Strength­en­ing our Ad­vo­cacy on Ac­cess Rights

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

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/

Min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for Public

Ser­vice, In­for­ma­tion, Broad­cast­ing, Sus­tain­able

Devel­op­ment, En­ergy, Science and Tech­nol­ogy, the Hon­ourable Se­na­tor,

Dr. James Fletcher.

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