Remove spectre of political interference in enviro appeals process

Letters to the Editor

Remove spectre of political interference in enviro appeals process

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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Dear Editor,

The Andrew Holness-led Administration is once again involved in controversy surrounding its reversal of a decision by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to not grant a mining permit in an ecologically sensitive area.

The prime minister's defence of the decision has done little to quell the controversy, especially as the parliamentary Opposition is hinting that the reversal of NEPA's decision was influenced by the fact that principals of the company that applied for the mining permit are or were associated with the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

This latest controversy involving the authority of the minister responsible for matters of the environment to overturn decisions of NEPA again raises the issue of whether a minister should have such power, especially in an area as important and sensitive as the environment.

The principles of natural justice dictate that applicants to NEPA should have an avenue to appeal unfavourable decisions, but it is debatable if a single government minister or even the Cabinet should be the arbiter of an appeal.

It must be borne in mind that the Government, businessmen, and regulatory bodies are likely to have conflicting interests. The Government may be more concerned about jobs and taxes from a venture, while businessmen are often blinded by the prospects of mega profits. The environmental agency, on the other hand, is focused on protecting and preserving the environment.

With the above in mind, a better approach to the appeal process is for appeals to be made to an established body consisting of, say, a retired member of the judiciary, an academic, a member of the private sector, independent environmentalists, and representatives from communities to be directly impacted by any proposed mining.

This proposed arrangement is a superior one to the current arrangement, where an appeal is heard and decided by a single minister whose decision is final. The process would potentially be more transparent and minimise, if not remove, the spectre of political interference in the appeals process.

Wayne Plummer

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