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Court fight looms over Puerto Bueno permit

Published:Tuesday | November 17, 2020 | 12:14 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director at the National Integrity Action.
Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director at the National Integrity Action.

If strong appeals for the Holness administration to withdraw approval for Jamaica World LLC to mine the Puerto Bueno Mountain in St Ann fall on deaf ears, a leading corruption watchdog is not ruling out testing the constitutionality of the Government’s action in court.

On Monday, National Integrity Action (NIA) added its voice to calls from environmental groups and civil-society organisations for the Government to reverse its decision to permit mining in the ecologically sensitive area, noting that such a move would represent an infringement on environmental rights enshrined in Jamaica’s Constitution.

“If the prime minister persists despite the breadth and depth of public opinion coming from all quarters and political persuasion, then obviously, NIA and other concerned organisations would wish to consult and seek constitutional legal opinion to see to what extent the matter would be taken further,” Professor Trevor Munroe, principal director of the NIA, told The Gleaner.

“That is a bridge that we would hope not to have to cross if the prime minister is as responsive as he said he would be in respect of public opinion,” said the NIA boss.

In a press statement on Monday, Munroe also warned the Government that such a move would put the country at risk of falling further behind in achieving a crucial target in Jamaica’s National Development Plan – that of a “healthy, natural environment”.

The NIA boss argued that one of the explicit grounds for the National Environment and Planning Agency refusing the Jamaica World application in May 2020 was “the deleterious effect on the environment”.

Munroe is relying on Chapter 3 of Jamaica’s Constitution, which he said explicitly protects “the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage”.

Further, he contended that the Constitution goes on to state that “Parliament shall pass no law and no organ of the State shall take any action which abrogates, abridges or infringes” this right, “save only as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

He noted that the prime minister’s explanation has not met the standard that could justify the infringement of citizens’ environmental rights.

Last week, the prime minister said that the Government made an “enlightened” decision in confronting the need for economic growth while ensuring sustainable development, especially in a pandemic that has claimed jobs and much-needed revenue.

“A strategy of protecting the environment is ensuring that people have livelihoods,” Holness said last Thursday, noting that the land in question was in need of upgrades because of illegal dumping.

The Government had initially projected to rake in $635 million in taxes from the company. The mining operations are expected to create an estimated 100 jobs.

Bengal Development Limited, a subsidiary of Jamaica World LLC, is expected to mine about 123 acres of the 569-acre property that is part-owned by Duane Blake.

The rest of the land is expected to be transformed into an ecotourism attraction, and residential and commercial developments.