WATCH: Samuda hails ‘environmental action’ as NEPA moves to prosecute Windalco
Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Mathew Samuda

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Mathew Samuda, says the swift action by the National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA) to prosecute bauxite company Windalco for polluting the Rio Cobre last week, demonstrates that the Government intends to hold those accountable for breaching the country's environmental laws.

"The public should have seen today that NEPA would've come to the country with a list of actions that are going to be taken to hold Windalco accountable for the recent spill," Samuda told OBSERVER ONLINE.

"Three main things that will take place. One, they've initiated prosecution, two, they have initiated the process to draw down on the environmental performance bond, some US$770,000, over JMD$115 million, and three, they intend to start the process to initiate suspension of the environmental permits and licences. This to my mind is a demonstration of how serious the administration is taking the issue of environmental protection. We are not perfect but we certainly are working hard to ensure that we do all in our power to hold those accountable who breach our environmental standards and our environmental law," the Minister continued, adding that the Government intends to intervene and assist the people affected by the incident.

The river was polluted when thousands of litres of sodium hydroxide, popularly known as caustic soda were dumped into the Rio Cobre starting on July 24.

READ: AGAIN! Windalco to be prosecuted by NEPA following Rio Cobre spill

Meanwhile, in a statement on Friday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has rebuked the incident noting that it "is wholly unacceptable and is inconsistent with the standards Jamaica has set for environmental management and protection."

"The impacts have been devastating for residents living and operating in the Rio Cobre basin; the livelihood of our farmers, our fisher-folks, persons who utilise the river for leisure and recreational purposes as well as major Government facilities and investments, owned and operated by the National Water Commission and the Nation Irrigation Commission," the statement read.

Adding that the risk is heightened when one considers the Government's long-standing plan to extract more water from the Rio Cobre to supply Kingston and St Andrew, Holness said he has directed NEPA to update the country on its findings and next steps in holding the company accountable.

"I have committed to the people of Jamaica that the amendments required to increase fines and penalties for environmental breaches will come to Parliament within the coming months, to ensure they are appropriate and sufficient to function as a deterrent. Additionally, the Government will act to implement a water safety plan for the entire Rio Cobre system," Holness further stated.

Candice Haughton

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