Editorial | Get cart and horse in right order, NSWMA
Having cobbled themselves halos from the rusting wreckage at Riverton for self-declared achievements in corporate governance, the bosses of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) believe, apparently, that they are on the cusp of defeating the problem of chronic littering in Jamaica. They are just awaiting the legislative authority for the imposition of higher fines.
“These new fines that will be coming will certainly serve as a deterrent,” Gail Mitchell, the NSWMA’s legal director, said at a forum organised by this newspaper. “We are just waiting to finalise what we have on paper.”
The new amounts the agency wants litterbugs to pay weren’t disclosed, but they are among updates to, and expansion of, existing regulations the NSWMA has requested from the Government. These include new rules for the disposal of hazardous and electronic waste and a requirement that the promoters of entertainment events acquire indemnity permits to ensure that they clean up after their functions.
There’s unlikely to be any pushback against these suggestions, about which officials of the NSWMA and the government ministers who happened to be in charge of the authority at the time have talked for years. People increasingly appreciate the hazards that lurk in electronic waste and the need for their proper disposal. Nor would anyone claim that the J$2,000 fine for littering, or disposing garbage in public spaces, to be frighteningly high, although the average person who dumps his garbage on a verge or tosses a PET bottle from the window of a bus would probably not deem that figure to be inconsequential. For the well heeled and socially connected, the fine, if accompanied by a public declaration of its imposition, would hardly be trivial.
The point, we insist, is that the problem of littering and improper solid waste disposal in Jamaica is far less likely to be the result of the inadequacy of fines than the failure to enforce regulations. Although that isn’t the entire story. It emerged at the forum that the NSWMA issues approximately 150 tickets monthly, or around 1,800 a year, for breaches of waste disposal.
The NSWMA didn’t offer an analysis of how many of these tickets are complied with; how many, if any, are challenged in court; and, in the event of the latter, what the outcomes of the cases are. Neither does the agency publish any such data. But assuming that all the tickets are unchallenged, the guilt of the charged persons certified and the fines paid, it is perhaps not unreasonable to question whether the issuance of 1,800 tickets to litterbugs and people who improperly dispose of their garbage is in keeping with the scale of the problem.
Audley Gordon, the NSWMA’s executive director, got it in observing that the regulations, without the capacity to enforce them, “will stay on the paper on which it is written”. And therein lies an issue in Jamaica, which Mr Gordon has happily come to understand, which is that while it has a surfeit of laws, rules and regulations, there is a big deficit of implementation. In other words, the fact of the law and the sizes of the penalties associated therewith are not, of themselves, deterrents to breaches. They have to be policed and enforced.
Further, littering and other forms of improper disposal of solid waste aren’t always because of this aspect of enforcement, or lack thereof. There are often other failures, too, by agencies like the NSWMA. They don’t do their jobs adequately.
For instance, a 2016 survey/study by the Jamaica Environment Trust on the contributors to the frequent blockage of Montego Bay’s South Gully concluded that dumping garbage in the gullies and gutters that feed it played a major part. But that didn’t just happen. While the failure to enforce solid waste regulations was a factor, there were the larger issues of erratic garbage collection, the unwillingness of garbage collectors to operate in informal settlements, and the lack of receptacles in public spaces. Those problems are replicated in many other communities across Jamaica.