JET questions Government's commitment to transparency
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), is questioning the Government's commitment to accountability and transparency in light of its latest legal setback in the three-year struggle to get information on the terms and conditions of the developments at the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier.
"I am just concerned that there could be this lip service to openness, transparency and accountability ... until the rubber meets the road and some civil society group or an individual actually wants something that they don't really want to be released and why they don't think, this is a matter of national interest," she told The Gleaner yesterday.
The environmentalist was disappointed that despite an order of the Appeals Tribunal of the Access to Information Act that the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) release to JET documents related to the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier, access had been denied yet again, pending legal action.
McCaulay explained that in September 2012, JET requested the Ground Lease Agreement and the Piers Usage Agreement between the PAJ and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited with regard to the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier.
Access to these documents was denied on the basis that they contained confidential information of a commercial nature which would prejudice the interests of the parties. JET filed an appeal under the Access to Information (ATI) Act to the Appeals Tribunal, contending that the confidential information could be redacted and the rest of the documents provided.
The appeal was heard in November and December 2013 and almost two years passed before the tribunal's decision was handed down in April 2015.
The order directed that the PAJ release the documents requested to JET and specified what information was to be redacted. Despite the tribunal's decision, the documents were not provided.
"We couldn't get it and finally today (Monday), we've been told that Royal Caribbean has sought judicial review. I can appreciate that there might be something in a contract that is confidential and that apparently also was the view of
the tribunal, but that it could easily be redacted, and the entire document could not fall under that category ... ."
The JET CEO explained the rationale for the request.
"The reason that we have interest in this matter is because you hear that port developments generally are going to bring these economic benefits to Jamaica, but we don't ever know what the terms of the leases are. We don't, for example, know what kinds of tax exemptions are given, nor to what extent local people are going to be employed, or in the case of Falmouth, to what extent local people have to be given access to the cruise ship pier and so forth.
"So JET thinks this sort of information should be public, that you can't really decide whether a port development is going to be of economic development in the absence of that information, and then you know, of course, the Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier had very serious environmental impacts as well."