09 August 2009

Bauxite owes Jamaica Billions

John Maxwell

My friend Laurie Broderick is the Minister of State in the Ministry of Energy and Mining. Laurie is the son of Percival Broderick Snr. onetime PNP MP, Minister, and President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society. He is the younger brother of Dr Percival Broderick, onetime Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Agriculture. The Brodericks come from the hill country of Clarendon which was serious farming country before much of it was devastated by bauxite mining.
According to the Gleaner, three Sundays ago, Laurie Broderick made what I think is one of the more extraordinary statements ever made by a Jamaican politician.
Mr Broderick was reported as having said that the Government of Jamaica is to rehabilitate mined out lands to alleviate rural poverty. In his contribution to the sectoral debate "on Tuesday, July 21, the minister mentioned that 1,263 hectares of mined-out land in Manchester have been transferred to the commissioner of lands. He also reported that in June the government had acquired approximately 5,514 hectares of certified rehabilitated land in Manchester and St Ann.

Mr Broderick's statement startled me because, according to the laws of Jamaica, it is the bauxite companies who are supposed to rehabilitate mined out land and, as I pointed out in an earlier column, the bauxite companies are legally required to rehabilitate – a their own expense – all mined out land and that land is the property of the government.

In a column entitled "The enduring curse of bauxite (March 22 2009) I wrote

"The [Mining] Act requires mining companies to compensate Jamaica for every hectare of land mined but not restored.
"Currently there are at least 2,669 hectares on which the companies owe us US$ 66,725,000 in one time compensation, at the rate of $25,000 per hectare. In addition the companies owe the people of Jamaica an additional US 2,500 per hectare for every year the land is not rehabilitated. According to my calculations, which are probably an underestimate, the companies owe us another US $150 to 350 million. We are talking real money here, our money– between US$200 million and US$400 million.
When is the government going to collect this debt?"

In our current situation where we need every dollar we can legally get, it seems to me scandalous that the Government of Jamaica is not taking steps to collect millions o dollars owed to the poor people of Jamaica by the bauxite companies. These companies are controlled by two of the richest men in the word, Marc Rich and Oleg Deripaska.
    As far as I am aware the government of Jamaica has taken no steps to secure the sovereign rights of the Jamaican people by collecting money which has been owed to us for a very long time. Furthermore, I believe we are entitled to know exactly who has certified the 5,514 acres of ' rehabilitated' land in Manchester and St Ann. I do not trust that description.
As I have detailed in this column before now, I have no reason to be confident that either the Commissioner of Lands or the Jamaica Bauxite Institute understands their statutory duty in protection of the public interest. In an appearance before the Access to Information Tribunal two years ago, the Commissioner of Lands, in reply to my questions, said that it was his duty to protect the bauxite companies against the inquiries of such as the Jamaican Environment Trust. He actually enunciated principles and 'conventions'– later found to be non-existent - which he said governed dealings between mining companies and their regulators. He said these conventions made information about their activities trade secrets and matters of confidence. The ATI tribunal was not only unable to find any such protocols, we found that the worldwide mining industry, like most of tee world, is moving deliberately towards more openness in order to protect not only investors, but the public interest and particularly those citizens affected by mining. Far from owing a duty of confidence to the companies, he Commissioner according to law and practice, owed his duty to the public whose interest the law commands him to protect.
I therefore have no confidence in the ability of the government's agents to secure our interests in this matter because in addition to the failures enunciated above, the JBI and the CM&G have never demanded, as they are required to do, Environmental Impact Assessments in relation to bauxite mining.
This entails some horrendous costs to this country – costs which are legally recoverable from the bauxite companies.
The companies and the past and current governments had been planning to destroy the precious heart of the Jamaica – the Cockpit Country – by mining and alumina refining. I believe that public opposition, combined with the fortuitous worldwide recession, is all that has so far saved the Cockpit Country which is the geological, biological cultural and historic heart of this country. If the bauxite companies were allowed to mine there they would complete the destruction of Jamaica's major water supplies and condemn the tourist industry to death. As it is, one of the major reasons for the misbegotten plan to destroy Falmouth in the interest of Royal Caribbean Cruise lines is the fact that Falmouth will be one of the few places in this region that there is sufficient water for the floating monstrosity that is designed to steal five thousand customers a week away from the Jamaica hotel industry.
As I said in my March column, it is not simply the mining and land degradation for which we are owed compensation:
"In addition to all this the companies are liable under international law to reclaim and make harmless nearly 100 million tons of red mud – an enterprise that would solve our unemployment problems for a decade or two and pay pensions to the bauxite workers.. In addition we are entitled to seek damages for the reclamation of the aquifers poisoned by red mud, under the Polluter Pays principle, endorsed in 1992 by P. J. Patterson in Rio."
I am unable to understand why the movers and shakers of this society, knowing all these things, do not take steps to protect our financial integrity or our patrimony and our water supplies.
If, as I believe, the ginnigogs managing bauxite are incompetent and and/or careless, is there no organ of the state to compel them to behave themselves and do their duty?
When the law is so flagrantly flouted by those at the top of the society how can they in good conscience expect and demand that those at the bottom should respect and obey the law?
Perhaps there may be other people who feel like me and who would join me in seeking a writ of mandamus compelling the competent authorities in bauxite to perform the responsibilities laid on them by Parliament and the people of Jamaica.
Stay tuned.

Mischief and the Media

The US and British media have spent the last few weeks making fools of themselves and their audiences.
In the UK a report was issued last week by a government agency with a long history of distaste for organic farming and a tendency to welcome genetic manipulation and other industrial corruption of natural processes. The somewhat inappropriately named Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued a report which asserted – after studying a cherry-picked array of research over 50 years – that 'organic' food was not more nutritious than conventionally produced food.
Since the point about organic food is not primarily nutrition but purity and quality, it might have seemed to some cynics that the report was simply intended to muddy the water and confuse people. It certainly confused journalists. Headlines ranged from merely foolish
"Organic food has no health benefits"
to the quintessentially absurd
"It's wrong to believe that nature is always best."
And some of this garbage was written by people with degrees in science.
The point about factory farming is that it employs techniques and chemicals which alter the characteristics of food in unpredictable and often unknown ways. Pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics turn up in food crops, in meat, in wild-caught fish and even human breast-milk. Organic food, so called, is n attempt to get away from the artificial, ersatz and frequently toxic adulterations of modern food. As Rachel Carson points out in "Silent Spring" humanity has had millennia to adapt to the products of its natural environment while we have had no time to adapt to the 100,000 new chemicals introduced into the environment every year. While some of us occasionally get poisoned by natural foods, there are no known natural foods which cause the testicles of infant boys to atrophy in their mothers' wombs or produce the monsters generated by thalidomide, stilbestrol, mercury and lindane.
The Press, bless its freedom loving, investigative heart, didn't bother to try to explain the real irrelevance of the FSA study.

Innocent while Black

Sometimes the little lies are the worst. In the reporting of the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates various organs of the press said he had been arrested outside his home. It is clear from the photographs that Gates was handcuffed in his house; on his verandah or in even in his yard doesn't matter. Every citizen has a right to repel trespassers and if you have satisfied a cop as to your identity as Gates had, the cop has no further business in your house. And if the cop doesn't know that I can't see him qualified to teach anyone anything – as reported in Crowley's favour.
The racist character of the police is demonstrated by several facts. One is that after the Crowley had seen Professor Gates' ID he was still asking the police dispatcher to "keep the cars coming" as if he were confronted by a rioting mob in the city centre, instead of by a diminutive, partially disabled man who he outweighed by about fifty pounds, overtopped by at least four inches and who was twenty years older than he.
The 911 dispatcher tried hard to get the informant, Gates' neighbour, to say what was the race of the men she saw trying to get into Gates' house. The informant was calm, refused to panic, said she couldn't tell what race the men were and told the dispatcher that the men could have been legitimately trying to get into the house.
Crowley reported that on his arrival the informant told him she saw two black men with backpacks. She said nothing of the kind. She did not speak to Crowley. Crowley made that up. The whole affair, from arrival to arrest, took 5 minutes. It seems unlikely that any serious breach of the peace could have happened in that time frame, unless Gates had assaulted the policeman. He had not.
It is clear that under the law the fault was entirely with Crowley; that Gates was well within his rights and that President Obama was right when he said the police had acted stupidly.
The white police union as wrong, rude and disrespectful to President Obama as it would never have been to G.W. Bush.
One of my correspondents last week told me that Gates should have "respected the uniform" .
I replied that respect is due to the man and the law, not the uniform, and I asked whether her principle applied, for instance, to that unknown Chinese hero who unarmed and alone confronted the column of tanks in Tiananmen Square so many moons ago?

Copyright ©2009 John Maxwell


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