Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Time for truth about Riverton fires

Published:Tuesday | March 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMGordon Robinson

The Riverton fire is getting more attention than any other annual event, including carnival.

Why the shock, awe and outrage? Haven't we been here before? Repeatedly? Governments prioritise SUVs over fiscal targets and fiscal targets over all else, especially waste management, so what's so surprising?

And what've WE done? In a high-class article headlined 'Gross negligence all round' (Gleaner, March 16, 2015), Diana McCaulay, merciless in her analysis of the situation, wrote:

"There is no question that the NSWMA has been grossly negligent in the handling of Jamaica's solid waste, nor that both NEPA and the Ministry of Health have failed in their statutory duties as regulators. But we citizens have also failed - we consume and discard our waste as if we have proper waste facilities. We put our garbage at the gate and complain if it's not collected, never for one moment considering how we might reduce the amount we throw away. Many of us discard garbage at the side of the road, out of car windows, in gullies or we set fire to it ... . Given the parlous state of the Jamaican economy, we all must accept that there is not going to be enough money for our increasingly wasteful consumption patterns and take personal responsibility for the amount and type of waste we produce."

Abso-lutin-tootly, 100 per cent, flipping correct! In my dictionary, courage and integrity are defined as 'speaking the truth', something of which Jamaican politicians tend to be wary. Well, the unvarnished truth is the Riverton City fires are warnings to us. They're also metaphors for governments' negligence; citizens' laissez-faire approach to waste management; and the constant avoidance of the further truth regarding the deep divisions in society whose butterfly effect results in fires at the Riverton City dump.

"I was drawn into myself

observing all this time.

From every angle I could see

my people, you're meeting hell.

Brothers have turned to crime

so they die from time to time.

We'd like to ask you leaders

what have you got in mind?

I see the fire spreading.

It's getting hotter and hot.

The haves will want to be

in the shoes of the have-nots.

If the sign is on your door

then you will be saved for sure.

But, if you are in pretence,

you're on the wrong side of the



mandatory reading material


Diana's article should be required reading at every Cabinet and community meeting. Communities currently focused on cosmetics or acquiring shiny, new electronic 'security' toys might instead consider organising their waste disposal along the lines proposed by Diana and erecting garbage houses outside complexes to assist state collection.

But more truth is required, namely, that societal dysfunction, aided and abetted by governmental neglect, forces many poor, black Jamaicans to live in dehumanising conditions and endure dehumanising treatment or disregard. For them, all hope of escape before Heaven has been obliterated by warped values and attitudes of 'upper classes' who believe themselves invulnerable to similar adversity combined with political deception ("Vote for me and I'll set you free").

It's this societal dysfunction that creates a mindset that throws refuse out of bus windows; urinates in public places; discards waste wherever convenient; and sets dumps on fire. That's the sole available 'power' play for society's discarded and disposable.

When governments, during 50 years, fail to construct one landfill or reservoir, but drive new SUVs while wringing their collective hands at every drought or dump fire, this only reinforces the aforesaid mindset. Empty expressions of 'love' for the poor are examples of classical psychological 'denial' because anybody who truly loves the poor hates unjust or unfair treatment of the poor and acts to eliminate both.




Policemen kill too many citizens. Few are charged; fewer convicted. On camera, a policeman kills an unarmed, incapacitated man but can't be convicted. Nobody is held accountable. The attitude 'she wasn't there' or 'she didn't shoot anybody' or 'she didn't set the fire' is a monumental effrontery to the poor and exposes expressions of love for poor people as air hot enough to set a dump ablaze.

Fire Burning, a seminal 1974 recording by living legend Keith (Bob Andy) Anderson, documented societal divisions that remain unchanged. Bob is a national treasure whose welfare should be Jamaica's priority. Instead, still having to fend for himself at 71, he was recently targeted, wounded and robbed in broad daylight by knife-wielding assailants.

I expect Bob to seek safe haven in a country capable of law enforcement. We, who can't emigrate, will light fires.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to