May 07, 2023 News
…urges President to restore integrity of Board
Kaieteur News – The Government of Guyana has placed itself and the public at unnecessary risk by turning a blind eye to the conflict of issue matter brought to its attention, regarding the constitution of the members appointed to the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB).
On February 10, 2023 via the Official Gazette, government published a Cabinet decision to appoint Dr. Mahendar Sharma as Chairman of the EAB and Dr. Garvin Cummings and Mr. Joslyn McKenzie as members of the Board.
The Government Notice revealed that Cabinet approved the appointment of the EAB members for a period of one year, with effect from January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023.
This Board is a mandatory body, required by the Environmental Protection Act in Section 18. It tasks the members of this board with the responsibility of conducting hearings into all appeals made by the public, regarding Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). It also says the Board may recommend whether an EIA should be rejected, amended, or accepted, whether a Permit should be issued by the Agency and what terms and conditions should be included in the Permit.
In summary, this Board plays a critical role in approving projects that may impact the environment. Government projects are also subjected to the scrutiny of this process.
Environment and Democracy Advocate Simone Mangal-Joly in a letter to President Irfaan Ali published in today’s edition of the newspaper reminded that Chairman of the Board, Dr. Mahendar Sharma functions as a Director of the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL), which is inextricably involved in the Power Plant application and also heads the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), a state entity responsible for promoting and developing efficient management of energy. In addition, he is the spouse of Marcia Nadir-Sharma, one of the directors of Guyana Power and Gas Inc., the applicant for the Environmental Permit to construct the power plant.
Likewise, Mangal-Joly outlined that a member of the EAB, Mr. Joslyn McKenzie is also Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and has therefore been critically involved in the development of the Gas-to-Energy (GTE) project, of which the power plant is a component.
For instance, the Ministry’s “Request for Expressions of Interest (EoI) – Gas Related Investments” dated January 10, 2021 and the Ministry’s “Request for Proposal (RFP) for Consultancy Services for the Supervision of the Guyana Integrated NGL Plant and 300 MW CCGT Power Plant” issued July 2, 2022.
Mangal-Joly told President Ali that even though the conflict of interest issues were brought to his attention – in violation of the the Environmental Protection Act Cap. 20:00 1996 (The EP Act), Third Schedule, Section 8 – these were seemingly overlooked or ignored. As such, the advocate believes that the nation is exposed.
She explained that these individuals continue to serve without addressing the concerns, as the Chairman reported to Kaieteur News in a Thursday article that the Board has not yet reached a decision on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) waiver for the gas project. Mangal-Joly however argued, “Dr. Sharma and Mr. Mckenzie’s official duties conflict with their duties as members of the EAB, they cannot act in the best interest of all concerned entities.”
In highlighting the gravity of the situation, the advocate told President Ali that the matter can have detrimental effects on the credibility and effectiveness of his government’s management of both environmental matters and development projects.
“The Environmental Assessment Board, as you are aware, plays a crucial role in upholding the principles of transparency, impartiality, and objectivity in reviewing and adjudicating appeals against decisions made by the EPA. It is disheartening to witness that the board’s integrity is being compromised due to the persistent presence of members with unresolved conflicts of interest,” she said.
The advocate continued, “During the March 22, 2023, Public Hearing called by the EAB on objections to the waiver of an EIA for the Power Plant, Dr. Sharma and Mr. McKenzie displayed a regrettable lack of ethical responsibility. Despite being directly implicated in conflicts of interest, they shamelessly participated in the proceedings, refusing to acknowledge or recuse themselves from the case.”
To this end, Mangal-Joly urged President Ali that “these individuals cannot be entrusted with any role that requires unbiased judgment, as their actions have demonstrated a blatant disregard for ethical standards and an alarming willingness to prioritize personal interests over public welfare.”
In fact, she said that their behaviour not only undermines the principles of justice and fairness but demonstrates that the EAB is incapable of functioning independently and making impartial decisions. As such, the advocate argued that no decision taken in which any member of the EAB’s quorum has a conflict of interest will be lawful.
Mangal-Joly alerted the Head of State that the ongoing situation not only casts a shadow on the entire EAB but also raises doubts about his government. “It also raises doubts about your government’s trustworthiness and ability to discharge your duties on behalf of the people of Guyana with the necessary impartiality and integrity required by the EP Act and elementary standards of good governance.”
“By turning a blind eye to the conflicts, the government inadvertently condones the erosion of public trust in its institutions, thereby undermining its own credibility and the effectiveness of both its environmental policies and development programmes. The government is unnecessarily placing itself, the public, and investment partners at risk,” she signalled.
To this end, Mangal-Joly urged the President to rectify the situation and restore the integrity of EAB.
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