Stabroek News

Civil society activists urge deferral of gas-to-shore project hearings

– call for establishm­ent of tribunal


A group of civil society activists are calling for the postponeme­nt of the public hearings on the Wales gas to shore project, citing among other reasons, that having Head of the Guyana Energy Agency Dr Mahender Sharma on the Environmen­tal Protection Agency’s Environmen­tal Assessment Board (EAB) was a conflict of interest.

If he recused himself from the hearings, the group charged, because of the government’s recent appointmen­t of only three persons to a board that required five, only two members would remain, resulting in there not being a quorum. They therefore called for the EAB Tribunal, as stipulated under the laws of this country, to be activated.

However, Sharma said that he saw no conflict and would execute his duties impartiall­y and in the best interest of the Guyanese people and environmen­t.

“We have called on the Environmen­tal Assessment Board (EAB) by letter dated March 16 to postpone its Public Hearing scheduled for March 22 on the 300 MW Gas-Fired Power Plant to be located at Wales, West Demerara,” a letter signed by Vanda

Razik, Elizabeth DeanHughes and other appellants stated.

The Official Gazette of February 10, 2023 informed that Cabinet had approved the appointmen­t of Sharma (chair) and members Dr Garvin Cummings and Joslyn McKenzie to the EAB on the 5th January 2023 but with effect from January 1st 2023. Dr Cummings is the Chief Hydrometeo­rological Officer McKenzie is the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The activists noted that the EPA had waived the requiremen­t for an EIA for the gas to shore project and that some citizens had formally submitted written appeals to the EAB, and along with other stakeholde­rs, expected to make oral presentati­ons at a hearing. In early January, the EPA had notified the public that the government’s planned 300 MW natural gas power plant would not require an impact study.

The decision came months after 54 citizens had written to Executive Director of the EPA Kemraj Parsram; Chairperso­n of the EPA Board of Directors Omkar Lochan; then EAB chair Pradeepa

Bholanath and members Cummings and McKenzie, pleading that the EPA and EAB stop waiving impact studies for oil and gas facilities.


Yesterday, the group underscore­d that it was “now publicly calling for this postponeme­nt for a number of reasons: 1. Under Article 8.1 of the Environmen­tal Protection Act (EP Act), the newly appointed Chair of EAB, Mr Mahender Sharma, has a direct conflict of interest in this project since he is a longstandi­ng Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL) board member – and it is on the GPL letterhead that the applicatio­n with project summary was submitted to the EPA for an environmen­tal permit to construct and operate the Wales Gas Plant. Does this mean that the Chair of the EAB will preside over a matter of which he is also the applicant?

“Further, Ms Maria Nadir Sharma, the wife of Mr Mahender Sharma, is a prominent member of the company board which was specifical­ly establishe­d in relation to the developmen­t of the Gas to Energy project. This situation of both the EAB Chair and his wife holding Board positions on both companies’ presents, in our opinion, clear conflict of interest. This situation is compounded by the fact that there are only three persons appointed to the EAB – all of whom are senior level public servants and employees of the government. Provision is made in the EP Act for up to 5 EAB members – but there are only these 3. The EAB, as it stands, needs to put its own house in order. To be genuinely independen­t, the EAB must have representa­tion on it from profession­al and upstanding members from the nongovernm­ental sector who are qualified environmen­tal profession­als.”


Sharma told the Stabroek News that he will be profession­al and impartial and all decisions the EAB takes will be in accordance with the laws.

“The EAB is currently made up of three members. All decisions of the EAB will be based on the facts in a fair, unbiased manner after a hearing of the parties. All appeals will be carefully reviewed and the statutory responsibi­lities of the EAB will be discharged

in accordance with the EPA Act without fear or favour,” Sharma said.

“Following appeals against a decision of the Environmen­tal Protection Agency to exempt the constructi­on and Operation of [a] 300 MW Gas-fired Power Plant for an Environmen­tal Impact Assessment (EIA) under Sec.11 (2) (a) of the Act, the EAB has decided to conduct a public hearing under Sec.18 (2) of the Act, to hear the views of the appellants, developer and other key stakeholde­rs. I wish to assure that I will continue to conduct myself in a profession­al manner, as I have always done, in any portfolio I undertake,” he added.

The activists pointed out that they have requested a number of documents and other informatio­n, which they consider essential to the case, but have not yet received them. “These include: the methodolog­y for assessing the cumulative impacts of the project, inclusive of the gas plant, the NGL facility and the gas pipeline; the rules of engagement for the conduct of EAB hearings; the mechanism for the recording of EAB hearings and access of such by the public – since EAB hearings

are public hearings. It is not feasible that up to the week in which the hearing is scheduled to take place that the EAB and EPA are unable to furnish us with these standard documents governing procedures and informatio­n mechanisms. The EAB’s response as to its rules of engagement was to say that it was still developing these,” the letter highlighte­d.

It also noted that the combined Gas to Energy/Gas to Shore project was the most expensive infrastruc­tural project to date in Guyana. The Wales gas plant alone is estimated at US$3 million and the project will span the entire Demerara-Berbice Interconne­cted system, which is where the largest proportion of Guyana’s population lives.

“In view of these facts from the GPL’s project summary, it is unacceptab­le that the EAB declined our request for Zoom. A second letter was sent pointing out the necessity for Zoom facility, in order to maximise stakeholde­r participat­ion in the public hearing - given the geographic scope and widespread stakeholde­r interest. It was pointed out that it is not fair to disadvanta­ge citizens and key stakeholde­rs from participat­ing in the hearing because they do not live in Georgetown,” the activists’ letter stated. “We further point out that there is precedent for EAB hearings where Zoom was made available (eg the Coverden hearing held in July 2022); and that it is now the norm for national and internatio­nal stakeholde­r meetings to be blended with physical and virtual participat­ion.”

It added, “We have checked with Cara

Lodge, the venue for the Hearing and Zoom facility is most certainly available there. It is also improper for the EAB to refuse to accommodat­e our own technical and legal advisors, whom EAB asked us to contact and invite, but who are unavoidabl­y out of the jurisdicti­on at present. Of particular note is a gender discrimina­tion issue: The fact is that grassroots and community-based women who have publicly raised their voices and expressed concerns about the project and who expect to make oral submission­s at the hearing might now be denied the opportunit­y by the EAB to join by Zoom. They feel discrimina­ted against because of the realities of their childcare and family care responsibi­lities and their scattered community locations that are outside of the city and region.

“The EAB is simply not in good enough order currently to preside fairly and independen­tly over the hearing on March 22nd. We call on the EAB to postpone the hearing. We call on the Chair to disclose his conflict of interest and to recuse himself or resign. We call on the President and relevant government authoritie­s to establish an EAB that is not dominated by government­al employees and which includes equitable non-government­al and civil society members of high standing. All EAB appointees must be vetted with strict due diligence applied prior to being appointed and an independen­t committee should preside over their selection, review and approvals.”


“We call for the establishm­ent of the Tribunal as outlined in the EP Act. This body is required under the law and, does not, to date, exist. This breach of the Act needs to be addressed expeditiou­sly so that there is recourse to this Tribunal by Guyanese citizens as prescribed by law. All citizens of Guyana have the right to participat­ion in decision-making in all sectors of the state according to Article 13 of the Constituti­on. We stand firmly for compliance, transparen­cy and accountabi­lity with the Rule of Law in our country,” the letter stated.

According to Section 51(1) of the EPA Act, “A Tribunal to be known as the Environmen­tal Appeals Tribunal is hereby establishe­d for the purpose of exercising the jurisdicti­on conferred upon it by this Act or by any other written law. 51 (2) The Tribunal shall consist of a Chairman and such other members, including a Vicechairm­an, as may be appointed under section 52. (3) The Tribunal shall be a superior court of record and have an official seal which shall be judicially noticed, and shall have in addition to the jurisdicti­on and powers conferred on it by this Act all the powers inherent in such a court. (4) The Tribunal shall have the power to enforce its own orders and judgement, and the same power to punish contempt as the High Court of Justice.

“The Tribunal shall have jurisdicti­on to hear and determine appeals:- (a) from the refusal of the grant of a constructi­on or operation permit under section 21 or a prescribed process licence under section 22; (b) against the conditions attached to any constructi­on or operation permit or prescribed process licence; (c) against the revocation or variation of a constructi­on or operation permit or prescribed process licence; (d) against an enforcemen­t notice or a prohibitio­n notice; (e) against the refusal of an environmen­tal permit under section 13; (f) against the requiremen­t of an environmen­t permit; (g) against the refusal of an environmen­tal authorisat­ion or the cancellati­on or suspension thereof; (h) in respect of such other matters as may be prescribed by the Minister or arise under this Act or any other written law where jurisdicti­on in the Tribunal is specifical­ly provided.”

A Registrar of the Tribunal and such other officials, clerks and employees as may be required shall be appointed by the Minister, the Act says.

 ?? ?? Dr Mahender Sharma
Dr Mahender Sharma
 ?? ?? Vanda Razik
Vanda Razik

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