“The number one priority for … the beaches and waters given to us by God [is to] remain pristine” former Prime Minister Perry G. Christie
The Bahamian government is doing a tremendous job promoting the island to encourage new business, create new jobs and develop the economy. With that comes the need for an independent regulatory body and the rules and regulations that govern their management of Bahamian lands and waters.
The regulatory body should work hand in hand with the government to responsibly further growth while advocating for the sustainable protection of our environment. One such organization exists but has yet to be officially recognized by the Bahamian government, making it an official statutory body.
For more than two decades, both the PLP administration and former FNM administration promised to adopt and implement policies to protect and enhance our environment. Yet the fact remains – despite repeated attempts by numerous environmental groups and citizens to advocate for one – The Bahamas does not have an Environmental Protection Act in place to ensure proper oversight and regulation of Bahamian land and marine resources, or that all interested parties are properly consulted in matters that could impact the environment.
The Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology Commission (BEST Commission) was established in 1994 to manage the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements and review environmental impact assessments (EIA) and environmental management plans (EMP) for development projects within The Bahamas. As noted above, The BEST Commission has been established for years, but it is not a statutory body rendering it incapable of enforcing their objections to development that may negatively impact the Bahamas.
The enactment of an Environmental Protection Act (EPA) will give BEST the guidelines on areas of sensitivity and the authority to enforce its findings.
The impacts to our environment reach far beyond our borders. As former Minister of the Environment, Dr. Earl Deveaux told the Bahama Journal in 2007, “The waters surrounding The Bahamas and its creeks and wetlands act as the primary marine basin for fish stocks, nurseries, feeding grounds and spawning aggregations stretching throughout the region and as far away as Newfoundland in the north.”
It’s also critical that stakeholders and interested parties who may be affected by industrial and/or other developments have an opportunity to be properly consulted. This has been repeatedly affirmed by all levels of our judicial system from the Bahamian Supreme Court and Court of Appeal to Privy Councils in the Guana Cay and Abaco Wilson City Power Plant litigation.
The Planning and Subdivision Act was a great step in providing an opportunity for stakeholders to be consulted and participate in developments before they occur, and the requirement for environmental impact assessments in that legislation is to be commended.
However, the lack of a corresponding Environmental Protection Act and statutory process for environmental reviews creates confusion and leads to continued environmental degradation and violation of the Bahamian people’s trust.
“We do not have the right to mismanage our environmental resources.” — former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham