Peter Espeut | Opposition hypocrisy
I am amused at the call on the Government during the sectoral debate last Tuesday by People's National Party (PNP) spokesman on energy and mining, Phillip Paulwell, to urgently address boundary issues in the Cockpit Country. For more than two years, Paulwell's Government had in front of it all the information it needed to declare Cockpit Country boundaries, but failed to do so (out of cowardice, I assert). Now that they are in Opposition, they have the bravado to call on Government to do what they were afraid to do. What comedy!
Paulwell is still singing former PNP environment minister Robert Pickersgill's tune. Last Tuesday in Parliament, Paulwell said the country could lose out on a US$10-billion investment if the Cockpit Country boundary issue is not "resolved". What does he mean by 'resolved'? His meaning is clear for those who read between the lines.
Paulwell stated that there are six proposed Cockpit Country boundaries from which the Government must choose, one of which extends into St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny, and if that one is chosen, it would forbid mining of over 300-million tonnes of bauxite located there, valued at some US$9 billion.
Clearly for Paulwell, "resolving" the Cockpit Country boundary issue means not choosing that boundary. The previous PNP Government gave a solemn undertaking that there would be no mining in the Cockpit Country, so the trick is to define the Cockpit Country as a very small area within which there is little or no bauxite. Surely, the Cockpit Country is that part of Jamaica made up of karst cockpits? This is not a small area.
Remember Pickersgill's famous statement (defending the breach of a development order against moving sand from Negril) which clearly describes his understanding of his portfolio: "I also note the considerable and the substantial value of the project to the Jamaican economy, which outweighs all other consideration."
NOT MUCH OF A CHOICE
Paulwell is openly stating that not mining bauxite in the Cockpit Country would be to "lose" a US$10-billion investment, and he is encouraging the present Government to quickly 'resolve' the Cockpit Country boundary issue so that mining can proceed.
Paulwell went on to say that another of the proposed boundaries would forbid the mining of 10 million tonnes of bauxite, causing "losses" estimated at US$300-million, suggesting that that option was therefore better than the other.
Of course, in reality, there are no losses here, only unexploited resources representing uncollected bauxite levy. Should the bauxite in the Cockpit Country be mined, the real losses would be the reduction in water supply to St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny, and less water for agriculture, aquaculture, industry and the residents of those parishes (not to mention the forest cover, wildlife habitat, the wildlife itself, and the ecotourism revenue which would be lost). It does not appear that Paulwell and his combolo have done the full cost accounting.
It seems to me that the considerable value of the Cockpit Country in its natural state is of "substantial value to the Jamaican economy, which outweighs all other considerations".
It is the bauxite companies which will make the one-off billions in US dollars in revenue from mining in the Cockpit Country, and it is we Jamaicans who will suffer the billions in US dollars in hydrological and other losses in the ensuing decades. Not much of a choice.
I encourage the minister of environment (who in the present cabinet configuration is actually the prime minister) to eschew the PNP's short-term scorched-Earth unsustainable approach, and to take the necessary long-range view of national development.
The PNP has been in Opposition for 100 days, and it does not seem that they have learnt much or changed much, certainly with respect to views on the environment. The Government has subsumed (or hidden) the environment portfolio inside the nebulous super-Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, which is surely worth a criticism or three by any Opposition worth its salt. But the PNP ignored the environment portfolio in Government and is consistent in ignoring it in Opposition.
Meanwhile, Government Senator Matthew Samuda has announced his intention to introduce in the Senate a resolution calling on Government to ban importation of plastic bottles and Styrofoam. This is the most positive environmental suggestion I have heard coming from a Government parliamentarian in 20 years.
It generated the reflex negative response from the Opposition and has not received support from any of his colleagues on the Government benches. I guess it doesn't qualify as a positive environmental move in the first 100 days of Government.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.