He is neither confirming nor denying Opposition contentions that 15 new garbage trucks have landed on the island, as part of planned outsourcing of the services provided by the state-run Sanitation Service Authority (SSA).
However, Minister of the Environment and Drainage Dr Denis Lowe today categorically denied that the SSA had a new fleet of vehicles at the Bridgetown Port, even while acknowledging that there was a shortage of vehicles for garbage collection.
“We understand the urgency of being able to respond to the requirements of waste collection; we understand the regulations that dictate how the waste must be collected and by whom; [and] we stand prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to meet our service requirements in that regard. And we assure the public that as resources become available, we will rectify the issue of vehicles,” Lowe said in an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service.
“We know what we need. We have identified sources that could help us supply those needs, and once the appropriate protocol has been observed, we shall endeavour to have these new vehicles as quickly as possible,” he added.
His comments come against the backdrop of recent charges levelled by Senator Wilfred Abrahams, the Barbados Labour Party Shadow Minister of the Environment, that 15 new compactor trucks had recently arrived on the island that were not purchased for the state-run SSA.
“If my info is wrong, tell me so,” he told a political meeting late last month, as he again challenged Lowe to account to the country.
While warning the minister that he could not hide all the time, Abrahams had said that the current secrecy surrounding the island’s waste disposal arrangements not only “stinks” but both looked and smelled bad.
“If 15 trucks did indeed land in Barbados, then that suggests something to me, because if the Sanitation does not own them, it means somebody is investing in a big way with the anticipation of private garbage collection.
“That would explain why the Sanitation has not purchased the trucks that everybody knows it needs and that the minister knew and acknowledged that it needed up to last year before he changed his tune and talked about investigation and fitness of purpose and whatever.”
However, in his BGIS interview Lowe side-stepped the issue as well as more recent reports that Government was renting a tractor at the Mangrove Pond Landfill from a private firm at $23,000 per week.
Without confirming that the rental fee was being paid, he insisted that the tractor came at market price.
Nonetheless he pointed out that another vendor had quoted a higher figure for the rental of the tractor, but that quote was not accepted.
Lowe however maintained that given the immediate need for such a service, SSA management had to make a decision.
“If the service is not immediately available, the authority runs the risk of reducing the available space in the landfill at a rate that would result in the need of having to spend another $26 to $30 million to dig another hole or create another cell,” he pointed out.
He said going forward, the results of the recently completed Korean study on waste management in Barbados would be used to inform the ministry’s decisions.
“We are satisfied that we are in a position now, relative to what is required to service the country [considering] how the demographics of the country have changed over the years, and how we must refashion our waste management services to suit the new challenges, including the increase of daily production of waste,” he said.
In the meantime, he said his ministry had enlisted the help of other Government entities in relieving bothersome garbage pile-ups across the island.
He said emergency response teams involving the Ministry of Transport and Works, the National Conservation Commission and the Drainage Division, had been activated to assist with the collection of garbage.
“We cannot ignore the fact that waste must be collected. Therefore, what we have done in the last few hours is reactivate our emergency response teams and most of them have been deployed to assist with the collection of waste,” Lowe told the BGIS.
Acknowledging that the issue of garbage collection was a “protracted problem” that required a permanent solution, the minister conceded that the ultimate remedy to the situation was the renewal of the SSA fleet.
And saying the “relevant authorities” had already pledged to inject resources to assist with waste management, the minister assured that his ministry would rectify the current shortage of SSA vehicles as soon as public resources became available.