In the upside-down world of politics often the lawmakers we elect forget to set out the fine print for we the people to review and digest. There is a tendency to smear a pristine white canvas with a series of drops and swirls reminiscent of a Pollock painting, encouraging the gray to besmirch often legitimate and reasonable concerns of the public whom they serve. It is the lack of the transparency in this gray that has caused the greatest concern with the proposed National Conservation Bill.
There are few, if any, who do not want to protect the beauty of these islands, but there are also many who are suspicious of the fine print which to date no one has been able to produce for public discussion of how the law will impact our communities once it is assented to by Her Excellency. If you have attended each of the public meetings so far, it is evident much of the “intent of the law” is being made up along the way to appease a concern or justify any identified deficiency in the proposed text of the National Conservation Bill.
What the public has been offered instead are “verbal” assurances that the “intent of the law” is not to prevent the peaceful enjoyment of landowners to manage, use and benefit from their property.
Only a fool waits for a ventriloquist’s dummy to utter an original thought, so we find it necessary for the public’s benefit to lay out the assurances which Minister Wayne Panton, a lawyer himself, has offered during the round of public meetings and to clear the fog of mendacity over the following “intentions of the National Conservation Law.” The minister, the director of the Department of Environment and the Cabinet have consistently assured/guaranteed to private land owners that the Land Acquisition Law will not be used to acquire any private land under Section 9 of the National Conservation Law and that the only land converted to Crown land from private ownership will be that which is offered up to the government by a willing seller.
Minister Panton has outlined the following intentions of the law supported by the director of environment – the chief agent of the law’s development and by all “transparent” design, the first chair of the National Conservation Council:
The National Conservation Law and the Council it appoints have no intention to cause any landowner to lose the right to peaceful enjoyment of his/her property, and it only seeks to work with private landowners on a voluntary basis to provide advice and guidance on the use of their property.
The National Conservation Law and the Council have no intention to cause any direct loss in value to property privately owned due to any unilateral action which it might take to implement conservation policies outlined in the law.
The National Conservation Law and the Council intend to use the Environmental Protection Fund to compensate private landowners who, through mutually beneficial agreements, allow their property to be used for research, conservation and habitat purposes. Consequently there would be no hardship and opportunity cost suffered by the private landowner.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend to focus only on the conservation of Crown lands where it can be demonstrated by independent scientific data that the area is of habitat or research importance to the environment.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend that mandatory environmental impact assessments will be an enforceable requirement only for large-scale development projects, and do not intend to impose undue expense on a private landowner who seeks to subdivide or develop small-scale accommodation projects.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend to institute open and transparent practices regarding the Council’s activities and decisions. All decisions would be made in open forums, and the public will be given access to the details of any matters before the Council for review and advice.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend to publish the Council’s minutes and decisions on a quarterly basis, at minimum, and present for public discussion any proposed changes to the National Conservation Law and the Council’s composition and operational activities.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend to encourage a level playing field of opportunity between the private landowners’ lobby and the professional environmental lobby affording equal access and consideration to each side’s concerns and recommendations.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend to foster a relationship with the private landowner based on a mutual respect for and understanding of the right to hold private property for the benefit and peaceful enjoyment of its owner.
The National Conservation Law and Council intend to conduct the Council’s affairs within “Standards in Public Life” guidelines.
The question now bears asking: If it is possible for environmental and scientific non-experts to summarize the intent of the law provided by the words of Minister Panton, why then is it not possible to ensure that these intentions are included in the text and regulations of the proposed law for debate in the country’s parliament?
This appears to be a simple and reasonable task any citizen would expect from the persons whom they elect to represent their collective best interests. That said, “intentions and public guarantees are binding,” and it might just be that the majority of the Environmental Protection Fund over the years to come will be spent on a multitude of legal cases defending the “intentions” of the National Conservation Law and the Council it appoints.
Ezzard Miller is the independent member from the district of North Side.