorial that you will be examining other issues in the law. Even the words you use are a clue to readers that you aren’t going to be objective in your search. The law puts NO limitations on property owners; the makeup and powers of the Council are already spelled out in the law; the species to be protected are already spelled out in the proposed legislation; and the powers of the Conservation Officers are already set out in the bill.

We encourage those who want to know more about the law to attend the district public meetings, which begin Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.

What has happened to the Caymanian Compass that truly cared about the Cayman Islands and its people? Editorials in the past rallied for government to put something in law to protect the flora and fauna. Now we’ve done that.

There are many provisions in the law for public involvement and Cabinet oversight to make sure that the law won’t go off the rails. In our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the people of the Cayman Islands have affirmed their intention to be a country that respects, protects and defends its environment and natural resources as the basis of its existence.

This bill gives us the tools to implement a fundamental principle of sustainable development i.e. consideration of the consequences of our actions on the environment in our national decision-making processes. It also allows us to address species and habitat conservation in a transparent, holistic, consultative manner. Its effectiveness will be up to us, the public and government, making sure we use the tools in the law appropriately. And no, it won’t stop development.

The bottom line is, if we don’t do all we can to protect our environment, we will lose it. Future generations of Caymanians will not look kindly on this legacy.
As you are wont of late to quote American presidents, let me leave this for you to mull over:

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” — Theodore Roosevelt

G. Wayne Panton,
Minister of Environment

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