By Peter Espeut
Politicians don't always mean what they say. I seem to remember Michael Manley saying that when he swore allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, he didn't really mean it.
When Portia Simpson Miller said at her inauguration, "I pledge that we will reject governmental extravagance and be vigilant in eliminating corruption," did she really mean it? I guess it boils down to how you define corruption.
When Minister Azan admitted that he had breached procurement guidelines, and authorised illegal construction on parish council land, that was not corruption enough; she wanted to wait on the contractor general's findings. Now that the OCG has found that Minister Azan was at best politically corrupt (at worst, what? Criminally fraudulent?) maybe even that is not corrupt enough. What did she mean by "eliminating corruption"? Politicians don't always mean what they say.
Prime Minister Simpson Miller said at her inauguration: "The Jamaican people have sent a clear message. They want a more accountable and transparent government which consults them; and, they should expect nothing less." Did she mean it? Has the Government's handling of the Chinese proposal to build a logistics hub on the Goat Islands been characterised by transparency and consultation? On the contrary! Jamaicans from all walks of life - including from within the Government and the PNP - have called for more information on this project, and yet no details are forthcoming. Politicians don't always mean what they say.
Official government policy commits Jamaica to pursue a path of "sustainable development". I am assuming that the Cabinet understands what this means. "Sustainable development" is a term of art with a very specific meaning. It does NOT mean "sustained development", economic growth year after year after year. In 1987, the UN Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
In other words, the use of natural resources today must not compromise the integrity of natural ecosystems, making them unavailable to future generations for their development. Has the Jamaican Government really committed itself to sustainable development?
THE PATTERSON YEARS
Then Prime Minister Percival James Patterson attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. At that high-level meeting, 178 governments, including Jamaica, voted to adopt 'Agenda 21', an action plan for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. The final text was the result of drafting, consultation, and negotiation, beginning in 1989, so the Jamaican delegation knew before going to Rio what was in the document. Cabinet would have had to sign off on it before the Jamaican delegation could sign it; Portia Simpson Miller, Omar Davies and Robert Pickersgill were in that Cabinet.
When the Cabinet committed Jamaica to sustainable development, did they mean it?
At that conference, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development was adopted, consisting of 27 principles intended to guide sustainable development around the world.
Look at Principle 3: "The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations." Principle 4: "In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process chain and cannot be considered in isolation from it."
If a project is known to be harmful to the environment, it should not be undertaken. Principle 15 is the precautionary principle, which states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action. If you're not sure, whether it is harmful or not, don't do it!
Vision 2030 for Jamaica includes this commitment to sustainable development (see e.g. page XXII). The PNP 2011 election manifesto commits the party to sustainable development: "The People's National Party remains committed to sustainable economic development and is cognisant of the link between the environment and industrial and commercial activities.
"The PNP, which pioneered most of Jamaica's environmental management policy initiatives, is committed to ensuring the protection of Jamaica's environment and the conservative use and protection of its natural and historical heritage resources. The PNP recognises that environmental quality bears a strong and crucial relationship to an improved standard of living, human health, economic and social advancement and quality of life for our citizens and visitors alike." (page 69)
Politicians don't always mean what they say, especially on the campaign trail; but surely there are enough honest people in Jamaica to demand that this logistics hub project be sited where it will do little or no environmental damage, and certainly not in a protected area.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and natural resource manager. Email feedback to email@example.com.