Misguided approach taken on single-use plastics ban

Dear Editor,

I wish to add my five cents to the ongoing discussions on the compendium of legislation related to the environment and recently passed by the Parliament of The Bahamas.

These pieces of legislation include: The Bahamas Protected Areas Fund (Amendment) Act, 2019; the Ministry of The Environment Act, 2019; The Environment Planning and Protection Act; The Bahamas National Trust (Amendment) Act, 2019, and the much discussed Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Act, 2019.

Public policy should be directed at some real or perceived need in the society.

It is usually developed and promulgated by the executive branch of government and often requires the enactment of legislation by the Parliament to be brought into effect.

Public policy and its enabling legislation ought to be aimed at improving the quality of life of citizens.

To be most effective, the public policy should have the full engagement and participation of citizens in its conception and construction. Public is what the name implies; “public”, designed for all and does not target a specific segment or special interest group.

I thought it was important to say a few words about public policy to put in context the manner in which the compendium of environmental legislation was propagated and implemented.

It is my considered view that whenever major public policy or legislation, which impacts the culture of citizens or changes their way of doing business is contemplated, there must be wide consultation and education prior to its application.

Now, I heard a radio announcement over a period of time broadcasting the upcoming changes to policy to ban the use of single-use plastic food ware, single-use plastic bags and the release of balloons. These radio broadcasts should in no way substitute for widespread education or instruction.

Our system of representative government requires the active involvement of the people’s representatives in the process of educating the citizenry.

This process involves the hosting of town hall meetings, seminars and other public information and education forums in all constituencies where persons with expertise on the subject matter can explain the changes envisaged by the public policy, and clarify how the changes will impact their way of life and standard of living.

Without this comprehensive education and public information process, we only compound the democracy deficit which has seemingly taken root in our body politic.

I agree with those persons who argue that the burden of the ban on single-use plastic bags was misdirected.

If the intent was to discourage the use of single-use plastic bags, then the burden of producing an alternative source ought to have been placed on the merchant or on the government itself, but certainly not on the customer.

The policy fundamentally changes the relationship between the merchant and the customer and unnecessarily disadvantages the poor.

The policy and legislation seem to assume that most Bahamians shop at the major food stores and spend $100 to $300 at a time.

The majority of Bahamians shop at their community convenience stores and have small amounts of money to spend, and cannot afford to buy a plastic bag or bags at 25 cents or a reusable bag at $1.50.

The government should revisit this provision and remove this burden from the poor.

One other issue is that single-use plastic food ware and single-use plastic bags, which the policy and legislation seek to prohibit, are but a very small percentage of plastics that are used by the public, even though I suppose it could be argued that it is a start.

Plastic bottles and other containers do far more polluting than plastic bags.

Before a ban on plastic bags, I hold that a comprehensive and sustainable recycling program should have been introduced and implemented. This recycling exercise would have been far more impactful in reducing plastic and aluminum cans as pollutants in the long term.

I hope that the outcry from the roll out of the environmental legislation, and in particular the protestations over the ban of plastic bags, serve to illuminate both the government and public on the importance of consultation.

The continual and meaningful dialogue between parliamentary representative and constituent is essential for the deepening and broadening of the democracy.

It must be embedded in the political culture. The relationship between political parties in Parliament is necessarily adversarial, but the relationship between the Parliament in its institutional construct and the people must be one of sharing, consultation and engagement.

Without this symbiotic relationship, we run the risk of making true the pronouncement of Professor Peter Boettke who wrote: The natural proclivity of democratic government is to pursue public policies which concentrate benefits on the well-organized and well-informed, and disperse the costs on the unorganized and the ill-informed.

– Maurice Tynes

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