Sep 21, 2021 News
— As political interference undermines key agency — Dr. Adams
Kaieteur News – Political interference and the deliberate dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency is currently decimating the ability of the entity to execute its mandate, a development “that should be worrisome to every single member of the Guyanese community.”
At least this is according to Former Executive Director of the Agency, Dr. Vincent Adams, who during an Alliance for Change (AFC) press engagement this past week, spoke to the recent manifestations of the retrogression of the pillars on which the agency stands.
Dr. Adams prefaced his position by firstly arguing “you cannot have a country without strong institutions and there is no institution in the country that should be stronger than EPA.”
This, he said, is especially crucial given the state of affairs in Guyana, where development is going to be really accelerated here in the next few years
“Your health, safety and wellbeing and environment is the most important thing,” according to Dr. Adams, a sentiment he said was shared by the Former ExxonMobil Guyana President, Rod Henson, who “used to say EPA is a most important agency.”
To this end, Dr. Adams noted that of recent, there have been some worrisome developments and that “what is happening all of these institutional pillars are being destroyed and torn down.”
He elucidated by pointing the fact that several key staffers at the Agency are now either being forced to leave, being demoted or their contracts are being negated altogether.
Dr. Adams cited as example, a lawyer that he employed was forced to leave the agency.
According to the Former Director, it was the very lawyer that had taken ExxonMobil Guyana to court over an infraction and questioned if this instance had anything to do with his removal.
He in fact posited, “…these questions have to be asked, as to why you would not want to have somebody like that on our side of the fence.”
Qualifying his argument further, Dr. Adams pointed to the recent over turning of a decision by the EPA with regards the need for the undertaking of an Environmental Impact Assessment study to be done for the construction of the New Demerara River Bridge.
According to Dr. Adams, even the Ministry that will assume ownership of the bridge had appreciated the need for an EIA to be had, and this was signalled in November last, only to be overturned recently by the EPA.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Adams said “the EPA (is now) saying you don’t have to do an EIA, that is crazy, that is absurd.”
He was adamant, “an EIA is a most important document for such a project” since it’s “a totally different bridge.”
In fact, he quipped that it was “kinda funny to hear the Minister say, piling is no big deal we do that all the time.”
To this end, Dr. Adams recalled that when the EPA was constructing its headquarters, its original plan involved the driving of piles for its foundation but this had to be halted and the building redesigned as a result of the impact that the piles caused on the surrounding communities.
“I would like for the minister to go live right close by to where these piles are being driven,” Dr. Adams suggested
Citing another example of what he called “manifestations of the retrogression” is the fact that the reformation of the critical and decades old Environmental Protection Act.
To this end, Dr Adams recalled that during his 22 months at the helm of the agency, “we hired a lawyer to revise the Act.”
According to Dr. Adams however, he has since been informed “I understand it has been put on the back burner.”
He used the occasion to remind that the Act which was promulgated at a time when Guyana did not have any considerations for oil and gas, reflected in the fact, that the legislation in place does “not have a single word about oil and gas.”
According to Dr. Adams, while he has “heard government talking about better oversight; to say it is one thing but do it is another…how can you say you beefing up oversight and you’re destroying morale and cutting back on training.”
He said too, that under his auspices at the EPA, they had been working with the World Bank to train a team to establish a 24/7 presence monitoring production offshore, and not have to depend on the information provided by ExxonMobil.
This too has since been stalled.
Additionally, he noted that in the past, the EPA could have readily told the public that among its challenges was the fact it lacked the equipment to go out and do the measurements.
According to Dr. Adams, this excuse can no longer fly, since while at the EPA the agency did set about procuring the required equipment.
“Guess what they (the public) being told now,” questioned Dr. Adams who dismissed it as “insane for any member or the staff to say we don’t have equipment (but) that is what they’re being told.”
He noted too that, decisions taken by the EPA are repeatedly being overturned by politicians and that “what you hear from staff is, we gone right back” to its previous state as a “toothless tiger” that nobody respected, and that the agency was being used by persons merely as a stepping stone to another career, while others are simply holding on until something better comes along and others just “just showing up to get a pay cheque”—a situation that has reverted the agency to a dysfunctional state.
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