OPINION: An environmental calamity; a miscalculation of monumental proportion

Monday, August 07, 2017

Last Saturday, July 29, 2017, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) reconstituted the failed policy of “Set-Settal”. The cleansing policy of the Jammeh Era was suspended following the ascension of the Barrow government to power. One would have rightfully guessed that the suspension was due to the fact that many citizens especially the business community were critical of the policy; was deemed as one of the characteristic failed policies of the Jammeh government. Given all the rejections of the policy, mainly for its catastrophic impact on the economy of the country, one would have thought if the NEA were to reconstitute the policy that it would occur after a thorough review of the policy. But it now appears that this may not have been the case as it is evidently clear following last Saturday’s cleansing exercise. We have an environmental calamity; a miscalculation of the monumental proportion at hand.

At this writing, six days following the first Set-Settal exercise conducted since the ascension of the Barrow government, heap upon heap of trash has been sitting at the corner of Barrtess, a major street junction at the Serre Kunda market from West Field. Today six days after the collection, driving towards this area from West Field trash can be seen strewn along the street and, with only few meters one starts to smell the stench of this trash and its ugly sight will put every citizen to shame. This is a repeated scene driving from Taboccoto to Baboon fatty junction. The million dollar question here is:

1) Who is responsible for the management of Set-Settal?

2) Was this policy reviewed before the rash decision to reconstitution?

3) What is the collection and removal strategy of household waste?

4) What is KMC municipality’s role in this?

5) Could this be Sabotage?

6) What is the Solution?

I ask these questions because it boggles the mind that smart and intelligent people can reconstitute such a failed policy during a time when a national, and proper answer is being sought for the calamity we face posed by waste management challenges of the Bakoteh dumpsite, and the overall trash management of our communities across the country especially large settlements such as KMC. We are challenged with one of the most serious environmental questions of our generation that has many heath and economic ramifications. While we grapple with this huge challenge, one would have thought Set-Settal should have been well thought out before reconstituting. To make matters worse the rains do not mix well with the exercise. Due to the rains, the trash sitting out in the open leads to health concerns of major proportion. So it does not help either when you have several dogs ravaging in the trash and mixing with the population.

Who is responsible for the decision to the reconstitute Set-Settal? It appears to me after six days of the trash sitting as can be seen in the picture above, without any attempt to clear the trash, that we may direct this question to the doorsteps of the leadership at NEA and KMC, the implementing authorities for one of the most ill advised and dismally failed policies of the Yahya Jammeh era.

After six days, now approaching seven days following the exercise, and the trash still sitting out in the open at the street corners of the major Tran Gambia highway, one may deductively say that the policy was not reviewed before its resumption months after it was suspended post Jammeh era. If the policy was reviewed rather than just reacting to the trash management challenge of our largest municipality, the current situation would not have occurred. If the policy was reviewed, the collection and removal aspect of the policy would have feature high on the list of priorities in the implementation of the policy; Measures would have been put in place to avoid such dismal stamp of mismanagement or lack thereof. The end result of this new implementation is the epitome of callous disregard for official responsibility; a failure that should no longer be the modus operandi as was the case for decades on end during the Jammeh era. Someone should be held to account for this failed policy.

Evidentiary placement and lack of collection after six days is enough to say that this policy was reconstituted without a strategy addressing all aspects of the exercise. If it was the otherwise the trash would have been swiftly picked up and removed within few hours of collection. Certainly it boggles the mind that no one from the management team of the policy/exercise was tasked to ensure proper procedure (coordination) or removal during collection. It appears that after six days of collection, questions have not been asked for explanation of the collection strategy.

 Here again we are inclined to say that the policy was ill advised and certainly, without a doubt ill conceived for restarting the exercise. Someone should be held to account for Set-Settal implementation strategy, and again we must direct these questions to the door steps of the NEA and KMC leadership.

How does KMC municipality feature in the implementation of Set-Settal? Certainly one would have guessed that NEA would have collaboratively worked with KMC for a smoother and more effective implementation of the cleansing exercise. KMC as a major stakeholder with keen interest in one of the key services of a municipality government, must play a significant role in this exercise for as a beneficiary of this policy would not, and could not expect to piggy ride on the back of NEA without contributing human, material, and financial resources to ensure effectiveness of the exercise.

Yes, KMC leadership may feel emasculated post Jammeh era but they continue to collect rates from numerous revenue streams including the major property/housing rates allowing for them to remain fully responsible to the citizens of the municipality for services including trash collection from house to house in and around town. KMC have dismally failed in this responsibility and have never been held to account all through the Jammeh era.

While they have gotten away with irresponsibility in this regard, we would have expected the least conscionable people that we hope they at least are, would have done is collaboratively, with NEA ensure the proper and effective implementation of Set-Settal. The current calamity and failure of the collection exercise is ample evidence that KMC is not the least bothered to address a key municipality mandate as part of its promise in its mission statement.

KMC surely has questions to answer, and we expect that they are people of conscience and indeed some of them are good people in a bad organization.

Because of the incredulity of the level of mismanagement, the lack of a strategy, miscalculation in reconstitution of the Set-Settal policy, and the callous actions disregarding an effective implementation of the policy, it will not be conjecture or innuendo to say that this blatant reconstituting of the national cleansing exercise may be a form of sabotage, or should I qualitatively say it a true form of sabotage of the new government in town? I would caution the Barrow Administration that they risk a national outcry from the citizens if they allow the politics of trash management to feature into the political mix of the country. Everyone who drives on Trans Gambia Hwy from West Field could not help but bear the ugly sight of the heaped trash at nearly every street junction along the highway and certainly on entrance to the Serre Kunda market, where one of the biggest heaps sits greeting passersby with a dizzying stench that may trigger a breathing problem for the healthiest persons who pass by the area of Barrtess.  This may very well be a calculated act of sabotage.

I certainly hope it is not; and where it is the otherwise I hope that for the next cleansing exercise, that we will not see the repetition of the failed outcome of the first exercise since the arrival of the new government.

I am not a proponent of Set-Settal, and I have never been. The policy may have outlived its usefulness or the least antiquated. I never thought it was well conceived from its inception, and could have been misplaced for its lack of proper resources or inability for resource allocation.  I also do not believe in governments engaged in forcing citizens to carry out personal responsibilities such as managing our domestic waste; a big brother act no democratic people should tolerate. It is not in the place of governments to micro manage our lives especially domestic lives of citizens. Management of such waste is the sole responsibility of the municipal government, in this case KMC. But the Yahya Jammeh government was not a normal government rather one of the most historic dictatorships of the 20th century.

To avoid failed policies we do not have to be policy experts to come up with simple, and SMART policies to run our governments, and our communities. SMART is a principle and means Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. We need a national dialogue applying the principle of SMART to come up with an alternative to Set-Settal and constitute an effective municipal waste management policy.

This exercise requires a thorough consultative exercise with all stakeholders coming to the table for a national answer to one of the most pressing questions of the day. The broader environmental policy should present waste management as one of key elements of the broader policy. Bakoteh dumpsite will feature large in these discussions, and certainly suggestions on methodologies will be essential to finding solutions, and finally buy-in by all stakeholders will determine success of any adopted measures. We do not have an unsolvable challenge here, as there are models all across the globe we can learn from, and adapt to our realities here in Gambia.

I certainly hope that the new government will, if they have not already conceived a measure in this direction to ensure and develop government strategies that include looking at this major health issue now developing into a political mix that any government should be weary of. Lastly, it cannot be a New Gambia if it is not a decidedly clean and healthy Gambia; we owe to the next generation.

Mr Morro Krubally

The University of The Gambia