Environment Etc

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JET to wage another legal battle for the environment

Posted on June 2, 2014 at 12:10 PM

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is once again mounting a legal challenge against the authorities, which should find favour with the local conservation movement.

This time it concerns access to information on the now controversial transshipment port proposed for the Goat Islands, located inside the Portland Bight Protected Area.

The more than 20-year-old environmental advocacy group was on May 22 reportedly granted leave by the court to file a case against the Ministry of Finance and Planning, and the Port Authority of Jamaica to release information on the port.

The permission, a May 28 press release from JET said, was granted “to file an application for a judicial review challenging the decision of the Minister of Finance and Planning, the Honorable Dr. Peter Phillips, to issue a Certificate of Exemption to exempt agreements and proposals on the proposed transshipment port from public disclosure”.

JET, the release said, is also “challenging the refusal of the Port Authority to disclose this information”. Since Government’s announced interest in the proposed development of a transshipment port involving the Goats Islands, JET has sought to get its hands on all the documentation.

In furtherance of that, they filed an appeal with the Access to Information (ATI) Tribunal in January, after earlier requests for the information, through provisions under the ATI Act, were denied. Specifically, JET wanted to get its hands on the Memorandum of Understanding between the Port Authority of Jamaica and China Harbour Engineering Company and addendum.

The documents were denied by the Port Authority on the basis that:

• disclosure would constitute an actionable breach of confidence;

• premature disclosure would or could reasonably be expected to have a substantial effect on the Jamaican economy; and

• the documents contain information concerning the commercial interests of an organisation and disclosure of that information would prejudice those interests.

No sooner had JET filed the appeal with the Tribunal, the Certificate of Exemption was issued by the Minister on grounds that their premature disclosure would or could have a substantial effect on the economy.

“The way the ATI Act works, the tribunal cannot nullify it [the certificate]. So we were effectively deprived of the right to a hearing before the ATI Tribunal on the issue of those documents covered by the Certificate of Exemption,” explained Daniel Andrade, JET’s legal director.

In response, the group on April 17 filed papers for a judicial review, with the May 22 decision the result of that effort.

“At the next hearing date on June 18, 2014, the Court will make orders for the filing of the application [with the Supreme Court],” the group said.

Once that is done, Andrade said their hope is for an early hearing date.

It is not the first time that JET has challenged the authorities in court. They have previously done so over the development of the Gran Bahia Principe Hotel in St Ann as well as on the Palisadoes Rehabilitation and Shoreline Protection project.

— Petre Williams-Raynor

See related links:

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/NEPA--JET-both-claim-victory-in-Palisadoes-decision_9903521 http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/152118_Bahia-Principe-slapped-with-enforcement-notice

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