A ceiling of $50,000 on fines for sellers and importers of plastic bags is way too high, Opposition Leader Joseph Atherley has told Parliament.
He contends that the measure, which is part of the Control of Disposable Plastics Bill, was onerous and could cripple small businesses. He argued that instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to the deterrent component of the bill, the ceiling should have been lowered for those caught using plastics in their retail businesses.
Atherley told the House: “I have serious concerns about the hefty fines for infringements on the ban on plastics beyond the given date. I believe those fines are too high. You could have made two separate stipulations, one that applies to the importers and manufacturers and another for the sellers. Charging the manufacturers and importers $50,000 is fine but I am not comfortable with it being so high for the sellers, especially the small vendors.”
Introducing the bill in the Lower House, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey revealed that businesses breaching the ban, which was extended from April 1 to July 1, could be made to pay $50,000 in fines or face a year in jail if convicted.
Under the new legislation, offenders would also have to pay a further $1,000 for each day or part thereof during which the offence continues after their conviction. But Atherley said that while he understands Government’s rationale for such measures, he was not comfortable with giving a magistrate such a wide scope of discretionary power.
He said: “We trust the competence and the compassion of our judicial officers, but I don’t know why the law would have to prescribe for a $50,000 fine. Could you imagine what would happen if a Magistrate gets up in not too good a mood and hands down an $8,000 fine to a small shop owner or vendor? Such a fine would cripple that business overnight. I understand the principle of the ceiling up to $50,000 but this is left to the discretion of the Magistrate or the judge and I have my concerns about that.”
Atherley has said that business owners who stand to lose out as a result of the soon-to-be implemented ban on single-use plastics in Barbados should be compensated by Government.
The ban meant that jobs would be lost, at a time when Government was also looking to make cuts in the public service, he added.
During debate in Parliament on Monday, Atherley said that there are people who are involved in enterprises, whose main business relates to the use of plastics and this ban and the breadth of it will have implications for them going forward and their jobs
He said: “This loss in their case will not be as a result of bad business practices. It will not be resulting from failure of their business…but they now will be forced to suffer economically and financially because of this measure, through no fault of their own.”