The National Protected Areas System Bill 2015 , the first Protected Areas bill introduced in the house on Friday June 26was to bring the laws governing the protected areas system in accordance with international law. The Second was an amendment bill to the National Protected Areas Conservation Trust which was to, quote, “provide for a new definition of protected area and a new composition of the Board of Directors.” This is one of the main concerns the NGO’s have with the bill. We spoke to the Executive Director of Program for Belize
Presently it’s five NGOs on the board and five government representatives plus a finance expert and the executive director as an unofficial member. That composition has limited PACT from attracting funds like the Dept for Nature swap. They did not putr it to PACT, instead they put it to a private foundation… it is because of the composition of the PACT board. Now this amendment is changing that composition from five NGOs to three NGOs. In our view, it is going backwards in the other direction. In our view it needs to be improved so that PACT can attract more funding, PACT can provide itself as a credible entity that attracts funding for protected areas. The mandate for the registration and administration of protected areas, that should be left under the National Protected Areas System Act. That is being done. Now particularly in that system, it only calls for an advisory council. That advisory council will be made up of representatives from government and one conservation NGO. Regardless of the composition, it is an entity that would just be up in the air because it does not have a staff. Something that will provide the information it needs to manage and guide protected areas forward. It will be separate under PACT the way they have it. So that is not good.”
Some NGO’s, in particular program for Belize, say the bill needs to be more stringent as it relates to the revocation of protected areas.
“The revocation, as they call it in the Act, is basically put the minister …., can do revocation of protected areas. they have to do consultation. Our recommendation is that that is not enough. If we see how consultation happened in Belize that you can bus a number of people from anywhere and you can increase your numbers, you can decide where the decision goes based on the number of people. It could be based on the more people you bring into a consultation and that’s not good. The people who have genuine interest and could be impacted may not appear because of the large groups you can be able to bring in a consultation. Our recommendation is just like when you do a reservation, you have to do an internal holistic assessment. you have to provide scientific justification, economic justification.. everything in place that justifices the preservation of that site. The same thing should be done with the de-reservation of protected areas. It should not be just consultation. It should have a scientific basis .. an integral assesment.”
In line with the topic of revocation of protected areas is the issuing of land titles inside National protected areas. This is one of the major issues that has been ongoing for time immemorial, according to Executive Director of Program for Belize, and an issue that the bill should have addressed but it really doesn’t.
” We know that during the last PUP administration, there was 500 parcels of land issued in protected areas…. terrestrial protected areas and marine protected areas. This proposed bill does not say anything about addressing that. We know that now, there is more than that 500. Obviously the problem has not been resolved. There is syill land being issued in protected areas. The problem is we don’t have that data that speaks to the volume of the management or protected areas and the coordination with the ministry of lands. The Ministry of Natural Resources have authority over the lands so in our view it is an area that conflicts with the Protected Area’s Bill that is being presented, it is not being addressed and in our view it should be addressed. They should put something in there that basically if you get land within protected areas, it should be null and void. So it gives the onus is on who is purchasing or getting land to do their research and it gives the onus to the land’s authority to also do their research to ensure that any lands issued is not within protected. areas. The way it is right now, it is almost impossible to do that so it has to be addressed on this bill or another bill.”
But again that is just the view of some of the NGO’s which the Minister for Forestry Fisheries and Sustainable development said have less institutional Knowledge on the matter than she does. Edilberto Romero says that is just an opinion.
“Again, I think that is just an opinion. I don’t think she has anything to back up that statement in my view. If you look at the history of protected areas in Belize, Belize Audubon Society has been involved in protected areas management since 1969. She hasn’t been into protected areas since then. She cannot say she has more knowledge than anybody else. There is a lot of people that have been involved in the Protected Areas Conservation Trust from the inception of PACT. On the National Practice System Act from its establishment, some of the people are up here presenting to subcommittee. So I think she did not just consider what actually is. It is just an opinion from her.”
Belize Tourism Industry Association along with other groups also made presentations at today’s public hearing.