Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Peter Espeut: Of bungling and poll results

Published:Friday | January 29, 2016 | 1:00 AM

Sometimes politicians tell the truth. Yes, really!

Two such occasions took place this week. On Monday, Land and Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill withdrew a stop order he had previously issued barring the removal of sand from premises in Negril to premises in St Ann's Bay. In the statement, he asserted in a fit of honesty that "I also note the considerable and the substantial value of the project to the Jamaican economy, which outweighs all other consideration".

This is a disgraceful and irresponsible statement by the minister. The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act 1991 was designed to resolve the inevitable conflict between the drive for economic development and the concern for environmental conservation and protection. This act gives priority to "the effective management of the physical environment of Jamaica so as to ensure the conservation, protection and proper use of its natural resources" [4(1)(a)]. Nowhere does this law give the NRCA or the minister latitude to allow economic factors to outweigh environmental considerations. The minister of the environment and the NRCA must always act in the best interests of the Jamaican environment.

Allowing environmental destruction in the name of economic benefit will give development a bad name, for not all development brings long-term economic benefit. Only sustainable economic development is genuine development. This is why, before any project is permitted, the law requires an assessment of the environmental impact and sustainability of the project.

If Minister Pickersgill allowed economic factors to outweigh environmental considerations, it means that he acted contrary to the law he is supposed to implement. But then, that would not be anything new. That is precisely what he sought to do by not objecting to the Chinese plan to site the logistics hub on the Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area.

The deep-down honesty of Minister Pickersgill has finally shone through. He has admitted to being prepared to sacrifice the health and integrity of the natural environment on the altar of unsustainable development. For not understanding his portfolio, and for betraying the environment, he should be fired, or asked to resign.

On television Tuesday, the chairman of the NRCA, John Junor, stated that Minister Pickersgill's statement that the economic benefits of the project "outweighs all other consideration" was unfortunate. He, too, was being honest, for he could have tried to soften it or spin it.

He further stated that the granting of a 'no objection' to the removal of sand from Negril to St Ann's Bay was administrative "bungling" by the agency of which he is chairman. He admitted that once the permit was received to mine sand specifying the large quantity, this should have sounded warning bells. I appreciate Mr Junor's honesty in this matter; for years environmentalists have called into question several of the permits and 'no objections' issued by the NRCA. Honestly admitting "bungling" (his word) by the NRCA, he provides evidence in this one case for what we have long suspected to be a common practice.

Who is going to be held accountable for the "bungling" at the NRCA?

DEAD HEAT IN THE POLLS

There is a difference between a numerical dead heat and a statistical dead heat. In a numerical dead heat (like in the September 2015 RJR-Don Anderson poll results), the numbers are close to identical (the PNP and the JLP each had 30% support). In a statistical dead heat, the results fall within the margin of error of the survey. The January 2016 RJR-Don Anderson poll shows the PNP with 27.5% and JLP with 23.2% support (with a margin of error of +-3%).

If we apply the full margin of error downward for the PNP and upward for the JLP, we result in PNP 24.5% and JLP 26.2%, with the JLP about two percentage points ahead. The latest RJR-Don Anderson poll results show the PNP and the JLP in a statistical dead heat. Anyone calling an election based on these results is taking a big gamble.

Don't you find it interesting that between the September 2015 and January 2016 polls, support for both political parties has declined (see data quoted above)? Usually, as the time for the election draws near, more of those undecided come off the fence and choose a side. Clearly, disaffection with both the PNP and the JLP is growing. The turnout at the next general election is likely to be at an all-time low, and many of those who do vote will seek to make a protest.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and an environmentalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.