Friday, February 3, 2012

East Africa progress on polythene bag elimination

(Press Release) … if assented to, law shall sustain environment and protect human and animal lives
East African Legislative Assembly, Kampala, Uganda, February 3, 2012: The EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2011 passed in the House late yesterday evening . The Bill thus inches closer to an Act of the Community should the EAC Heads of State assent to the same.

The Bill moved by Hon Patricia Hajabakiga, Member from Rwanda aims at providing a legal framework for the preservation of a clean and healthy environment through the prohibition of manufacturing, sale, importation and use of polythene materials.

Justifying the move to have the regional law in place, Hon Hajabakiga stated that the Bill is intended to control the use of polythenes while advocating the total ban of plastics. The mover notes several dangers of plastics and polythene materials notably soil degradation through burning of wastes, harmful emissions of toxics and the endangering of human and animal lives.

She further indicates that while plastics can be burned, they emit chemicals and the corresponding photo-degradation has consequential impact on human and infrastructure. Countries such as Bangladesh, Botswana, Israel, Rwanda and France among others have since enacted a similar law, Hon Hajabakiga said.

The Chairperson of the Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources Committee, Hon Safina Kwekwe whose Committee the Assembly mandated to look through the Bill, remarked that the Committee had met various stakeholders in the Partner States during the public hearings. The meetings were called to create awareness of plastics and visit plastic manufacturers with a view to interfacing with them and suggesting for improvements on the Bill.

In its report, the Committee states that Rwanda which has an existing law in place supported the Bill while requesting for inclusion of a clause on alternatives to polythene materials as well as an incentive programme. Uganda enacted a law for the control of polythene materials in 2009 although the law is yet to be fully implemented. There are challenges with respect to disposal of such wastes owing to absence of recycling facilities, the Committee reported.

Stakeholders in Kenya were of the view that while polythenes are an environmental menace, a balance needs to be struck between eradicating them on the one side and the promotion and protection of investments on the other.

The stakeholders in Kenya suggested adjustment to specifications of polythene materials other than a total ban and the introduction of a levy to allow the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to manage the waste.

The United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Burundi also support the Bill, but on the understanding that only plastic bags should be banned and not all polythene materials. In Zanzibar, the report notes - issues concerning the environment are non-union and in 2008, the isle took the initiative to ban the use of plastics with a three year transitional period, expiring last year, provided for in the law.

Stakeholders during public hearings however raised counter arguments including loss of income, jobs and reduced revenue affecting the economies. The issue of measuring of the microns, the House was told, is expensive even though it was suggested that balancing of revenues earned by governments compared to the very act of checking the environment should be taken into consideration.

During debate, majority of the Members rose in support of the Bill. Hon Emerence Bucumi hailed the Assembly’s decision to protect the environment noting that the region should emulate Rwanda’s example.

“We must protect the environment and share common interests in our desire to ensure a healthy environment,” Hon. Bucumi said. Hon. Christophe Bazivamo remarked that plastic bags were not only a menace to the environment but also harmed livestock. Other Members in support were Hon. Dr. George Nangale and Hon Margaret Zziwa.

Kenyan Assistant Minister for EAC Hon. Peter Munya reiterated the Council of Ministers’ support for the Bill. “Polythene waste is a major hindrance in urban and rural areas and attempts to ensure solid waste management is thus essential and welcome. The envisaged law in the Council’s view, shall control pollution and save both flora and fauna,” he said.

“Further attempts to ban the plastics in the region have not been entirely successful in the Partner States save for Rwanda and it is now time to collectively act,” Hon Munya added.

The Minister also presented mind boggling statistics of the use of plastic bags noting that the continent was most affected. Amendments that sailed through during the debate include a change in title with the replacement of the word polythene with plastic to read “The East African Community Plastic Control Bill”. This, Members agree has a wider scope and is consequential.

The Bill shall now go through the succeeding stages of assent with the Speaker of the Assembly expected to submit the amended copies to the Heads of State for assent. Should it be assented to (signed) to by the five Heads of State, the East African Community Plastic Control Bill shall become law. In event that one or more Heads of State do not assent to the Bill, it shall be returned to the Assembly.
For more information, contact: Bobi Odiko, Senior Public Relations Officer; East African Legislative Assembly; Tel: +255-27-2508240 Cell: +255 787 870945, +254-733-718036; Email: Web: Arusha, Tanzania

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