June 28, 2013

The SWMU needs the support of law enforcement

Fri June 28, 2013

We’ve said it before and we will say it again, this country will not achieve any success in curbing problems of littering, illegal dumping, defacing of our public spaces and pollution of our waters, until we begin to enforce the Litter Act, which has been on the books since 1991.{{more}}

Earlier this week, Joan Ryan and Symantha George of the Solid Waste Management Unit (SWMU) were guests on a programme on NBC radio. Their mission was to provide information to the public about the special arrangements in place to deal with the extra solid waste usually generated at this time of the year (Vincy Mas), and to solicit the cooperation of the public.

During the course of the programme, the tremendous frustration felt by Ryan, was palpable. The SWMU has a dual mandate – firstly, to collect and dispose of household garbage, but also, importantly, to conduct education and awareness initiatives in schools, communities and the business sector. It is the latter part of the mandate that Ryan and her team have been working on for the last thirteen years or so. Ryan was frustrated because after all their hard work, every day she sees evidence of people doing what they ought not to.

We are of the view that the SWMU has been successful in fulfilling its mandate. If a survey were to be done, we suspect that it would indicate that the vast majority of Vincentians know what they are, and are not, supposed to do, in terms of the disposal of their solid waste. So why then, have so many of us not modified our behavior? Why are our drains used as garbage receptacles and our bank sides and rivers as dumping grounds? Why do passengers in vehicles still throw food and beverage containers out of the vehicle windows at will?

It seems that the knowledge that one is doing the right thing, something that is in one’s own interest, and that of the environment and one’s country, is not enough. In his 2013 calypso, which got him through to the finals, Glenford “Azara” Charles’ says “If” garbage were money, the streets would be clean and everyone would be rich.

Although there is some money to be made through recycling, the time has long come for us to take much more drastic measures to make our people comply. The attitude of too many of us in relation to garbage disposal is, “So what?” That question needs to be answered and answered forcefully, by those who have the authority to act.

According to the Litter Act, those with the power to act are police officers, public health inspectors, forestry officers, harbour masters, and other persons the minister of health may from time to time designate. The power of enforcement does not lie with the SWMU. Why then are these duly authorized officers not doing their part? Why haven’t we been seeing persons charged under the Act coming before the court? Is it that these law enforcement agencies see littering and other problems associated with improper disposal of solid waste as insignificant, when compared with their other responsibilities?

Surely, the ministry of finance is already feeling the impact of improper solid waste disposal, with increased expenditure from the ministries of health and works and diminished income from the tourism sectors?

The Act says that any person who litters in public, defaces a public place, breaks a bottle or glass, transports in a motor vehicle or trailer material which is likely to fall or blow off because it is not sufficiently well secured or properly covered, or deposits waste in our waters, likely to contaminate the environment, is liable on summary conviction, in the case of an individual to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding $5,000. For a second offence, the amount of the maximum fine attached to the offence is doubled.

An important provision of the Act is that those who cause or knowingly permit others to commit these offences are also liable and can be convicted to the same punishment as the principal offender.

Come on, law enforcement agencies, it is time for you to do your part. Singapore is often regarded as having extreme litter laws, but those laws have been working, as the country is known for its cleanliness. We are not advocating that we adopt the Singapore model, we just need for there to be better cooperation of our law enforcement agencies with the SWMU.

Awareness and education alone will not work. Just envisage one hand clapping and you see how much a waste of time it is.