What citizens don’t want: A ministry without environment

By Anna Zucchetti. Biologist

Translated and reprinted from the opinion page of El Comercio

I don’t know if President Garcia would agree with me about the strategic importance of the soon-to-be-born Ministry of the Environment. I don’t know if we would agree on the structure or about its jurisdiction. But we are in agreement on one point: the future of his son Federico Danton — as well as his peer, my daughter Valentina — will depend, in great measure, on this new entity.

The Brack Commision has finished its labor of diagnosis, analysis and proposal, seeking to gather dissimilar perspectives and diverse interests. Now, so long commission members, the environment is in the hands of the Executive. Some experts tremble, and citizens, too.

The concern is that — ushered in by the rush of the Free Trade Agreement and set as a requirement of an important (multinational loan) credit for Camisea II — the new ministry will be a recycled version of the old National Environment Council (Conam), a pseudo-authority that never achieved the goal of getting itself into and cleaning up environmental chaos, simply because it had neither autonomy, nor jurisdiction, nor resources. Under those conditions, it was limited to promoting dialog, but lacked the capacity to guarantee fulfillment of laws and environmental regulations.

The concern is that the new ministry will have no real power over natural resources, because three of the key resources would remain the responsibility of other sectors: water and forestry in Agriculture and the ocean in Imarpe. The concern is that the new ministry will not have the much-demanded capacity for environmental oversight for activities of extraction and production (mines, industry, fishing, forestry) simply because they will remain hacked to pieces in the same sectors that are in charge of their promotion. The concern is that an illegitimate son and that, as such, from the start it will lack the legitimacy necessary to reconcile and resolve the numerous environmental conflicts that today occupy unnecessarily the tight agenda of the prime minister. If the ministry is born in these conditions, then it will simply be undressing one corpse to dress up another.

Regulatory ministry or oversight ministry, large ministry or small ministry, mining inside or out… What do we hope for from the Ministry of the Environment? Is seems, for now, the only consensus is that the ministry not be a great big fairy tale and that — to design it with technical criteria for its structure, strategy, roles and jurisdictions — there is still much debate to be had (with regional authorities, with municipalities, with civil society, with the business sector). The most legitimate route is for Congress to assume this job, building the space for debate and approving the legislation that sustains the system. Only then will the ministry be designed with the real capacity to make a dent in the decision making process; only then will citizens overcome distrust in the face of (up till now) inefficient environmental institutionalism of the country; only then will we begin to organize a system that can contribute strategically to Peru’s development and plan for a modernity not built solely on economic indicators. Now is the moment to take advantage of the opportunity we have to fortify environmental management of Peru. In the future, Federico and Valentina will thank us for it.

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