By Poly Pantelides
THE environment minister yesterday conceded that studies assessing the environmental impact of major projects are done by people with vested interests, which environmental groups said could lead to even sloppier studies compromising more sensible long-term sustainable development.
Minister, Nicos Kouyialis and officials hosted a public consultation yesterday as part of a government decision to regularly ask for the public’s view when they decide on policies. Public consultations should take place every four months.
The first round of discussions was launched last week and were mostly attended by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) representing civil society, in addition to state officials and ministers. The NGOs yesterday touched on one major institutional flaw in the way major developers are given the go-ahead for projects – they get to choose who does the study. This weakens safeguards against corruption, some said.
“One very serious issue… is that a ‘good environmental scientist’ is one who offers businesses a way to work around the laws,” said chemical and environmental engineer, Michalis Loizides, representing conservationist group AKTI.
“Environmental studies are effectively worthless,” he added.
A representative of the Technical Chamber of Cyprus (ETEK) said part of the problem was that those who do undertake environmental impact studies are not qualified. But a deeper problem comes from the money poured in major works, he said. “The truth is that with large developers putting in millions [of euros], the leverage is big.”
A 2005 law regulating the impact from developments in environmentally or historically important sites allows private entities undertaking a proposed work to also take on the required study on the environmental impact. This lets them choose who will conduct the study. However the law does not specify punishment procedures in the case a study is faulty.
Kouyialis said some of the systemic problems would be corrected with the mooted civil service reform aiming to modernise government across ministries.
“That there is a dependence [between those who do the environmental study and those who hire them to do it] is a given, I won’t hide it,” Kouyialis said. He added they needed to certify the professionals allowed to undertake environmental studies.
The public discussion suggested there were deeper problems than just accreditation, many to do with an apparent conflict of interest between making a profit and protecting the environment. One participant suggested securing EU funds as part of a unified, thoughtful initiative to drive growth and sustainable development, which does not have to contradict caring for the country’s environmental legacy.
Some were worried about plans to develop about three million square metres in Paphos’ Limni. The Shacolas Group, the biggest private commercial group in Cyprus plans for the site include two golf courses, a five star hotel and luxury residences. The project has been hailed for its potential to create jobs and drive growth. However, 3,500 people have also signed a petition against it.
The agriculture ministry originally proposed to protect the turtles by leaving untouched a width of 500 metres from the shore. But they later allowed a width of 100 metres. Conservationists say that is not enough, although an environmental impact study says the opposite.