The National Conservation Bill is anti-business, anti-development and most importantly, anti-Caymanian. In a perverse way, it is also anti-environment since it excludes 94 percent of all Grand Cayman property if one gives credence to Environment Minister Wayne Panton’s assertion that the bill protects only Crown land.
If the bill were limited to protecting only Crown land, we would likely join forces with the National Trust in supporting it.
It is not the protection of Crown land but the erosion of private property rights – the ability of Caymanian landowners to do what they wish with their own land without government interference – that concerns us.
Despite protestations by supporters that the bill does not infringe on private property rights, virtually every attorney the Compass has consulted believes the opposite, namely that the bill threatens every local landowner including farmers.
The legislation enables the appointed National Conservation Council to stymie any proposed development if it will directly or indirectly harm a “critical habitat” for a protected species, regardless of whether the land is owned by the Crown, a foreigner or an eighth-generation Caymanian.
The “critical habitat” would be identified in a species management plan created and approved by the Council and Cabinet.
Here are two “specific pitfalls” of the bill pertaining to international agreements and the issuance of permits and licenses:
First, Cayman Islanders should be concerned with the bill’s language on the automatic acceptance of future provisions of international agreements. The interests of the Cayman Islands do not always align perfectly with the policies and objectives of other international organizations (note the recent controversies surrounding green sea turtles and the Cayman Turtle Farm).
Second, the Council can force a private landowner to provide a performance bond or an escrow account – in any amount in connection with a mandatory environmental impact assessment before the property is developed. If the Council wishes to stop a project altogether, it can set the bond or escrow amount higher than the development value of the property. The cost of the environmental impact assessment, which must be borne by the landowner, can itself be so exorbitant that it could render the project financially unviable.
While supporters say the new law will contain proper checks to balance the interests of environmentalists and developers, those restraints do not appear in the bill.
Additionally, as any attorney experienced in such matters will tell you, the way any new law will work in practice will be detailed in the all-important supporting regulations, which, in this case apparently have not been drafted. Certainly they have not been made public.
No examination of this legislation or “public consultation” can be considered complete until these regulations have been subjected to public
The Cayman Islands people deserve to know exactly what their lawmakers are proposing BEFORE they slam down their rubber stamp and crush the most important “critical habitat” of all – our country.