August 31, 2012
Vincentians showing little or no concern for environment

Although very few persons have so far been taken to court for littering in St Vincent and the Grenadines, time may be running out for litterbugs,{{more}} as police here will be told to place as much emphasis on littering as they do on other criminal offences.

So said Commissioner of Police Keith Miller, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday evening. Miller was responding to concerns expressed by officials of the Solid Waste Management Unit (SWMU), who feel that the time has come for more aggressive enforcement of the Litter Act.

The officials say even after years of conducting awareness programmes and educating the public, Vincentians still show little or no concern about the environment.

In an exclusive interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, manager of the Solid Waste Management Unit (SWMU), Winsbert Quow stressed the need for more vigilance in the enforcement of the Act, which was implemented for the regulation and control of littering in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Quow said that he, and other members of the Unit are concerned that persons who continue to litter, especially at areas designated as illegal dumping sites, are not being prosecuted under the Act, which was brought into law in 1991, eight years prior to the establishment of the SWMU.

Deeply concerned about what he described as a matter of national concern, Quow explained to SEARCHLIGHT that the main role of the SWMU is to act as service providers – collecting and disposal of garbage, not enforcers of the law.

“So, what we have been trying to do over the years is to get their support (police and judicial officials) in doing this part of it – the prosecution. He, however, noted that over the years, very few persons have been prosecuted under the Act.

“Obviously we could only complain and report just like the members of the public and then it has to be taken further. Like a formal case has to be brought, investigations have to be made and persons have to be charged and then taken to the court and I think that is where we hit a snag,” Quow said.

Persons authorized to enforce the provisions of the Act are police officers, public health inspectors, forestry officers and harbour masters. Persons who fail to comply with the provisions of the Act may be fined up to $5,000 or imprisoned for six months, or both. For each day that offence continues, the guilty party may be fined $200.

Quow, however, is of the opinion that police and judicial officials may not act, because they are not aware of what is required of them.

“Part of it is education, because there are thousands of laws in St Vincent and the Grenadines and even the police and the judicial officers may not know all of them… And to help with that problem we’ve tried to do a lot of public education, not just the general public, but even with the police.”

He revealed that members of the Solid Waste Management Unit have been involved in the past, educating police recruits with regard to the Litter Act.

Supporting her colleague’s views on the matter, CWSA’s Public Relations and Marketing Manager Joan Ryan said it is unfortunate that persons have to be fined or imprisoned to make them comply.

“Why do we have to leave it to get to that point? Why is it that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do?” Ryan asked.

Both Quow and Ryan agreed that after so many awareness programs and educating the public, it’s now time to take further actions in order to safeguard the environment.

The Commissioner said that while no one has been convicted recently under the Litter Act, there have been instances in the past where action was taken against persons who were reported to the police.

“From time to time the police will do what is necessary. I am not sure if enough is being done to enforce the Litter Act. But it does not mean that there is not room for improvement, if it is not being done,” he said.

He described the actions of persons who continue to litter as “a mindset” and is encouraging more education and awareness programs on how persons should control their litter.

“Persons know that we have bins and it takes a conscious minded person to eat their chicken and carry the empty container home or drop it in a bin. Not to eat it and just drop it at their feet.

“So, it’s a case where persons have to become more conscious minded. You may not do it at home and if you are doing it at home, you must not come in the public and do it, because when you come in the public, you are affecting more people than you and your family at home,” Miller stated.

The commissioner said that litter is of great concern to everyone and he intends to remind police officers that the same emphasis placed on other criminal offences should be placed on littering.