Latest update March 27th, 2023 12:59 AM
Mar 18, 2023 News
…as triple conflict of interest brews
Kaieteur News – Civil society member, Danuta Radzik has written to the newly appointed Chairman of the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB), Dr. Mahendar Sharma, asking that he vacates his post due to a triple conflict of interest.
In a letter to Dr. Sharma that was shared with this publication on Friday, Radzik pointed out that she is concerned over his role as Head of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), Director of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Inc. – a party to the application made for the 300 megawatt gas-fired power plant- and spouse of Mrs. Nadir Sharma, Director of the Guyana Power and Gas Incorporated, the agency that has applied for an environmental permit.
Radzik identified herself as an appellant of the decision made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to waive and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the construction and operation of the power plant.
All appeals made by citizens regarding this project will be heard by the EAB on March 22, 2023. Given Dr. Sharma’s role, coupled with the fact that the other two members of the Board are also employed by the state, one advocate for good governance in the petroleum sector, Simone Mangal-Joly had requested President Irfaan Ali to reconsider the appointees.
Dr. Garvin Cummings and Mr. Joslyn McKenzie were appointed members of the Board. According to the Official Gazette dated February 18, 2023 Cabinet approved the appointment of the EAB members for a period of one year, with effect from January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023.
It is apposite to note that Dr. Sharma heads the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), while McKenzie functions as the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources. Finally, Dr. Cummings is the Chief Hydrometeorological Officer (CHO).
To this end, Radzik said she lacks confidence in the presently constituted EAB’s ability to hold a fair hearing due to conflicts of interests of EAB Board members and their public duties as government employees.
In her missive to Dr. Sharma, Radzik explained, “I am also deeply concerned that you did not refuse the appointment as Chair of the EAB on February 10, 2023, when it was publicly known that an appeal against the EIA waiver for the power plant was before the EAB and as Chair you would be heading this appeals process.”
She therefore said, “I am calling on you to act ethically to step down and to postpone the power plant hearing until a credible EAB is in place.”
Prejudicial EAB hearing
The civil society activist also shared her concerns with the EAB Chairman over what she described as the prejudicial manner in which the Board has embarked on the power plant hearing.
She said that in refusing to allow the use of the Zoom platform for the hearings, the body has reversed a good practice that allows Guyanese across the country to participate.
“Your disallowing of Zoom is prejudiced against ordinary citizens, poor communities and working peoples who may not be able to travel to participate. Unlike private companies and the Government, neither appellants nor community persons affected by projects can reasonably afford to fly experts to Guyana to participate in hearings. It is also prejudiced against the Guyanese Diaspora who have relevant skills and expertise and a legitimate stake in the matters that come before the EAB,” Radzik pointed out.
Additionally, she said that the lack of transparency surrounding the procedures that will be followed during the hearing is glaring. The activist told Dr. Sharma that appellants need to be able to prepare adequately for the hearing, which requires a clear understanding of the agenda, time allotments, and procedures that will be followed. As such, she noted that with only two working days left before the hearing, the EAB has failed to provide any clear guidelines or procedures, which makes it difficult to adequately prepare.
Radzik also pointed out her concern that the EPA is reportedly relying on documents for its decisions but has refused to share these with appellants.
“Specifically access to the googlelink attachment containing the project timeline, which was supplied by Guyana Power and Light in the legally required Project Summary has not been made available. This lack of transparency and accountability is deeply concerning and raises serious questions about the fairness and transparency of the decision-making process,” the activist explained.
She was keen to note too that the only publicly available document the EPA has referred to in its Public Notice of the waiver of the EIA for the power plant is the EIA conducted by ExxonMobil for the pipeline and Natural Gas Liquids facility aspect of the Gas-to-Energy project.
Radzik reasoned, “You must be aware that the EPA can only rely on material at the hearing that was available at the time that it made the decision to waive the EIA for the power plant. You should also be aware that appellants are entitled to a copy of this material.”
The activist said she participated in the hearing of the waiver of the EIA for the new Demerara River Bridge where it was evident that the EAB allowed the EPA to present material on stakeholder engagement which the agency failed to prove existed before it made the decision to waive the EIA for the bridge, despite requests to the EAB which was grossly unfair.
“I believe that appellants are entitled to all and any material that the EPA will be relying on at the hearing to support its decision, and that these in fact ought to have been properly referenced in the legal public notice,” she pointed out.
Radzik said considering these concerns, “I respectfully request that you step down and resign your post at the EAB due to conflict of interest and put my request on record for the new EAB to take immediate action to address the issues raised to ensure that the appeals hearing is conducted in a fair, transparent, and unbiased manner.”
She clarified that EAB should provide clear guidelines and procedures for the hearing, allow for the use of the Zoom platform, and provide all relevant materials which the EPA will be referring to in a timely manner in advance of the hearing.
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