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Editorial: No turning back at NSWMA

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We appreciate the premium on loyalty in politics and how loyalty is enhanced when political relationships are overlaid with personal friendships. Jennifer Edwards, the fired CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), and prime minister and People's National Party (PNP) president, Portia Simpson Miller, are political

colleagues. They are also friends.

In the circumstances, Mrs Simpson Miller must resist any inclination or entreaties from her party to override the decision of the NSWMA's board not to renew Ms Edwards' three-year contract. If that idea is broached at Cabinet meeting, ministers must reject it out of hand.

Perchance Cabinet members lack the fortitude to do what is right and in support of public accountability, then the NSWMA's board, chaired by Steve Ashley, has no option but to resign and to tell the public why it did. To act otherwise would be at the price of their credibility and integrity.

This newspaper doesn't maintain its call for Ms Edwards' departure from the NSWMA solely because of the latest health-damaging and commerce-diminishing fog from last week's fire at the city's dump. Her failure to anticipate and mitigate the crisis only reinforced what was known from the start and throughout Ms Edwards' tenure: that she was the wrong choice for the job.




Ms Edwards may be good at other things, including politics and the presidency of the PNP Women's Movement, but being the CEO of the solid waste management company requires other competencies, including an appreciation of environmental engineering, an understanding of logistics and project management, and critically in Jamaica's economic environment, competence in financial management. Not only did Ms Edwards show little or none of these skills, but worse, even in the view of her governors, she had an aversion to acquiring the necessary support.

These circumstances exaggerated the inadequacy of resources available to NSWMA to do its job, which can only be done properly operating in sanitary landfills. Unfortunately, Ms Edwards demonstrated neither the imagination nor the vision to maximise what was available and/or articulate a strategy for the transformation of the agency. The upshot: her tenure reinforced the perception of the NSWMA, and of the garbage business in Jamaica, as enterprises for the distribution of political slush.

Ms Edwards' departure, assuming that she is really gone, affords an opportunity for fundamental change to solid waste management. But it must start with the appointment of a CEO who carries no political baggage and brings with him/her the fundamental requirements of the job, including no presuming that the existing model has to remain as it is.

In that regard, the new appointee has two critical priorities. One is to accelerate the organisation of the dump into discrete collection cells with appropriate fire buffer between each. This can be accomplished without major investment. The other priority, to be addressed concurrently with the first, is outlining the path, including the economic arrangements, towards creating modern landfills in Jamaica. This may mean privatising the landfill management, for which a number of proposals are on the table, but not seriously engaged.