Wildlife, Environmental Impact Assessments, Evidence
This decision related to previous decisions by the national courts and the Privy Council on the same matter. BECOL, a Belizean company, was proposing to construct and operate the Macal River Upstream Storage Facility. The facility would include a dam and associated infrastructure on the Macal River to produce electricity and provide upstream storage capacity for an existing power plant. The proposed dam project was within the southern portion of a forest reserve and the northern part of a National Park. It was admitted that there would be potential loss of habitat and resulting wildlife impacts. Despite these potential environmental losses, the government of Belize had decided to give its approval to the construction of the dam. It considered that the losses were outweighed by the advantages to the community in being able to generate more of its own electricity. The allegation of the appellants was that the department of the Belize government which approved the construction of the dam did not comply with the procedures required by law. They argued that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) did not comply with the statutory provisions and that the EIA had serious deficiencies, so it was unreasonable or irrational for the Department of Environment to treat it as an adequate basis for approving the project. The alleged deficiencies concerned a geological error within the EIA, and information concerning archaeological sites, wild life and rare plants. Besides that, it was said that the Department acted unlawfully in not holding a public hearing before making its decision. Thirdly, it was alleged that members of the administration were biased in favour of the project. The Privy Council emphasized that the legal system of Belize distinguished between the procedure to be followed by the decision-making authority in arriving at the decision and the merits of the decision itself. The former was laid down by statute and was binding upon that authority. The latter was entirely within the competence of the authority. Political decisions were not reviewable in a court of law. The Privy Council did not consider that the geological error in the EIA was of such significance as to prevent it from satisfying the statutory requirements. It was also not necessary that an EIA should pursue investigations to resolve every issue. Environmental control in Belize was an iterative process which did not stop with the approval of the EIA. It was therefore wrong to approach an EIA as if it represented the last opportunity to exercise any control over a project which might damage the environment. They held that the EIA was not inadequate to meet the requirements of the relevant legislation. The allegation of bias could not be sustained either. The Privy Council did not find that the authorities had closed their mind to any evidence or representations before the consent. The Department of Environment, in granting approval, was not exercising a judicial function. It was making a political decision about the public interest. In arriving at that decision, it fairly applied the procedures prescribed by law. The appeal was dismissed.