No we can’t 

THE frontpage of this newspaper’s Sept. 8, 1972 (not a typo) issue included a photo of a big pile of trash dumped on the side of a public road. The caption quoted the chorus of the NMI anthem: “A thousand times and more, I will honor and salute you beautiful islands….” The caption writer then added, “When are we ever going to make this come true?”

Even before the growth of the local tourism industry, local volunteers were already conducting cleanups on Managaha and at the Grotto.

In Sept. 1976, a Variety op-ed complained about the “very disgusting…trash and garbage that people drop on the side of the roads, on the road itself, and other public places including the beach. In addition, we even see dead dogs, cats and other dead animals…on the highways….”

In May 1978, the first CNMI administration launched an anti-littering campaign, “Trash — Don’t Toss It, Take It,” which included the distribution of bumper stickers.

In Jan. 1979, Variety reported the creation of an island cleanup task force. During its first meeting, members discussed methods of  “improving village cleanup, solid waste pickup in the villages, highways and beaches….”

In the same month, Variety asked our readers, “What suggestions do you have to help beautify Saipan?”

Among the answers:

“Clean up the beaches. Get the island in better shape….”

“Stop litter[ing]. Pick up empty cans on the road.”

“There’s too much litter.”

In Nov. 1979, the then-mayor told Variety: “The litter problem in Saipan is absolutely overwhelming.”

Littering and illegal dumping, as we’ve said before, are problems in many other jurisdictions and countries all around the world. But based on newspaper accounts since the 1970s, Saipan’s littering/illegal dumping problem is not as horrible as it was in the past. A vast majority of island residents are properly disposing their trash.

Except for the eight — eight! — government agencies and their personnel tasked to enforce the anti-littering law, everyone knows where the illegal dumping grounds are. A man who dumped household trash was caught on a smartphone camera by an irate local resident (whatever happened to that clear-cut case of littering anyway?). And we all know that there will be littering in certain beach areas during the weekend.

Why can’t the government enforce its anti-littering law which has been  in the statute books since 1989 and was supposedly improved and enhanced by another law enacted in 2016?

We really can’t

IN light of the government’s unfortunate track record, we remain deeply skeptical of any “universal garbage collection” proposal.  So far, the only good thing we’ve heard about it is the possibility of federal funding.

It could be another government program that looks good on paper (see the law that created CHCC, among other similar measures), but whose actual implementation may transform an annoying but small problem into something big and appalling.

Many residents and businesses are already customers of private garbage collectors. So why can’t the government identify the few who illegally dump their trash on vacant private lots or public areas and — if you can’t give them a littering ticket because they’re voters related to many other voters — then subsidize their garbage collection bills. Take the funding from the eight — eight! — government agencies that are supposed to enforce the anti-littering law.

Incidentally, universal garbage collection cannot prevent littering in beach areas during weekends or holidays. But enforcing the anti-littering law should mitigate the problem.

Under the universal garbage collection program, moreover, the government will most likely hire private garbage collectors. And what is the government’s record in paying its vendors — or complying with its own earmarking laws?

Care to answer that question PSS? MVA? Retirement Fund? CUC? CHCC?

But we can rest assured that the same government will pay garbage collectors regularly and on time? So what happens when the government stops paying the garbage collectors?

And no, garbage is not everyone’s business, and our trash is not our responsibility as a community. If it’s everyone’s responsibility then it’s no one’s responsibility.

Which is why there is a law against littering.

And why saddling this overstaffed, overpaid and overreaching government with yet another task for which we should all pay is a truly ill-advised idea.

Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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