Since the start of February 2017 I have been sick…my chest is congested and I have serious allergies and an infected sinus. My child is also afflicted in some of these ways. The problem is especially acute in the nights, impacting our rest and slumber. I saw a news item involving residents bemoaning the quality of the air in the Mandela Highway- Washington Blvd areas including also the community (or is it city?) of Portmore. As I listened I realized that my family and I do have a tendency to get this type of sickness at intervals throughout any given calendar year. Sometimes I can trace and pinpoint the exact issue (a landfill fire- see a previous post) whether deliberate or accidental in nature or a result of sugar cane reaping season. However lately the last few attacks have been a little insidious in nature. As a Researcher and also an Environmentalist/Urban Planner I am somewhat good at identifying patterns and noting change. I am therefore by a process of elimination concluding that chemical interactions are abound at the landfill emitting noxious and unseen fumes into our air. The integrity of our air quality is compromised and its safe to say that without a sanitary landfill -major incidents or no, we are in perpetual danger.
As it is a topical and current issue an article was published in a major daily newspaper today linked HERE I read with interest and I was not encouraged as there was no immediate solution or rescue in sight. Though bummed I am trying to remain an empathetic human being and a realist. I want to be a part of the change I seek so, after pondering over the article, I had some thoughts.
Image source is from the hardcopy printed article with bar graphs highlighting some air quality results of affected areas close to the major landfill over the last five (5) years – data availability allowing.
This article highlighted a myriad of issues. There were inter-connected institutional, operational and policy elements. I also drew on comments rendered during the @liveat7 episode I watched last Friday (10/02/2017) as they rounded out the week of major headlines. A part of the recap included attempts by the panel members to gauge the sentiments, on the ground, as it pertained to the preliminary tabling of the national budget. A part of the discussion was the whole matter of the amalgamation of Ministries and portfolios. It was reiterated against the background that one of the only required Ministry was that of Finance, as promulgated by the Constitution.There was even a suggestion that perhaps there could be a ‘doing away’ with some of the Ministries and portfolios as they existed, one example was the Ministry of Culture, Sports, etc.The rationale being that sometimes the thought behind awarding these portfolios included as political rewards to party die-hards. But this is not what this post is about. I want to posit that we start to look more at Oversight Committees (OC) for matters impacting the ‘commons.’ This OC approach is already implemented with the Economic Growth Council (EGC) which is aimed at among other things streamlining efforts to achieve the GOJ’s growth and prosperity agenda. Subsequently, an OC for the environment could then incorporate any matter or issue related to the management of our natural environment/ resources. With such an arrangement there could be a more efficient channeling of resources. An immediate gain would be the utilization of specialized groups to address arising (and persistent problems). It may mean a retention of the NEPA albeit at lower capacity and most importantly solely in a regulatory and enforcement function. Afterall such agencies, as they exist, require year round funding for staff and salaries, etc. Therefore some cost savings there as well. It would allow for NEPA to focus on its core functions – regulate AS WELL AS enforce (bearing in mind that the two activities are not mutually exclusive). The obvious value added to this suggestion is that the public can hold the agency accountable for the fees collected (during regulation) against the service provided (during enforcement). A comparative analysis could be done to determine the feasibility of operating the OCE versus the cost of the current operations of NEPA. To further illustrate how this would work, the OCE could have a standing order to meet on a quarterly basis in addition to as required for those times of national crisis and emergencies (in which case a multi-stakeholder approach can be employed such as currently obtain in major disaster responses such as post hurricane events). The option would also be available for different modalities, such as specific to the problem arising, in which case specialized action may be required. This again would preclude the need for an all year round staff and agency administration in its current state.
The bottom bottomline– resultant cost savings in wage bills to be diverted to assist with optimizing service provisions such as- I don’t know maybe- better Air Quality Monitoring capabilities, upgrading the main disposal site on the island (Riverton) to a sanitary landfill, improving municipal and industrial waste disposal, increasing enforcement and providing the JIS* with a bigger public education budget to enlargen the public awareness campaign against illicit dumping and the burning of garbage, etc.
*the suggestion here is that all major national public education campaigns should be centralized and emanate out of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).