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‘Mr Prime Minister, do more than just words’

Fraser-Binns accuses Holness of paying lip service to protecting the environment

Published:Monday | November 15, 2021 | 12:06 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Opposition Senator Sophia Fraser-Binns.
Opposition Senator Sophia Fraser-Binns.

Opposition spokesperson on the environment, Senator Sophia Fraser-Binns, says the time has come for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to decide whether decisions that will trigger increased economic growth should trump the preservation of the environment.

In her contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday, the opposition senator said that repeated calls for the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to be placed where it “rightly belongs”, in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, have fallen on deaf ears.

“It can’t be that the minister charged with economic growth also has responsibility for the environmental protection agency. In an instance of a conflict, how does he decide?” Fraser-Binns questioned.

She contended that such a scenario in law is referred to as ‘ res ipsa loquitur’ – ‘the facts speak for themselves’.

Referencing the widely debated issue involving Bengal Development Limited, the entity that wanted to mine limestone in the ecologically sensitive Dry Harbour Mountains on the country’s northern coast, Fraser-Binns said that this could have led to the destruction of rare flora and fauna in the country.

“The prime minister overturned the NRCA’s (Natural Resources Conservation Authority) decision and granted a mining permit to Bengal Development Limited with an unprecedented 72 conditions, which he later had to rescind, not because of environmental consciousness, but because of the failure to pay the financial bond,” she said.

The opposition senator also bemoaned the destruction of acres of mangroves in Hanover for the construction of a hotel. “The argument proffered is that it will create hundreds of jobs for people. I understand this. However, have we considered the long-term ecological, environmental and even infrastructural damage that this single action will cause on the environment.”

Taking the Government to task, Fraser-Binns said that the prime minister “cannot attend COP26 in good faith, demanding international climate action and financing, while simultaneously destroying vital forest reserves, mangroves, overturning NEPA/NRCA’s decisions and failing to agree on an acceptable mining buffer zone”.

“Mr Prime Minister, to be credible, you need to do more than just words. We need climate action. We need to get climate justice locally before making demands on the international stage.”

During her presentation, Fraser-Binns conceded that respective administrations had fallen short on protecting the environment, but stressed that the current Government should tackle the prevailing issues and stop paying lip service to them.

She called for the strengthening of environmental laws to give teeth to the protection of the environment. “Let us take, for example, the constant fish kill in the Rio Cobre. The existing legislation provides a penalty of $100,000. This sum is so small that it cannot act as a deterrent,” she said.