Apart from the collective “meh” among most Jamaicans that greeted the Prime Minister’s “Cabinet reshuffle” announced a few days ago, one thing struck me immediately. Where has the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change gone? It seemed to be settling down a little, under the leadership of Minister Pearnel Charles, Jr., who has now been moved to the Agriculture Ministry.
Having said that, the very important Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which includes planning, monitoring, managing and regulating environmental matters, had already been taken into the Office of the Prime Minister – for reasons which I often ponder. Minister Charles’ portfolio included the Climate Change Division (which had already been moved once), the Environment and Risk Management Division, the Forestry Department, the Met Service, the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience, and the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica.
There is no mention of environment or climate change in the name of any Ministry. They have been shuffled right out of the pack. They now fall, clumsily, into the lap of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (the Climate Change Division’s former home, under then Minister Daryl Vaz), in the Office of the Prime Minister. There are now three Ministers Without Portfolio in that Ministry, and the Prime Minister will tell them what to do. Who will have the Environment/Climate Change portfolio? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they will shuffle it around between the three of them. But basically the Prime Minister will now call the shots.
And, this tells you quite a lot about the government’s priorities. As environmentalist and columnist Peter Espeut put it so succinctly in the Jamaica Gleaner: The JLP is a business party. His column is most enlightening and gives us a little history on how the environment – the poor relation that nobody wants – has been pushed and shoved around, actually, for decades. It’s nothing new. Mr. Espeut concludes:
Clearly, government policy is to put big business first. There is no balance between the environment and development: development comes first. The Ministry of Environment had to go!
There is no balance between lives and livelihoods. The economy comes first. This is why the Government opened up the entertainment sector and triggered the third wave of COVID-19. It does not matter if more than 1,000 Jamaicans get sick each day from COVID-19 – and some die; there will be no further restrictions on business; what is more important is that tourism recovers and the economy grows.
So-called “corporate citizens” are more important than voting citizens because they make big political donations. It’s always about the money.Jamaica Gleaner, “The JLP is a business party” by Peter Espeut, January 14, 2022
I urge you to read his column in full. He cites as an example (an egregious one) the case of Puerto Bueno, which I have written about in several blog posts before. It’s probably time to revive the 2020 petition. The story goes something like this:
Prime Minister (remember NRCA/NEPA is under his wing) overturns a decision by the NRCA to refuse a permit to Bengal Development Co. to mine in Puerto Bueno. As Mr. Espeut says, “Red flag!” (the first one).
After considerable protest and unease from local community tourism/villa operators, environmental activists and the general public, the Prime Minister decides to impose 72 (!) conditions on Bengal, including a $40 million performance bond.
Despite the Prime Minister’s earlier protestations – he was hurt that people might, perhaps, be under the impression that he does not care about the the environment – the rules are bent again and the Puerto Bueno mining venture is now going ahead.
However, there is a court case, filed by residents in December 2020. I will be sure to find out the latest on this.
That’s the bare bones of the matter. How does it look to you?
I know politicians have short memories – but the UN Climate Change Conference ended just two months ago. Since then, we have abolished the environment and climate change ministry and reversed a decision on mining in an ecologically sensitive area.
On the latter, the Opposition Spokeswoman on the Environment and Climate Change, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns, has some pointed questions:
Finally, this quote is always worth repeating – on the “balance” issue. I have repeatedly said that in Jamaica there is no such balance. “Development” (which is not really development in the real sense – it is just capitalism) always wins over the environment. Our political leaders would, perhaps, rather ignore the very obvious truth, which is…