It is the government and not the municipality which is responsible for the situation at the Le Repentir Disposal Site

Dear Editor,

Season’s greetings to all Guyanese.

The caption of the Demerara Waves online article ‘Kissoon Benschop arrested for blocking landfill site; Government intervenes in chaotic landfill’ and comments by Public Works Minister Robeson Benn surely give the impression that the problem at the Le Repentir Disposal Site was caused by the Georgetown municipality. However an examination of the facts reveals a totally different perspective.  The situation at the Le Repentir Disposal Site is the result of the neglect and inaction of the PPP/C Government.

It is known that the Le Repentir disposal site “… started operation in 1994 as an exhibition site to demonstrate the art of sanitary landfilling.” It was expected to be in operation for two years but after six years of operation it gained the attention of the international community as a problem for the municipality and the residents of Georgetown. The World Health Organization in its Solid Waste Sectoral Analysis (2004) concluded that “This actual situation at the national level reflects the absence of any coordinated plan or programme…” It is observed in the report that the Le Repentir Disposal Site is surrounded by drainage canals and does not have linings, soil cover or gas control. That leachate goes directly into the canals and most likely contaminates the groundwater. The problem of fire on the dump because of poor soil cover and methane gas control was also cited as having a possible deleterious health effect on residents.  It was reported that no epidemiological studies were carried out by the government to determine the effect of solid waste mismanagement on the residents of the surrounding areas. In 2008 the Guyana Human Rights Association called for a major medical intervention and the commissioning of a disaster response team to deal with the situation created by the mismanagement.

It is against the background of this absolute crisis that the Haag Bosch Sanitary Landfill Site was conceptualized. According to IDB records the design for Haag Bosch was finalized in December 2004 with the assumption that construction would start in 2006 and would be completed no later than 2008. The government was fully aware of the crisis so let’s see what they did.

The loan agreement for the construction of Haag Bosch was signed in 2007, three years after the completion of the design. Construction did not start until January 2010, a total of six years after the design was completed and over a decade after the World Health Organization pointed to the possible health problems of the residents close to the Le Repentir Disposal Site and the absence of epidemiological studies to determine the nature and extent of the possible health crisis. It is reported that the Government of Guyana was slow to sign the loan agreement because they were unhappy that the loan agreement named the Georgetown municipality as the executing agency. Even after signing the agreement the GOG refused to set up the Project Executing Unit for a considerable period and as a result the IDB could disburse no funds. It is not coincidental that the project finally got started in January 2010 just two months after the IDB agreed to make the Ministry of Local Government the executing agency.

In 2008, Local Government Minister, Mr Kellawan Lall stated that the only solution to the problem at the Le Repentir Disposal Site was relocation to another site, namely Haag Bosch (SN, October 9, 2008). On that occasion Mr Lall was honest even as his government did everything possible to delay the commencement of Haag Bosch because of a squabble over turf. This does not prevent Public Works Minister, Mr Robeson Benn, two years later, from attempting to put the blame at the feet of the municipality and accuse them of not accounting for funds.

Benn, Lall and the entire PPP/C government are fully aware of the reasons for the crisis on Mandela Avenue. It is the government’s neglect and inaction in dealing with a serious environmental and health crisis that was impacting on the lives of thousands. The gall of these people to now claim that they are going to solve the problem by getting directly involved. They were directly involved a long time ago in helping to create this crisis.

It is the nature of the PPP/C government to sing itself glowing praise after the completion of Haag Bosch. They will conveniently forget that the project is two years late. They will forget the thousands who had their health affected. We must not allow them to forget. We must push for the epidemiological study.

Yours faithfully,
James K McAllister

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