Maritime Zones Bill 2009 sent to Special Select Committee

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– AFC leader lauds Gov’t for considering his party’s request to have the Bill sent to Select Committee.
THE modern and comprehensive Maritime Zones Bill of 2009 which seeks to incorporate certain provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage was read for the second time in the National Assembly yesterday and sent to a Special Select Committee.

The legislation provides for marine scientific research, maritime cultural area, eco-tourism, marine parks and reserves and mariculture, the protection and preservation of the marine environment and related matters.

It seeks to replace the outdated Marine Boundaries Act of 1977 which predates UNCLOS of 1982.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Mrs. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett in whose name the bill was raised, told the House – which was again devoid of the presence of members from the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform -One Guyana (PNCR-1G), that the PNCR, the Alliance for Change (AFC) and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Parliamentarian, Mrs. Gail Teixeira, had requested that the legislation be referred to a Select Committee because it addresses matters of sovereignty and imperative national interest.

Rodrigues-Birkett said the Government acknowledged the calls from the opposition parties and in keeping with its view to have a wide and inclusive debate on the Bill, given the important matters of national interest it addresses; it has yielded to their request.

She said several years ago when Guyana attempted to safeguard her rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), it became increasingly apparent that the existent legislation on issues relating to rights and obligations pursuant to the provisions of the UNCLOS were inadequate.

The Foreign Affairs Minister reported that in 2003, the Government commenced work on updating the legislation with the assistance of the Commonwealth Secretariat Legal and Advisory Services Division.

Rodrigues-Birkett said after intense consultations in Georgetown involving several ministries and agencies, several drafts of the Bill were prepared with the full involvement of the Attorney General’s chambers, ending with the legislation before the House.

“Since the enactment of the Maritime Boundaries Act, there have been many new developments in maritime law not only with respect to the rights and obligations of coastal state parties to UNCLOS and other international treaties, conventions and agreements but also in the jurisprudence of customary international law.

“In light of these developments and the realisation that if Guyana is to properly safeguard her rights and meet her international obligations on the current international law, the Government believes the time is right for us to enact modern legislation.

“This is exactly what the Maritime Zone Bill aims to do and in addition to enabling the implementation of UNCLOS, the new act will also enable Guyana to meet her international obligations and secure her rights under any other related agreement of the wider aspects of UNCLOS to which Guyana is or might become a party,” the Minister underscored.

Rodrigues-Birkett stressed that the Bill is wider in score compared to the current Act as it attempts to address all issues related to the maritime zones with which Guyana’s jurisdiction is to be respected and the conditions for the creation of these zones.

As such, she emphasised it is more than simply boundaries and it for this very reason the name of the Bill has been changed from the Maritime Boundaries Act to the Maritime Zones Bill, of course after it has been approved by the National Assembly.

The minister noted too that the Bill excludes the fisheries zone, since that is co-terminus with the exclusive economic zone and fisheries is governed under the Fisheries Act of 2002.

AFC Leader Raphael Trotman lauded the Government for considering his party’s request to have the Bill sent to a Special Select Committee.

Culture Youth and Sports Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony said the legislation represents Guyana’s best interest and ensures the protection of its underwater cultural heritage from various threats and exploitations.

He underlined that the goal is to preserve the underwater cultural heritage of the past and the Government is compelled to take pre-emptive action in this regard.

Transport and Hydraulics Minister, Robeson Benn underscored the need for the Government to protect its national patrimony not only on land but in the sea as well.

The Bill will ensure proper management of traffic in the local maritime space and secure the country’s borders in the East and West as it relates to exploitation of its maritime resources

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds also spoke in support of the Bill.

Meanwhile, the Credit Reporting Bill and the Private Security Services (Regulation) Bill were tabled before the House.