Taxpayers are entitled to stress-free public services because, at the end of the day, they foot the bill. The collection of recyclable waste problem in many parts of Gozo is, at best, a consequence of red tape and, at worst, an inability by the relevant authorities to manage what should be a relatively simple public service.
A few weeks ago, Green MT, a subsidiary of the Malta Chamber of SMEs (GRTU), wrote to seven Gozo councils and one in Malta informing them that, come September 1, they would have to pay extra for the collection of recyclable waste from houses and bring-in sites. Green Mt had warned councils in January it would be stopping its “unsustainable operation”, presumably meaning it was incurring a loss on the services it was providing in certain localities.
The Environment Resources Authority ordered Green MT to continue providing a service to the councils in question. However, the company appealed, rendering the regulator’s decision ineffective, certainly until the Planning Review Tribunal meets in November, when, one hopes, a final decision would be made.
In the meantime, garbage piled up in many towns and villages in Gozo with residents understandably disgusted by the inability of the authorities to prevent this from happening in the first place or, at least, to resolve it in the shortest possible time.
What is the use of having an environment regulator if decisions are rendered ineffective by appeal procedures that are not speeded up to save residents from unnecessary inconvenience?
The government ministries held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. They adopted stopgap measures by engaging a private contractor to collect the recyclable waste bags, of course at an additional expense to taxpayers. Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana blamed Green MT for this chaotic situation. Green MT complained it was disadvantaged when compared to another contractor, GreenPak, which, they alleged, was given preferential treatment. GreenPak reacted by threatening legal action.
Such a dysfunctional waste collection service indicates there is little effective management control in the ministry/ministries responsible for guaranteeing a stress-free service to the public. It is possible, if not probable, there are loopholes in the service agreement with waste collection providers. If this is the case, why did the authorities not pre-empt the prevailing situation by closing the gaps?
Why does the Planning Review Tribunal take so long to hear an appeal in such urgent situations, especially in the peak of the tourist season? Ordinary people rightly expect an efficient public service that is being paid for by their taxes. The system in place for the collection of recyclable waste in Gozo is evidently not fit for purpose.
Threats and counter threats of legal action by the parties involved will not lead to an early solution. The government adopted the unavoidable measure of commissioning a new contractor to clear the accumulated waste but taxpayers had to pay for that. Ultimately, the responsibility for delivering this service is of the political administration.
This administration, like others before it, committed itself to cut the red tape that upsets so many people. It also promised a more effective way of delivering public services to those who pay for them.
It now needs to walk the talk and resolve the problem in the shortest and most cost-effective way without taxpayers being ‘overcharged’.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial