Garbage, sewage battle

POLITICAL representatives stepped on each other’s toes Saturday night during the 2024 Local Government Debates as the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour (JLP) tussled over the major problems of garbage-and sewage-overrun streets.

Saturday’s debate, themed ‘Local Government at Work’, was the final of two for representatives seeking to secure votes ahead of the February 26 Local Government Elections. The first was held on Thursday.

Questions were raised around the conditions of markets and cemeteries, streamlining the number of municipal corporations, water and sewerage infrastructure and management, increasing market fees, the approach to disaster risk management, management of traffic congestion around the granting of permits to stage events, the regulatory and actual requirements for environment impact assessments, implementing solar street lights, managing illegal vending, the granting of building permits and the monitoring of compliance regarding same.

Representing the JLP were Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, and councillor candidates Delroy Williams and Richard Vernon.

For team PNP, the debaters were councillor candidates Andrew Swaby, Scean Barnswell and Kaydian Harty.

McKenzie and Williams dominated most of the arguments on the JLP side, while Swaby and Barnswell were out front for the PNP.

The PNP nagged the JLP debaters about the filthy conditions that exist across municipalities, particularly in Kingston and St Andrew.

A question from Irie FM journalist Natalie Campbell gave rise to a heated back and forth sanitation argument.

Campbell asked, “Markets, cemeteries and public order issues in town centres are the responsibility of municipal corporations. Please identify one cemetery, a market, and one town centre in a corporation controlled by your party that you are proud of and approve of, and [state] why.”

McKenzie got the ball rolling for the JLP before he was rebutted by Swaby, who did not mince words.

The minister pointed to Hopewell in Hanover where he said there is a brand new market.

“It is a clean town, congested however, but it is a part of the overall development. The work is ongoing. I can take you to the town of Montego Bay, the town of Ocho Rios, and there are several town centres across the country which speaks volumes to the work of the local authorities in terms of maintaining cleanliness in these town centres,“ he bragged.

But Swaby pulled no punches in describing the markets.

“Our markets are in a deplorable condition; they are dirty, they are stink. I use the Coronation Market in downtown Kingston at least three times per month. It is in your constituency, Minister, and it is dirty. There are no bathroom facilities there. There is no potable water there,” Swaby said, to McKenzie’s annoyance.

Swaby added that regarding the issue of garbage collection, the experience of some citizens is that it sometimes takes more than two weeks for garbage to be collected, “even though the minister and the JLP will brag about [acquiring] 50 trucks”.

“This causes, in some cases, rat infestation and maggots in your rubbish at home. We believe that the National Solid Waste Management Authority [NSWMA] should return to being a regulatory body. We also believe that the operation should return to the local authorities,” Swaby said.

Campbell then followed up, triggering even more intense debating.

“Imagine a scenario where sewage is flowing through a market or a transport centre and it is visible for all to see. The vendors complain, the taxi operators complain, and there is no action. It takes days or weeks for the corporations to respond. Is this an indication that the councillors are not paying attention to what’s happening?” Campbell probed.

The PNP debaters had a grand time placing blame on the JLP for allowing the sewage problem, especially, to get out of hand.

“It exists in downtown Kingston where sewage is running in the streets. I personally have gone down there and had to be stepping on blocks to get across the road and yet the [outgoing Mayor] Delroy Williams and the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation [KSAMC], under his leadership, remained silent on that. We could have an outbreak of disease downtown. The vendors have to hold their breath because of the situation. Earlier on the minister bragged that sewage levels are at their best in the Corporate Area, but in his own constituency there are these issues,” Swaby said.

Williams challenged Swaby’s arguments, pointing out that work has already started in downtown Kingston to solve sewage problems. He also defended the Government’s push to adequately deal with garbage collection.

“The PNP is speaking as if they have never been in charge. On the issue of garbage, they did not hand over a single garbage truck to the NSWMA during their tenure before we took control in 2016. We handed over 100 trucks, and 50 additional trucks are coming. The Administration that did not hand over a single truck to the NSWMA cannot be lecturing us on garbage collection.“

He continued: “The PNP also did not do a single thing about the replacement of aged sewer lines across KSAMC; we are the ones who have been doing it. To say that we have not done anything shows that the councillor is not even aware of what is taking place,” Williams said.