Kirt Walrond

Kirt Walrond

AFTER the tragic New Year’s Day fire on Quarry Street that left several of our fellow citizens homeless, Minister Stuart Young blamed the incident on “a lantern which is a type of firework” and said that in his personal view “we should not have fireworks sold to members of the public”.

I agree. We are all aware of the inherent dangers and risks in the use of fireworks. They are not toys. In particular, fireworks are dangerous pyrotechnic devices filled with gunpowder and other hazardous substances. Why have our citizens (including children) been allowed to misuse them over the years? More importantly, why are they still imported and sold?

Under Section 37 of the Explosives Act, Chapter 16:02, the Minister of National Security may, by an Order, prohibit the importation and sale of “any explosive which is of so dangerous a character that, in the judgment of the Minister, it is expedient for the public safety to make the Order”. This Order is an immediate and effective legal tool available to the Government and, as Minister of National Security, Mr Young invoked this provision in 2018 when he signed the Explosives (Prohibition of Scratch Bombs) Order to prohibit the importation and sale of scratch bombs.

On December 27, 2016, the Jamaica Observer noted that former minister Maxie Cuffie held meetings with “various stakeholders” during an anti-scratch bomb campaign, the aim of which was to “eliminate the use and stop the importation of scratch bombs”. Did the stakeholders recommend swift action on the use of scratch bombs? Would they express a similar view about fireworks today? My guess is that they should, since fireworks are part of the same family of dangerous explosives for the purposes of Section 37.

Our elderly, babies and animals are are particularly sensitive to noise pollution from fireworks, yet leaders on all sides of the political divide have done nothing substantive to prevent the indiscriminate use of these explosives during our festive holidays. That is, until now. Based on a report in the media on January, 2022, it seems that a new Summary Offences (Amendment) Bill is on the horizon, to regulate the use of fireworks with permits. No mention was made in that report about the use of lanterns which, as we have seen, may be more dangerous. I have major concerns with some of the Bill’s touted provisions. For example, persons will be allowed to discharge fireworks on public holidays and on Old Year’s Day, without a permit. Really? Horror stories abound on the misuse of fireworks in this country, so why does the Bill still allow our people to use these explosives? We don’t need more watered-down legislation. We need an appetite for swift action on an absolute ban.

Whilst I thank the Government for the initiative and agree that all views should be heard, calls have already been made over the years for a ban on fireworks. For example, the Jamaican Observer reported that in 2016, DOMA President Gregory Aboud called for a ban on the sale and storage of fireworks in Port of Spain. While in a Guardian report dated December 29, 2020, activist Nalini Dial cited government’s failure to safeguard the citizenry and called for either more enforcement or a “total ban” on fireworks. Today, she continues to plead for that ban. Furthermore, the Joint Select Committee on Social Services and Public Administration met with animal welfare and veterinary groups on this issue in 2017 where then Committee Chairman Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir opined that “the problem which has existed with fireworks is a problem which should be solved sooner rather than later”.

It is in this regard that I am compelled to ask, what about Section 37? What prevents the current Minister of National Security from signing a Section 37 Order for an absolute ban on this nuisance like the firecracker ban in Singapore? Under Sections 99 and 100 of the Summary Offences Act, Chapter 11:02, it is already an offence for a person to let off a firework in or out of any town yet, these provisions are not enforced and have as little teeth as a toothless dog because they contain minor fines. Why have these laws been on record for years without amendment? What is the purpose of having law without enforcement?

Questions lead to more questions in this horrific quagmire of uncertainty. But one thing is certain – our leaders must be more proactive than reactive. Great responsibility devolves upon those with great power. That is the essence of leadership. Although the Government drives the legislative agenda, other members of Parliament have been deafeningly silent on this issue. You have the pulpit of Private Members Day, a forum for private motions on matters of national importance. That is an honourable privilege that many do not have. Don’t waste it. Every elected and appointed Member of Parliament must account for the delay in banning this parasite and we should demand nothing less. Don’t wait for another tragedy before you lead. Don’t wait for loss of life before you act.

For too long, we have fostered and embraced a culture of irresponsibility and disregard for others in this country, further crippled by a mentality that we can do as we please. Contrary to what some may believe, our democracy is built on accountability and respect for life, not on money and big business and the story of Quarry Street must be the final nail in the coffin of this social menace.

The author describes himself as an independent social advocate

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