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OPM seeks to quiet concerns over environment portfolio

Published:Wednesday | March 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Diana McCaulay

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has sought to quiet concerns over the lack of a designated environment and/or climate change ministry, but stakeholders remain sceptical.

"The environment is well established and a part of the economic growth and job-creation ministry," Dr Horace Change, minister without portfolio in the OPM, told The Gleaner Tuesday evening while revealing that his colleague, Daryl Vaz, would have responsibility for land and environment matters.

"The objective is to create a ministry that will drive the growth process, but also in an environmentally friendly manner, with respect for the environment," added Chang, who is himself responsible for works, water, and housing.

His comments came in the wake of a press release from the OPM indicating that the environment portfolio would reside in that office.

"The prime minister has taken a proactive role where environmental management and climate change mitigation efforts are concerned by situating this important portfolio in his office," the release said.

"With the environment portfolio in the OPM, it will benefit from effective planning and coordination of government activities and ensuring synergies in the land, water, and housing portfolios, which are also situated in that office," the release promised.

Strategy tried before

But environmentalists, who raised concerns over Holness' failure to name a ministry of environment and/or climate change at the swearing-in of his new Cabinet on Monday, remain wary.

"I think I have to see how that plays out. I believe this has been tried before. Bruce Golding first had the portfolio under him at OPM and it seemed to suggest priority given to it, but, in fact, there was too much demand on the PM's time and it did not result in the environment being given priority,"said Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust.

"We have to see what happens when a decision has to be made. There are many environmental issues that are looming: the difficulty with the north-south highway link; some hotels are out of compliance with their environmental permits; the question of coal; the Cockpit Country ... . We are going to see quickly what these expressions of commitment and interest really mean,"she added.

Blogger and social media activist Emma Lewis said that while encouraged, she

continued to harbour concerns.

"I am a little surprised that the PM's sole responsibility for the environment was not clearly stated from the outset if it was so important to him personally. I still have a sense that it is an afterthought," she told The Gleaner.

"Amid all the conflicting demands in the superheavy OPM, all connected with growth and development, I feel the environment will remain as an afterthought. Since there is no environment ministry, I would like to see environment and climate change effectively and actively 'mainstreamed' into the work of all ministries - and not in words, but actually considered and written into all growth plans and projects."