Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Editorial: NSWMA: Next phase

Published:Friday | March 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We wish we were in a position to commend Jennifer Edwards for having done the principled thing and resign as executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA). For while Ms Edwards is leaving, it is not, apparently, of her volition. Coincidental with the latest crisis at the agency, her three-year contract expired and is not being renewed by her directors.

Indeed, if Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's public defence of Ms Edwards, her friend, political colleague, and former adviser, is anything by which to judge, left to their own devices, the CEO would be firmly ensconced. For according to the PM, the NSWMA's boss could not, and should not, be held accountable for the more-than-weeklong fire at Kingston's dump, because she did not light it and was not present when it was lit. Happily, public pressure forced the NSWMA's board to reject that piece of prime ministerial illogic. But getting rid of Jennifer Edwards is not the end of the affair, for it will not of itself fix the problems of the NSWMA or solid waste management in Jamaica.

 

alternative executive director

 

And although we believe that the current board erred in its choice of CEO and failure to implement appropriate systems of accountability, we do not believe that what is required is a parallel management structure, with governors to oversee the current board. Perhaps, what is needed is an alternative executive director with enhanced authority.

Fundamentally, the solution to the issues of the NSWMA rests in recruiting the right CEO, which, paradoxically, causes us to have some sympathy for Jennifer Edwards. She insists that she was neither incompetent nor out of her depth at the NSWMA. The real problem, she argues, is insufficient resources with which to run modern sanitary landfills in the capital and elsewhere in Jamaica.

She is partially right, for J$1 billion in subventions plus J$300 million in commercial fees can't cover recurrent expenditure and pay for the development of infrastructure. However, there are things that can be done to improve operations at the Riverton City dump that does not require a lot of money. Further, as a ruling party politician, Ms Edwards helped to perpetuate a perception of the NSWMA as a trough from which to feed on electoral spoils. While Ms Edwards, as she is adamant, may be a competent manager in other fields, she did not bring the skills required for this specialised field.

Indeed, the public's, and this newspaper's concerns are not merely the raging fires and the choking fog they caused under her watch. She mapped no strategy, at least none we could discern, for transforming the garbage disposal areas into landfills, including how the change could be financed and economically sustained. These are the kinds of things that effective CEOs do and articulate.

In choosing the next CEO of the NSWMA, its directors must, unless the candidate is of exceptional talent, avoid political persons and seek someone with expertise in environmental engineering and solid waste management. Jamaica should also look to its foreign partners for help in recruiting, or perhaps, seconding such a person to help overhaul the NSWMA. But Government must be clearly committed to this transformation in which, as loss of productive time and the cost of health care from the recent fires demonstrated, there is economic value.