Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Private sector money going up in Riverton’s smoke

Published:Thursday | March 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Smoke from the Riverton City dump fire banketed a section of Mandela Highway on the weekend.

President of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) Brian Pengelley says the full impact of the Riverton City dump fire is still being counted but that 35-40 companies had to pull down their shutters last Friday as firefighters tackled the conflagration.

Citing a preliminary report from Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), Pengelley says as much as $272 million has been lost, so far, to the Jamaican economy.

The CaPRI report indicates that the real cost of the fire cannot be assessed by looking at the cost of extinguishing it, but it has to be placed alongside other affected areas. The think tank has broken down the economic impact as:

- Cost of extinguishing the fire: $102m

- Preliminary production loss: $136m

- Health: $25m

- Education: $9m

Pengelley said to his certain knowledge most of the companies along the Spanish Town Road-Marcus Garvey Drive corridor had to close on Friday and some remained closed up to Monday in order to protect the health of their workers.

He said the companies are being seriously impacted by loss of production while still having to pay their way.

"If you take those 40 companies and say each of them has 80-100 workers, then you can see the manpower that is lost there. Cost comes to the companies; this is not sick leave - this is full pay," he said, while noting that some companies run six- or sometimes seven-day shifts.

Pengelley says it is lamentable that Jamaica has had an opportunity to fix the problem of the Riverton City dump but has done nothing.

"We have had as a country the opportunity to fix this before and we didn't fix it and here we are, two years down the road. Go back and look at those reports and you will see that almost nothing has been done," the JMA president said.

He called on the government to address the annual problem of fires at Riverton, as this cannot be allowed to continue.

Pengelley was supported by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President William Mahfood, who charged that government has done nothing with an environmental levy imposed on imports in 2008.

"Government of Jamaica imposed an environmental levy on all imports into the country at a half of a per cent of all imports. Those funds today are in excess of $2.5 billion and were specifically earmarked at the time to deal with the solid waste issues of Jamaica," Mahfood said.

The private sector has not seen any evidence that those funds are being used to address Jamaica's solid-waste needs, he added. Both associations were speaking at a press conference on Tuesday.

The PSOJ and the JMA have joined with several civil society groups to push for a full investigation of the causes of the latest fire at Riverton City and for full accountability to be exacted based on the results of the investigations.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com