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Trucks with guns, drugs vanish

NSWMA garbage units never made it from wharf

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 23, 2012    

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EMPLOYEES of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) remain puzzled by the disappearance of two garbage trucks that were acquired by the entity, by way of an auction last year, but which were never added to their fleet.

The two collection units mysteriously disappeared from Port Bustamante some time in October 2011, after they were officially released to the NSWMA by the Customs Department.

"The trucks never made it through the gates of the NSWMA," one official of the garbage disposal agency told the Jamaica Observer.

"They seemed to have disappeared somewhere from the wharf on the way to us," the official said.

Originally, three trucks were imported privately, but customs officials found drugs and guns hidden in them, which led to their seizure and subsequent auction.

A source said that one of the trucks which fitted the description was spotted in a yard around 10 o'clock one night in the Half-Way-Tree area two months ago, but when NSWMA and police officials arrived there around 4 o'clock the following morning for a planned raid, the truck had vanished.

It could not be determined which individual or organisation originally imported the vehicles.

Investigations by the Sunday Observer revealed that three Seddon Atkinson trucks were shipped from England some time in August 2011 and arrived later that month.

The three were described as "brand new, second-hand" units, which were brought in to truck commercial garbage by the importer.

After the action was taken by the Customs Department to auction the vehicles, two units from the batch left the port mysteriously.

"It was as if they walked out of Port Bustamante and no one saw anything," the NSWMA official said.

It was at that point that the agency moved swiftly to secure the last remaining unit, which could not be driven from Port Bustamante, and needed to be towed by wrecker to the NSWMA's garage located at 97 Hagley Park Road in Kingston.

That vehicle had been stripped of some of its vital electrical parts and remains at the facility awaiting money to effect repairs.

"None of the trucks found their way to the NSWMA," the organisation's Executive Director Jennifer Edwards confirmed in an interview with the Sunday Observer.

"The NSWMA has not been able to verify that they were secured," said Edwards, who took over as head of the waste disposal agency in January, replacing Joan Gordon-Webley, who quit last November to represent the Jamaica Labour Party in the December 29 General Election. Gordon- Webley lost to the People's National Party's Damion Crawford in her bid to take the East Rural St Andrew seat that she won in 1980.

"When I came to the NSWMA I heard the rumours about the missing trucks and I started to investigate internally, but I have not found any documentation. I am seeking to have another look from another direction, but I have heard the story about the missing trucks.

"There is no official paper trail of the transaction, but it is possible that they were burnt in the fire or were removed. It's a hard place to track what happened before," Edwards said.

She was referring to a mysterious fire that gutted a section of the NSWMA's Half-Way-Tree Road headquarters last January. Agency officials suspect that vital information was deliberately destroyed following official confirmation by police that arson was the cause of the blaze.

But those who have been long in the system swear that they know about the transaction, which was communicated to staff last year.

The garbage truck that made it to the NSWMA's fleet, with Government registration plate 30 4096, was undergoing repairs when the Sunday Observer made enquiries about its readiness.

Officials at the NSWMA said that it took almost a year to get the necessary road documents for it, which were acquired mere weeks ago.

Contacted by the Sunday Observer, Gordon-Webley rubbished the suggestions that the trucks disappeared under her watch, and went further to declare that the NSWMA could never have participated in any auction as the entity had always been cash strapped.

The former NSWMA boss said she had been hearing the rumours, but discounted them as cheap politics.

Gordon Webley explained that during her tenure at the solid waste management agency, she only once received a garbage truck from the fleet of unserviceable or seized vehicles on the wharf.

"In order to obtain that vehicle, I had to ask the finance minister, who then instructed me to write a letter to the ministry. Following that, the vehicle was released, and as far as I know, remains at the solid waste agency," Gordon-Webley insisted.

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