The Environmental Protection Fund has amassed more than $46 million. However, the National Conservation Council, which is tasked with spending the money, may still be a long way off from putting it to its intended purpose.
The Environmental Protection Fund has been in place since 1997, when it was established with taxes from tourists. The fund is meant for buying land for conservation and to help protect threatened species in Cayman. The money cannot be used for recurring expenses such as hiring new staff or ongoing research.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said that while the Conservation Council is meeting, the section of the law on using the fund has not yet been put into effect by Cabinet. The council, Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said, has been preparing to bring the National Conservation Law into effect.
So far Cabinet has put two sections of law into effect, allowing the Conservation Council to form and to begin meeting. Once the law is in full force, it will still be up to the Legislative Assembly to appropriate the money before the council can start using it for conservation projects.
Council Chair Christine Rose-Smyth said, “Conservation Council has not met yet on the subject of the fund, though it will be taking it up early in the new year.”
According to data provided by the Department of the Treasury, the fund has grown to more than $46 million since its inception 17 years ago. Over the past 10 years, the fund has grown by an average of $4.5 million a year.
It is unclear when the money will start going to conservation projects.
Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said the growth of the fund shows that the tourism taxes will be a “sustainable source of funding.”
“It’s clear that the fund is working in terms of collecting the money that goes into it,” she said.
A report from the U.K. House of Commons in January criticized the fund: “To date, almost none of this has been used for environmental protection and the vast majority of the fund remains unspent.”
The report states that Cayman should use the money so that funding meant for environmental protection in overseas territories could be used in other areas with fewer resources.
The National Conservation Council, which is tasked with putting the Environmental Protection Money to good use, has been working since September and held its first public meeting Dec. 3.
Money has been taken out of the fund a few times, most recently in 2005 to help pay for the cleanup after Hurricane Ivan. Almost $23 million has been spent from the fund since its inception, with most going to hurricane cleanup. The Legislative Assembly also approved more than $1.3 million to buy land for Barkers National Park in 2004.
From 1998 to 2002, the Legislative Assembly approved more than $7.5 million for a variety of capital projects.