Joan Gordon-Webley: Cleaning up the NSWMA
Keisha Shakespeare-Blackmore, Flair Writer
While many see solid waste as just trash, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) Joan Gordon-Webley, sees the potential of a big business.
Gordon-Webley told Flair that when she went to work with the NSWMA some three years ago, the first thing she wanted to do was remove the stigma associated with the organisation. Before taking up her current job, Gordon-Webley was a member of Parliament. But these days she is not cleaning up at the polls, she is working with a massive team to clean up Jamaica.
The executive director said after moving to the NSWMA, it dawned on her that it was a privilege to work in the public sector. She added that, working in the private sector, one has to earn one's keep and she is a strong believer in that.
"The truth is, when you work in Government you have to be an extraordinary person not to become lazy and complacent." She further stated that she has never known what it is to be given a salary without stringent guidelines being applied.
"I pride myself in being productive because goals must be set and standards must be reached." Therefore, she said she is humbled that taxpayers have put funds in her hands for her to administer. She believes she must work hard to earn her keep. In keeping with her mandate, Gordon-Webley went 'spring cleaning' to restructure how the company was being operated among other things. She said in order to better assist Jamaicans, the NSWMA has four agencies located islandwide. One office is the MPM Waste Management Ltd. She said before she took over that office, it was at another location in Kingston while the head office of the NSWMA had an empty space on its building. After reviewing how much it cost for staffing, rent and daily operations of that office, she decided to move it to the head office space.
"We were able to save well over $1 million per month," she revealed. She noted that she realised as well that much mismanagement was taking place at the NSWMA. For instance, one day she got a purchase order of J$200,000 for office grocery, a luxury she immediately pulled the plug on.
"I had to put a stop to that quickly. Where I was coming from, people brought their own coffee and snacks to work." She said she also discovered that all the agencies were being operated separately which cost time and money for added stationary. As such, Gordon-Webley put in place a computerised system and was able to save much.
"I did all of this with money we had saved on other things and without the assistance of the Government." Another issue was the landfill located at Riverton in Kingston. Many days, black smoke hovered over the city, caused by landfill fires. Gordon-Webley recalled the first time she had to go to the landfill because it was burning excessively. She said about 100 men were on site to 'help' put out the fire. She recalled not seeing any dirt, sand or water or things used to extinguish fires. She realised this was a way to get money from the Government for doing nothing.
She said she asked the men with trucks to get dirt but she noticed that despite the dirt being emptied onto the fire, it still blazed fiercely. After a little investigation, she found out that cut and lit tyres had been mixed with the dirt to sabotage the operation. So she took swift action and got the fire out in three weeks. In over a year, she said there has been no more burning of the landfill. Gordon-Webley stated that she has changed how the landfill operates and has a computerised system for a more efficient operation.
"We are also planning on installing sensors in order to detect when hazardous waste enters the landfill in our trucks," she said.
The NSWMA serviced and repaired all the government trucks that were not being utilised and is currently using them instead of having to hire private-company trucks to take up waste. All trucks now have to enter the landfill and pay an administration fee otherwise they cannot claim for payment. These and other stern actions have been put in place for more efficiency.
And for those whom she said were "high on the hog", they are no longer getting paid for doing nothing. However, she said some people don't want to adhere to the changes. This has rendered her unpopular and has resulted in death threats.
"People do not like changes but I will not be going down in history as the one who squanders taxpayer's money," she said defiantly. Gordon-Webley noted that another challenge is that garbage collection has increased since the recent rains. Whereas two bags per household were collected weekly, now they are taking in up to 20 bags. Also she said too many companies just give solid waste to anyone to dispose and even more alarming, some take the commercial garbage home to add to their household waste for disposal, or even pack it and drop it off in nearby bushes and ditches. This is to avoid paying the NSWMA to collect it.
On a good note, the executive director said she has entered into many working relationships with companies for the beautification of the island. Currently, the NSWMA is doing much overhauling and some landscaping to beautify the island. They are also working with other entities on the 'Spruce Up Jamaica' project. And through the NSWMA's garden division they have beautified several parks in the Corporate Area including National Heroes Park. She also said the park has a nursery, one of four to be put in place islandwide. Plus, the organisation recently began a bee project.
But what Gordon-Webley wants to see most of all is better disposal of garbage from everyone, which will assist in keeping the country clean and beautiful.