Environmental issues are we all working to protect the environment in Vanuatu?
With the recent selection for one of ALAC’s Legal officers to attend a symposium centred around environment issues, we now ask “how well Vanuatu has done in the past two years”?
Given recent events that have come to the notice of Transparency Vanuatu, and which has been highlighted in both local newspapers or brought vocally to the attention of local residents, our environment track record is not that good.
How well are we protecting ALL the islands in Vanuatu?
Environment issues cover a wide range of the spectrum – climate change, forestry, coastal and marine areas, indigenous and human rights, biodiversity conservation, mining, pollution and contamination issues.
From a project undertaken for Transparency International by the Environment Science and Policy Workshop at the Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs in 2006 they identified trends that characterized corruption with environmental issues, highlighting these areas:
• Environmental corruption is especially prevalent in countries where there is low economic development.
• Corruption is prevalent across a wide spectrum of political systems, yet it is most severe in countries with weak democracies
• Weaknesses in governance structures inhibit good governance and facilitate corruption in the environmental field.
• Monopolies, whether state controlled or controlled by a corporation, create opportunity for corruption within the economic sectors in the environmental field.
• The export partners of corrupt countries often exacerbate illegal activities which degrade the environment by providing the demand for natural resources.
• Countries that depend on the exploitation of their natural resources experience high levels of corruption, and hence poor environmental governance.
• The institutions and governments which provide economic assistance to developing nations, whether in the form of foreign direct investment or foreign aid, have the ability to influence behavior.
These trends above led to the following recommendations that Transparency International could consider to adopt as part of a future campaign against environmental corruption:
• Prioritize environmental initiatives that are preventative rather than reactive.
• Establish collaboration with organizations in the conservation sector.
• Expand TI’s existing information network to include accessible information on issues of corruption and environmental degradation.
• Expand “education”, TI’s seventh global priority, to encompass the environment.
These trends are very relevant to the issues currently being a focus of environmental issues in Vanuatu. Over the past two years, Transparency Vanuatu has been swamped with environmental issues: some covered -
(a) Residential Subdivision in Fres Wota South 2 where the residents who purchased their leasehold land sites only to find a Church, residence and additional buildings being planned on what was originally allocated as green space
(b) Residential Subdivision in Tagabe which had a change of lease from residential to commercial and what was originally a small batching plant is now a fully blown commercial concrete operation.
(c) Commercial Fishing development at Blacksands which has been allowed to progress down all building criteria without an EIA yet the building commenced without meeting valid requirements.
(d) Second Lagoon developments have seen indiscriminate developers block off waterways, killing plant life and destroying what was once a living lagoon.
(e) Incinerator Plant was quickly quashed by the voice of the public of Port Vila.
(f) Oil Slicks and Harbour spillages - these will be ongoing issues should correct procedures not be adopted to lessen oil spills as the boating traffic increases.
(g) ..plus many others
So using some of the information taken from our files and utilizing the information we have gained from Transparency International report of 2006 how can we progress to make our Environment Department in Vanuatu stronger so they can enforce the laws they are being provided with under new legislation.
If we focus on the effects of corruption on the environment, in the survey undertaken by the University of Columbia they state :…the discussion of corruption has been broadened to include real social costs that are very easily disregarded by economic planners. It gives a stronger bond for conservationists and anti-corruption campaigners to work together to show how the environment has become a silent victim of corruption”
What we need is Environment Governance and a model from which we can work in Vanuatu which will take into account specific economic, political and social factors as well as our geographical location and natural resources.
As stated in the Columbia University report to Transparency International:
“Corruption pervades the environmental sphere for two main reasons
1. Government officials may control access to valuable natural resources and can sell this access and
2. Environmental issues are often given lower priority in the public policy arena, such that environmental management, conservation, and enforcement institutions receive insufficient funding, which creates opportunities for illegal activities.
Corruption in the environmental field can occur at all levels of government and, like in other areas, can take many forms.
Environmental issues are we all working to protect the environment in Vanuatu?
Examples of corruption include the use of bribes, gifts, influence peddling, favoritisms, nepotism, kickbacks, and embezzlement.
At the highest level, corruption is a form of state capture, whereby the laws and policies themselves reflect special interests or are designed to facilitate private gain via illegal and non-transparent activities; in this sense the corruption is not necessarily illegal, but it fits the definition of a misuse of entrusted power.
Corruption also occurs when government officials have high levels of discretion combined with a lack of transparency and accountability, disproportionate influence of wealthy external interests, and insufficient laws on financial disclosure and lobbying.
Mid-level and local officials especially are often in charge of the distribution of environmental resources, as well as permitting and certification processes.
Poorly paid officials have an incentive not only to exploit loopholes in laws and regulations, but also to take bribes during environmental inspections and the policing of illegal, environmentally related activities”
Given all of the information and from relevant case files we hold at Transparency Vanuatu, what we need here in Vanuatu are laws are easily understood and materials and training for those in positions to immediately step in, take charge and deal with these issues.
Education is the key and with programmes designed to engage more people around the outer islands facing all these areas then they in turn will learn to protect the environment where they live.
We are today much more informed about change and issues than any other generation. We have more access to technology and data and that information can be immediately used in our decision making. The younger ni-Vanuatu graduates are exposed to more advanced technology, and accessing information and utilizing a network of information sources from around the world to tackle problems.
Here in Vanuatu is no different.
As a developing country it is bound to have “severe teething problems” but without proper controls such as rules and regulations, public awareness, monitoring and enforcements and local capacity building and good governance we will continually be plagued with potential areas for corruption as itemized in the report above.
It is a time to make these corrective changes now and put in place strong and well managed environmental changes as its benefits will contribute to the wealth of the society as a whole.
So before changes are finalised to any new legislation or procedural changes through the Environment Department are completed, we hope that all three young Ni-Vanuatu leaders who are being given the opportunity of networking with others in the Pacific and sharing experiences on environmental issues with others in the Pacific will be taken seriously on their return to Vanuatu and will be able to contribute and assist the Department to ensure all of us benefit by their exposure to learn and they can contribute to put in place correct tools to better protect our development phases in Vanuatu and our young leaders can assist in guiding others towards the betterment of Vanuatu in the longer term.