Twenty-four representatives of various Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have agreed that Saint Lucia should sign on to the Latin American and Caribbean Declaration on the Application of Principle 10 (LAC P10). This consensus was made at an “Access Rights Consultation” organized by the Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT) on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, Marisule. The objectives of the meeting were to raise the level of awareness about Access Rights and the LAC P10 process; ascertain the views of CSOs on whether it would be beneficial for Saint Lucia to sign on to LAC P10; and create a strategy to strengthen our collective advocacy on the issue. The meeting was held under the theme “You have the right to information, participation and justice regarding environmental matters”.
In his opening remarks, the Minister with responsibility for Public Service, Information, Broadcasting, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, the Honourable Senator, Dr. James Fletcher applauded the Trust for the initiative. He highlighted a few of the initiatives his government is currently undertaking which are geared at improving access rights. For example, he informed the gathering that the Draft Freedom of Information Bill will be presented to the Director of Legislative Drafting, then on to his Cabinet colleagues before final presentation to the House of Parliament in the next couple of months, and mention was made of the Data Protection Act that was recently passed. Dr. Fletcher also noted that he is part of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) which is the highest level of governance of international environmental affairs in the UN system. He stated that one of UNEA’s challenges is to devise or agree upon a strategy to engage stakeholders and accordingly he declared his intention to encourage the group at its next meeting in Nairobi to consider the LAC P10 process which already promotes public participation. Furthermore, he gave his assurance that Saint Lucia will sign on to the Declaration eventually, but pointed out that mechanisms must be put in place to improve accurate collection and storage of empirical data regarding the social sector and environmental matters.
Following the Minister’s remarks, the Communications and Advocacy Officer at the SLNT, Karetta Crooks Charles delivered a presentation on the background of the LAC P10 process and its potential benefits to Saint Lucia and all other LAC member states. According to Mrs. Crooks Charles, although Saint Lucia still has a far way to go regarding improving basic access rights issues, it would be prudent for the country to sign onto the declaration whilst it is still being negotiated.
This, she says, will ensure that its specificities are taken into account considering that although many LAC countries have similar environmental challenges, they are at different stages on the development curve. She also pointed out that participants have a responsibility to relay the information to their respective organizations and encouraged them to contact the Trust if assistance is required in disseminating more information to their wider groups. This, she said, was important if Saint Lucia is serious about improving how environmental matters are dealt with and to enhance CSOs and the layman’s active involvement in the decision making processes. To date there are 19 signatories to the Latin American and Caribbean Declaration on the Application of Principle 10; only 4 are Caribbean countries. The Declaration is a political commitment made by Governments in the region to work to change the current state of decision making processes by ensuring that all people in the region have a say in the environmental decisions that directly impact them. The process seeks to improve access to information, public participation and access to justice regarding environmental matters. The LAC P10 Declaration is one of the major outcomes of the United Nations Conference of Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012.
Subsequently, there was a panel discussion on “The Role of Information, Participation and Justice in Sustainable Development”. Mr. Crispin d’Auvergne, Chief Sustainable Development and Environment Officer in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology and Vice Chairman of the SLNT addressed the first pillar of “Access to Environmental Information”; whilst SLNT Director, Mr. Bishnu Tulsie spoke to the second pillar: “Access to Public Participation” and Mrs. Sardia Cenac-Prospere, Attorney-at-law at Floissac Fleming and Associates and former SLNT Councilor presented on the third pillar of “Access to Justice”. These presentations were useful in providing more details into Saint Lucia’s current status as it relates to access rights and where the country should aspire to be in order to reduce environmental degradation and achieve sustainable development.
Albeit a half day meeting, many profound issues were raised and participants were given the opportunity to deliberate on a few questions in smaller groups and subsequently share their findings with the wider gathering.
Based on the participants’ feedback the presentations were useful and they unanimously agreed that Saint Lucia should sign on to the LAC P10 process. According to one participant, “History has demonstrated a collection of errors and signing on to the LAC P10 collectively gives strength to our country and civil society on ever changing environmental and development changes”. The group also agreed that the involvement of the media is key in advocating on the issues; specific programmes geared at the students/youth, such as animations should be formulated; and participants agreed that their respective organizations could advance the access rights thrust by engaging in advocacy and activism at the community/grass roots level.