NEPA in its strategic report indicates that the social, political and economic challenges have had negative impacts on the natural and built environment.

Environmental protection lobby group Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is proposing a slate of reforms for the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

"I believe that NEPA can and should be doing more for the environment as the primary regulatory authority for environmental matters. The agency has been operating, since its inception, without any environmental impact assessment (EIA) regulations and EIAs are done at the discretion of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority."

The comment comes from Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, chief executive officer of JET, who told the Jamaica Observer that environmental monitoring and enforcement in Jamaica needs significant improvements.

The purpose of an EIA is to determine the potential environmental, social, and health effects of a proposed development, so that those who take the decisions in developing the project and in authorising the project are informed about the likely consequences of their decisions before they take those decisions and are thereby more accountable.

Theresa Rodriguez Moodie, chief executive officer, Jamaica Environment Trust, says environmental monitoring and enforcement in Jamaica needs significant improvements. (Photo: Adrian Creary)

Rodriguez-Moodie commented, "On many occasions community groups/individuals have approached JET because their complaint has not been addressed, their voice is simply not heard."

"Several projects have received an environmental permit without having gone through the EIA process or public scrutiny. One example of this is the Port Antonio Segment of the South Coast Highway Improvement Project that was not required to do an EIA.

"This has resulted in impacts to public health, traffic and damage to biodiversity. Another example is the new hotel which has been approved without a new EIA in the Montego Bay Marine Park. There have also been multiple breaches by Windalco resulting in fish kills in the Rio Cobre and yet the company is still operating and its permit has never been suspended or revoked by NEPA."

Rodriguez-Moodie calls for improvements in who is placed on the NRCA Board, stating that the majority on the board should be those with environmental interests. Other changes she suggests are:

• There need to be EIA regulations, they have been underway since 2011. We still do not have EIA regulations

• The fines for environmental breaches need to be significantly increased.

• Certain large projects with the potential for significant impacts on the natural environment should be subject to mandatory EIAs under law.

• The public participation process needs to extend beyond the EIA phase, so that the public has access to information during the entire process of development approval.

• Greater transparency and availability of information is needed. Some documents are readily available on the NEPA website, but more needs to be readily publicly available. Developments typically impact surrounding communities and while EIAs are typically available

Internal challenge

NEPA, in its Strategic Business Plan for 2019/20 - 2022/23 outlines the challenges which the government agency faces in executing its role.

From a PESTEL analysis, which looks at political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal environments, management, noted that in all these areas there were factors affecting the agency's performance and impacting the strategic business planning process.

The review highlights environmental risks as including an increase in cybercrime and incidences of hacking; loss of island's coastal protection mechanisms (seagrass, mangroves, coral reefs, etc); increase in land, air and water pollution; the long time taken to approve proposed legislative changes; increase in the use of and access to technology; the threat of invasive species; and the rapid rate of technological change and increased intensity of meteorological events.

The agency said that it is also affected by efficiency levels in the local court system, especially in regards to prosecution.

NEPA notes the increasing use of agricultural lands for development; increased threat of lawsuits; encroachment on eco-sensitive areas by developments; and low levels of voluntary compliance and increasing land degradation due to human activities.

NEPA said that despite its deep knowledge base represented by staff and other resources, there was weak analysis and reporting on the impact of NEPA programmes and projects and achievement of its mission. NEPA said internal communications were ineffective and the agency lacked standard operating procedure (SOP) programmes and is limited by inadequate level of resources available.

It also cited the lack of integration of current scientific data of good quality to inform policy development and permit and applications processing; inadequate system for monitoring the environment, weak culture of enforcement, roles and responsibilities not well defined; poor prioritisation of activities; weak environmental education and awareness and inadequate risk management.

Opportunities and threats

The SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis done by management noted the impact of global economic crises and Jamaica's increasing debt situation reducing levels of available funding.

NEPA noted as well that Government entities sometimes do not adhere to environmental laws; a poor culture of adherence to environmental and planning laws; and variable political will for environmental management.

The agency also cites over-exploitation of non-renewable natural resources; environmental destruction affecting economic sectors (eg tourism); large external investment driving environmental destruction; poverty and affluence, increase in population, urbanisation, transportation and consumption patterns.

NEPA also cites, "Unsustainable economic development practices eg in tourism and mining; and increasing demands on the organisation due to the plethora of environmental issues, climate change and that many environmental policies have been developed but not promulgated.

The strategic management report stated, "The environmental scan indicates that the social, political and economic challenges faced by the nation have had negative impacts on the natural and built environment. The mission of the agency is to promote sustainable development by ensuring protection of the environment and orderly development. The legal framework required to support the efforts of the agency in protecting the environment needs to be strengthened. Poor social and corporate responsibility has been demonstrated by increased pollution of land, air and water. Unplanned and/or unapproved housing and commercial developments in contravention of planning laws and regulations have also increased.

NEPA stated in the report, "Negative social and cultural behaviour and practices that harm the environment need to be corrected, and the political and governmental will to positively impact communities need to be more visible. Technological advances can be taken advantage of to leverage our capabilities to operate efficiently, to educate the public on environmental and planning matters, to communicate the message that all Jamaicans are ambassadors of the natural and built environment, and to celebrate the successes and challenges encountered."

The SWOT analysis indicates that the agency needs to prioritise and be more strategic and resourceful in the management of its operations.

It concluded there was a need for developing and implementing strategic priorities, SMART goals and targets in alignment with the vision of the agency, government priorities and international agreements.

Management also proposed the effective monitoring and evaluation of the performance against targets; building capacity, developing and motivating staff through training and job enrichment programmes; conducting annual performance evaluations to determine the level of success in meeting its goals; and benchmarking performance against industry best practices to promote continuous long-term improvement.

AVIA USTANNY COLLINDER Senior business reporter collindera@jamaicaobserver.com

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