PHILIPSBURG–Members of Parliament (MPs) posed questions concerning the initiative national ordinance amending the General Police Law in connection with the introduction of a ban on the use of single-use plastic bags during a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament on Thursday afternoon.
This meeting was a continuation of the Central Committee meeting of Wednesday, December 4, which was adjourned due to technical difficulties. During that meeting, the draft law’s sponsor, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams of United Democrats (UD), was presenting the initiative law when the live stream and audio went offline.
The meeting reconvened on Thursday shortly after 2:00pm. First Vice-Chairperson of Parliament Rolando Brison introduced the initiative national ordinance. He said the initiative law had been was submitted to Parliament on August 30, 2018, after which the draft law went through the procedures to get it to this point.
It was sent to the Council of Advice on September 3, 2018. The Council of Advice then sent its advice on the draft law to Parliament on January 29, 2019. This gave the opportunity for Wescot-Williams to respond to the advice, and she submitted her response on July 9. The Central Committee meeting is the next step in the process, said Brison.
He then gave the floor to Wescot-Williams, who restarted her presentation that was interrupted on Wednesday. She said the initiative law stems from a motion passed in Parliament in 2012. In this motion, Parliament said it supported a ban on single-use plastic bags, favouring instead reusable, recyclable or bio-degradable plastic bags.
Wescot-Williams modelled this draft law on Aruba’s law banning plastic bags, which went into effect in January 2017. Like Aruba, which banned plastic bags through an amendment to the General Police Law, Wescot-Williams’ proposal would similarly seek to amend St. Maarten’s General Police Law.
Wescot-Williams said the draft law also includes a ban on plastic straws. An amendment to ban Styrofoam products will also be added, she said.
The draft law has a clause for a transition period. In fact, the date of ban will be done by national decree, meaning that government will choose a date for its implementation, instead of it going into effect immediately. In this time, persons in the community will be consulted and be given a chance to voice their concerns about the law’s provisions.
In her presentation, Wescot-Williams said the Council of Advice had questioned how the proposal fits in with government’s policy on the environment, whether government intervention is necessary to solve this problem, whether there should also be an import ban as well, and potential collaboration with the French side.
Wescot-Williams gave some of her reactions to the Council of Advice’s queries. Regarding government’s policy on the environment, she referenced the then-governing programme which said that the environment should be clean. She also said she does not see the issue of plastic waste being solved without government intervention.
Regarding collaboration with the French side, Wescot-Williams reiterated that it is a must. “If the gale doesn’t stop at the border, neither would the flow of plastic bags,” she told MPs.
In the question-and-answer session, several MPs raised concerns about the draft law’s enforcement. MP Anna Richardson of National Alliance (NA) asked Wescot-Williams whether the police would be the entity enforcing the ban and whether this was a feasible option. She also asked why the draft law is amending the General Police Law and not the National Decree on protecting the environment.
MP Wycliffe Smith of St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) questioned at what point the draft law becomes enforceable and whether it will target individuals “who got a bag of mangoes from their neighbour.” He also questioned the draft law’s penalty, which he said was a maximum of 14 days imprisonment or fine of first category. He asked if this was an appropriate penalty and whether it fit the proposed infraction.
Both Richardson and MP Solange Ludmila Duncan of NA asked whether other countries besides Aruba were considered for the modelling of the draft law. They highlighted Dominica, which recently banned all single-use plastics, as an example.
MP Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani asked about the carbon footprint of using plastic bags versus alternatives.
MP Rodolphe Samuel of NA wants to see an awareness campaign added to the draft law. For him, the draft law’s success is held by “a big stick” and it requires a component to educate the youth about the harms of plastics and the benefits of alternatives to plastic. He said an information campaign about the law should be done in English, as well as other languages such as Spanish.
Brison agreed with having an awareness campaign in schools and for the general public. However, he disagreed with the draft law not having a hard deadline. While he approved of a transitionary period, he questioned whether an amendment could be added to ensure that the law must be put into effect by a certain date. This would ensure St. Maarten’s compliance with international standards on protecting the environment, he said.
Brison questioned whether cigarette butt will be addressed in the draft law, considering that cigarette butts, which are non-biodegradable, are one of the ocean’s main pollutants. He also asked about waste products brought into St. Maarten via airlines and cruise ships and whether these will also be subject to the ban.
Wescot-Williams could not answer the questions posed by MPs during the meeting, as the session had to be closed to accommodate a sitting of the Central Voting Bureau on the floor of Parliament.
The meeting was adjourned until further notice and will be rescheduled for a later date, at which time Wescot-Williams will be able to address the concerns raised by MPs.
Bron: Daily Herald