Ministry of Environment takes boldest steps yet to clean up New Providence, will charge offenders
Overgrown vacant lots littered with debris, abandoned vehicles, discarded mattresses, fridges and microwaves, buildings that have become home to rodents and silent havens of criminality will soon vanish from the landscape under a plan unveiled by government Monday.
The plan – a joint effort between the Over-the Hill Initiative and Ministry of Environment & Housing — involves the hiring and training of 42 environmental monitors, watchdogs who will walk targeted areas daily, file weekly reports and present evidence that will could lead to offenders being charged in a revived environmental court.
Environmental monitoring is one spoke of a four-wheel plan that is expected to have a long-term impact on the physical appearance, safety and health of New Providence by increasing awareness, oversight and causing those who violate littering and other environmental endangerment laws to face penalties.
The historic plan was revealed at a press conference at Wesley Methodist Church, Grant’s Town, Monday morning.
“This government is serious about the environment,” declared Environment Minister Romauld ‘Romi’ Ferreira. “We spent the first year doing a massive clean-up, clearing communities of abandoned vehicles, collecting hundreds of tons of trash, debris and garbage. We had to do that because New Providence was filthy but that type of exercise is costly and not sustainable. So in the second year, we have focused on changing the mind-set, starting with young people, through the #Be A Hero campaign, instilling a sense of pride in students by getting them to understand that this land is their land and they must take responsibility for it.
“Today, we take the boldest step yet unveiling the most comprehensive plan in the history of The Bahamas to create and maintain an environment that is clean, green and pristine and hold those who would treat our physical surroundings with disrespect by breaking the law to pay the price for doing so,” said Ferreira. “The days of dumping are over. You will be caught, you will be penalized and we are serious.”
According to Rocky Nesbitt, Project Manager for the Over-the-Hill Initiative, the 4-point plan will initially target two areas – Bain Town and Centreville. Environmental monitors are undergoing an intense 10-week training program following which they will be on a 52-week contract with full-time Monday-Friday working schedules. Among their tasks – identifying illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles, securing hazardous areas and, in the case of natural or other disaster, assisting NEMA in bringing relief to affected areas.
“Once the monitor identifies an abandoned vehicle or if there is another hazardous issue, a notice will be placed on it giving the owner seven days to remove it or the Department of Environmental Health will do so and the owner or responsible party will be billed and may face legal action in the environmental court,” said Nesbitt.
The environmental court is expected to come on stream early next year. Persons found in violation of environmental laws could face a minimum fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding nine months, or both, depending on the type of offence and frequency of the infraction.
The 4-point plan also calls for a doubling of regular garbage collection with twice weekly pick-ups in the targeted areas.
Additionally, the third rung of the plan deals with abandoned, derelict buildings. The first building came down last week. Located at Rupert Dean Lane and Scott Street, the structure had become a haven for criminality, guns and drugs, according to sources. Demolition will lead to the fourth element of the plan.
“We will not just tear down a building, we will repurpose the property so it may become a vegetable garden, a community park, a green space,” said Nesbitt. “This is how serious we are about creating a better environment and the targeted areas will serve as the model for a broader program in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment and Department of Environmental Health. This represents a new chapter in citizen responsibility and government initiatives and we are very excited about what it means to the future of our Bahamas.”
As a partner with the #Be A Hero campaign introduced by the Ministry of Environment earlier this year, the new initiative will identify community heroes and recognize them with the superhero capes that have come to mean going the extra mile.
Attending Monday’s event were both Members of Parliament for the designated areas, Centerville’s Reece Chipman and Bains and Grants Town MP, Travis Robinson along with Samita Ferguson, executive manager of the Over-The-Hill Community Partnership Initiative. The trio has vowed their commitment to ensuring positive transformation not only in Over-The-Hill Communities but the lives of residents.