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.

3 Responses to When Owen Arthur dared to march all alone

  1. Barry July 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    I have no objection to paying a waste tax providing that is what it is used for, but I do object to the totally unfair, ill thought out and grossly unrealistic, formula that has been used to calculate it. I do find it very disturbing that so called educated people that are charged with running this country and it’s finances came to the conclusion that this would solve all there problems, God help Barbados

  2. Alex 3 July 29, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    I am a part time resident of Barbados and have been coming for over 30 yr. to this beautiful island with just the greatest people on the face of the earth and it saddens me that this waste tax is so poorly thought out as it will put hardship on so many.
    User pay is a good concept but it has to be truly user pay based on actual use and not assessments for tax purposes.
    There is, for example, no way on an annual basis the Boy Scouts will produce the amount of solid waste the average home owner would who in turn will produce far less than a hotel, condo or industrial establishment.
    Barbados lacks robust programmes to put tariffs up front on recyclable solid waste items which reward users for returning them.
    Returning such things as beverage containers is not easy and user friendly.
    I live on an island in Canada the rest of the year which is essentially solid rock in an community of 30,000. Landfill is not readily available so reuse, recycle etc. are a huge part of life.
    We compost at least 60 metric tons of waste monthly. With a fleet of 8 vehicles we can put out unlimited recycling every other week. We can put out one 70L container of garbage on the in between weeks. We can put out unlimited compostibles every week.
    Beverage containers up to 750 ml have a deposit tax of 10 cents and those over 20 cents.
    We can return them to many outlets, grocery stores, liquor and beer stores etc. for a 50% refund. The money generated by the system pays for the system operation. We pay about $150/an in our taxes for waste collection.
    While perhaps not a perfect solution for Barbados, the very lack of something similar that is common throughout a lot of the western world tells me that this new tax is unfair and prejudicial because it does harm and likely will not solve the problem.
    This is as much a human behaviour problem as it is an environmental problem and with no efforts to change behaviours with at least a sense of a partial reward I don’t expect things to change except government will waste more and it will become more difficult for many of the people to get by. This will lead to increased crime which will affect tourism which is already struggling due to high cost relative to other markets, elimination of quality lasting jobs due to erosion of beachfront properties for condos and huge private homes and frankly a failing infrastructure that makes the country look bad and cluttered with garbage.

  3. Andrea Rollins July 31, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Alex 3 summation of how the Government has been handling the solid waste issue and then his giving suggestions on systems that work is just what Barbadian politician need to be listening to, before coming up with ill thought out solutions just to bandage a wound that needs more in depth attention.

    Politicians in Barbados need to see Barbadians not just in dollar signs because they accept much and believe people in the party has they best interest at heart; but see Barbadians as important in the solutions to any problem that comes there way.

    Provide more Clarity into the problems facing Barbados, the different good rational solutions being thought of and the measures needed to make these solutions possible. Let the Barbadian people vote on changes that go against they election manifesto (as that was an agreement between them and Barbados). Let it be there decision as well; not just that of the elected officials: on any changes that will impact their small but proud nation.

    When both the benefits and ramifications of possible solutions are know and the majority of Barbados vote for it an are in agreement about the course of action they wish to take then Barbados will truly be a Gem in the Caribbean. This will mean that to be a Barbadian is to be part of a system that values its people and those people will be proud to know they truly matter an can make a significant impact on how Barbados develops.

    Positive changes need to happen in Barbados because currently it seems like you are being badly abused an no significantly good help is insight.


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