PRESS RELEASE FROM PLACENCIA CITIZENS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Dated 17th June – for immediate release
Belize’s Secret Environmental Committee
A shock announcement by Mr. Anthony Mai of the Department of the Environment that the names of members of the National Environment Advisory Committee (NEAC) are secret has left concerned citizens in Seine Bight, Maya Beach and Placencia reeling.
NEAC is the committee legally charged with giving clearance for all development projects requiring environmental review, such as shrimp farms, resorts, World Heritage site projects, dams, free zones and many other major undertakings that closely affect the lives of Belizeans.
Mr. Mai made the announcement last week at a public meeting held by DOE to discuss a proposal for approval to build a second huge marina on the Peninsula.
Says Co-Chair of the Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, Vincent Lopez, “We were horrified when we learnt that the names of NEAC members are secret. People at the public meeting last week repeatedly asked for the identities of the committee members, but were told by Mr. Mai that NEAC members did not wish their names to be known.”
“We, on the other hand, were required to give our names before speaking at the meeting, and we were also videoed. This was an open public meeting that anyone could attend. We are not afraid or ashamed of our identities, but this insistence on recording a public meeting certainly smacks of the police state. We were not told in advance that the meeting would be recorded or why, and some people at the meeting felt it was intended to intimidate them.”
Continues Mr. Lopez, “We are outraged at this situation. These people on NEAC are making decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of all the people of Belize, and we aren’t even allowed to know who they are. What possible reason could there be for this kind of secrecy by a PUBLIC committee?”
“Our current government promised us that government activities would be transparent. I can’t think of any issue closer to the Belizean heart and soul than the very fate of this land – and it’s being decided by a bunch of faceless mystery men. I am sure that Prime Minister Barrow will want to give this his immediate attention, and allow fresh air to blow through the workings of this critically important environmental committee, which has so much power over all of our lives.”
Recent projects that have raised questions in the minds of many Belizeans on the Placencia Peninsula include the ongoing construction of an international airport on the Peninsula, mangrove clearance at World Heritage sites, permission for an airstrip at Harvest Caye which will destroy an important manatee feeding site, large scale dredging in the Placencia Lagoon, the approval of a large resort on False Caye (an important mangrove, juvenile fish and coral area off the Peninsula) and numerous other deeply worrying decisions.
Concludes Mr. Lopez, “I believe that we as Belizeans have an absolute right to know who the people are who are making these staggeringly important decisions which will impact our country for generations to come. What can possibly be the motive for keeping these names secret? Our organisation and others will be pressing the government for a statement and an immediate change of policy in this matter.”
For further information, contact Mary Toy, Co-Chair, Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, 610-4718