C4C: Support conservation, not National Conservation Bill

Fellow Caymanians,

Conservation is an important and emotive subject. It tends to be polarizing and can cause people to disagree passionately without being willing to acknowledge and accept the sensible aspects of the other’s view.

One of the Coalition for Cayman’s 10 founding principles reads — A belief that the natural environment and resources of the Cayman Islands should be used responsibly ensuring that future generations inherit an environment that is clean and safe. We are therefore strong supporters of laws and regulations which protect Cayman’s natural environment and resources for future generations.

Given the very limited space available in Cayman, we are also aware that this protection must be designed together with a national development and infrastructure plan so that we have a cohesive fit and balance for Caymanians to be able to own homes and have the opportunity to own a business as well as provide for the type of infrastructure that is needed to support a modern and expanding population. This was the general thrust of the paper we prepared entitled “Sustainable Development” and delivered to the new Government shortly after they were elected. (See www.coalitionforcayman.ky.)

The main concerns passed on to us about the draft National Conservation Bill relate to a lack of the appropriate balance with the country’s needs and the concentration of power in such a small group of unelected individuals. Here, briefly, are some of those specific concerns:

Policy should be made by our elected representatives and then implemented by the non-elected government employees. The bill allows policy on all matters related to the environment to be made by a National Conservation Council which includes members of the Department of Environment, National Trust and other political appointees without any reference to the minister in charge of policymaking on behalf of the elected government.

Out-of-proportion penalties of $500,000 apply to any and all offenses, whether intentional or accidental, covering a broad range of habitats of 225 species – plus more “which may be threatened”.

A new government bureaucracy will be created at significant unnecessary expense, while the increased costs and lost time created by the new requirements will discourage development, thereby further reducing revenue (both to government and the private sector) and employment during difficult economic times.

The Land Acquisition Law is already on the books. This new bill, working in tandem with that, would allow compulsory acquisition of private properties which might be deemed “protected” because they were adjacent to protected Crown property. Land is also a financial resource in Cayman as it is passed down from generation to generation providing collateral for our children’s education, our first home, our own business, etc. For Caymanian landowners to potentially lose the use of their property or the property itself, and without proper compensation, is unthinkable.

A comprehensive Conservation Bill should include provisions for waste management and recycling.

We urge our government to put the current bill on hold and prepare a national development and infrastructure plan, which includes our conservation aims (what are we trying to protect) and the needs of a growing population (what areas are approved for future businesses, residential properties, etc.) including the related infrastructure requirements (location of future roads, airport, port, garbage disposal, sewerage treatment, etc.). The bill can then be revised in light of these requirements.

This bill may have been under discussion for 10 years, but it has been the wrong discussion. It should not have been about limiting development. It should be about permitting sustainable development whilst implementing green policies (recycling, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, taking emergency steps to stop the Dump leaching into the North Sound, etc.) that will make our Islands safe and clean in the future. There is no resistance to a conservation law but there is real resistance to the drafts that have been put forward in isolation with serious inherent flaws and without any direction from the elected government on its environmental and sustainable development policy. Based on all the feedback we have received from many concerned citizens, business owners, and residents, that appears to be the case once again.

Preparing a national development and infrastructure plan should not take long. We suspect much of this work has been done and is sitting on physical or electronic shelves within government. There is no reason why a 12-month timeline would not be realistic for both the plan and a revised bill to be brought to the Legislative Assembly. Our government must first, and at the very least, agree on a Conservation and Sustainable Development Policy. To create a proper bill you must have a policy in place that deals with two such important and intertwined issues.

The worst option in our view would be to try to ram through a Conservation Law (or any law) which may result in unintended consequences that create more problems than solutions. This is one instance where getting it done right is more important than just getting it done.

Submitted by James Bergstrom, on behalf of Coalition for Cayman