New Sea and River Defence legislation sets stage for Sea and River Defence Policy -Edghill

New Sea and River Defence legislation sets stage for Sea and River Defence Policy -Edghill

Using its majority in the National Assembly, the Government passed new Sea and River Defence Legislation on Friday, consolidating the two older pieces of legislation with the aim of ensuring the effective management of the country’s sea and river defence systems.

However, the Opposition APNU+AFC warned that the new legislation provides the State with excessive powers, and ought to have been sent to a Special Select Committee for modification.

But in defending the Sea and River Defence Bill 2023 in the National Assembly on Friday, Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill said the legislation replaces the Sea Defence Act, Chapter 64:01 and Chapter 64:02, which date back to 1883, noting that though updated on numerous occasions, they are no longer aligned with international standards and modern developments. 

The new legislation, he told the House, will result in the effective implementation the National Sea and River Defence Policy, which emphasizes the principles of integrated coastal zone management, and widens the scope of strategic monitoring, control and enforcement. 

It was explained that while to a large extent the content and format of the two older Acts are maintained, the new legislation features key changes, in the sections treating with the definition of sea and river defence and the powers and functions of the Sea and River Defence Board. 

“There are two key changes. The first is that the scope of the Act is extended to include mangroves and other natural features. The other is that the previous definition of sea defence is removed and is to be replaced by a demarcated area or zone. There are two reasons for this: first, the current definition comprises a number of factors, including geographical features and other markers that were open to interpretation and susceptible to change over time, which render the extent of a sea defence uncertain and open to dispute; and second, the criterion of “fifty feet landward” from the centre of a sea or river dam, etc. is insufficient in many cases (and again susceptible to change over time),” the Public Works Minister explained. 

He said under the new legislation, the Sea and River Defence Board will be empowered to demarcate the specific area of the flood defence, as needed and based on technical and social criteria. 

In the case of the Board, Minister Edghill said its powers have been widened to allow for effective management. 

“The Board is maintained mostly as it is now. The mandate is extended so that it can play a wider role in planning and managing flood defences, and it also has responsibilities for the new areas in the Bill (developing flood protection plans, overseeing enforcement, determining administrative penalties, etc.). The rules of procedure of the Board are specified in more detail, and stronger reporting duties are provided,” the Public Works Minister explained. 

Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar said the Bill comes at a time when persons continue to illegally occupy the Sea and River Defence. 

“People are going just like that on the sea defence, you have to stop them, you got to go enforce, you have to take police, and we are always on the ball with it but there is this issue of persons taking over sea defences without permission so you must have strong legislation to handle those things,” Minister Indar said. 

Opposition Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton-Desir said while the APNU+AFC supports the modernization of the legislation, it strongly believes that the Bill should have been sent to a Special Select Committee. 

The Opposition MP took aim at the definition, telling the House that it has major loopholes.

“The previous definition of sea defence notes that there are naturally occurring river and sea defences and to the degree that these are now excluded from the present legal framework poses a problem for us. And it poses a problem for us, because, if for example, we take that out and we don’t acknowledge it, sea defences will now mean, any dam, concrete, stone, timber, wall, gyoyne or any other construction, not natural features, any other construction, which suggests that it has to be constructed by the board, proprietor or occupant by land against protection flooding.” The MP said. 

APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, David Patterson, said the new legislation was long in the making dating back to 2019 when the coalition was in power, and the Opposition supports the modernization of the country’s legal framework for sea and river defence. 

But like his colleague, MP Walton-Desir, he expressed concern over the definitions outlined in the legislation, and the powers handed to the Board. 

“They have removed that, and they have empowered the board to come up with a Sea Defence Zone, Sea Defence Zone sir, which means we don’t have legally protected sea defence zone, anything could be done with it. It now becomes State land, it now becomes State land…This board can designate that area (the sea defence zone), lease it out, all the way up to the seawall, and it is under the control of the sea defence board. On top of that, we can be denied access,” MP Patterson. 

Now considered a “State Property,” MP Patterson said Government can use it as it sees fit. He too urged that the Bill be sent to a select committee, but the Government moved ahead with the passage of the new legislation.

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