Minister Vaz's error aside, the NLA has some explaining to do

Editorial

Minister Vaz's error aside, the NLA has some explaining to do

Friday, June 19, 2020

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Let us start with the fact that, based on what has been made public, Mr Daryl Vaz responded to an invitation by the National Land Agency (NLA) for bids to be submitted to lease 7.7 acres of land at Holywell in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

On that score Mr Vaz followed procedure.

Let us now move to the fact that Mr Vaz withdrew his bid on learning that the Jamaica Conservation Development Trust (JCDT), which manages the national park on the Government's behalf, had objected to him leasing the property.

For that he should be commended.

So on legal grounds, Mr Vaz has been weighed in the balance and has not been found wanting.

On ethical grounds, though, the scale has been tipped against Mr Vaz.

First, as the Government minister with responsibility for the environment, he should have seen that the attempt by the NLA to lease lands in the national park was not the right thing to do.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park is a protected area which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015.

As we reported on Tuesday, the JCDT, in stating its objection to the lease attempt, pointed out that using the land for a private development would bring the World Heritage Site status into question with UNESCO and its World Heritage Committee in terms of Jamaica's commitment to the World Heritage Convention.

The JCDT had also argued that the land proposed to be leased for constructing a private dwelling is one of the few remaining sites in the area under good forest cover and will require the clearing of trees to establish a house.

“This certainly is not in keeping with the objectives of protecting the natural forest within the national park... leasing land within the national park to private individuals is not supportive of the broad objectives of the national park, which are to protect biodiversity, ecosystem services, and provide recreational and educational opportunities for the public,” the JCDT said in a letter sent to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, other Cabinet ministers, and agency heads.

Second, Minister Vaz should not have allowed himself to come into conflict with one of the agencies that is regarded as doing a good job of managing a resource under his portfolio, especially in an era when environmental matters are proving vital to the country's long-term existence.

Third, the JCDT's point that the proposed construction of a private dwelling on the land that was being offered for lease would have required the clearing of trees cannot be ignored by a Government that last October launched a national programme to plant three million timber and ornamental trees over the next three years as part of the State's effort to mitigate against the impact of climate change.

Indeed, Prime Minister Holness, in his address at that National Tree Planting Programme, reminded us that the country is already experiencing the impacts of climate variations, with more intense drought and unpredictable weather. Therefore, there was need to take urgent action for what he described as “an investment in our future”.

With that in mind, the question that we believe is most relevant now is: Why did the NLA make the lease offer? Certainly, the agency has some explaining to do.


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