Express Editorial : Daily

The government’s latest pledge to bring the Beverage Container Bill to Parliament in 2020 is yet another case of kicking the can down the road.

This piece of legislation has been in limbo for a full two decades during which the problem of plastics, styrofoam and other environmentally dangerous waste has risen to unmanageable proportions.

It is a scandal that eight other Caribbean countries could have found the political will to ban these products while Trinidad and Tobago continues to twiddle its thumbs while making as if it is serious about the environment.

Surely, between attending last week’s climate change talks at the United Nations in New York and seeing the tonnes of plastic that floated up in the weekend’s floods at home, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley understands the importance of prioritising the environment. If so, he needs to mandate his minister to get the Beverage Container Bill to Parliament within the timeline previously given by Minister Robert Le Hunte—the end of this year.

The Beverage Container Bill may well be the saddest symbol of government inertia caused by the inability to reconcile conflicting sectoral interests in the national interest.

Explaining why the bill was shelved after being laid in the Senate in 2012, former government minister Ramona Ramdial told the media that “large manufacturers of soft drinks and plastic containers felt it was not in their best interest to have this recycling initiative and the Bill was shelved”.

Any government that is serious about environmental protection must come to grips with the deep and conflicting interests that are embedded in the issue and find the will for confronting them.

Last weekend’s floods offer living testimony of why the Beverage Container Bill should be brought to Parliament with urgency. Anyone who ever doubted the extent of the country’s plastic bottle problem would only have had to see the massive piles of plastic bottles flushed out by Sunday’s rainstorm to understand the scope of the problem. Trinidad and Tobago cannot afford to be averting its gaze from the problem and leaving it up to small NGOs to tackle a job that requires legislative muscle and State resources.

We cannot simply accept that our fate as a small nation is that of a sitting duck, vulnerable to nature’s fury, to corporations whose processes disrupt the exquisite but fragile balance of the planet’s ecosystem products, and the thoughtlessness of human beings in their interaction with the physical environment. If Greta Thunberg can make a difference as one child, imagine the difference a country can make.

According to figures from the Ministry of Planning, 75 per cent of the waste that makes its way to the country’s landfills is recyclable. And yet, there is no serious national recycling plan. What exists is mere tinkering. For years, government officials have been talking—but only talking—about redefining the Solid Waste Management Company as a waste recycling authority. It is time to stop paying lip service to the environment and for the Government to lead the charge.

This is an issue that the public is ready to rally behind.

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On the basis of and in recognition of this reality, conversations are taking place among various professional and sectoral elites about how not to let this moment pass without taking advantage of it.

The action taken by the Government over the past two or three weeks with respect to control and containment of the COVID-19 virus, which has been in line, by and large, with the action taken by other countries, ought to be supported if we are to weather this virulent epidemic.

The T&T public is generally satisfied with how the government has handled this Covid-19 crisis to date. On the other hand, one senses a reluctance, if not open fear, to express a contrary opinion or suggestion. Why risk being called divisive or inappropriate?

Speaking recently in New York, the state governor, Andrew Cuomo, said: “The stress, the emotion, is just incredible, and rightfully so. It is a situation that is one of the most disruptive that I have seen, and it will change almost everything going forward. It will. That is a fact. It’s not your perception. It’s not just you. It’s all of us and it’s true and it’s real. Nobody can tell you when this is going to end... It will change almost everything.”

Nerves are frayed, tempers are on the edge, patience is dissolving. In any prolonged period of stress, the psychological toll is amplified. Even those who are generally composed—the Unflappables—can slip into a crack.