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JET supports McKenzie on punishment for fire offenders

Published:Saturday | April 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju

Environmentalist and head of Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay says that she supports strong action against persons who burn garbage without any regard for the risk it may pose to life.

Her comments come against the background of a recent announcement by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie that he intends to enforce the relevant laws against offenders who carelessly burn garbage.

"What we have is the perennial problem in Jamaica, which is the enforcement of existing laws. Under the law, the (maximum) fine is $50,000, so I think he should go forth and fine and prosecute. I'm delighted," she told The Gleaner on Thursday.

Following a tour of the Riverton City Dump in St Andrew on Thursday, March 24, McKenzie served notice of his intention to use the full force of the law to stem the wanton burning of garbage across the Corporate Area.

FIRES ACT

It is estimated that more than one-third of Jamaicans burn garbage - some because they have no alternative way of disposing of it; others because they are ignorant of the potential negative impact on health and the environment. This is despite the fact that open burning is illegal. In fact, under the Country Fires Act and the Public Health (Nuisance) Regulations, it is an offence to light certain fires without permission.

"People have to understand that the law must start to act, and act in a way that punishes those who continue to disrupt the lives of others," McKenzie declared during a tour of the dump where some 60 per cent of the country's solid waste is disposed.

The Country Fires Act of 1942 states that for something as simple as setting fire to a pile of garbage in your back yard, the local authority (Parish Council) or the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation must first give permission. The law also empowers members of the Jamaica Fire Brigade personnel to put out any fire that is seen as a potential threat to life and property. But the $2,000 for a first conviction or a prison term not exceeding three months is a source of discontent for Assistant Commissioner of the Fire Brigade Sean Martin.

He has long argued for a significant increase in the sanctions, insisting that the current fines and prison terms are not a deterrent.