Saturday, September 07, 2013

Not Trashing the Garbage Problem

It is no smellathon that we are having here in Cagayan de Oro, except that the stinking garbage uncollected in some areas on days at end has caught our collective noses.

We know what happened.  For some reasons or other, the then garbage collector just stopped collecting, leaving the city high, dry, but stinky with the mounting piles of rotten refuse.  To stave off impending disaster, the city has had to resort to stop-gap measures – like using some of its vehicles for garbage collection, engaging third parties to collect garbage, and what have you. Despite these, garbage collection has been unsatisfactory.

Invariably local pundits wasted no time rehashing and exhuming the entire waste disposal process.  Questions and proffered possible solutions were not wanting.

Why did the then current collection just summarily rescind its contract with the city?

Shouldn’t solid waste disposal be given to the barangays?

Why go for privatization of garbage collection?

Why not let the government handle that since as a basic service it is tasked to do just that?

Why should waste collection and disposal not follow strictly the stringent environmental standards we read being discussed incessantly throughout the world?  Instead of just indiscriminately dumping on open landfill sites?

To all these questions and more, why and why not, indeed?

Except please consider the following first.

We understand that two of the major issues the current administration has over the garbage contract hastily renewed long-term by the previous occupant are the absence of required public bidding prior to the award and secondly, the current administration finds the billings submitted as over the top. 

Such being the case, a new contract ought to be drawn following the required process of going through public bidding, which should not preclude the subject garbage collector from participating.  This ought to fairly address the issue of fair price, or any cost-benefit issue obtaining with regard to this specific issue.  Problem solved.  Or is it?

BTW, the government being not for profit, driving it to understand and apply strict cost-benefit analyses will be a difficult task.  Look anywhere, locally and abroad, and one finds that government waste is the daily fare, in most anything government does.

We have traditionally looked to government to provide us with “basic services” required with living as a community.  And the barangay is the most basic unit of governance we find in our current political system.  But our experiences have consistently shown to us that government has always fallen short of our expectations.  At this time, we will all be hard-pressed to name and recommend any important government-owned and –operated entity that has delivered to its citizens some important “basic service” with some satisfaction.  Water service? Think COWD.  Phone service?  Think MisOrTel.  Power?  Oops, Cepalco is privately-owned.  But we do have in our midst two electric cooperatives, Moresco and Buseco.  But they would be considered at least non-governmental, right? Roads and infrastructures?  But most jobs are contracted out to private firms.  What else.

But for garbage collection and disposal, barangays should be able to do that.  How?  How do you prepare, equip, and expect the 80 barangays of this city alone to handle seamlessly, without fail, and without running into each other tons of garbage on a daily basis?  That’s a gargantuan task.  Maybe one or two, or even more barangays can handle their own specialized collection and disposal.  But an entire city with 80 barangays?

Whether we like or think so or not, privatization is now the marked trend. Limited government is now the cry of those eternally frustrated by governments which slavishly attempt to co-opt more power and control over the citizenry. Research most developed countries in the world and you will find the sure shift toward privatization.  Why, in some cities in the US, collection of traffic tickets has been privatized. This is obviously naked acceptance of the failure of government to be trusted with many of the tasks traditionally bestowed to it.  Will ours be any different?

Okay, assuming we will continue going to the private sector for our garbage collection and disposal, why can’t we follow stringent environmental standards on waste disposal in general?

And why not, indeed.

But which issue should the government attend to first, given its limited resources, very unalterable time constraints, and overall lethargy and inattention of our public servants?

For the entire country, we have in our midst teeming millions of our own people living in inarguably sub-human conditions.  Reference is made to the countless squatter areas in probably all our cities.  People living in hovels, with no indoor plumbing much less proper human waste disposal system, crowding in slimy conditions under bridges, over esteros, over clogged creeks, etc.  In such a state, proper garbage disposal is the least of their concerns.

So we can aim and engage scarce resources to build ourselves a nice waste disposal system, away from where we live and enjoy our life free from noxious fumes or far from sources of diseases associated with improper disposal.

But in our midst, we will still have the more urgent and hazardous problems created by our own people living in very dire conditions.

These are our dilemmas.  Created by looking at hard and harsh facts, rather than enviable ideals that we think we should all aspire for.