The failure by the government to recognise the financial burden that businesses have had to put up with over the last 10 years to meet their environmental obligations remains a mystery. Unless, of course, there is a hidden political agenda to place the business community in a bad light.
Years ago businesses relieved the government of the cost of the grey/green bag collections of recyclable waste and bring in sites collection logistics. The business community, through two authorised compliance schemes, assumed responsibility for this as agreed with the government in July 2009. Now, 10 years later, the government contends that because of a grey area in the legislation (which was enacted in 2010) relating to this agreement, the business community did not meet its obligations to the full.
They now contend that producers or importers need to fork out 40 per cent of the Eco Contribution exempted between 2009 and 2016, the year the legislation was practically shredded and replaced by excise (which was not the agreement either).
It seems that the government was advised by the Attorney General that looking prime facie at the legislation as penned in 2010 it has a right to demand these funds. However, this goes deeper. The government knows deep down that the business community met its expectations, and paid for the last 10 years for recyclable collections without ever pointing a finger at the government.
And now 10 years later, the business community might be forced by this pro-business government to fork out millions more. This, after the government decided that over 40 per cent of the collections made, including paper, magazines, leaflets and unsolicited mail are not to be accredited to the legislation enacted in 2010. Why would the business community collect paper and cartons in the grey and green bags if this was not accredited in the legislation? It is clear that the legislation had a lacuna, a grey area, and this will be challenged in court if necessary.
To add insult to injury an audit firm was involved from 2012 onwards and issued a preliminary report in 2017. It was only in July 2017 that the government, as directed by this audit firm and backed by the AG’s office, stated that cartons, paper, leaflets, magazines and unsolicited mail will not to be included in the collection figures. Great, in 2017 you get to learn the rules of a game that goes back to July 2009. The mind boggles as to why the business community should ever come to terms with any administration unless such agreements are scrutinised by 100 lawyers.
The issue is all about trust and the business community should never, after this episode – even if it is solved amicably – ever enter into agreements of any nature with government administrations unless they are crystal clear from day one and have been scrutinised by an army of lawyers.
Fast forward to today: the business community is discussing the Beverage Container Refund Scheme with The Resource Recovery and Recycling Agency. If business has any self-respect these discussions should cease overnight. There should be no further dealings unless this issue of the past 10 years, which is now getting out of hand, is finalised and cleared once and for all.
I recently met a high-ranking government official at the Ministry of Finance over this matter. He was involved in this Eco Contribution Exemption regime since its inception and said the government cannot pardon these producers/importers who did not meet their targets.
My message to this gentleman is that the business community is not expecting pardons. It met its obligations to the full and he is well aware that no one offers a service for free. I repeat, the business community does not want pardons. What we do want is men of stature like him and others who prior to 2013 received their pay cheque from the same public coffers to stand up and be counted.
My loyalty towards the business community is unwavering and I shall not rest before this matter is settled once and for all. The government cannot say it met its side of the deal. It has left a bitter taste with those like me who work day in day out in the interest of the environment and businesses.
Some days I wake up saying to myself I should throw in the towel, but giving up is not an option.
Joe Attard is chief executive officer of Green Mt.