Negril stakeholders blast NEPA
Stakeholders in the resort town of Negril are calling for the disbanding of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which, it says, has been derelict in carrying out its duty to conserve Jamaica's natural environment.
The calls are being fuelled by the agency's recent handling of various environmental issues in the resort town, including plans to implant breakwaters off the Negril coast, as well as the removal of scores of truck loads of sand from Long Bay Beach by an overseas developer.
"I think the problem with NEPA is that NEPA is also asked to approve plans and also do environmental protection, so it is a conflict of interest," said Sophie Grizzle Roumel, a director of the Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC). "We actually need an entity that is just environmental, that can say we are environmentalists; we are trained to do this and this is not a proper sustainable development you are proposing."
Interestingly, the NEPA was established in 2001 under the Executive Agencies Act to carry out the technical and administrative mandates of the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority, the Town and Country Planning Authority and the Land Development and Utilisation Commission.
NEPA's responsibilities include natural resources conservation and protection; environmental management, spatial planning, compliance and enforcement; applications management, public education, policy and research and legal services; and standards management.
Businessman Daniel Grizzle, co-founder of the NCC, believes that the fact that NEPA is financed by recurrent budget allocations from the Government's Consolidated Fund, which sees the agency financing itself through the granting of permits to developers, is the reason for its constant failure in meeting its primary mandate to protect the environment.
"One of the problems with NEPA is the way it is funded, and as long as the Minister - whichever government is in power - has the power to withhold funds from that organisation, then it renders it helpless," noted Grizzle. " So, what we really need is a NEPA that is funded independently of any government source."
"Let's put it this way, Government is the biggest employer; all these people (NEPA staff) have families and responsibilities, so there is a struggle in terms of what is environmentally proper and survival on the side," continued Grizzle. "Until we move NEPA to an independent body, financed independent of Government, it will always be like not having an environmental body."
According to Grizzle, while what has been happening in Negril in recent month has turned the spotlight on NEPA, he believes that if one should walk the beaches in the resort town, one would see ample evidence of NEPA's failure over the past 15 years.
Like Grizzle, Elaine Bradley, another director of the NCC, believes that NEPA has been impotent where the environment is concerned and thinks the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which she thinks is doing a fine job with its environmental protection functions, would do a better job.
"They (NEPA) are there to protect the environment and they are not doing it, so NEPA should be disbanded. The money they have should go to JET," said Bradley. "JET is more environmentally friendly even though they are an NGO. Government has all these little entities and they are not doing what they are supposed to. So why have NEPA at all?"