The man who residents of Riverton City have accused of starting a fire at the dump located in that community last month is still ‘working’ at the waste facility and continues to go about his business with ease, the Jamaica Observer has found out.
A Sunday Observer probe during last week unearthed information that the individual, whose christian name rhymes with that of a cartoon character created by Tex Avery in 1943 for the US-based Metro Goldwyn-Meyer studio, still visits the dump daily and continues to ‘hustle’ as normal.
To compound matters, those in the know at the controversial waste disposal facility said that the accused man was, ironically, among the paid personnel assisting with fighting the flames and trying to keep the smoke under control.
Disaster preparedness teams, personnel from the National Solid Waste Management Authority, the Jamaica Fire Brigade, and the security forces, fought the blaze which released stifling smoke across the Corporate Area, sections of St Catherine and Clarendon for almost three weeks.
The Jamaica Fire Brigade said that the blaze was officially put out on Monday, March 30. The firemen then publicly stated that, based on a preliminary investigation, the latest Riverton City fire, the largest on record, was the work of an arsonist or arsonists.
Unlike the fire last year, when an individual from Spanish Town, St Catherine lit the facility, the accused man is a resident of Riverton City. His face is usually covered with cloth, so identifying him at first glance is usually a challenge to those who do not know his facial features.
The lighting of the dump on March 10 began after a fuss developed over plastic bottles being stored there by certain men. The man said to have lit the fire lost some of his bottles to thieves and he was not happy about it. He, like others who store plastic bottles, intended to sell the items.
“(………) go up a the dump and find out seh di man dem tief him plastic bottle, an him just back him gun, then say ‘a who tief mI bottle dem?’ and just light the dump,” one Riverton City resident, who said he saw what happened, told the Sunday Observer.
“The same man who light the dump, a di same man a run up and down wid fireman and all sort a other man fi out the fire. So him start the fire and still get work fi out it,” the resident said.
No official report has been made to the police by residents for fear of reprisals, and the accused man is said to still visit the dump daily, “but him cover up him face, because him nuh want any and any man see him,” another resident interjected.
When the Sunday Observer asked how is it that the dump is under scrutiny by police and army personnel, yet there have been so many security breaches that have resulted in fires, one resident replied: “Di police dem nah do dem work. If di police dem did a work, dis man woulda get ketch already. Di man still deh a di dump every day and nobody nah trouble him. Look how much money him cost the Government and how much disturbance the fire cause.”
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, in its initial financial assessment of the damage, said that it cost the State $235 million to contain the fire. That figure is likely to increase when the organisation works the calculator for a final time in coming days, throwing miscellaneous expenses into the mix.
The police have been blamed, too, for not clamping down on known criminals who frequent the dump.
“A whole heap a wanted man deh a di dump. Most of dem who tie up dem face are wanted men, police nah look fi dem, because when police see di man dem tie up dem face, dem seh the man dem a hustler,” a woman who lives in the inner-city community said.
In addition to fear preventing people from reporting the arsonist to the police, the reward money put up so far is seen as inadequate.
“Everybody know who light the fire… even police… but dem want wi fi go gi official report and call the man right name and dem kinda things. Wi cyaan risk wi life just so,” one resident said.
Authorities have offered a reward of $50,000 for information that would lead to an arrest.
However, at least one resident has said that if the reward money was pushed up to $250,000 or $300,000, he would seriously consider telling the police what he knew.
“When dem gi mi $50,000, dat cyaan bury mi if the man who mi report pon decide fi come back and deal wid mi. It better if dem step up di money, because at least mi family can get some money fi buy mi a coffin and build a vault if the man decide fi kill mi,” the resident said.
The Hunt’s Bay police, which has oversight responsibility for Riverton City, confirmed to the Sunday Observer that no official report regarding suspects had been made. One senior police official said that, although there was no report on file, investigators had been hearing the name of a truck operator mentioned, and speculation in some quarters is that he might have played a hand in setting the fire.
Apart from causing humungous hardship on the people of Kingston & St Andrew, St Catherine, and Clarendon, smoke from the blaze, among other things, forced around 1,000 people to seek medical attention — the main cry being respiratory ailments. In addition, the Grade Six Achievement Test, the entry level examination sat by primary, all-age and preparatory school pupils for high school admission, was postponed by a week.
In the aftermath of the fire and smoke nuisance, the chairman of the board of directors of the NSWMA, Steve Ashley, announced that the contract of the organisation’s executive Director Jennifer Edwards would not be renewed. Edwards, president of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement, subsequently took the matter of her contract to the Supreme Court. She withdrew the court action after it later emerged that the board of the NSWMA would be scrapped, following the initial resignation of seven of the 10 members, excluding Ashley and two others.
Ashley later penned his exit note to Minister of Local Government Noel ‘Butch’ Arscott, who was attending a United Nations meeting in Japan when the fire started, but returned in time to see the dust starting to settle.
Arscott told journalists during a Jamaica House news conference last Wednesday that his confidence in Ashley had been diluted based upon how the matter of Edwards’ contract was handled at a time when there was a smoke crisis gripping the organisation.
Arscott, who is also Member of Parliament for Clarendon South Western, promised to name a new board of directors for the NSWMA soon, and already there is speculation that Edwards could return to her old job, something which a senior member of the PNP’s National Executive Council (NEC) said should not happen.
“If Ms Edwards were to return to her old job at Solid Waste that would send an improper signal to the rest of Jamaica,” the NEC bigwig said.
“She is not a technically sound person in the management of solid waste, and she should not have been appointed in the first place, but the fact is, she is a senior Comrade, one who is loyal to the prime minister.
“Steve, too, knows nothing about matters surrounding garbage collection and related issues, so for him to be appointed to chair that board was wrong. Again, Steve is close to the leadership of the party, he is often involved in key decisions taken by the Government on various issues, so he was given the chairman’s job,” the NEC member said.
Asked by the Sunday Observer if he would make such comments on the floor or a meeting of the NEC, the member flatly replied: “No sah! Saying something like that in public would cause too much division and discord in my party.”
In the meantime, some residents of Riverton City are fuming over what they call their treatment by Member of Parliament George Anthony Hylton, who is also minister of industry, investment and commerce.
“We have no representation in Riverton,” one said. “Look pon how the place stay… a pure old shack, dirt and muck and when rain fall a worries. Riverton is the worst ghetto inna Kingston and all Hylton a do is get him face pon TV. Over yah full a PNP, but if him nuh do something fi improve the condition a di people dem, whole heap a wi nah vote fi him.
“All the councillor to, she live inna Riverton and she wouldn’t even lif’ a finger fi mek things better fi di people dem,” the Riverton resident said of Hazel Anderson, councillor for the Seaview Gardens Division of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation under which Riverton City falls.
Western St Andrew is regarded as one of the most impoverished constituencies in Jamaica, despite the existence of several of the leading industrial companies.
It is not the first time that Hylton has come under fire from his constituents, particularly those in Riverton City and Seaview Gardens, many of whom suggest that he is not concerned about their welfare. Others have also said that he loves to “profile” too much, instead of coming up with tangible alternatives to ease the suffering and pain of his constituents.
Hylton, they pointed out, was noticeably silent in commenting publicly on the fire in his constituency during the period.