By Sue-Ann Wayow
THE public can now access sufficient information from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) following a High Court battle.
On Monday, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) issued a statement to celebrate their victory against the EMA.
Last Thursday, the Court refuted the claim submitted by the EMA that access to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) are restricted due to third party copyright.
The public, non-governmental organisations and other entities can now acquire full copies of EIAs.
Access to full copies of EIAs was critical for effective, meaningful public participation and was important for independent scientists to assist in making representations to the EMA with intent on protecting vulnerable voiceless communities as well as preserving the environment for future generations, the FFOS stated.
FFOS stated, “FFOS has for well over 20 years obtained full copies of EIAs from the EMA until 2018 when the EMA changed their policy rendering FFOS unable to copy more than 10% of an EIA which is often thousands of pages in length. FFOS sought to resolve the matter without resorting to costly litigation, but the EMA remained obstinate in their position forcing the Court to deliberate on this matter. FFOS nevertheless proceeded based on our firm belief that there is an unfettered right to access the documents found in the EMA’s Information Centre.”
According to the FFOS, the Court ruled that the 10% limit on an EIA imposed by the EMA was unreasonable, irrational and improper, the EMA could not prohibit access to full copies of EIAs to the public, the EMA’s current policies and procedures on access to EIAs were not lawful and were not consistent with international best practice and although an EIA may be a copyrighted document, since it forms part of the National Register and is prepared as per the CEC Rules (2001), full copies should be made available.
FFOS’ Corporate Secretary Gary Aboud said, “Whilst FFOS have secured victory against suppression of information we note with sadness the entrenched position of the EMA which made lofty claims to third party copyright that had not even been made by any such third party in this claim. The EMA is the State entity responsible for acting to protect the environment and its voiceless communities, and as such should not work or adopt positions against the public in our beloved Trinidad and Tobago, where the latter is the taxpayer and thus its paymaster.”
He added, “Where the EMA does so act, it undermines the important role of the State in protecting the environment and its voiceless communities and contradicts the very purpose of its existence and fails the public. This case should not have been necessary and FFOS should not have had to fight so hard for freedom to access information that is so obviously for public benefit.”
And FFOS thanked their legal team lead by Anand Beharrylal QC, Alvin Pariagsingh, Ganesh Saroop and volunteers.
“This victory counters the global movement to restrict public access to environmental information and EIAs and will influence commonwealth Caribbean jurisprudence,” Aboud added.