Govt making a mockery of public consultation

Dear Editor, 

It has come to our attention that on Monday, June 29, the Ministry of Environmental Health quietly distributed draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations to a handful of environmentalists who were given only until the end of the week to make recommendations.

Save The Bays is deeply disturbed by this miserably poor effort at public consultation on a matter of such vital importance to each and every Bahamian. We are convinced that the government’s aim is to ram this dreadful draft through under the noses of the unsuspecting public.

Firstly, a mere five days for public consultation on any matter of national significance is a farce. It is totally unacceptable and makes a mockery of the very idea of public consultation. The standard for around the world is 30 days.

In addition, the very idea that the government can cherry pick who it consults with, is a slap in the face to the environmental community and all concerned Bahamians who care about the preservation of our natural heritage. No administration has the right to decide who the rightful stakeholders are on such an important matter, but rather have a duty to open the question up to the public at large.

EIAs are the first line of defense against unscrupulous fly-by-night developers and disastrously hazardous projects, which may threaten our most precious natural resources, our pristine oceans, our very way of life.

Sadly, at first glance these draft regulations merely cement in policy the hugely deficient process that already exists in practice. Any meaningful EIA regime must:

1. Be solidly enshrined in legislation rather than simply jotted down in ever-shifting, constantly amended, non-binding “regulation”.

2. Set objective minimum environmental standards for any project to move forward. Currently, a project – no matter how potentially destructive – may be approved regardless of the content of its EIA, on the whim of officials.

3. Ensure that each and every project completes an EIA, or at the very least, sets objective standards for which projects do and do not need this study and why. Again, this decision should not be left to the discretion of officials who are not obliged to explain their reasoning or motives.

The draft recommendations as they stand, do nothing to change any of these utterly fatal flaws in the EIA process as it stands today, and, therefore, do not appear to change a thing. They appear to be an attempt to solidify the useless system that is already in place, making a mockery of the very spirit of environmental protection. These regulations are nothing more than a cynical rubber stamp, and not worth the paper they are written on.

Save The Bays demands that the consultation period for these regulations be extended to 30 days and that town meetings be scheduled and properly advertised on both New Providence and Grand Bahama immediately.

– Save The Bays

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