Georgetown: The Burrowes approach will not bear lasting fruit

Georgetown: The Burrowes approach will not bear lasting fruit – letter

SEPTEMBER 7, 2012 |   |  Letter by Leno Craig

Dear Editor,
Though in this piece I offer a criticism to the approach by the Keith Burrowes proposal to rid the city of its humongous garbage piles, I wish to state from the outset that I have nothing personal against Mr. Burrowes nor do I write with any political motive, this is strictly a menu of suggestions which, if taken, will enhance the plan to end the garbage pile-up in Georgetown permanently.

I worked with Mr. Burrowes on projects under the auspices of a certain international agency and I have no doubt about his competence as a financial and project manager, however I think his (and overlords) approach to the garbage pile-up is off target and probably tainted by the political competition for power leverage in the city.    

The Burrowes plan proposes a two-prong approach, first to increase the number of man-hours and financial resources targeted for garbage removal and second, to unleash a battalion of “garbage police” to charge litter bugs. This plan in its current form will not help Georgetown, not only because it has been tried and failed miserably in the past, but because it does not address the core Guyanese problem that exist for many decades.

What should be addressed urgently are the attitudes of citizens toward garbage disposal, seeking ways for people to discipline themselves and participate voluntarily in the anti-littering program rather than be forced to comply. Carrots are always desirable to big sticks.

One way to get people to police themselves is to institute (a polluters pay and cleaners rewarded program where) a reclamation charge on all plastic bottles, aluminum cans, tins and other categories of non-biodegradable containers. For example every can or plastic bottle of beverage which now costs $200 will attract a reclamation fee of say $60 (charged at the source and handed down to the final consumer) the new cost will be $260.

If a person keeps the can/bottle after consuming the beverage he can then go to popular locations to hand in serial-coded cans or bottles to reclaim their $60 in the form of a chit which is cashable or redeemable in exchange for goods at any post office or participating supermarket etc.
In such a scenario this category of refuse carries a price that people will not just dump at will, and if they are silly enough to throw away their hard-earned money, then there will be others only too willing to retrieve them to reclaim its value. Such a program will readily transform the face of garbage disposal in Guyana; a significant portion of the garbage disposed today will be taken off the streets and waterways.

I also propose:
– a bring-your-own-bag to market program in which a gradual tax on plastic bags is instituted, substantial enough, to cause people to avoid using them for their supermarket purchases. Gradual because the authorities need to be mindful of the investment entrepreneurs would have made investments in the plastic bag manufacturing industry, they should be given time to realign their investment.
A gradual tax on Styrofoam containers should also be levied in just the same manner as plastic bags.
Whatever tax is collected from the plastic bags and Styrofoam disposable containers should be used to subsidize the growth of manufacturing of alternative forms of shopping bags and containers.
– a system of regulation of public transportation. In cooperation with the various minibus and taxi associations, all forms of eating and drinking should be prohibited in all inner city public transport, long distance carriers should accommodate limited amount of eating once they exit the city limits and must carry a garbage receptacle inside the vehicle.
– a clean-street and clean-community prize and incentive program (as well as business tax rebate and recognition regime) to promote and encourage citizens to maintain cleanliness and rebuff litter bugs of their streets and develop beautification ideas for their surroundings.
– the establishment of environmental conservation groups in schools, churches and clubs around the country which should receive funding for small community clean-up and environmental projects through establishment of a government environmental fund with some funds coming from international donors.
– a national internship and volunteers program where people of all ages, especially the young, can enlist for projects to restore Guyana to its rightful status as the garden city of the Caribbean.
– a prisoner rehabilitation program where those convicted of petty crimes and misdemeanor offences be sentenced to community clean-up projects rather than jail time in our already overcrowded prison system.
For example, those who are convicted litter-bugs will serve Guyana better if they should be sentenced to clean certain parts of the city rather a jail term.

These programs must be accompanied by intense public awareness programs in the media, schools, churches and clubs etc.

Many Guyanese have developed a habit of littering and these habits must be unlearned, merely doubling the cleaning man-hours will not help if our attitude and values to littering is not reformed.

As fast as it is cleaned it will be replaced and an ever-increasing budget will have to be dedicated to this cause. Merely charging people and putting them before the courts will not do much to reduce littering, but will go a far way in creating tension between citizens and enforcement officers who will be accused of harassment, the recent court case of Richard Bennette vs. the City of Georgetown highlights this. After admitting to being a litter bug when the judgment was handed down, Bennette, not seeing the need for such severe judgment, after all littering is a day in the life of a Guyanese, and believing the magistrate to be biased against him personally, proceeded to issue a royal ‘cuss out’ in court.

If the other complementary measures are not built into the Burrowes plan, then we run the risk of many stand-offs and hostilities between citizens and law enforcement.

I encourage a holistic plan for a permanent end to the garbage problems of Georgetown and therefore submit that the piecemeal program of Burrowes and cohorts will not take us out of the vicious cycle of unbearable garbage pile-up, followed by a lack of money in the municipality to take care of it, followed by a grand political stand-off, then a transitory rescue plan by central government, and start from the top again.

Georgetown can be permanently cleaned, only if we had the political will and acumen among the overlords of this land.

Lenno Craig

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  • n. aUGUSTUS  On 09/08/2012 at 3:22 pm

    I agree with your suggestions, however, why imply that he is somehow not doing what he thinks is best rightly or wrongly but serving some political master? There are political factors involved, but Burrowes does not necessarily be tainted by that fact..

  • wycs  On 09/08/2012 at 6:01 pm

    I agree with n Augustus. Where are the poiitical factors involved. Even if this is so, assisting the Govt to clean up Georgetown, is this a big thing. We should all be happy that Mr Burrowes is giving of his expertise to assist in this cleaning as the M&CC seems to be hopeless. not now,but for a long time.

  • Dark Star  On 09/09/2012 at 5:57 pm

    I take issue with your statement, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that “littering is a day in the life of a Guyanese”. Like many of my generation I was brought up in a time when there were public garbage bins on the corner, and we were taught – at home and at school – to be respectful of our surroundings and dispose of litter appropriately. If today’s Guyanese are litterbugs, please assign culpability where it seems to be due: lack of appropriate training in that regard, and possibly, lack of public facilities to encourage proper disposal.

  • DelCrom  On 09/09/2012 at 8:55 pm

    Mr. Craig. I was interested in your letter and your suggestions. However you lost me at “This plan in its current form will not help Georgetown, not only because it has been tried and failed miserably in the past,”. Do you realize how discouraging and unhelpful this statement is? I have hear this mantra at many meetings when real people try to effect real change. Methods that have failed the the past may have more to do with the management than the methods.

    The city is dirty and needs to be cleaned. Clean it! The more complex the process the less effective it will be. Your suggestions are laudable, but may not be practical right now. I would suggest that the reeducation of generations of city dwellers regarding garbage disposal is a vital aspect of a long term plan. The short term and immediate approach is to start the cleaning, place more bins in more places, empty them frequently and discourage individuals and businesses from littering. The need for public toilets is another issue for another discussion.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts anyway.

  • Romona Greene  On 10/24/2012 at 5:01 pm

    will reported and may the power heads listen and at least try Mr Craigs suggestions we want our capital city back pleaseeeeeee

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