Thu | Dec 8, 2016

EDITORIAL - Why the NSWMA continues to fail

Published:Wednesday | October 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jennifer Edwards should never have been given the job from the start. She is trained neither in waste management nor logistics, and had not, insofar as we are aware, distinguished herself in any area of management.

Yet, we would have been happy to eat crow if Ms Edwards had made a success of her leadership of Jamaica's National Solid Waste Management Authority (NWSMA). She hasn't. Instead, as Jamaica has grown grimier, she has mastered the art of gripe.

The point is that none of us expects the country to be environmentally pristine. There is an appreciation that resources are short. But these kinds of situations require managers to be resourceful and creative, or, according to the in-vogue cliché, to think outside the box. Managers need to be solution-oriented.

What we get from Ms Edwards is why things can't be done; justification for the country being overloaded with uncollected garbage and Jamaican gullies, streets and verges being choked with refuse and/burdened with unrestrained vegetation.

Removal of skips, drums

The other day, for instance, Ms Edwards, in a television discussion, offered as justification for the NSWMA's removal of skips from the roads the fact that perhaps half the garbage that should go in them reaches the ground around them. We say better half than none. We also say it is a process of continuous reinforcement of the appropriate message.

Ms Edwards also complained that people removed from communities drums put out by her agency to collect garbage. Apparently, the NSWMA then throws up its hands. But these used containers are cheap to acquire. Free even. Replace them. Then reinforce the message for their use.

The sense of despair over the NSWMA was made worse by Ms Edwards' interview with this newspaper published on Sunday. Essentially, it was a gripe-fest:

The budget is not big enough to pay for the clean-up of the entire island.

Half of the money is spent in Kingston and St Andrew. (Which, by the way, is no cleaner than elsewhere.)

The NSWMA can't finance the compressing of garbage at its landfill in the capital.

The agency doesn't have enough vehicles, and those they have break down.

Problem-solving key

There may be some merit to the claims, but Ms Edwards misses a fundamental point about leadership and management. Nowhere in that systemic retching is there the slightest hint of an orientation towards seeking solutions. Problem-solving is a critical remit of managers.

It need not have required such a catalyst, but the chikungunya epidemic hopefully has opened for Ms Edwards new ideas and new ways of thinking about waste management and her job at the NSWMA. Waste management and public hygiene are either side of the same coin. Both impact on public health. In other words, Ms Edwards' agency ought not so see itself operating in isolation from other institutions of government that are important to maintaining the good health of the country. The NSWMA can draw on their resources.

In tough economic times, community engagement to ensure a clean environment and public health makes sense, even though it's hard work. So, too, is engaging the private sector and working with relevant agencies of government to enforce the law. Another thing. Everything, as is too often assumed, requires big bucks. Much of what the NSWMA does requires minimum-wage labour.

It's probably too late for Ms Edwards to learn.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.