PRESIDENT of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) William Mahfood is urging businesses and individuals affected by the Riverton blaze to seek redress through the Office of the Public Defender.
Mahfood was speaking at a joint press conference with various civil society groups, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and the Jamaica Manufacturers Association (JMA) following the Riverton City fire that started last Wednesday which resulted in a massive inferno and harmful smoke affecting people in the Corporate Area and parts of St Catherine.
“I would encourage and support the legal efforts of the Office of the Public Defender and urge persons around the island whose businesses have been impacted as well as their personal lives and their health to seek redress through that office, and the consideration of further legal actions as well,” Mahfood stated.
According to the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), the fire will cost the economy over $272 million. A breakdown of the figures shows that the cost of extinguishing the fire stands at $102 million, preliminary production loss at $136 million with a significant cost attributed to loss at the ports. Health comes is at $25 million while loss to education ran at $9 million.
President of the JMA, Brian Pengelly, called for the responsible parties to be held accountable.
“Enough is enough. We are drawing a line and it is time for all Jamaicans to say that we hold everyone with influence to be accountable, whether it is the NSWMA, NEPA or the government. If it is too hot in the kitchen, get out,” he added.
Pengelley stated that roughly 40 businesses had to “shutter” their operations on Friday following the blaze. He is calling for an oversight committee to monitor the work of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA).
“Some were able to open yesterday (Monday), but others who are in food processing had an issue because the environment has to be clean before they can start processing food,” he stated. “Say, roughly 80 to 100 people work in each of these facilities, then you can see the manpower that’s lost there — and the cost comes to the companies.”
“But it is more than just the cost; the principle that we are saying is that we have had the opportunity as a country to fix this before and here we are again. If we look back at the results of the other fires we went through, we’ll see that almost nothing has been done,” Pengelley added.
The organisations stated that like many members of the public, they too have lost confidence in the willingness and commitment of the present leadership of the NSWMA and the Ministry of Local Government to effectively manage the process going forward.
As such, the group is calling for proper investigation of the numerous breaches and causes of the fire and full accountability based on the findings. It is also calling for those responsible for the management of the dump and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to immediately take enforcement action, including court action, for the breaches to its environmental permit issued to NSWMA, along with the implementation of an oversight team.
In 2008, the Government of Jamaica proposed an environmental levy on all imports into the country at a half a per cent, specifically earmarked at the time to deal with the solid waste issues of Jamaica, including recycling, according to Mahfood. Today, those funds are in excess of $2.5 billion with no visibility any in managing the country’s waste.
“We are fully together on this one; the manufacturing sector keeps facing hard times through many things but this is something that we should not be dealing with,” Pengelley stated. “To close every path along the Spanish Town Road on Friday and not open it again until Monday is just not acceptable.”