Redrafted law still not published
More than six weeks after it was passed by legislators and nearly two weeks after it was signed by the governor, the public still cannot see a copy of the final version of the National Conservation Bill.
The bill was redrafted on the floor of the Legislative Assembly with several of its opponents reversing their position and lending their support to what they felt was a significantly different piece of legislation.
As of Monday afternoon, roughly seven weeks later, the only publicly available copy of the law is the original draft.
That document was debated in a series of public meetings in the run up to the mid-December session of the Legislative Assembly and attracted opposition from some sections of the community, particularly landowners and developers who felt their rights could be infringed.
After three days of debate in the assembly, it took some 35 amendments, many of them brought by government, to satisfy the bill’s legislative critics that it posed no threat to private land ownership or the power of Cabinet.
Outside of the assembly, the bill’s critics, some of whom are directly influenced by the legislation, are still unable to see the finished product.
Anyone who did not catch the marathon debate on government television would have to rely on media summaries or a Word document in note-form, produced by the Department of Environment, to have any idea what the amended bill looks like. The government did issue notices of some, but not all of the amendments, to the media several days after the debate.
It is normal for bills to be signed by the governor and published in the official gazette in short order after being passed by the House of Assembly. The Notaries Public (Amendment) Bill, which went to the assembly at the same time as the conservation bill, was published on Jan. 15.
The governor’s office confirmed that Governor Helen Kilpatrick signed the National Conservation Law on Jan. 22.
Asked to explain the time-lag between the bill being passed on Dec. 13 and the amended version being published to the public, which as yet has not happened, the government responded that the bill had been re-issued by Legal Drafting after receiving the list of approved amendments from the clerk of the Legislative Assembly and the redrafted bill was forwarded to the governor for assent.
“In the interim before the law is gazetted, the Department [of Environment] has been working with the Minister and Ministry to establish an initial implementation plan,” the statement read. “The Law, 1(2) allows that it ‘shall come in to force on such a date as may be appointed by order made by the Cabinet, and different dates may be appointed for different provisions of this Law and in relation to different cases.’”
According to the statement, a Cabinet paper is currently being drafted outlining which section of the law “would be best to put into effect initially.”
The government confirmed that a date for the full implementation of the new law has not yet been identified, but that environment minister Wayne Panton is “committed to having the law enacted as quickly as practicable.” The first step of the law to be enacted is likely to be the appointment and establishment of the National Conservation Council which will oversee and enforce the legislation.
The law will provide protection for endangered and endemic species and their habitats, mandate consultation with the council on planning matters, and give new powers of arrest to conservation officers.
It will also set up a process for government to use money from the Environmental Protection Fund to buy land for conservation purposes.