Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Editorial | No sympathy for Dennis Chung

Published:Friday | August 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Dennis Chung had a bit of a public whinge this week about the equivocation and vacillation of a nine-member group appointed nearly two years ago to privatise the collection and disposal of solid waste in Jamaica. That so-called enterprise team includes Audley Gordon, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), of which Mr Chung is chairman.

"There are roughly 40 expressions of interest," he told this newspaper. "One company from Canada wants to invest US$1 billion. Up to last week, an overseas investor expressed interest, but the [committee] has been pussyfooting around ... This [issue] has been languishing for a long time."

If Mr Chung's aim was to make the case that his hands are tied, and to elicit sympathy for him at the ineptitude with which the NSWMA continues to conduct its business, he won't find it here. When such things happen, smart people know that to do.

Mr Chung was the sharp private-sector guy tapped three years ago to lead the NSWMA in a new direction, as well as restore public confidence in the agency that faced a deep crisis. Not only was the NSWMA failing at its job of collecting garbage, but a series of fires at its dump at Riverton City had, for nearly two weeks, caused acrid, carcinogenic smoke to hang low over large swathes of the capital. The problem distressed tens of thousands of people, especially those with respiratory conditions.

Months after Mr Chung assumed the post - to much acclaim, including from this newspaper - the Government changed and he was invited to stay. His board, in short order, promoted Mr Gordon to the CEO post, declaring faith in his competence.

Unfortunately, little, fundamentally, has changed at the NSWMA under the leadership of Mr Chung and Mr Gordon. Garbage collection is still sporadic and the fires remain frequent at the dumps. They have in recent weeks happened at the NSWMA facilities at Riverton, St Andrew; Retirement, St James; and Morant Bay, St Thomas. Further, the dumps remain just that - dumps, not landfills.

The NSWMA blames the fires on arsonists, supposedly people who have an economic interest in the blaze. Mr Chung says that, in the circumstance, his only solution to the fire problem is increased security at the dumps.

 

Not his mandate

 

With regard to creating modern landfills with possible waste-to-energy systems, his board doesn't have that mandate. That was assigned to the privatisation team. In any event, the NSWMA doesn't have the budget to do the basics. According to Mr Chung, the approximately J$1-billion subvention the NSWMA gets annually from the Government is 60 per cent of what it asks for.

Further, the two years of pussyfooting by the current enterprise team, led by Tanny Shirley, is not the only time that has gone into the privatisation effort. That, according to Mr Chung, is more like six years, given the fact that a previous effort had to be abandoned because of procedural snags.

"We are doing our best," he said. "We can't do any more."

Well, Mr Chung, that best isn't good enough. It's your reputation that's on the line, and if you can't get traction, leave the game and declare the reason for your decision. Perhaps this week's declaration was edging to that position.

In that regard, Mr Chung should expect little support from his CEO, judging from Mr Gordon's reaction to the complaint by a Canadian entrepreneur, with interest in the garbage business, at the slow pace with which the Government gets things done.

"It is difficult for some foreigner guy to come accusing the Government of being lax," he said. "I am not going to support that."