Minister in charge Sustainable Development addresses current co-management system

Co-management, as it is known in Belize, is the framework the country has in order to effectively manage most of its 94 protected areas. The history of Belize’s co-management agreement takes us back a couple of years, when the Belize Audobon Society approached government and requested that they become involved in the management of protected areas – namely the Red Footed Boobie Birds in Half Moon Caye. Since then, a number of other NGOs have joined on to the system. But all seemed to be going well, that is until 2008, when SATIIM– theSarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, took the Government to court in regards to seismic testing within the Sarstoon Temash National Park. Government argued that SATIIM’s objection had no legal standing, as they were only caretakers of the national park. The co-management agreement had no legislation and was in actuality just a gentleman’s agreement. This opened the door however, for a revised regulation of the protected areas system. The Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations – APAMO, through the service of an attorney, drafted a co-management framework that would better standardize the co-management agreement and give it legal standings. Fast forward some four years later and after much negotiation, a final draft of the agreement made its way into the Cabinet. That document has since been vetted and written off as final. Now you’d think that all would be well with the NGOs who have interest in co-managing protected areas, but not so. While other organizations have signed on to the contract, SATIIM is one of the latter that is presently excluded from the system. For the past few days, representatives from SATIIM have been on the media voicing their outrage not only with the terms of the contract, but that government has eliminated them from the system. Well today, Minister in charge of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Lisel Alamilla hosted a press conference to clear the air. She says that while GOB has been in communication with SATIIM since October of 2012, they got the impression that the organization was did not want to sign on to the agreement. The Minister continued with a letter sent to SATTIM in June of last year.

Hon. Lisel Alamilla – Minister of Forestry and Fisheries:
vlcsnap-2013-07-26-08h16m35s84We sent a letter to SATIM on June 5th, again highlighting that we need to standardize this. He responded on June 9th and stated in his letter ‘SATIM would be committed to signing the co-management agreement on June 28th, 2013’. It says ‘SATIM requests your consideration to the date stated above to sign the co-management agreement, as it would be impossible to sign before the 28th of June, because of the ongoing organizational reform which included re-organizing programmes and strengthening internal financial controls and procedures. We are certain that we will conclude this important exercise on June 26th.’ This is what SATIIM wrote to us. Then we wrote back finally, and this is vlcsnap-2013-07-26-08h20m24s20the letter that I think Greg has been referring to, dated 17th of July, that basically says ‘You clearly have no intention of signing this.’  Because in addition to these letters, we have also had personal communications, telephone conversations, with the various managers. SATIM has never come seriously forward. I think they’ve been playing games, and just been dragging this along, to say they’re going to sign, they’re going to sign.  I don’t believe that they have any intentions of signing this.

 

Minister Alamilla went to on to say that while they are puzzled by SATIIM’s response, the organization is still welcomed to join the new system.

 

Hon. Lisel Alamilla – Minister of Forestry and Fisheries:
I mean, that is the obvious thing that they should have been ready, one of the first ones that should have jumped up to sign on, because there was resistance in the past to enter into a co-management agreement SATIIM because of all the legal wrangling that have been happening.  Under my tenure at no point did I ever indicate that my Ministry was not interested in entering into a co-management agreement with SATIIM.  In fact if SATIIM was interested in entering into a co-management agreement with us at this point, they would only need to indicate that.  Nothing is banning them from saying ‘I wantb to sign on to this.’  They could still come back and say that they want to enter into co-management agreement with the Government of Belize.

 

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of why SATIIM, who has been joined by members of APAMO are contesting the agreement. Firstly, GOB has lessened the contract’s time span to five years. But according to Hon. Alamilla, the government’s intention is not to change the agreements every five years. She explains.

 

Hon. Lisel Alamilla – Minister of Forestry and Fisheries:
I don’t foresee that we would just go around cancelling co-management agreements, and every five years changing that agreement.  Audubon has been doing this for many years and we have never terminated an agreement with them.  Friends for Conservation and Development has been doing this and they have been exposing a lot of what has been happening and a lot of it is controversial and at no point have we said that we are going to terminate a co-management agreement with you.  We have not done that with any organization but we as the government, has a responsibility to have the checks and balances. There are some organizations that can become defunct; what happens then?  We would have to step in.  What if an organization is not performing its duties?  We would have to go in there on a very logical basis and determine that they are not doing their work, but if they are doing their work, why would we even contemplate not renewing or terminating that co-management agreement?  That is ludicrous, really.

 

The document also gives way for third parties to enter a particular protected area, already being co-managed. The Minister was questioned on this as well.

 

Hon. Lisel Alamilla – Minister of Forestry and Fisheries:
Government is saying if we want to grant concessions in the area, we will entertain concessions in the area, but they have to fall under the management plan, and what is allowable legally.  [The co-managers] will be consulted. 

 

While she was quite candid in her remarks, Minister Alamilla did shy away from one matter – that is GOB’s decision to grant US Capital Energy Concession to conduct oil drilling in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, saying it’s not a subject she wants to get into at this time. As we told you yesterday, SATIIM has filed an injunction to stop drilling in the area. And when all’s said and done, the agreement is final says the Minister. She emphasized that while there has been some legalizing of the co-management agreement, it does not allow for the complete running of protected areas, as they are still government owned.

 

Hon. Lisel Alamilla – Minister of Forestry and Fisheries:
Remember that at the end of the day these protected areas are the responsibility of the Government of Belize.  This framework is just a mechanism that we use to manage these protected areas.  At the end of the day who you hold accountable is the Government of Belize.  This is a special situation and I think we have to bring this forward to PACT and to the Government and to Cabinet, to say we need extra funding to have a presence.

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