Putting the environment on the agenda

Outgoing JET head reflects

Associate Editor — Features

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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In her work as an environmental advocate, Diana McCaulay has been labelled a big mouth more times than she cares to count.

But when asked what her biggest success at the helm of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) for the past 27 years has been, she was stumped.

The truth is, it wasn't so much that she was lost for words; she just couldn't choose one project from the long register of those for which she and JET have fought over the years.

“That's a difficult question to answer,” she said.

“Some of the places that have not fallen, like Goat Islands, Cockpit Country and Pellew Island are successes of course, but I think my best moment is when someone who I don't know comes up to me and says, 'You came to my school 15 years ago and you changed the way I look at these things.'”

Giving another example, McCaulay related: “Just the other day a man who was in one of our training sessions on beach management called up the office reporting there was a bulldozer on the beach. He didn't think about these things before; he didn't feel that he had a voice, [so] I'm proud of the fact that I think the environment is now part of the agenda, which, certainly when I started, wasn't the case and JET has had a big role to play in that.”

“I'm very happy with some of the places we've been able to save but, of course, there are many others that we've lost and continue to lose,” she added.

McCaulay announced last week that she was retiring as CEO of the non-governmental organisation effective December 20. Deputy CEO Suzanne Stanley will succeed her.

The announcement was made a day after the country's de facto environment minister Andrew Holness told Parliament that Government had decided on a boundary for Cockpit Country. Holness, who is also prime minister, said the boundary proposed by Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr would protect some 74,000 hectares of the broad leaf forest, which is rich in mineral deposits and supplies some 40 per cent of the island's fresh water.

McCaulay, who has always pushed for the adoption of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group boundary instead, told the Jamaica Observer that she was disappointed with the prime minister's selection, but counted the move a victory nonetheless.

“It's not a perfect boundary, so we were disappointed that the eastern edge didn't include the Rio Bueno system, and the southern end doesn't include the Nassau Mountains or the Black River rises. But at the end of the day, there are 74,000 hectares of land that was under very little protection [except for] the forest reserves, that are now protected under multiple types of legislation and closed to mining, and I cannot regard that as anything other than a victory,” she said.

McCaulay, 64, said her retirement doesn't mean she will cease to be involved in JET and the national environmental debate. She will continue to sit on the board, unless votes dictate otherwise, and will serve on the organisation's panel of experts.

In terms of projects outside of that, she was non-committal about her retirement plans.

“I have no idea. This is the one thing that I have not planned,” she said laughing. “Perhaps more writing.”

The succession planning at JET, she said — which included Stanley's promotion to deputy CEO two years ago — has long been in the making.

“You have to make a plan for the succession in a small organisation...and we made the decision to promote from within. I think Suzanne Stanley is an ideal candidate,” said McCaulay.

In tandem with that move, long-time JET staffer Tamoy Singh has been promoted to programme director, while Terri-Ann Guyah moves to legal director. The staff complement is rounded out by Project Coordinator Felicia Wong, Public Education and Community Outreach Officer Denise Reid, and Administrator Nazli Williams.

For her part, Stanley said that while she will miss the active participation in delivering projects from now on, she is excited and happy to be taking on the new role, which she described as “a fantastic opportunity and challenge on a personal and professional level”.

“I am young. I am energetic. I haven't been jaded by the system, so I'm hopeful that my energy and enthusiasm will produce real results,” she said, reiterating that JET will continue delivering effective projects, providing legal support for communities with environmental issues, and being the voice for the environment in Jamaica.

To her predecessor, Stanley said she valued her as a source of institutional knowledge and was happy she would continue to be around for input and advice.

“Sometimes I wish I could plug you into a USB port and click download,” Stanley told McCaulay.

“Thank you for having the faith in my abilities to take on this role. And thanks to the JET board for its support.”




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