Thu | Feb 25, 2021

NEPA mum on Bengal bond extension

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2021 | 12:28 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Peter Knight, CEO of NEPA.
Peter Knight, CEO of NEPA.

The reason for granting a 60-day extension to Bengal Development Limited to pay a $40-million environment performance bond remains a mystery to the public.

Members of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) ran into a brick wall in extracting information from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) on Wednesday.

Bengal was granted an environmental permit under controversial circumstances to carry out mining in the ecologically sensitive Dry Harbour Mountains of St Ann.

Quizzed by committee Chairman Mikael Phillips about the rationale for granting the extension, Peter Knight, chief executive officer (CEO) of NEPA, initially said that he could not recite the arguments that Bengal presented to the National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the Town and Country Planning Authority.

“I don’t have at hand now the arguments that Bengal would have placed before the authority, but I am sure it would have been related to the other processes that we are not responsible for, which are the mining licence, and so on,” Knight said.

Seemingly dissatisfied with Knight’s response, Phillips asked: “Were you a part of the decision to extend the period for payment of the bond?”

“I was a part of it,” Knight replied.

The PAAC chairman pressed further: “On what basis then did NRCA give the extension?”

Said Knight: “Remember, you know, Chairman, I am not denying that I know, but what I am saying - I don’t have in my head what the reasons were for the request.”

Phillips said he was surprised at Knight’s inability to recall the discussions with Bengal.

“It’s amazing that you can remember the days, but you can’t remember the reason why,” said Phillips.

However, Knight later said that he was constrained by the sub judice rule, reminding the committee that at its last meeting, Permanent Secretary Audrey Sewell had indicated that there was a legal challenge involving the company. He was referencing the constitutional challenge brought by eight claimants in mid-December.

The NEPA CEO received support from Sewell, who said that she took advice from the attorney general’s chambers.

“When I came the last time on that matter, the advice was that we should not discuss the matter publicly because it is sub judice,” she said.

“We are not here skirting around anything. I have always tried to be open and to be transparent,” she added.

The NRCA, for which NEPA is the administrative arm, granted the new March 21 deadline for paying the bond following Bengal’s request on January 13, days before the initial due date of January 17.