Sun | Dec 16, 2018

Editorial | Messrs Chung and Gordon must more than out fires

Published:Friday | August 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM

For a number of days this week, an acrid haze hung low over large swathes of the Kingston metropolitan region, where around a quarter of Jamaica's 2.7 million people lives. That smoke was from the city's dump - pretentiously called a landfill - at Riverton City, the result of a recent string of fires at the dump.

There have also been fires at the dumps at St James, in north western Jamaica and St Thomas in the east. The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), which operates and regulates the island's garbage dumps, blamed them on arsonists.

The proposed solution of Dennis Chung, the chairman of the NSWMA, at least to the problem at Riverton, which annually handles nearly 400,000 tons of solid waste, is an increase in security. That may, or may not, happen, given Mr Chung's seeming expectation that it will be provided by the security forces. In the meantime, respiratory complaints, especially people who live close to the dump, will likely be on the rise.

It is against this backdrop that it worth reminding Mr Chung of the context of his appointment, and its enthusiastic welcome by this newspaper, to the chairmanship of the NSWMA, 39 months ago. It has been more than three years.

That was in the aftermath of the previous administration's firing of the board led by Steve Ashleigh during a period of instability at the NWSMA, when Mr Ashleigh's board didn't renew the contract of then CEO and his People's National Party (PNP) colleague, Jennifer Edwards, who had faced public backlash against her perceived incompetence, especially in the management of a series of fires at Riverton.

Mr Chung, with his strong private sector credentials, was expected to engineer an overhaul of the NWSMA's image as a sluice through which political patronage flowed, even if via legitimate contracts. More important, however, was the inherent promise of a restructuring Riverton and other dumps. People looked forward to their transformation to modern, sanitary landfills.

 

BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

 

Eighteen months ago when, after four months on the job as chief technical officer, Audley Gordon, lately a deputy general secretary of the governing Jamaica Labour Party, was promoted to the post of CEO, we gave Mr Chung the benefit of the doubt, notwithstanding that Mr Gordon had a background neither in engineering nor environmental sciences. We were told Mr Gordon was a good manager, who had proved his competence in his previous post.

More important to us was Mr Chung's promise that Mr Gordon possessed a "detailed plan" for the NWSA to be an effective regulator as well as for the Establishment of "world class sanitary landfills". This newspaper, at the time, asked for those plans to be put to public scrutiny.

While we have heard bits and pieces of what they want to achieve, (but) what has emanated from Messrs Chung and Gordon have been mostly about operational urgencies, rather than an encompassing vision. We have not been privy to the CEO's "detailed plan", or a policy document flowing from it. Which it is not to say there haven't been incremental moves towards creating modern landfills since the NWSMA launch in the 1990s; but no comprehensive project for the transformation.

Perhaps the last time the public has heard a clear, and clearly articulated vision, for the creation and management of landfills was during Anna Treasure's ultimately too short stint at the agency towards the start of the 2000s. Messrs Chung and Gordon now have to show a clear path to other than out fires, and if they can't, say why.