Georgetown Solid Waste Management Programme3565 14 Mar, 2013
Dr. Roopnarine: Mr. Speaker I am a little surprised, although perhaps I ought not to be, that this motion that seeks to engage us all in what is essentially a national tragedy … [Shouts of “firearm” and “no” from the Government side.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members could we allow Dr. Roopnarine to even start.
Dr. Roopnarine: I was trying to say Mr. Speaker that I am a little surprised that this simple motion that seeks to engage us in what is a national tragedy has generated quite as much heat as it seems to have done. What is the thrust of the motion? The thrust of the motion is to confront the intolerable degradation of our capital city and to make practical proposals to address it. I have some sympathy for my colleague who just spoke in that what he wants to see is not a just and immediate solution but a sustainable solution. I have no quarrel with that; we need to devise a sustainable solution. We do not want a solution for next week or next month or the month after that. We want a solution that is actually going to last, to try to restore Georgetown and keep Georgetown in the kind of state we want to see it in.
Speakers on the other side, including the Minister who spoke, say that the motion ignores what he calls the root cause namely the responsibility of the city council and he made very heavy weather of this particular point.
I do not think we need to, at this stage, use up the energy that we have on blaming the City Council or looking at its undoubtedly, well established, failings.
The motion seeks to go beyond that, it is really, I believe, an uncontroversial initiative that is long overdue and one, I believe, around which we can all unite. A number of amendments to the motion have been submitted and there are some of those amendments which we believe we can support.
Given the public health hazards to which persons have alluded and posed by the accumulation of garbage and I will come to the issue of solid waste disposal, resulting in the population explosion of vermin, rats, mosquitoes and the attendant raise of dengue, filaria and other dangerous diseases, it is a motion that could have been brought by the Hon. Minister of Health. The Minister of Tourism, I think, should, I believe, should support this motion with energy. He must be consoled, I think, by the fact that the motion is seeking to overturn the discouragement that tourist must feel when they come and confront the less than salubrious sights and smells of the capital. This is not how we want to greet visitors to our country.
The Minister with responsibility for the environment, I know through his Urban Park and the Rehabilitation Plan and the Pick it up Guyana proposals have been making efforts, strenuous efforts, but how can we not feel utterly disgraced by the unkempt jungle that passes for a cemetery at Le Repentir reflecting a rather unseeingly and alien irreverence for our departed.
To state the obvious, we are and have been for many years in the midst of the severest of crisis in the area of Solid Waste Management; that is a fact. I was happy to hear this afternoon that there was a Bill in preparation that is going to bring the issue of Solid Waste Management to this Parliament and I for one look forward very much to the Bill. Of course, it is more evident here where we live in Georgetown and work, the crisis in Solid Waste Management is not restricted to the city. As far away as Kumaka, in Lethem, along the East Coast, the indiscriminate dumping of garbage is assumed really extraordinary proportions. Hopefully with the strengthening and empowerment of the National Democratic Councils (NDCs) intended by the Local Government Reform and what I hope are the impending Local Government Elections, the task of the management of Solid Waste will be undertaken in a more serious and systematic way, especially if it is going to be grounded in a new law on Solid Waste Management.
The new landfill at Haags Bosch is actually plagued with problems. We know, for instance that the Haags Bosch facility was designed to managed three hundred and fifty tonnes a day and the site is currently receiving four hundred and twenty tonnes. They have problems of compaction; the restriction of operations to day light hours is causing a great problem. In the city itself the lack of compacting equipment arrangements for the separation of garbage, the absence of transfer stations, where the garbage can be held for onwards transportation to Haags Bosch, the absence of tidy tip locations not far from residential areas, where waste can be sorted and separated before being collected by the Municipality and we can make a start with the hospitality industry – the hotels, restaurants, the need for more skips around the city.
I am a little bit perplexed to hear that these proposals, according to the former Councillor the Hon. Mr. Hamilton, in fact, were proposals that were put all these years ago and there has been no implementation of it. That is a tragedy because if these problems were recognised as early as that and that there was a problem which people saw in relations to the separation of garbage and so on that nothing was done in this regard, I think partly accounts for where we are today.
We have immediate measures that can be considered by this National Assembly, for instance I for one, am completely in favour of the outright banning as it is happening in an increasing number of countries, of Styrofoam and plastic bags. Why are we taking so long to ban Styrofoam in this country? I was very pleased to be at the opening at SAPIL, when in fact they were making new degradable food containers. I hope that this effort is going to receive great support and become, in effect, an effective replacement for Styrofoam. In the meantime, we have an interest in getting the Styrofoam out of our system, out of our drains, across the seawalls and beaches; we should get them out of the place.
On the very vexed issue about which much has been made, in relations to the City Council’s chronic lack of funds to execute its programmes, there is no doubt and I do not think we should have an argument about this, that the Central Government has not looked with favour on proposals that have come from the Council in relations to the garnering of revenue. Let us not fool ourselves on that that has actually happened. They have made proposals: they have made proposals for parking metres; they have made proposals about the rental of their parapets for Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL) poles. Then there is the issue of the under collection of Rates and Taxes. My friend, the Hon. Minister, I believe is perhaps overly sanguine to believe that going out and meeting with these defaulters and having a nice chat with them is going to improve the question of the payment of Rates and Taxes. I am not that sanguine myself. The fact of the matter is that in order to address the issue of delinquency, the efforts and there have been efforts to move to the Courts against defaulters, these efforts have been frustrated by the notoriously malarial case of our judicial system. Hence, the proposal sometime ago for a Municipal Court and this idea of a Municipal Court was supported in the past by the then Chancellor, Justice Desiree Bernard and the Chief Justice Carl Singh. Eventually, on the insistence of the City Council, a Magistrate was appointed only for him to be deployed to an outstation very soon after. There is the issue of revaluation, a matter of pressing importance, given the eminence of the enactment of the Fiscal Transfer legislation that will affect the NDCs and the Municipalities.
The law I believe requires that all properties be revaluated in five years and my friend the Hon. Minister of Finance can perhaps shed some light on the operations of the valuations division. You know that in relations to the Fiscal Transfers that are being contemplated in the Select Committee, the arrival at a formula that is going to be based on objective criteria for the transfer of funds to the Local Government organs, this is going to require, I believe, a revaluation of properties across the country, if we are going to make any sensible decision in relation to the formula.
This, I believe, is not an inappropriate place to raise the question of the issue of the waiving and granting of exemptions to select persons and business entities. This House, I believe, deserves to understand and to be given an explanation of the principles and criteria that are used in the granting of such waivers. As far as the motion is concerned, the two Resolve clauses, the first clause indicate the need for urgent and immediate actions. The second clause deals with the monitoring of progress. The intention here is for the most, broad-based inclusive participation, not unlike what the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources is attempting to do; to build a very strong coalition of concern citizens and organisations to move towards the solution of this Solid Waste crisis and other environmental disasters.
Like others I was very distressed by the collapse of the koker door at Cowan Street. Again it is not my interest to be pointing fingers, but I ask myself, what can be so difficult? All the nine kokers involved from Princess Street to Cowan Street, the size of the door is exactly. [Mr. Benn: It is not.] I am told that they are Hon. Minister. Because if they are indeed the same, it is difficult to understand why doors are not built, two or three doors, to be kept in reserve in the case of a disaster because if these doors, some of them as the Hon. Minister knows are very old and if they have to be raised and dropped four times a day, it is to be anticipated that the groves and so on will deteriorate and we are likely to have the kind of problem that arose at Cowan Street.
As far as the activities that we hope to undertake in relations to the seeking of relief for the Solid Waste Disposal issues, there is clearly a need for street and ward monitors, in addition to the proposals made by my Hon. Colleague, Ms. Ferguson that there is need for an intense public education campaign.
My own view is that the campaign headed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the “Pick it up Guyana” campaign, should not be seen as a rival activity, but a complementary operation. I think we need to combine our ideas and combine our energies in this regard and let us not spend as much time as we have already spent in this debate, quoting from reports and pointing out weakness with which, I believe, we are all well aware.
Let me point out for instance that there is a very old plan drafted in 2001, of which I am sure some Members are fully aware, which is a draft of the Greater Georgetown Development Plan – Planning Scheme 2001-2010. In there, as you would know, they pay a great deal of attention to the issue of waste disposal. One of the things we have not discussed here is the issue of sewerage disposal. We have talked about garbage, but the issue of sewerage disposal is very serious. I want to quote from the plan. This is the plan that was put out by the consultants who came in and presented to the Minister. The team was headed by Prof. Akhtar Khan, a chartered town planner, this is what it says at paragraph 13 (3):
“The master plan for the proposed sewerage disposal prepared by Engineering Services Limited in 1975, which was reiterated by Caribbean Development Bank consultant in 1978, is still valid. Later developments such as Kitty, Subryanville, Bel Air Gardens, Campbellville, et cetera, were not sewer. According to Housing and Urban Development Report prepared for Istanbul Conference in 1996, a master plan to rebuild the sewerage and water system in Georgetown, is in its first implementation stage.”
It would be useful to know what effectively has happened beyond the implementation stage. Because I do believe that the issue of sewerage disposal is something to which we need to turn our attention, if we are going to be talking about comprehensive waste management.
The other point I want to make very briefly, is that the failure to implement this plan, which in effect covers not simply the issue of Solid Waste Disposal, but issues of traffic control, issues of vendors, issues of squatting and regularisation, all of these issues are covered in this plan. What we know about this plan is that very little of it has actually been implemented.
In relations, for instance, to the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA), which I know, my friend the Hon. Minister of Housing would be pleased to consider, in the chapter dealing with Housing at paragraph 23 (2.3), this is what the report has to say:
“There is neither a tradition of pro-active planning nor integrated planning by the CH&PA international plans, nor conducting feasibility studies for Urban Infrastructural Projects, nor of developing implementation programmes, in addition to the plans themselves.”
I do not believe there is much to be gained by pointing fingers at weakness that undoubtedly exists in many of our institutions, including the Ministry. What we need to do is to take full recognition of what these weaknesses are and attempt, I believe, not to be discouraged by them, we are not suggesting that they be overlooked, but we are suggesting that the present crisis requires from us in this National Assembly, a concerted effort, one to recognise the problem as it exist and attempt to forge a plan to address it. This is all this simple motion asks and I am urging that notwithstanding all of the diagnosis that we have heard in relations to the City Council that we not be deterred in relations to our determination to do something about this problem and to attempt to fix it. In fixing it, I would recommend that we think very strongly of the sustainability of the remedies that we are going to apply.
With those few words I end my contribution to this motion. [Applause]
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