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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 15, 2000 - The Independent/PINA Nius Online)---Current legislation pertaining to environmental protection and management in Papua New Guinea leaves a lot to be desired, according to Office of Environment and Conservation Director Dr. Wari Iamo.

This has resulted in the formulation of proposed legislation that will incorporate three existing laws which, he says, are lacking in transparency and accountability.

"The current legislation is difficult to administer and the legal position of many developers in PNG is uncertain. It is also not flexible and does not provide opportunities for the government to respond to a rapidly changing social and economic environment," Dr. Iamo said in a statement commemorating the Silver Jubilee of Independence in PNG.

He explained that because the administering of existing legislation is "difficult and complex," it resulted in inefficiency and uncertainty for investors and the government.

It was for this reason, he said, that the government initiated work on legislative reform.

"One of the key problems with the existing system is the lack of transparency that it has caused. It allows decisions to be made without consultation or expert advice, and the reasons for the decisions have not been transparent," Dr. Iamo explained.

Current legislation includes three separate laws. These are:

* The Environmental Planning Act, which deals with environment impact assessment. This law is intended to be used before a project commences, to ensure that an environment plan is prepared for developments that will have a significant impact on the environment;

* The Environmental Contaminants Act, which was intended to provide the detailed operating conditions for a project, so that the "beneficial users" of the community can be protected. It has been used mainly for licensing hazardous environmental contaminants, such as pesticides, but not for licensing waste discharges from developments. The act requires developers to hold contaminants licenses for discharges. This section overlaps to an extent with the Water Resources Act; and

* The Water Resources Act, which allocates the rights to water use and regulates abstraction. It also is the tool that is used to manage discharges of water and its use.

According to Dr. Iamo, the three laws require up to four environmental approvals for each development. Three different decision processes are needed to issue permits.

"These are issued by the same division of OEC. The acts also require three different boards or councils. This causes a significant workload and extra costs for OEC, at a time when the government is trying to make the process of government more transparent, efficient and effective.

"There is a duplication and overlap of functions among the three laws. Separate monitoring and management requirements may be placed on developers - leading to unnecessary higher costs for the developers and the government," he said.

He added that new investors in PNG could be confused by the existing legislation.

"For the people of PNG, there is also confusion . . . .The values of the environment that are to be protected by the environmental permits are not clear, and communities are uncertain about their rights under the existing laws," he said.

Dr. Iamo said that once the OEC had identified the loopholes in the three laws, it began considering ways of integrating the processes to provide for clarity and certainty for investors and communities in PNG.

Finally it was determined that the best approach would be to enact a single law.

The resultant Environment Act is proposed to have an "enabling act."

It includes a focus on pollution prevention and minimization through the establishing of a "duty of care" for the environment so that all people and companies in PNG act in a way that protects the environment.

The act also takes into consideration the important role of communities and landowners.

One of the new features of the proposal is that officials of a company are liable to be prosecuted as well as the company itself. This "directors’ liability" is being introduced into many environmental laws around the world, and has resulted in significant improvement in environmental performance by many companies.

Companies that fail to meet their environmental obligations will also be regulated by the proposed bill to ensure that the government has access to available finances that can be used to remedy problems caused by these companies.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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