When Owen Arthur dared to march all alone
The time must come when Barbados’ waste disposal management must be dealt with strictly along apolitical lines.
To politicize the issue and divide the country along party lines will do nothing to address a serious situation that has the potential to get worse before it gets better.
The simple fact is that if Barbadians generate waste, then they have to pay for its disposal. The means by which they pay, whether through a Municipal Solid Waste Tax, a water levy, or even an incinerator accommodation tax, should be the focal point of discussion.
If one particular strategy does not seem ideal, then our leaders and John Public must put their heads together and come up with alternatives. But at the end of the day, whatever decision is made, waste disposal will incur a cost and the people of Barbados must reconcile themselves to the reality that they have to bear the burden.
In the midst of the politicking, emotionalism and sun-drenched marching, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur presented a most apolitical stance to the issue. Indeed, the St Peter MP must be praised for taking a national position over pure political posturing. Though he might not be in agreement with all the methodologies of the Government relative to the new tax, he has made it clear that the Opposition should not give the Barbadian populace the impression that the financial burden of waste disposal is not theirs.
“I am the only person in Barbados who cannot with honour participate in an event with the intention of protesting totally against a Government introducing a measure to raise resources for environmental solutions,” the political statesman stressed yesterday, while reiterating that at the Rio Summit in 1995 the “polluter must pay” principle gave birth to the Environmental Levy which he introduced then.
Mr Arthur knows only too well the importance of solid waste disposal and the challenges that it can pose in terms of financing and actual disposal. He has been there, if not totally done that. We are sure that with hindsight and perhaps better technical advice, the millions of tax dollars spent at Greenland, St Andrew, would not have been so disbursed. After more than $100 million, no waste has been collected there and more than likely, none ever will be.
But the lesson garnered from that debacle is that a Government must be proactive when it comes to the manner in which it seeks to manage waste disposal, even if mistakes are made. And to Mr Arthur’s credit, in the 1990s when he sought to be proactive, and to his credit, now when he has taken a principled position, he has put Barbados before politics.
Yesterday’s march served Opposition Leader Mia Mottley well. It was good media; attracted more than 3,000 taxpayers; and in the estimation of many, augmented her national appeal, if not necessarily solidified her leadership of the Barbados Labour Party. But the question remains: after the march, what?
Though Mr Arthur’s words are not Holy Writ, they must be respected, and he has already rubbished Ms Mottley’s suggestion of a levy on water. What then are the alternatives to Government’s new tax that has generated such sound and fury? If the Opposition Leader is calling for a repeal of the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, she must inform the public of the alternative strategy other than her march to Government Headquarters.
We Barbadians can be a dirty lot. Debris on the streets, dismantled houses on sidewalks, discarded refrigerators, stoves and cars in gullies tend to bother us mainly during the hurricane season when they exacerbate flooding. We are often quite proficient at making our waste disposal problem our neighbours’ headache. Three thousand plus marchers and a hand-delivered letter to Government Headquarters will not alter such a culture.
As Mr Arthur bids goodbye to his Barbados Labour Party colleagues, seemingly in the interest of peace, and to remove himself from being perceived as a source of fracture, his protégé should take note not only of his principled position, but should also heed his wise words that environmental issues must factor heavier in Barbados’ public policy.
Marches might give impetus to political aspirations, but there is no need for a Grand Old Duchess Of York in Barbados’ folklore.