Kelly McIntosh | NSWMA talking garbage!
Something is rotten, and it is not in the state of Denmark. It is right here in Coopers Hill, St Andrew, Jamaica. And judging from the pictures flooding my Facebook wall and Twitter timeline, the decay has spread beyond the confines of just my community.
Garbage-collection frequency in this community is down to every three weeks and happens only after tweets, calls, and pleas. The result is the flourishing of ad hoc smelly, unsightly, dumps all along the road. What are people to do in the face of non-collection?
I saw a picture of the central garbage-disposal area in Irish Town last week Sunday overflowing with garbage. I saw a picture of a huge pile of garbage in various stages of decay in Rema posted by one of my friends who lives there. He claimed that the garbage had not been collected in two months.
I saw a report in this paper just this past week where the mayor of Spanish Town took the management of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to task over its failure to collect garbage. Huge mounds of garbage on sidewalks across City Kingston are sadly now the norm. Drive near to Coronation Market, or the old Regal Plaza in Cross Roads, or down South Camp Road mere metres above the beautiful Flag Circle welcoming people to our city: piles of stinking, rotting garbage right in our faces, providing a haven for rats and mosquitoes.
We are drowning in garbage. When the NSWMA fails to collect, the inevitable result is growing piles of garbage along roadsides and overflowing bins where those exist. Animals pick through the garbage and the weather elements render even the sturdiest garbage bag useless in the face of extended exposure.
When the NSWMA truck eventually rolls up, crewmen simply collect the bags present, but the garbage that has escaped on to the environment remains there. They pat themselves on the back, claiming with pride: "We cleaned Coopers Hill today." Utter rubbish! They collect garbage three weeks late, but the hillsides and road corners are nasty with the inevitable consequence of weeks of ignored waste.
Why is the NSWMA silent in the face of growing cries about this untenable garbage situation? We have a right to know and understand what the constraints are. I hear speculation about resources: broken-down trucks that can't be repaired because of lack of funds and contractors who refuse to drive another metre until they get paid the backlog owed to them. What is the true position?
I am begging the NSWMA to cease the lukewarm PR efforts they've attempted over the last two weeks. They've appeared ignorant and incompetent at best with their utterances at town-hall meetings and radio programmes. Stop with the "let's work together to solve our problem" platitudes.
The management of the NSWMA needs to come clean with what ails them. That is how you win the hearts of the people whom you serve. That is how you communicate the sense of urgency that is needed to solve this crisis. That is how you take the discussion to where it really needs to go instead of the noise and confusion that now prevails, resulting in the nastiness engulfing us.
I am interested in a response from Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie's response to this crisis. I have not heard him at all. Did I miss it? It is curious to me that we cry out loudly when crime runs amok or when economic indicators appear awry and demand explanations of the responsible ministers, but the ministry under which the NSWMA falls escapes public pressure.
Does no one see the gravity of the garbage crisis around us? Does the leadership not see it? Does leadership not connect the dots between garbage and disorder and crime? Does leadership not see the link between the garbage crisis and public health?
It is as if this country did not pay a high price in productivity and direct healthcare costs as a result of recent outbreaks of Chik-V and ZIKV not too long ago! Are we going to wait for yet another epidemic to raise a hue and cry about garbage and public health? Are we going to wait for visitor arrivals to start declining in the face of bad press and social-media shaming about just how stink and nasty Jamaica is?
So perhaps NSWMA's problem is resources. There is no context, certainly in Jamaica, where resources are infinite. I put it to you that any halfway decent manager can get the job done with unlimited resources. That's easy. It is when resources are limited that management skills are put to the test and where we separate the men from the boys.
For it is the resourceful and creative and analytical manager that will be able to fulfil his mandate in the face of limited resources. The NSWMA's motto is 'The Country's Beauty is Our Duty'. I don't know whether to laugh bitterly or weep with despair as I move across this country, confronted with the ever-present litter and growing dumps all over the island.
A huge part of our garbage problem is literally the amount of waste that we generate. I met one of NSWMA's truck drivers in the tax office this week. She represented the best of Jamaican women: strength, aggression, humour, and beauty wrapped up in one package.
I tried to draw her out to tell me what was happening with her organisation. She quickly and firmly put me in my place, telling me to call the head office. But she did say that sometimes the trucks only get through picking up garbage from half of any given community before the trucks are full and they have to depart.
Now I ask you this: Is the NSMWA collecting data on waste generation by community for planning purposes? I'd be surprised if this were so. In the absence of hard, basic data such as this, how in God's name do they therefore plan in terms of number of trucks and trips needed to fulfil their mandate? What is not measured cannot be managed.
But let us say that the NSWMA knows exactly how many trucks and trips are needed to collect the garbage across the length and breadth of this island, but they simply don't have all that is needed. This is where competent management starts looking for ways to get the job done in the face of resource constraints instead of allowing the piles of nastiness to grow higher and higher. Collecting garbage is only one task that is to be done in keeping Jamaica clean. Competent management would look to the root cause of the symptoms around us and come up with ways to solve them. Here are a few that have come to my mind with just a little thought:
1. Start trying to influence the amount of waste that people generate by partnering with other agencies such as the Jamaica Environment Trust, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, retailers, Jamaican Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Scientific Research Council, the Ministry of Education, and so on, to build awareness and to arrive at solutions to the excessive packaging we use, issues of recycling, etc.
2. Form strategic partnerships with agencies that can help you spread awareness about proper containerising of garbage. Piggy-back on their budgets to get your message out. I'm sure they'd welcome your participation.
3. Place public skips to fill the gaps that occur when you don't collect. Work with community organisations to educate people as to the proper use of these skips and to create monitors who live right there in the community who will ensure compliance with your guidelines.
4. Work closely with the police in various communities to ensure that commercial operators don't burden the State's system with their waste, but rather, use their own contracted resources for their situation.
I am sorely disappointed with the current management and board of the NSWMA. They are failing miserably to live up to their own mandate. We need competent management at the NSWMA that is able to, in the face of limited resources, apply creative and critical thinking to the problem at hand and forge strategic partnerships with those who can help them fulfil their mandate.
We also need to see visible leadership and a swift, decisive, response from our political directorate in the face of this growing garbage crisis. When these things happen, the State will have regained the legitimacy it lacks where garbage management is concerned. It is only with reclaimed legitimacy that they'll win the hearts of the citizenry, rekindle self- and national pride, and be able to demand and extract accountability.