Joint Statement of Civil Society Groups Concerning the Repeated Fires at the Riverton City Dump

Yesterday afternoon (March 17), a group of concerned individuals representing a wide range of civil society, non-governmental and private sector organizations gave a press briefing at the office of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica to express their outrage at the latest fire at the Riverton dump. I would like to add my voice to their plea for accountability and transparency; and support the groups’ recommendations. AND PLEASE: Let this never, ever happen again. 

Here is the groups’ statement, released following the press briefing.

A view of the docks in Kingston Harbour during the Riverton fire. PSOJ head William Mahfood said the port was closed for three days. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)
A view of the docks in Kingston Harbour during the Riverton fire. PSOJ head William Mahfood said the port was closed for three days. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

March 17, 2015

Jamaica’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms states that every person has the right to:

“… enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage
From environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage;”

The recurring fires and poor environmental management at the Riverton dump are an assault on those rights.

Proper, effective and efficient solid waste management has been a critical issue for Jamaica for some time, yet successive political administrations have neglected to put the necessary funding and expertise in place to address this matter. This is compounded by the fact that the responsible Ministries, Departments and Agencies have failed to carry out their duties at an acceptable level.

There is every indication that there are vested interests in the annual burning of the Riverton dump, and although it is known that the fires are often deliberately set, the public has not been informed of any efforts to seriously investigate and prosecute persons responsible. There has also been insufficient effort to properly secure the site.

With each disastrous event hundreds of millions of dollars are found to be spent but with little or no transparency in the procurement of services and equipment.

The costs are high not only in financial terms to put out the fires but also in

-The impact on citizens’ health and individual, family and national health related expenses;
-The loss of productive hours as businesses and other institutions are forced to close;
-Loss of school days and consequently, vital teaching-learning contact hours for the children of the corporate area and sections of St. Catherine;
-Severely compromised air quality and other serious environmental impacts;
-Human distress and suffering;
-Loss of livelihoods and income for many;
-Increased burden of care on women who have the main responsibility for the children and elderly who are affected.

We, like many other members of the public have lost confidence in the willingness and commitment of the present leadership of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) and the Ministry of Local Government to effectively manage the process going forward.

We therefore call for the following:

1.Proper investigations of the numerous breaches, and causes of the fire, including the current one, which have caused so much in productivity losses, health and other costs.

2.Full accountability based on the findings of investigations and for those responsible for the management of the dump.

3.The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) must immediately take enforcement action, including via the courts, for the breaches to its environmental permit issued to NSWMA.

4.Immediate establishment of an implementation team/oversight committee, similar to the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) and the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC). This team should be comprised of persons with relevant skills, knowledge and expertise, from the public, private and civil society sectors and be mandated to see to the implementation of the NSWMA work plan and the various recommendations over the years for the efficient management of the dump, for preventing recurrence of disastrous fires and ensuring proper, sustainable solid waste management for the medium to long term. As is done by the ESET and EPOC, the team must provide the public with regular reports on the status of implementation. Civil society and the private sector must be consulted in the naming of persons for this team.

We call on the State and every citizen to make proper solid waste disposal and management an urgent, national priority.

Signed:
Jamaica Civil Society Coalition
Jamaica Chamber of Commerce
Jamaica Council of Churches
Jamaica Environment Trust
Jamaica Manufacturers Association
Jamaica Psychological Foundation
Jamaicans for Justice
The MSME Alliance
Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica
The Small Business Association of Jamaica
The National Youth Council of Jamaica
Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition
Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre
WMW Jamaica

President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica William Mahfood speaks, while Carol Narcisse of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (center) and Diana McCaulay, CEO, Jamaica Environment Trust listen at yesterday's press  briefing. (Photo: Jamaicans for Justice)
President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica William Mahfood speaks, while Carol Narcisse of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (center) and Diana McCaulay, CEO, Jamaica Environment Trust listen at yesterday’s press briefing. (Photo: Jamaicans for Justice)

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