29th July 2009 – for immediate release

Today heavy hitting environmental alliance BACONGO added its voice to the chorus of disapproval of the secrecy, which now surrounds the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC).

The fact that the identities of NEAC members is secret was revealed earlier this month by Mr. Anthony Mai of the Department of the Environment at a public consultation in Seine Bight about a proposed 210-slip marina that would be located just 300 feet off the Placencia Peninsula. DOE has responded to criticism by identifying the departments, ministries and agencies that nominate members of NEAC. However, BACONGO, PCSD and other environmental organizations want to know the actual names of the people who make up NEAC – including the names of NEAC members appointed by University of Belize, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the DOE itself. (The Belize Tourist Industry Association is the only organization that has maintained transparency and has never made a secret of the identity of its nominee to the NEAC.)

Candy Gonzalez of BACONGO and a former member of NEAC, explains, “I sat on NEAC, as the BACONGO representative, for over six years. Never, during that period, were the names of members a secret. Instead, a NEAC representative and one alternate were designated to review EIAs, attend meetings, site visits and public consultations for each proposed development. This gave continuity to NEAC and let the public know who we were. “It makes no sense to have people who are not familiar with an EIA voting on whether to approve it or not. It also makes no sense to keep the names of NEAC Committee members secret. That’s saying that the public is not capable of understanding what is happening and we should simply trust the faceless decision makers. We all know where that kind of attitude has gotten us so far – millions and millions of dollars in debt for private gain at the expense of the rest of the people and the environment of Belize.

“The Jewel is being sold off acre by acre to so called developed and foreign investors who have little or no concern for the environment or the people of Belize, either now or in the future.” And, says BACONGO, members of the public should be even more concerned because NEAC meeting minutes also seem to be secret – BACONGO has requested copies of minutes and DOE has not honored those requests.

Adds Mary Toy, Co-Chair of the Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, a member of BACONGO, “A number of environmental organizations, including our own, suspect that critical environmental decisions are being made by whoever happens to be around in a department, ministry or agency on the day of a NEAC meeting, no matter how junior that person may be -- greatly undermining any continuity of discussions about proposed developments and defeating any mature decision making.” Toy continues, “We also fear that there is little attempt by NEAC to resolve real environmental issues that emerge from the EIA process. As an example, if a NEAC member raises a valid query, say a contradiction in an EIA, this is not dealt with by NEAC. Instead, DOE, through its chairmanship of NEAC, simply states that the matter will be resolved in the Environmental Compliance Plan for the project and NEAC members never discuss whether resolution is desirable, or even feasible, in an environmentally sustainable manner.” “We hope this is not the case, but without being able to review NEAC minutes, we cannot say that NEAC is not abdicating its critical responsibilities in the environmental review process.” “BACONGO challenges DOE to reveal the names of the members of NEAC, to make available the minutes of all meetings to those who request them and to give reality to the term “transparency” in all NEAC decisions. Without such openness the Belizean public can have no confidence that our environment is being protected by our Government.”

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