EDITORIAL – Being responsible for solid waste management

Dump trucks line up at the George Town landfill. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

When it comes to ‘trash talk’, our position is: the more, the better.

Now, we are not referring to the sort of back-and-forth that takes place on playground basketball courts, but, more literally, communications about solid waste management.

Accordingly, we welcome and support the Department of Environmental Health’s ongoing public education initiative to raise awareness among residents “about the importance of adequately packaging and handling household garbage”.

For example, place garbage in large trash bags, and then place those trash bags inside an airtight container with a tightly fitted cover and easy-to-grip handles. Those simple, common-sense measures will prevent garbage from getting soaked when it rains, being blown down neighbourhood streets when it’s windy, and being ripped into and scattered by feral chickens and dogs when they are hungry (which is always).

Importantly, properly packaging household waste makes the tough jobs of our DEH collection crews that much easier.

In the spirit of public communication, this also seems like a good time for DEH to give an update about steps taken to correct problems identified in an internal government audit. Completed last September and released to the Compass following an open records request, the report revealed that overtime payments, mostly to trash collectors and landfill workers, exceeded the 18-month budget by nearly $2 million in 2016/17.

As we reported last year, an investigation by the Internal Audit Service concluded there had most likely been deliberate abuse of the overtime system, and auditors highlighted the potential for a “formal fraud investigation”.

The chief officer responsible for environmental health, Jennifer Ahearn, ordered the audit investigation when the extent of overtime spending was discovered in November 2017. Shortly after that, DEH Director Roydell Carter was placed on leave, and some 10 months later, the ministry released a statement saying Carter had “opted to retire” from government.

The Compass has filed an open records request for information about the circumstance of Carter’s departure, with the government resisting the release of such details. The case is currently before the Ombudsman.

Auditors’ recommendations included review of key managers and “corrective” or disciplinary action; introducing “thresholds” above which overtime spending must be reported to the ministry; and creating an action plan to reduce overtime.

Of course, we cannot discuss Cayman’s solid waste management system without mentioning the 90-foot-high elephant in the room: the George Town landfill.

Since Dart’s construction company DECCO and its partners won a competitive bidding process in October 2017, Dart and government have been hashing out the details of a 25-year programme to cap and remediate the existing landfill, and design, build, finance, operate and maintain a new waste-to-energy facility.

The Outline Business Case for the project, published in September 2016, estimated the construction cost of the new facility at more than $100 million, and the 25-year operating cost at about $425 million (offset by revenues of $270 million, including $108 million in electricity sales from the waste-to-energy plant).

In March, Dart’s waste management chief Martin Edelenbos predicted it would take until late spring or summer for the government contract to be finalised … in other words, any day now, hopefully.

Solid waste management is no different from most civic issues, in that communication is key to the effective and efficient performance of public duties. That goes for the responsibilities of household residents, the accountability of the civil service, and the accomplishment of what would be an extraordinary capital works project.

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