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Monday 17 June 2019
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Clean up the country

Clean. With one disease after another coming upon us, this word “clean” should have an increasingly urgent, compelling meaning for us. It essentially means “free from dirt, disease, contaminating matter or defilement.” It even means free from rubbish and litter. (Concise Oxford) And it opens up a needful civic mission for Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. This thought was prompted by what India’s prime minister Narendra Modi started last month. In Miami recently, I saw wide news coverage over Modi, with broom in hand, sweeping the streets of New Delhi.

Modi declared a National Clean-up Campaign for India. And from cabinet ministers and public servants down to village leaders and housewives, the sanitation drive spread like wild-fire. Readers will recall how many times this column joined others in fretting about our dirty rivers, litter-filled beaches, paper-cup clogged drains, plastic bottles here, there and everywhere – not forgetting the hundreds of old tyres recently dumped alongside what was once one of our most beautiful rivers – Caura River. And, quite sadly, those mange-ridden, sickly-looking stray dogs lingering along some of our best beaches – Maracas and Mayaro.

Modi’s mission reminded me of 1987 when NAR minister Lincoln Myers activated a national clean-up campaign. The national community was inspired. So we did it before Modi. That was our short-lived “One Love” era. Today, we need a similar national effort, this time, though, a much bigger one since the plastic bottles, paper cups, even rum and beer bottles have become a nasty national nightmare. We need strong leadership, law enforcement, public education, accountability and citizens who care.

Prime Ministerial leadership will provide the muscle and permanence required. Sure, we can have efforts of volunteers such as PNM’s Pennelope Beckles or Attorney General Anand Ramlogan leading clean-up crews along the Mayaro Beach two years ago. But such one-day efforts, quite noble, do not last. So we ask what is happening to the beverage and container bill that was brought to Parliament? Or what has the Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation done to the offender who so recklessly dumped those old tyres up the Caura River? Mosquitoes like nothing better than water hidden in old tyres.

In an anti-litter story, the Miami Herald reported: “Gov. Jerry Brown signed into a law a bill banning plastic shopping bags at supermarkets to help reduce the number of plastic bags that end up clogging rivers.” As an anti-rubbish step, Brown stated: “The bill reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.” (Oct 1)

However, the American Progressive Bag Alliance campaigned to repeal the law. Its Executive Director, Lee Califf, said: “If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardise thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions.” (Herald, Oct 1)

However, competing interests, always alive in a democracy, struck back as Nathan Weaver, from a “clean California” group, replied, “This law will mean a cleaner ocean for everyone, and we hope other places that care about their oceans, their rivers and their environment will look at this as well.” In 2009, I recall Local Government Minister Hazel Manning announcing in the Senate the start of a national waste management policy – still needed.

With climate change, contagious diseases and environmental awareness now commanding unprecedented attention, any national clean-up campaign will attract public support. Almost every day, there are letters to the editor complaining about littering, dirty rivers, dirty beaches, flooding and the lawless culture that instigates such public contamination. Last Thursday, M Lalchan asked “Where are the Sanitation Inspectors?” Referring to a Penal supermarket, he wrote: “Where the garbage is thrown, there are worms, rats and trash all over the street.” (Newsday)

Take DF Redmond’s letter two weeks ago to all three dailies. He wrote: “Is it that 50 years ago Dr Eric Williams or God (to some citizens they are one and the same) decreed we were somehow different to other countries and law enforcement was not necessary for us?” Redmond added: “The flood gates were opened since then and littering, loitering, jay-walking, illegal vending, squatting, traffic offences, crudity on our roadways, eventually illegal PH taxis and now noise pollution have become the norm.”

These vile practices became “the new normal” a long time ago, Mr Delmond, so much so that in 1993 I wrote about them in my book entitled A Society Under Siege. But don’t give up hope. I haven’t. How inspiring it would be if our Prime Minister Ms Kamla Persad-Bissessar, with broom in hand, and with environmental Minister Ganga Singh and Opposition Leader Dr. Rowley at her side with brooms too, sweeping the streets while launching a national clean-up campaign. Lincoln Myers did it long before Mr Modi. We can do it again. Let’s clean up the country now. We could do with some “one love” again.

Editor’s Note: The printer’s jumbie was at work last Sunday when a previously published column of Professor Deosaran was inadvertently reprinted. Today we publish the correct copy of the professor’s column and offer sincere apologies to him and to our readers for the mishap.

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