The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on Tuesday signed two agreements that will bring significant impetus to environmental protection
A $4M one-year co-financing grant was inked with the World Wild Life Fund (WWF); while the second is a $28M contract for construction of a head office to house the newly formed Protected Areas Commission (PAC).
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Robert Persaud in his remarks said that these two initiatives speak to the ongoing collaboration that the Ministry has had with both local and international stakeholders to build the necessary capabilities so as to better manage the country’s natural resources, while protecting the environment.
The contract for the construction of the PAC’s building was awarded to Satar Mohammed and Son Construction and Hardware and Supplies after a competitive bidding process. The works are expected to be completed in six months; however, the contractor is optimistic that it can be finished by the end of the year.
Minister Persaud explained that the formation of the PAC was a bold initiative, by the Government to ensure sustainable environmental management. This project is being executed through support from the German Government under phase 11 of the Guyana Protected Areas System (GPAS).
A US $6.2M agreement for phase 111 of the project was recently reached between the Governments of Guyana and Germany. Implementation of this phase will commence in 2014.
The Minister said that this will allow the PAC to have a home of its own; currently it is occupying a part of the National Parks Commission (NPC).
Commissioner of the PAC, Damian Fernandes said that the construction of a base for the Commission will no doubt strengthen its ability to implement its charge and will result in more efficient functioning.
Meanwhile, German Consul Ben Ter Welle said that they are working with the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) to install a photovoltaic system on the roof of the new building that is not included in the contract.
The building at Thomas Lands which currently houses the NPC will be extended and upgraded to accommodate the PAC’s office. The former will eventually cease to be an independent entity as its functions will be absorbed by the latter.
With regards to the agreement with the WWF, Minister Persaud explained that there have been several complaints where the operation of a factory, extractive industry or some other business entity is causing discomfort to residents of that community.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with responding to issues such these; however, when environmental permits are granted, the agency’s ability to ensure that people adhere to the conditions of the permit is limited.
As such, whenever there are breaches the EPA is left with no other alternative but to take the offenders to court. This process, Minister Persaud said, can be very costly and time-consuming.
“There is another mechanism, we can have regulations, whereby we can give the EPA more teeth, to not only respond to breaches, but also take actions against persons who commit infractions and are causing environmental harm and damage,” the Minister stated.
This co-financing grant, which is provided under the WWF Guianas Gold Mining Pollution Abatement Programme, will see the development of the agency’s Environmental Protection Compliance and Enforcement Regulations in support of the Environmental Protection Act of 1996.
The regulations that will be developed will strengthen the EPA in dealing with issues at the community, as well as the industry levels and allow the agency to carry out its mandate in accordance with the law.
Minister Persaud disclosed that last year, over 400 complaints of infractions were made; and this number excludes those that the EPA would have detected.
“Imagine if we were to have 400 such cases in court, we would need a full-time legal division within the EPA to deal with this. Then too, persons go to court and get injunctions and stay order and they continue to carry on their activities; causing nuisance and environmental harm and the EPA’s hands are more or less tied,” Minister Persaud explained.
He added that while economic activities must go on, they have to be done in an environmentally sustainable way.
“We are making strides in terms of dealing with the issue of environmental management especially now that the extractive industry is growing, we have new housing schemes and our country is on the move, but we have to ensure that we do not inflict damage to the environment; it is not to hold back development but rather to ensure that development takes place in a sensible way,” Minister Persaud added.
EPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Indarjit Ramdass said that this initiative will allow for more direct response on the part of the agency, such as issuance of charges and seizing of equipment. The EPA is hoping to commence implementing these regulations by the end of this year.
Representative of the WWF, Sophie Edghill pointed out this support complements the technical and financial assistance that her organisation has given to the EPA over the past several years to strengthen its managerial capabilities to protect Guyana’s environment.
This project specifically involves the contracting of a legal expert to develop the regulations and to provide sensitisation training sessions with EPA officers and relevant national stakeholders in the use of the legal instrument.