As garbage pile-ups continue across the island and consumers continue to decry the absence of a regular garbage service in some communities, the Minister responsible for the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) says one of the seven “new” trucks acquired through tendering is having mechanical problems and is not presently operational and the authority continues to be hampered by a lack of vehicles to cover the garbage collection needs of the country.
Laying out the achievements since taking over the ministry in May 2018, Minister of Environment and National Beautification Trevor Prescod said the operations are still plagued by severe fleet issues including broken down vehicles for which spare parts are not readily available.
In spite of this he said, “In less than one month we had four [trucks]. Since I was there we have been able to bring in seven trucks six of which are operational.
“In the meantime, the trucks we had there before this year most of those are also experiencing mechanical problems. Recently, I called the general manager and I asked him to send a truck to St Joseph. The first truck went down and it never got to its location. It broke down on the street. The second truck went down it broke down on the street it took three half of trucks to go down to St Joseph to bring waste from out of St Joseph.
“I am not the Lord Jesus Christ, I am Trevor Prescod, the minister. It is a responsibility I have been given and I have been given the responsibility short of the tools, whatever the cause. That is a matter that can be discussed and I consider that debate worthy of discussion.
“But to tell me I ought to have all the trucks here by now you are asking me to play Jesus Christ and I am not him,” he said.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the celebrations for National Arbor Day at National Botanical Gardens, Waterford, St Michael this morning, Prescod said the trucks which are being sourced via tender are coming in from Japan and China and the tenderers and Government have been doing their best to ensure the trucks arrive in the island within a reasonable time.
“Everything is in place to provide the trucks by a specific date. Sometimes when you ask the suppliers Simpson Motors, Courtesy Garage and Rimco (Barbados) no we cannot accept that we need them as soon as possible.
“When I took office last year I visited the SSA headquarters and there were trucks there that I could not find parts for. Our memories cannot be so short. We were running and servicing the entire country on 12 vehicles and this Sanitation Department has to depend on an average of 35 vehicles to service the entire country. We did everything that we could to get the trucks into Barbados within a reasonable time,” he said.
Prescod stated the Government of Barbados also had to face a high debt bill from the former Democratic Labour Party administration which included monies owed to private waste haulers. This state of affairs prevented the purchasing of new garbage trucks.
“I was not in office, I was not in the Ministry of Finance, no police arrested me at the airport, no police arrested me in Miami. When I took up the responsibility of the ministry, there was no money available to the Government even if I wanted to buy seven trucks. The Government had an outstanding debt to the private waste haulers, the Government had to renegotiate the outstanding debt we had with SBRC all related to waste. I know people will engage in the discussion on the shortages of trucks in Barbados but basic decency and common sense would tell you it is an impossible situation and there is nobody under the sun that wants to see those trucks in Barbados more than me,” he lamented.
Speaking to the issue of overtime payments to the workers of the SSA, Prescod said Government does not have the finances to pay the workers the required overtime rate at this time.
“The Government found itself in difficulty because they did not have that money in the Consolidated Fund and then the Government put in place a mechanism with getting a levy from the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) in order to run the sanitation department. We average that we should be spending on average approximately $5 million a month. The levy was bringing in 3.5 million not $5 million so the Prime Minister had to find ways, the Government had to find ways to sustain the service with the shortage of money, shortage of trucks and indebtedness to private waste haulers all across Barbados,” he said.
Prescod also reminded journalists that no employees were sent home from the SSA nor the National Conservation Commission during the recent cuts under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme despite the myriad of issues.
“You do not want to stop the private waste haulers from working. No person was sent home from the Sanitation Department or the NCC because we understand the value of the work that they do. But the major issue that we had is that we did not have the number of vehicles to do due justice to that service,” he said.