JCC president defends EMA: PM’s remarks ‘unfortunate, puerile’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

JCC president Fazir Khan. – Photo courtesy JCC

JOINT Consultative Council president Fazir Khan has described remarks by the Prime Minister about the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Act as unfortunate and a puerile rant.

He was responding to a statement made by Dr Rowley during a post-Cabinet press conference at Whitehall on June 13, where Rowley said the misuse of the act had robbed Trinidad and Tobago of projects including Sandals Resorts and an aluminium smelter plant.

Khan was specifically referring to the Prime Minister’s statement that, “Everybody in this country knows we use the EMA not to help us in our development, but to obstruct our development.”

In WhatsApp messages to Newsday Khan said the EMA and the Environmental Management (EM) Act provide a functional check against unsustainable development through a legal framework established by an act of parliament. He said the EMA is supposed to act independently within the ambit of the act.

“While the JCC is more interested in development projects than most, since our members stand to benefit from increased activity in construction industry, we understand that development needs to be strained through the mesh of sustainability for the sake of future generations, while satisfying our current needs.”

Rowley said the proposed construction of a $500 million brand hotel and property development at Rocky Point, Tobago, which is to be undertaken by a group of private developers, Superior Hotels Ltd, will not suffer the same fate.

Khan responded, “While a boost to the Tobago economy would certainly be welcome as oil and gas revenues continue to diminish, due process via the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) would ensure the required balance between mitigating environmental impact and sustainable operations.”

He said government entities have historically been the biggest breakers of TT’s environmental laws.

“For example, many WASA sewage plants still do not comply with the environmental regulations for discharge of effluent into the environment.

“The EMA also does not have a glowing record of curbing noise pollution and the manufacturing lobby appears to have trumped our need to adopt laws regulating plastics. The results of the latter can be seen in every drain and watercourse after every rainstorm.”

Khan said if the EM Act of 2000 needs re-visited, this should be driven by the EMA themselves, who are charged with the responsibility.

Asked if the government amending the act amounted to political interference, Khan said,

“The act under Section 5 allows for ‘the Minister to from time to time give the Authority directions of a special or general character’. Once due process is followed regarding amendments to any standing law, then that is the prerogative of the sitting government.”

In 2018 the government was in negotiations with Sandals to build a resort in Tobago but the deal fell through. Rowley said this was because misinformation was spread about the site chosen and the resulting public furor caused the hotel to go to St Vincent.

Rowley said in 2007, under PM Patrick Manning, approval was given for an aluminium smelter plant to be built in La Brea. Chinese company Alutrint and the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corp had a US$540 million agreement to construct it, but the Opposition and environmentalists opposed it, and the deal fell through.

He said the government had incurred liabilities from the Chinese company in the amount of US$300 million.