Tue | Jan 25, 2022

Mark Wignall | Prospecting for bauxite and Cockpit Country confusion

Published:Sunday | November 14, 2021 | 12:08 AM
The forests of the Cockpit Country
The forests of the Cockpit Country

A November 9 article in the Jamaica Observer reported that there would be no mining or any other related activity that could harm the environment in the Cockpit Country Area Proposed for Protection. That proviso was given as a follow-up to JISCO...

A November 9 article in the Jamaica Observer reported that there would be no mining or any other related activity that could harm the environment in the Cockpit Country Area Proposed for Protection.

That proviso was given as a follow-up to JISCO Alpart’s application for a licence to prospect/explore for bauxite in a specific area in northern St Elizabeth and Manchester. Maps outlined and agreed on by various stakeholders, including numerous government agencies, and compromise boundaries agreed to by some non-governmental environmental groups show that the areas under the Special Exclusive Prospecting Licence do not intersect the protected areas or encroach on Maroon lands.

That, of course, will not satisfy activists groups like the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET), which wants to have it both ways. On page 146 of a 2013 Cockpit Country Boundary Consultation Report conducted by Professor Dale Webber and Dr Claude Noel of The University of the West Indies, Mona, it shows that the JET’s ideal border was that proposed by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group. It was also seen that the JET had agreed to a compromise boundary called in the report the ad- on to the National Ecological Gap Assessment Report (NEGAR).

Let us face it. Under no circumstances would anyone find the JET agreeing to prospecting or mining 100 miles away from the Cockpit Country. As they say in Jamaica, it’s either eggs or young ones for the non-compromising JET.

On page 162 of the report, an area designated as the Core is captured by this quote from the Forestry Department: ‘We don’t want anything to be done in the Core, nobody to cut, harvest, walk in the Core.’ Among all stakeholders there seems to be just about 100 per cent support for that position.

As much as the activist environmentalists have never let up on bashing the Government for contributing to the despoilment of various parts of the natural environment, in the report, it shows that empirical research showed a significant increase in forest cover within a sector called the Ring Road. That was the result of conservation projects done by both governmental agencies and the environmentalists non-governmental entities. It showed real possibilities for the future when all hands are on board and double speak and hypocrisy are left at the door. The base date was in 2006.

DUTY OF GOVERNMENT

During the boundary consultation process, numerous town halls were held that included all of the main communities in and around the Cockpit Country. Small surveys were also carried out in an attempt to determine the demographic make-up of the residents.

As would be obvious that farming was the mainstay of those residents, with uncomfortable levels of unemployment for younger people. Among certain stakeholders in the many communities, the perennial need to see more factories in the area to ease the chronic unemployment and underemployment is cited.

The question is, in such a situation is there a space for Special Mining Leases to be granted for bauxite mining? If there is no immediate influx of thousands of tourists roaming sections of the outer boundaries of the Cockpit Country, what is there reasonably to satisfy the needs of those in the area who saw employment in the sugar industry disappear before their very eyes?

The duty of government is to visualise the many moves on the economic chess board. I believe that at some stage, many stakeholders will have to recognise that much on the socio-economic landscape has changed by the painful intrusion of COVID-19.

As I’ve said, the young people in the surrounding areas are not too interested in that which has sustained their parents for many years. Farming. The tourist industry cannot by itself mop up all of those currently idle and prone to involvement in criminal activities.

At some stage, the Government, through its mining arm, will have to make the decision after all the exploration has been concluded. There are areas on the outskirts of the Cockpit Country that are considered ideal for mining if the underground reserves are found. At that stage, the Government will have to wage another war because within the boundaries agreed on, any attempts will be fought because, well, that is what pugilists do.

The Special Mining Lease 173 that is all the talk among these pugilists is OUTSIDE of the area that has been deemed protected, but still, the pugilists are spoiling for a fight. Granted, it is much easier for them to fight imaginary windmills instead of sparing time to consider the employment possibilities and the economic spin-offs in the many areas surrounding St Elizabeth and Manchester.

DIFFICULT BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE

Shootings are refusing to dry up and blow away. Just recently, an area that is a haunt of mine was shot up, with a young man killed in the madness. There are too many idle, unemployed young men not just flirting with guns, but falling in love with them.

Three decades ago, our rural areas like those in St Elizabeth and Manchester were quiet. Kingston and sections of St Andrew and Spanish Town were where the warriors resided with their 9mm automatics, M-16s, and the favourite, the AK-47 assault rifle.

The Government cannot afford to muff a chance at bringing manufacturing entities like Noranda to new online streams in an effort to increase economic output. As I’ve said before, during this COVID-19 pandemic, most governments across the globe have had to do a rethink on their economic models.

In a perfect world, eco tourists would be lining up to explore the outer boundaries of the Cockpit Country, World Heritage site or not. We see no sign of that happening, so it will fall to the Government to make decisions that many of those in the armchair-resting-business and double speak will never be called on to make.

Facilitate employment among the youth and save whole communities from the gun and its pain.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.