Fixing our Garbage Problem: Executive Mandate Urgently Needed

I listened in horror as the caller to the popular day-time radio talk show described his passenger’s attitude towards litter. “He finished eating his KFC in my taxi and then just threw the bag, cup and box with bones out the window of the moving vehicle. I told him that he shouldn’t have done that, that he could have just left it in the car, that I would have disposed of it when next I stopped. He got vexed with me. Asked me wha mi think garbage truck and garbage man di deh fah…” The same taxi man told the talk show host that he ferries visitors to the island around Montego Bay and he is repeatedly asked about the amount of visible garbage in the second city. The visitors are appalled, quizzical and disdainful all at the same time. “Is there some sort of problem?” they ask in wonderment.

Garbage in gully. Photo courtesy the Gleaner
We have a garbage problem. My family and I have perfected the art of the road-trip and we can, at a moment’s notice, head north, south, east or west in Jamaica, and we do. Often. We do not have to go three feet off the beaten track to be confronted with garbage: plastic bags, bottles and containers. Have you seen Downtown Kingston after a shower of rain? Remember the flooding due to clogged drains in Montego Bay a few weeks ago after thirty minutes of rain? Just look down into every single gully in Kingston that you drive past and over: garbage and more garbage. No TVJ nightly newscast is complete without the obligatory “raw sewage overflowing” story, the overflow the result of drains clogged with solid waste.

Garbage outside a school. Photo courtesy the Jamaica Observer
How Come?

The Broken Windows Theory
In 1982, Wilson and Kelling posited the Broken Window theory in an attempt to link serious crime to seemingly less innocuous incidents of disorder like vandalism and littering. Even though their theory has its fair share of criticism as far as diagnosing and treating serious crime, at its simplest level, the theory in part explains why dirty communities remain this way. They observed: “…consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants…” Simply put, allowing the first hint of disorder to go unchecked is a welcome mat for more of the same. Garbage attracts garbage. And after a while it’s as if we don’t see it. The garbage around us has simply become part of the landscape, the proverbial dead body in the living room, which was appalling at first sight, but as the inhabitants started to manoeuvre around it and as they got used to the sight of it, the dead body became just another fixture in the room.
Plastic bottles in gully heading out to sea. Photo from
Studies Show…

The Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) has bravely attempted to tackle Jamaica’s garbage problem with their “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” campaign. Some young talented animator did the eye catching visuals to the zippy tune that admonishes us accordingly. Nice. But meaningless in the face of the enormous problem we face. You see, the garbage that we co-exist with, is not simply the result of that passenger in the taxi flinging his waste through the car window.  JET recently released the results of a study done to look at the garbage issues and the South Gully in Montego Bay. While the scope of the study was limited to the South Gully, the findings and recommendations have wider application for the island.
Garbage is habitually dumped in our gullies. No one readily admits to dumping, but the evidence is clear. In the face of erratic, unpredictable and in some cases non-existent garbage collection, what do you think will really happen? Informal settlements generate waste too. To include them on a garbage collection schedule may legitimise them, giving rise to a whole new set of problems. Many public skips where people could deposit their garbage in a central place for pickup have been removed. People used to burn their garbage there, destroying the skips, and infrequent collection saw the skips morphing into mini dumpsites, a haven for rodents and other pests.  

We already know how to fix it
The South Gully Research Project made recommendations, recommendations that have been proffered time and again. Here they are, modified for general application:
1.       Establishment of a regular cleaning schedule for gullies which is published in newspapers and online.
2.       Increased frequency of garbage collection
3.       Establishment of a well-publicized garbage collection schedule and map of collection routes
4.       Roll out of a significant quantity of bins along established garbage collection routes. Skips might be appropriate in some places (at the entrance to informal settlements for example) but it should be recognized that they take much longer to clear. Lightweight, plastic bins, with holes punched in the sides and bottom to discourage theft, are most effective in urban areas where frequent garbage collection takes place. Private sector support should be sought to finance the bins.
5.       Enforcement of anti-dumping laws should be dramatically ramped up island wide. This enforcement should be accompanied by appropriate publicity, including messaging targeted at business operators promoting good solid waste management practices.
6.       Revision of the NSWMA act to include specific regulations for solid waste management by commercial and industrial operations; increase fines and impose harsher penalties for non-compliance. Revisions should be accompanied by increased enforcement effort.

But will that do it?
I’ve itemized the recommendations above with a heavy heart. There is a perspective that leadership in Jamaica has lost the art of implementation and has become preoccupied with speeches and box-ticking. It further posits that those in positions of influence and power have managed to insulate themselves from certain Jamaican realities and therefore expend nothing on fixing those ills besetting others; think private schools, private education, private security, gated communities, vehicles that shuttle them from A to B, high off the ground in air-conditioned insularity. They vacation in exclusive locations, out of the line of sight of road side dump sites, and in all-inclusive, created experiences, totally separate from the speak-easy that exists beside a pile of garbage uncollected in two weeks. Out of sight, most definitely out of mind.

And so priorities are set based on a particular skewed perspective and outlook by the powerful and wealthy. And those who see and know and feel The Other Side of Things, in their quest for the Great House quickly adopt the priorities of those who are where they want to be, eschewing the urgent and real needs of our present context.

Tackle the issue at the Community Level

So is grass roots activism and action the answer to get things moving? Perhaps this is one of the first steps towards making our present system of governance redundant and shifting the current paradigm towards one that is more proactive and relevant to us.
Imagine this happening at the Community level:

1. Education campaigns about improper garbage disposal. Get a local company to sponsor a poster competition in the community schools. Tell them to include actual pictures of what is wrong in their community.

2. Again get a local company to sponsor the printing of dozens of the winning poster and then commission local groups like the 4H Club, Scouts, church youth group to strategically, and with permission place these posters in central areas.

3. Set a small goal of creating a garbage free zone in a public area enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Make noise about it. Use social media to spread the news of this success story. Replicate this in another area.

4. Get the Councillor and MP on board: THEY have to pressure NSWMA to cart the garbage away regularly and reliably. KEEP UP THE PRESSURE! Use social media to shame and congratulate. Because make no mistake, there are those who make every effort to bag and discard their garbage properly, but their best efforts are thwarted by the non-collection of their garbage! There’s no reliable schedule of collection and public skips seem to be a thing of the past.

The Case for an Executive Mandate
I fear though that the general recommendations extrapolated from JET’s South Gully Research Project and my own offerings about a revolution at the local level are an insufficient response to the enormity of the garbage problem we face. We have already established that solutions exist. It is not as if we do not know what to do. So what next then?
All the literature on change management in organisations underscore the importance of sponsorship from the executive level when major change is required. The more radical and far reaching the change, the more critical it is for all stakeholders to know that it is supported by The Leader. This makes it safe for them to step out of their comfort zone. This offers some sort of guarantee that the needed resources will be allocated appropriately in support of the desired change.
In the 1960’s, Lee Kwan Yew, then president of Singapore, determined to distinguish Singapore from other Third world countries, decided that he would make it clean and green. He easily saw the link between a clean country, a desirable business and tourism destination and the morale of the citizens. Admittedly, the attitudes of the people proved the hardest to tackle. He prioritized law enforcement with respect to littering and greening of the city. New standards for farming and operating within the city were enacted. In his own words, Lee Kwan Yew stated that “perseverance and stamina were needed to fight old habits.” But he did it. Today, Singapore and its people reap the rewards of vision and stellar leadership in this regard.  
Improperly disposed of garbage leads to breeding sites for mosquitoes and rats. Clogged drainage causes millions of dollars in damage resulting from flooding whenever it rains. The government of Jamaica is currently spending millions of dollars treating and monitoring pregnant women testing positive for ZikV and treating patients diagnosed with Guillaine-Barre Syndrome associated with ZikV infections. Lost productivity due to ChickV outbreak last year was likely in the millions of dollars. As the country gets dirtier and dirtier, visitors will opt for cleaner, safer more beautiful destinations. How will we counter the inevitable bad press that will result from filthy, unkempt, unsafe and unsanitary tourist destinations? Spend more money on PR, I suppose and huge sums on mass gully scrapings to take shame out of our eyes.

The bottom line: we cannot afford NOT to allocate resources to implement the recommendations suggested. This will only happen with a clear mandate from the Prime Minister and his tangible, visible support. Take on this challenge of making Jamaica clean, Mr. Holness. Make a clean Jamaica your lasting legacy.

Dear PM: I know that your overarching mandate is economic growth…a worthy ideal to be sure. Law and order cannot flourish in garbage. And without law and order, what happens to any and all economic growth initiatives? I put it to you that your direct leadership in tackling our garbage problem is absolutely critical at this point in our development… perhaps more critical than anything you are spearheading right now.  Getting to a cleaner Jamaica is low hanging fruit that we can ill afford not to pick.

Garbage washed ashore along the Palisadoes strip. Photo courtesy the Gleaner.

Productivity in Jamaica…we aren’t inherently lazy.


Kelly McIntosh, Guest Columnist
“Hard work they had left behind with slavery.” These were the words of no less a person than former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the man credited with transforming the fortunes and future of tiny Singapore. He made this observation about us as a people, during a visit to our island back in 1975.
We have heard time and again that Jamaica’s problem is low productivity, a sentiment underscored by a now well-known statement made popular on talk radio some years ago: “One Chiney can do five smaddy wuk.”
Productivity is defined as the effective and efficient use of resources (labour, capital, material, energy) in the production and supply of quality goods or services. So essentially, productivity measures how well we convert our resources into goods or services.
The Jamaica Productivity Summary Report 1972-2007 paints a damning picture of productivity in Jamaica. Apparently, labour productivity in Jamaica has been declining at an average annual rate of 1.3 per cent over the period 1973-2007. This is made worse by the reality that during 2003-2007, the decline increased to 1.8 per cent per year.
When we compare our situation to our Caribbean neighbours, it gets even worse. Over the same period, Trinidad & Tobago saw its labour productivity increase by an average of 1.5 per cent per year. By 2007, the productivity of a St Lucian worker was 1.6 times that of a Jamaican worker. The report ended with a very gloomy forecast of decreasing productivity going forward in Jamaica.
So was Lee Kuan Yew right? Did the talk-show caller speak truth? And what do the labour-productivity numbers really mean? Consider some other numbers as we seek to wrap our heads around this issue of productivity. The Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica 2013 shows that the number of reported industrial disputes increased in 2012 by 33 per cent. In 2012, the manufacturing sector reported the greatest number of man days lost because of industrial disputes relative to other sectors.
Turn your attention now to remittances. Gross remittance inflows in April 2014 were US$183.3 million, the highest on record. To further put the importance of remittances into perspective, consider that in 2011 they contributed 15 per cent to GDP, compared to tourism, which contributed under 10 per cent to GDP. These remittances, by and large, come from Jamaicans working overseas, especially in the USA.
So far, I’ve cited declined productivity numbers, drawn attention to our industrial relations climate, and cited the importance of money, which is generated outside of Jamaica, by Jamaicans and sent back to the island – three seemingly disparate issues. I now turn my mind to some personal observations that I will seek to link to productivity statistics, industrial relations climate and remittance inflows.
I remember one Christmas Eve I was making my way home in heavy traffic with my children. It was after 7 p.m. The light had just changed to green. Slowly making her way across the road, preventing me from moving on was a woman pushing a heavily laden cart with produce. She strained and pushed wearily, obviously heading home from selling all day. I wonder what conclusions we can draw about productivity in this instance.
We were at Winnifred Beach in Portland two weeks ago. It was a Tuesday and very few people were there. We drove up and cautiously exited the vehicle. No one rushed to us, trying to hustle us for money. We walked from food stall to food stall, with no one harassing us, eventually made our dining decision and went to wait on the beach itself. A man and a woman were silently working, raking up seaweed, boxing it, and disposing of it some metres away. They were sweating in the Portland sun.
I knew that this was a public beach, not yet controlled by UDC, and I could stand it no longer. I went up to the man and asked him: “Who is paying you to clean up the beach?” He replied with quiet dignity: “We make our living on this beach, and it is therefore our responsibility to keep it clean.” I wonder what conclusions we can draw about productivity in this instance.
We’re still in the parish of Portland. But now we’ve ascended into the interior of the parish, up in the John Crow Mountains. There is an eco-tourism outfit called Ambasabeth Cabins. Ambasabeth is 100 per cent powered by the sun, and watered from nearby rivers. Income is supplemented from farming, mostly ginger. The association is a community group, a cooperative that is largely run by women, complete with a mission and vision, supported with a 10-year plan. Formal management meetings are held, books are maintained, plans are formulated, implemented and reviewed. What conclusions can we draw about productivity in this instance?
The numbers indicate that productivity in Jamaica is indeed low. Yet Jamaicans are able to, in another context, generate income, live overseas from that income, and still send part of that income back to Jamaica, such that these inflows sent from overseas are the single largest contributor to our GDP. Why is that?
There are examples of small groups of people and select individuals in the island who exhibit a strong work ethic and who make a living. What makes these people different from their brothers and sisters who operate in a more formal, corporate or production setting in terms of their attitude and output?
Perhaps there is something about our Jamaican context that does not encourage productivity. Perhaps the ways that we have chosen to reward and incentivise labour, and manage labour relations in industry, do not encourage productivity. It is not coincidental that as labour productivity in Jamaica declined, so too did the real wage of workers in Jamaica (it fell by 1.2% between 1973 and 2007).
Basing the success of any enterprise on the inherent goodness and morality of the individual is not as sensible as basing success on sound and robust policies, systems and procedures. So in formal work settings where the worker knows that employers will find it difficult to sanction for lateness, absenteeism and so on, how will overall productivity be affected? What is the incentive for the worker to turn up and show up on any given day?
In private enterprise, when incentive schemes do not exist, and where they do exist on paper, do not in reality incentivise performance, how will this affect productivity?
We all know that the same worker that was repeatedly late for one job here in Jamaica will go overseas and show up on time for not one, but two and sometimes three jobs! The context overseas does not tolerate lateness and the worker knows this and conforms.
The citizens on Winnifred Beach have concluded that they benefit directly from having a clean beach. Patrons enjoying a clean beach environment will hang out there and more than likely buy food and drinks from them. There is an incentive that redounds directly to them if they keep the beach clean.
The Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association has discovered the dignity and independence that comes with owning and controlling the means of their subsistence. Largely independent of the system and the largesse of politicians, these farming folk plan and produce because they have discovered that their prosperity is directly proportional to the effort they put in.
The driving motivation behind Jamaicans generating money overseas, behind the workers on Winnifred Beach and behind the members of the Bowden Pen association is an inherent belief in the value of work, illustrated by the woman pushing the handcart on Christmas Eve.
Perhaps we could change the productivity metrics by changing the Jamaican context to one that leverages our natural propensity for work by incentivising and rewarding labour, while making no excuse for indiscipline. Shifting the paradigm in Jamaica to one which rewards productivity and sanctions indiscipline can happen, but this comes through effective leadership having a vision of what a productive Jamaica actually looks like, modelling the appropriate behaviours, and implementing sound public policy in support of this vision of a new Jamaica.
Kelly McIntosh is operations manager of a major food-export company. Email feedback to and Follow Kelly’s blog at

Hard work they had left behind with slavery.

“At Kingston, Jamaica, in April 1975, Prime Minister Michael Manley, a light skinned West Indian, presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence.  But I found his views quixotic.  He advocated a “redistribution of the world’s wealth”. His country was a well-endowed island of 2,000 square miles, with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other sub-tropical crops were grown.  Theirs was a relaxed culture.  The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously and drank copiously.  Hard work they had left behind with slavery.”  From Third World to First. The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.  Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew.

Forcing me to think…

Sigh. That observation was made more than 35 years ago…I sincerely hope that by now we have ditched the notion of wealth redistribution.  We are still the same size and we are still well endowed.  We still are full of song and dance.  We still know how to speak, announce plans and create an impression with words. (Never mind that the English language continues to rot in the mouths of so many: our children and leaders alike!)  Here’s the clincher per LKY: we don’t work hard. We don’t work hard? 

Yet, I remember on Christmas Eve last year I was making my way home in the heavy Dec 24th traffic with Miss World and Little Master. Our light had just changed to green. And slowly making her way across the road, preventing me from from moving on was a woman pushing a heavily laden cart with produce.  She strained and pushed wearily, obviously heading home from selling all day.  Little Master said: ” Mummy, don’t blow your horn!  Isn’t it sad that that lady has to work so hard on Christmas Eve?”.

Did you know that vendors in our markets gather their produce and take a long journey every Wednesday night to their market of choice and often remain there until Saturday night?  Sounds like hard work to me.

What of domestic helpers who leave their own children behind to live and work in the homes of middle and upper class Jamaicans, caring for those children.  Sounds like hard work to me.

What of the single mother who is holding down a job in corporate Jamaica.  She drops the children to school and then heads in to office to put in 8 hours. She picks up the children in the evening and heads home through bumper to bumper traffic.  Homework and dinner prep mark her next shift and then she gets to do it all over again in a few short hours.  Sometimes, she manages to squeeze school in to all of that!  Sounds like hard work to me.

Quite a few of our local companies are posting huge profits…GraceKennedy, Sagicor, NCB, BNS, Pan Carib, CPJ, Honey Bun… Did the profits happen without hard work?  Let’s slow down here…  I’m sure somebody had to sweat out a strategic plan.  I’m sure somebody had to craft the weekly and monthly reports that checked to see that they were on track.  So yes, somebody was working.  Sure…you ask: how much of those profits were generated from productive endeavors where value is added to A to create B, creating a base from which future profits are guaranteed?  And how much of those profits were generated from simply moving prices for goods and services up higher?  When will the law of diminishing returns set in?
I’m not setting out here to validate a business model.  It seems to me that in spite of the model, somebody is working.

The Jamaica Stock Exchange

Then we have a SME sector that is still breathing…I think of a venture like EduFocal, small food processors, small players in the hospitality industry, entertainers, consultants, traders and farmers…these brave souls who risk their own capital and manage to make a decent living for themselves and their families!  Sounds like hard work to me.

Yet 35 years after the great Lee Kuan Yew made his observations, here is what we have: a shrinking manufacturing sector, the real foundation I think, for creating a sustainable, profit generating base from which to grow.  Our debt is increasing, crime is on the rise again and our trade deficit widens with each setting of the sun. We pray for IMF funding for our nation that has been “independent” for the last 50 years.  Our leaders fantasize about a “Greek-style” bailout.  We seem to have perfected the art of “after the fact”controls, sussing out public sector corruption long after the horse has gone through the gate. We seem unable to put in place mechanisms which prevent it from happening in the first place.

So is our present state due to the fact that we left hard work behind with slavery?   

I humbly posit that the correct answer begins with “L”.

More anon.