Fresh from a recent bout of illness, a tough talking Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe Tuesday laid to waste any suggestion that Government intended to privatize the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA).
“Let me make it abundantly clear in this country, there has been no discussion, there is no intention on the part of the Government at this time to privatize the Sanitation Services Authority. That is a fact,” he told fellow legislators at the first sitting of Parliament following the summer recess.
However, even as he rubbished growing speculation on the matter, which has been fuelled by the new waste collection arrangement between the SSA and private waste haulers that took effect on October 10, Lowe made it clear it was still Government’s prerogative to do so.
Leading off debate on a resolution on the Barbados Green Economy Scoping Study, he dismissed talk of privatization as nothing more than an attempt by some “to create mischief in the society” in an attempt to influence the public.
“They don’t know what they are talking about. They are just running their mouths all over the place like athletes without understanding or seeking to understand what the intention of the Government is. Let me repeat. There is no intention on the part of the Government to privatize the Sanitation Service Authority.”
Under the new waste plan, private haulers have been servicing four parishes – St Philip, St Peter, St Lucy and St John – at a rate of $411 per hour for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday.
The arrangement is expected to continue for six months in the first instance.
From the outset, the arrangement got the thumbs down from the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which immediately raised alarm that it could result in large-scale retrenchment at the SSA and also hit consumers in the pocket.
Outspoken social activist and attorney-at-law David Comissiong also accused the Democratic Labour Party Government of embarking on a process of privatization and he has given the SSA board 14 days to justify the “financially outrageous” decision or face possible legal action.
“Why should the Sanitation Service Authority board be saddling the SSA [and by extension the taxpayers of Barbados] with payments to private businessmen of $427,440 per truck per half-year [or $854,880 per truck per year], when the board could have purchased the said truck for a one-time cost of some $250,000, and end up being the owner of the truck rather than a mere renter with no ownership rights?” Comissiong asked.
However, Lowe was adamant that Government’s critics were speaking out of turn, describing the concerns as “mouthings of those who are only looking for significance”.
“If the Government has decided it wants to privatize the SSA, they would have had the right to do that but the fact is [there] has not been any whispers, any hints, any conversation in any quarters that the SSA is going to be privatized,” the minister insisted.
He stressed there was nothing new about the partnership between the private waste haulers and the SSA, pointing out that the two sides had teamed up last year after Crop Over and into Christmas.
Lowe emphasized that Government was not on board with any commercialization of the SSA, reminding legislators that during the 2014 retrenchment exercise, the waste collection agency was shielded from cuts, “because we understand the vital role of the institution in our society and delivery of social good.
“We do not believe that the commercialization of a Sanitation Service Authority is going to solve the problem that we have,” he added, indicating that challenges at the SSA were a result of a lack of reliable equipment.
“The challenges of the SSA is not the workers . . . and therefore, there is no notion that should go aboard that the Government of Barbados is trying to ditch 600 workers and privatize the institution, because once you privatize the SSA it now becomes a commercial activity.”
Lowe also challenged the notion that anyone would want to purchase the SSA, saying: “I hear somebody talking about buying the SSA … to hear some of the rubbish that some people talking.”
Earlier this month, business magnate Ralph Bizzy Williams offered to take over the operations of the troubled Government agency for $60 million.
Poking fun at the idea, Lowe cautioned, “ If you privatize [the SSA], the householders have to pay to get their waste collect. Government would not subsidize any privatization of the SSA. Let me make that clear.
“That is why we believe that garbage collection in Barbados is best kept in the hands of the State because the State sees it not as a commercial endeavor, the State sees it as an essential social service,” he said.