EMA heat

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. - File photo by Ayanna Kinsale
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. - File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

THE ENVIRONMENT belongs to no one. Or, put another way, it belongs to everyone. It is the patrimony of all. The rules by which we manage our relationship with it are serious matters.

But not if you listened to the Prime Minister this week.

“Everybody in this country knows we use the EMA not to help us in our development but to obstruct,” Dr Rowley said at a Whitehall post-Cabinet briefing on June 13, referring to the Environmental Management Authority.

In support of his cause, the PNM leader cited the controversial proposal, withdrawn in 2019, for a Sandals resort and Patrick Manning’s aluminium smelter project at La Brea, which did not go forward after a 2009 High Court ruling.

But Dr Rowley was speaking in the context of his administration’s bid for a $500 million Marriott-brand property at Rocky Point, Tobago.

“I, as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, will move heaven and earth to make sure the hotel is built,” he said.

Asked at one point if he felt there was a need to revisit the EMA law, the head of Cabinet said, “Maybe we should.”

The law was last altered more than two decades ago. Dr Rowley’s off-the-cuff suggestion, facetious or not, was so cavalier as to be disturbing.

His failure to rule out triggering the legislative process solely to advance a pet project of the Cabinet is one thing; his characterisation of the use of the law as mere “obstruction” another.

Both would paint a picture of a figure willing to engage in reform not to enhance much-needed laws, but rather to whittle them down. There would be only one aim: to make things harder for some and easier for others.

In his dismal assessment of EMA matters, the PM seems to have found common ground with one of his hitherto political nemeses.

It was once the case that the PNM regularly criticised Farley Augustine and his THA council for repudiating EMA processes.

Will Mr Augustine now refer to the Central Government and the EMA as obstructing development too?

Dr Rowley’s recollection of the circumstances leading a judge to quash a clearance granted by the EMA for the smelter project (“Some consultation did not take place,” he said) also left much to be desired.

There was consultation. However, that consultation was irregular, which should concern a leader.

Also, it was done by a developer who had no proper plan to deal with waste materials hazardous to health.

Either we have the rule of law or not.

There is something troubling in a prime minister bemoaning environmental legislation while oil-spill chemicals continue to float close to the coast of Tobago – and amid a climate crisis.

We should be moving heaven and earth to strengthen EMA laws, not undermining them.


"EMA heat"

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