Tue | Jan 28, 2020

Editorial | Upping the decibel

Published:Saturday | December 14, 2019 | 12:23 AM

If we were to hazard a guess, Kingston, already among the world’s noisiest cities, is about to become a lot noisier – for the long term. And for Kingston, you might as well read Jamaica.

This week, in the face of pressure from promoters of music and other entertainment events, including threats to withhold their support at election, the politicians went to Parliament and voted, ostensibly until the end of January, to extend the time, by two hours, the period when persons have amplified noise at night.

During weekdays, it used to be until midnight. That has now been pushed to 2 a.m. At weekends, they can now go until 4 a.m., two hours later than before.

The Government says the move is to accommodate revellers, and others, over the Christmas period.

“This bill represents a temporary solution to ensure that we are providing an environment which accommodates the social needs of our people, whether music, church or political events, while preserving the right to non-disturbance,” said the national security minister, Horace Chang, as he ushered the ­amendments through Parliament.

According to Dr Chang, the adjustment to the law, notwithstanding, if stipulated decibel levels are exceeded and communities are disturbed, the police will turn off the sound systems and lock down the events.

We want to give Dr Chang the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, taking him at his word on this matter isn’t easy. We fear that the horse has bolted and we have grave doubts that it can be reined in.

Put another way, a great bane of Jamaica is our inability to enforce laws, which is evident daily in what happens in our public spaces. Hucksters expropriate portions of roadways and sidewalks, where they set up stalls and ‘marts’, often directly under ‘no vending’ signs, in blatant breach of the law. These enterprises may exist years, decades, with the authorities paying little attention.

Taxis and buses race on the roads, pick up and let off passengers where they ought not to, overtake on the wrong side of the road, and generally, menace other road users with seeming impunity.

When the Noise Abatement Act was introduced in the 1980s, it was in the face of a sense of lawlessness among those who operated sound systems at night, without regard for the rights and welfare of neighbours who they disturbed. Based on the anecdotal evidence of the last three decades, the law, at best, made marginal difference. In some communities, the situation may have grown worse. People were deprived of peace and quiet in their homes, with detriment to their physical and mental health, but have had to grin and bear it because of where they lived.


In a few communities, though, where sufficient influential voices reside, the frequent complaints about night noises have been able to penetrate relatively receptive ears, forcing the authorities to enforce the law.

More recently, the police, as Dr Chang argued, have used the law as a crime-fighting tool – shutting down parties as a way to disperse crowds and getting people off the streets. This may have helped some communities, but that wasn’t the primary driver of the interventions.

Party promoters have argued that ‘early’ close-off time for their events is bad for the cultural industry and hurts the economy. They insisted on adjustments and have now pried the door half-open. We expect they will try to go all the way.

We appreciate the economic impact of this industry, including its importance to small, informal operators. But that doesn’t absolve Jamaican cultural industry operators from employing the discipline of their counterparts elsewhere, including starting and finishing shows on time and engineering the sound systems to have little effect on people who aren’t at their events, but are in the privacy of their homes.