Well done, Mr Matthew Samuda

Back in early August, following the latest deadly chemical contaminant fish kill in the Rio Cobre, a letter writer to this newspaper made a simple, obvious point, all too often ignored by Jamaicans, including their leaders.

Senator Mathew Samuda, Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

Said the letter writer: "Rivers, seas, lakes, and oceans are vital to life and the food supply chain; they are part of the environment and can impact climate change. We must continue to sustain land, water, and air to keep the environment we live in healthy."

Happily, the minister responsible for the environment, Mr Matthew Samuda, head of Jamaica's delegation to the 27th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt is not one of those you could easily accuse of spewing hot air.

Over recent years he has built a reputation as a strong believer in environmental protection who walks the walk. For that reason, we take him at his word that punishment meted out to bauxite/alumina company Windalco in total fines amounting to approximately $117 million for the Rio Cobre chemical spill won't just end there.

We hear from Mr Samuda that the totality of the fines imposed represent the value of the environmental protection bond applicable to Windalco. However, the scale of the economic impact and cost of restorative work and social impacts of the latest contamination of the river have been assessed to exceed $200 million — way beyond the value of the bond.

"The shortfall is significant..." says Mr Samuda. He says the gap will be made up through "legal channels to hold Windalco accountable, and with upcoming budgetary allocations".

We note that, despite the inadequacy of the fines, Mr Samuda says, "It represents the single largest financial consequence applied to any polluter in Jamaica's history."

Obviously, there is much to be done.

We are therefore pleased that, according to Mr Samuda, the Government will be amending the Wildlife Protection Act and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act next financial year to increase penalties for people and organisations found guilty of polluting rivers. This, we expect, will extend to the overall natural environment.

Mr Samuda tells us that in assessing the "language of the [Windalco] bond, certain weaknesses became apparent and will be addressed in new bonds". Central to this is "a broader group of stakeholders in considering the value of bonds…" including members of the political Opposition.

In addition to stakeholders in Government, Mr Samuda says consultations have been held with Member of Parliament for St Catherine East Central Mrs Natalie Neita-Garvey and Opposition spokeswoman for land, environment and climate change Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns, among others in the political directorate.

Further, Mr Samuda says a multi-stakeholder technical working group which will be set up to recommend strategies and measures to ensure the health, safety, and economic sustainability of the Rio Cobre and its natural resources will have representation from the parliamentary Opposition and citizens' groups.

We applaud.

Adversarial politics has its place. But it seems to us that in today's increasingly complex, challenging world, there is much more to be gained from constructive cooperation across political party lines.

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