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NSWMA to resume weekly garbage collection next week

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2014    

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THE National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) says that garbage collection in its Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR) should be back to normal by next Monday.

At the same time, the authority's Director of Operations Percival Stewart says the days of twice weekly pickup of garbage are over. The best residents can hope for, in the medium term, is a seven-day collection cycle.

"It's not the best, but it is not as bad as the (current) 10-14-day cycle," Stewart told the Jamaica Observer, yesterday.

The operations director also said that there is no public health crisis, as was suggested by Opposition spokesman on Local Government Desmond McKenzie, in a press release last week. McKenzie had called on the agency to address the growing public health problem, especially in light of vector-borne diseases such as the chikungunya virus.

However, Stewart admitted that there was an abundance of garbage in the Corporate Area up to last week, which the NSWMA crews are still trying to clear. He said that with the assistance of additional vehicles, loaned to Metropolitan Parks and Markets (MPM) the KMR regional entity, from two other regional entities -- North East Parks and Markets and Southern Parks and Markets -- a major cleaning-up programme was started in areas of St Catherine area (including Portmore, Linstead, Kitson Town, and Old Harbour) over last weekend, which has eased the problem tremendously in those areas.

"This morning the programme moved into Kingston and St Andrew and we are focusing on Kingston until Thursday," he said. On Friday, he said, the focus goes back to Portmore, which should be normal by then (without a backlog) and ready to fit into the seven-day cycle.

"Once we finish clearing up the backlog in Kingston and St Andrew we should be fully into a seven-day cycle," he explained.

Stewart said that the main issue affecting operations at the NSWMA has been the lack of funds. He noted that, while the agency sought $727 million this year from the 2014/15 budget, it only received $178 million. This has forced the NSWMA to assign all its self-owned "blue" trucks to collecting and disposing of commercial garbage/solid waste, for which it is paid, to boost its budget.

The NSWMA has been suffering from serious budgetary limitations over the past two years. Executive Director Jennifer Edwards told Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee in October 2013 that a request for some $6 billion for its 2013/14 budget, turned out at approximately $2.5 billion.

Edwards told the committee that the agency was so badly underfunded that it would need to make major cuts in its spending to survive.

She said that the cuts would affect areas like the maintenance of vehicles and equipment; fuel and other costs associated with the 55 garbage collection units (blue trucks) that it owns; providing covering materials for the majority of disposal sites; as well as meeting its bills for critical infrastructure including sanitation, light, water, and shelter at most disposal sites.

However, it was expected that with the increase in property taxes, as well as increased focus on collection of the tax, which pays for street lights and garbage collection, the NSWMA's budget would have been significantly increased this financial year.

Stewart said he was not optimistic about an increase in the agency's budget this year, despite increased property tax collection,

Just yesterday, Young Jamaica, the youth arm of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, called on Edwards to "move with greater urgency in ensuring the efficient and effective collection of garbage across the island.

"The lacklustre approach being taken by Miss Edwards towards proper solid waste management has now forced the organisation to question her ability to effectively manage the island's waste authority," Young Jamaica said.

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