Keep politicians and their operatives out of 'Operation Sweep'
Audley Gordon, executive director of the NSWMA

On the surface of it, the presence of high-powered politicians, including the prime minister, the finance minister, and the minister of local government, at the recent unveiling of 50 new garbage trucks for Operation Sweep looks positive.

It suggests that the Government is serious about handling the ugly and dangerous pile-up of garbage across Jamaica. Of course, we will soon know how serious they are when they fulfil the promise of 50 additional trucks that the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) estimates it will need to put a meaningful dent in the problem of garbage collection.

We were never happy with the decision to divert funds allocated for garbage collection and disposal to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we kept quiet because the spreading of the novel coronavirus was a clear and present danger at the time. Garbage pile-up contains its own health risks from disease outbreaks.

From our experience, the presence of high-powered politicians at an event that should be routine is usually a sign that they expect major political capital out of it — which would be a shame, because the collection of garbage is such a basic function of Government.

Perhaps, the big draw was the relatively high number of 50 trucks in one go. Ordinarily, if Jamaica were merely replacing garbage trucks once they are no longer functional, we probably would not need to buy more than a couple of trucks per year. Then there would be no need for all this song and dance and unveiling ceremony.

The greater fear we have, however, is that politicians, as they are wont, will find it hard to resist getting personally involved in how Operation Sweep is administered, such as in decisions about which communities get their garbage picked up and when.

There should be no telling the NSWMA which communities get priority based on which side of the political fence they live. This is purely an administrative matter taking into consideration how bad the pile-up is, how long it has gone on, and how much of a threat it is to people's health.

It will be NSWMA Executive Director Audley Gordon and his team's job to resist the politicians, should they be tempted. Mr Gordon has made a good start by hitting the road with the garbage trucks and articulating for the public the matter of how waste should be disposed of properly.

We take Mr Gordon's word that the decision to start the campaign in Portmore, St Catherine, and allocate it 12 trucks, was based on a massive backlog — 60 to 70 loads of garbage — across Jamaica's most populous residential community.

Operation Sweep must stick to its plan to target town centres and market districts to boost garbage collection while placing greater emphasis on compliance to minimise the illegal disposal of waste.

The 10 motorcycles and the so-called Sweep cops must be used to boost the NSWMA's capabilities, and the trucks and bikes must be properly maintained so that Jamaica can get the best use out of them. This is not something that we should have to say, but memories are still fresh of what obtains.

Still, there will never be enough trucks to pick up garbage that people continue to throw anywhere they please. The Litter Act is taking much too long to be updated, and enforcement has been weak.

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