News from the OPM

Statement by Prime Minister Holness on the Pollution of Rio Cobre

I have been following with great concern the developments in relation to the major pollution incident of the Rio Cobre which occurred during the period July 26th to August 4th, 2022.The Rio Cobre is one of Jamaica’s most valuable natural assets and plays a critical role in the social and economic lifeline of thousands of residents and businesses operating in the geographical area that the river spans. The Rio Cobre basin ecosystem supports agriculture, aquaculture, artisanal fishing, sightseeing and leisure tours and many other livelihood opportunities.The recent pollution incident is wholly unacceptable and is inconsistent with the standards Jamaica has set for environmental management and protection.The impacts have been devastating for residents living and operating in the Rio Cobre basin; the livelihoods of our farmers, our fisherfolks, persons who utilize the river for leisure and recreational purposes, as well as major government facilities and investments, owned and operated by the National Water Commission and the National Irrigation Commission.The risk is heightened when one considers the Government’s long-standing plan to extract more water from the Rio Cobre, to supply Kingston & Andrew.The National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA) has concluded its assessments and action will be taken within the current operating legislative framework to prosecute Windalco and to prevent any recurrence of similar pollution incidents.I have directed that NEPA update the country on its findings and next steps in holding the Company to account.I am advised that the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) has already written to the commercial bank holding the environmental performance bond (EPB) posted by Windalco, to recover the full amount in favour of the NRCA. The Company has also been directed to replenish the environmental performance bond (EPB) as soon as the drawdown is completed. NEPA has indicated that it plans additional action against the Company, including serving a Notice of Intention to Suspend the environmental permits and licences, and bringing legal action against the Company for breaches of the Wild Life Protection Act (WLPA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Act (NRCA Act). In recent weeks.I have committed to the people of Jamaica that the amendments required to increase fines and penalties for environmental breaches will come to Parliament within the coming months, to ensure they are appropriate and sufficient to function as a deterrent. Additionally, the Government will act to implement a water safety plan, for the entire Rio Cobre system.