The Environmental Protection and Management Bill (2019) has gotten its second reading in Parliament, but a third reading and the debate will not take place before a newly-formed committee reviews the said Bill and makes further recommendations if necessary.
Environment minister Molwyn Joseph selected the members of the committee two days ago, and they will have their first meeting next Thursday.
An invitation has been sent to the media and all interested persons to participate in this “live discussion” from 9:30am on April 4 at the Parliament building.
The members of the committee are Jamale Pringle, Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament for All Saint East and St. Luke; Member of Parliament for Barbuda Trevor Walker; Social Transformation and Human Resource Development Minister Samantha Marshall, an attorney and MP for St. Mary’s South; and the Minister for Sports, National Festivals, Culture and the Arts, Daryll Matthew, who is the Member of Parliament for St. John’s Rural South.
Minister Joseph – who also holds the Health and Wellness portfolios and is the Member of Parliament for St. Mary’s North – will chair the committee.
Joseph said the Member of Parliament for St. George, Dean Jonas – who is Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs – will also be invited to participate in the committee’s discussions.
The Bill comes at a time when many residents and environmental activists are condemning the decimation of mangroves that are essential in protecting the islands from natural disasters among other things.
The mangroves are being removed for the development by Yida International Group which has been allowed to move ahead with a controversial tourist and casino complex situated on Guiana Island, part of the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA).
Under Antigua and Barbuda’s 2006 Fisheries Act, the Fisheries Division can only grant permission to “prune” a mangrove when this is of benefit to the environment.
Minister Joseph hinted his position on the matter when he told Parliament he has “documentation of the history” to show that a previous administration had disregarded the recommendations of the Department of Environment and Fisheries” as well as the wishes of the Mill Reef community to allow for the development of La Perla Nonsuch Bay Development within the NEMMA.
He added, “If you were to go now and see the development and you look at the economic contributions that this development is making towards Antigua and Barbuda, you would see the importance of being able to strike a balance” with economic development and environmental protection.
Joseph added “And so to suggest that this government is doing something that has not been done before is totally false. I will get more deeply into it because I have quite a documentation of the history” he said, as he indicated plans to divulge more at the press conference next week.
The minister noted he will be transparent with his views and he is ready to face the controversial issue which is being hotly debated in the public.
Residents, opposition parties, activist groups and environmentalists have expressed concerns about the effect that the proposed YIDA development will have on the environment, while fisherfolk are worried about the threat that some of the proposed zones and activities could pose to their livelihoods and the survival of local marine life.
Some hope the Environmental Protection and Management Bill (2019) will address their concerns.
The Bill, in its present form, outlines numerous issues to be addressed. These include a range of prohibited wastes and other matter; waste and other materials requiring special permit for dumping; water quality management criteria and guidelines; and air quality criteria.
It also examines protected wildlife; multilateral environment instruments and environment conventions; categories of protected areas; protected watersheds and important wetlands, among other matters.