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Implement the disposal site measures!

Charles Sinclair

Sunday, August 05, 2018

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I have taken note of the sequence of fires at the disposal sites operated by the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) over the past four to five weeks. The first was in St James, then St Mary, then St Andrew, and finally in St Thomas.

The timing of the fires raised distinct suspicion of arson as, once one was brought under control, another was lit. My suspicion is further concretised having listened keenly to the comments of the chairman of the NSWMA, Dennis Chung, and the Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie reporting on their findings from the several locations at the press conference on Monday, July 30, 2018.

My concern regarding these fires is heightened as a resident of St James, as I live in an area which was impacted by the smoke from the Retirement disposal site and found the circumstances to be very uncomfortable. I genuinely sympathise with residents of all communities who experienced discomfort and medical ailments. As a member of the governing Administration, I express regrets that such a situation arose.

Minister McKenzie, during the fire at Retirement disposal site, expressed apologies to the residents of St James impacted by the smoke. It may have been lost on some that this apology was made at a forum in which the minister could not have detailed the efforts taken, and to be taken, by the NSWMA and the ministry to prevent a recurrence of such event. However, as one who suffered first hand, I accepted the minister's apology as being sincere; an early acknowledgement that there may have been shortcomings on the part of the relevant authority, as well as a starting point to implement improvements.

Member of Parliament Angela Brown Burke and Senator Sophia Fraser Binns, Opposition spokespersons on local government and land and environment, respectively, made their comments following their tour of the Riverton disposal site. Brown Burke advanced an argument in defence of individuals residing on the disposal sites. It was her opinion that those persons would not deliberately set the disposal site on fire as it is from said site they make their living.

I found her position troubling, as it implies that Brown Burke accepts that unauthorised individuals are to be allowed to continue scavenging the disposal sites. It is my opinion that such a position is totally unacceptable for many reasons so trite there is no need to elaborate.

The comments from Senator Fraser Binns demanded the Government to immediately take steps to prevent the possibility of fires and smoke emanating from the disposal sites, as our citizens are constitutionally entitled to a clean environment. That statement, without more, is acceptable in principle.

My concern hearing her, however, is the hypocrisy with which the statement is laced. When one reflects that it was the People's National Party (PNP) Administration of which the senator is a part that failed to efficiently and effectively apply the Inter-American Development Bank loan of US$11.5 million, made available between 1999-2007 to transform the Riverton disposal site to a sanitary landfill, and implement improvements at others. That failure resulted in the loan facility being withdrawn.

It now falls to this Administration, led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, to move with alacrity to ensure that the short-, medium- and long-term measures are implemented to prevent a recurrence of fires on its disposal sites.

Minister McKenzie has expressed the measures to include:

1. removal of unauthorised residents from the disposal sites;

2. prevent unauthorised persons scavenging the disposal sites;

3. ensuring adequate fire suppressant materials and systems are available on site;

4. installing closed circuit television equipment and other security measures;

5. divesting the disposal sites;

6. relocation of disposal sites;

7. transforming disposal sites to sanitary landfills; and

8. implementing waste to energy facilities.

It has been said by the NSWMA chairman that fencing the facilities is prohibitive. In support of these measures in the very short term, I would implore the NSWMA to action the prosecution of individuals who remove, interfere or tamper with disposal sites as provided for under section 44 of the NSWMA Act, and to do so without fear or favour.

I further recommend to the Administration to amend the NSWMA Act to make it an offence for unauthorised individuals being on the disposal sites. It is my opinion that the present Act does not capture mere presence of unauthorised individuals on the disposal site as an offence.

It is the duty of a Government to safeguard the health of its citizens, and there should be a deterrence through legislation and vigilant enforcement. To this end, the penalties under section 44 and the proposed amendment should be reflective of the mischief we seek to prevent.

I have also found favour with the short-term measure proposed by Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) for the separation and proper securing of combustible material at an alternate location other than the main disposal site. It is my view that this issue of separation should be supported by a major educational programme to implant the culture in Jamaicans to do so from the home or business. This expectation of separation of solid waste can be buttressed by appropriate legislation.

The NSWMA must activate and encourage by all means possible the process of recycling waste. If done properly, recycling would go a far way in reducing the amount of waste going to the disposal sites and remove the encouragement of unauthorised individuals going unto the property.

Our Jamaican brothers and sisters must appreciate that the health, safety and economic well-being of our nation is severely affected when the disposal sites are lit in the manner they were. They must be encouraged to participate in and accept all measures to be taken to deter and prevent any such recurrence for the overall good of the nation.

Charles Sinclair Jr is a Government member of the Senate. Send comments to the Observer or sinclairc77@yahoo.com.

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