Lagos waste managers battle to save 25,000 jobs, N6 billion investment

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•Beg govt not to give their work to foreign firm

Private Sector Participation (PSP) operators under the umbrella of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWAM) have described Lagos State government’s planned reform as likely to increase  the burden on the citizenry.

The waste managers alleged that it appeared like the reform was designed to send them out of business, jeopardise their lives, those of their employees and the communities they serve..

The PSP operators, who stated that as a group that has been in charge of getting Lagos clean in the past 18 years and has succeeded  to an extent, said they were in full support of the ‘Cleaner Lagos’ initiative of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration, but stressed the need for government to carry them along.

“Lagosians are used to paying monthly/bi-monthly waste bills, introducing an annual Public Utility Levy will further increase the burden on the citizens,”   the waste managers stated.

The state government had, last year, announced its intention to effectively tackle waste management and produce a cleaner environment through a new measure tagged the “Cleaner Lagos Initiative.”

•A scene from a dumpsite

Under the new scheme, which will see the government phase out the PSP Waste Operators and invest over N85billion in domestic waste management in the next five years, it planned to review the activities of the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), the PSP operators, other aspects of the waste disposal processes and collection and eliminate the dumpsites to strengthen waste management in the state

All efforts by the operators to get the administration to change its stand, according to them, have come to nought with  government only conceding 100 percent to them the waste collection from commercial premises largely made up of religious homes and schools, among others and the revenue thereof as against the prevailing arrangement, where they collect the wastes and revenue but share it on a 60:40 ratio with government.

Mr. OlalekanOwojori of Wellbeck Consulting Ltd and consultant to AWAM faulted the state government claims against the operators, stating that government on the contrary was largely to blame for much of the problems besetting waste management in the state.

According to Owojori, private sector involvement in waste management in Lagos, which started as a pilot scheme under the Marwa administration, blossomed under the  government of Asiwaju Bola  Tinubu in 1999.

“The state was completely taken over by waste as mountains of refuse littered and turned most parts of the city of Lagos into slums. The government toyed with the idea of hiring an Israeli firm to handle the state’s waste management. The foreign firm offered to do the job for N7billion monthly but Tinubu refused and opted for the full involvement of the private sector in the cleaning of the city.

“The PSP operators commenced operations and   consolidated on their activities from time to time as they acquired more experience and the wherewithal. Gov. Babatunde Raji Fashola built on that efforts. Government was paying the operators unsustainable huge sums of money for their services until 2007 when it decided to make it a full-fledged private initiative. 18 years down the line, stupendous achievements have been recorded. We made Lagos clean and the country and the international community acknowledged it’.

“The programme has today birthed 350 successful small and medium sized businesses, which have within this period injected over N6billion into the industry in equipment like trucks and other assets, all privately funded with facilities sourced from local financial institutions just as they have created over 25,000 direct and indirect employment,. Lagos has since been transformed from one of the dirtiest cities to the cleanest in Africa. The numerous awards bestowed on the state government to that effect attest to this. There are no more dump sites or heaps of wastes as it used to be anywhere   in the metropolis notwithstanding the daunting challenges we are faced with, the Lagos model of wastes disposal has been copied and replicated by many other states in the country, just as a  number of other West Africa countries. But challenges before the operators were well known to government”, the AWAM consultant said.

He listed the challenges to include   the failure of government to develop the dumpsites and make them accessible for by trucks, which currently spend days on queues in the bid to discharge wastes, lack of sustainable and effective enforcement to compel regular payments by clients and compliance with the specified guideline for the packing   of wastes for   disposal, delayed and short payments of commercial entitlements by government and the recent drop in public enlightenment and advocacy. According to him, the complaints have been about delayed remittances of the share of the operators from the commercial waste revenue, which sometimes take as long as five months to process. “And since September 2015, government has arbitrarily reduced the agreed 60% payment ratio in favour of the operators by 27%, leaving them with a paltry 33% and 67% to itself notwithstanding the current skyrocketing cost of their operations”, he added.

The consultant wondered why government was blaming the operators     for the non-provision of bins, transfer loading stations, and other supporting infrastructure, pointing out that under the current operational arrangement, the operators are vested with residential and commercial waste collection while provision of disposal locations and facilities and their maintenances is the responsibility of government. He similarly queried the decision of the   Ambode government to reduce spending on the maintenance of the dumpsites by 33 percent, which he said has worsened the performance of the PSPs as the sites have become no go areas.

“In fact, with every pronouncement of government on this matter,   one gets the impression that the planned reform was hatched without proper understanding of the industry”, Owojori noted, pointing out: “They have just embarked on a verification exercise, something they would have done before now. They even said LAWMA could not manage 350 operators alone when in fact the agency has successfully managed a higher number in the past and won accolades.

“We just hope that this government’s misgiving against an enterprising agency like LAWMA, is not an excuse to scrap it as many of the agency’s satellite outposts across the council areas are currently being renovated preparatory to handing them over to a foreign waste manager it is bringing in to work with three other Nigerian private firms, two of which were incorporated between October and November last year, to take over the job of the 350 PSP operators”.

Meanwhile, one big concern to the waste managers is the advert in a national daily of May 5, 2016, soliciting for applications for employment as waste management staff without the identity of the advertisers. The advert directed applicants to submit their applications at the nearest Local Government Secretariat to them. The operators reportedly drew the state government’s attention to it but it denied any knowledge of it but the operators were not convinced as they wondered how such an action without government backing could have directed prospective applicants to drop their applications with local governments.

But before the dust could settle over that, the state Ministry of Environment placed another advert on August 11, 2016 to invite tenders for residential and street waste collection, the main job of the over 350 operators across Lagos. The operators were not only aghast, they made several attempts to see the governor and finally succeeded on Monday, September 7, 2016. Ambode Allegedly told them at the meeting that he was ready to outsource residential wastes collection to foreign operator(s).

The operators feel let down and bore out their minds: “We are not against foreign direct investment, but  it should not be at the expense of existing local businesses. The proposed foreign investors’ efforts should be geared towards resolving the areas of challenges, namely: building more material recovery facilities, treatment facilities and establishing Engineered Sanitary Landfilled sites as none exist in the state at the moment. Government should realise that the foreign firms it is bring in to  take over from local businesses also started as small businesses in their respective countries. With the support of their governments, they grew to become large organisations. Our appeal is that government provides us with such an enabling environment. Unlike the foreign companies, our profits will be reinvested here as we have no other place to repatriate the”.

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