Private waste operators in Lagos State have slammed the state government over its claims that they were carried along in the ongoing reforms in the waste management sector.
In a response to the government’s claims, the operators insisted the reforms were meant to push them out of business and replace them with foreign investors.
“It is not correct, as stated by the Honourable Commissioner for the Environment, that PSP operators were carried along in any proposed reform, to be undertaken by the Lagos State government,” said Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a human rights lawyer, representing the Association of Waste Managers, an umbrella body of over 350 private waste operators in the state.
“As is usual with most government policies, our clients just woke up one morning to read in the news that they will all be driven out of business, in order to accommodate the so-called foreign investors.
“They were not consulted and their interests were not put into consideration by the government; it is all a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The private waste operators (or Private Sector Participant, PSP, operators) and the Lagos State government have been engaged in a war of words over the past few days.
During a three-day training workshop for the officials of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, last week, the government had said it was introducing new reforms in the sector to make the agency more efficient.
Part of the reforms, according to Olumuyiwa Adejokun, the LAWMA chairman, was the cancellation of the current 60-40 arrangement between LAWMA and the PSP operators whereby the agency collects waste bills on behalf of the operators and remits 60 per cent to them.
Mr. Adejokun said customers would now make their waste payments directly to the PSP operators, and they would be paying a regulatory fee of 1.5 per cent of their revenue.
On Tuesday, the PSP operators approached a state high court to stop the government’s plans of replacing them with a foreign investor.
Listed as defendants in the suit were the Lagos State government; the Attorney-General of the state; the Commissioner for the Environment; and the proposed foreign operators and their local agents.
The state government responded on Wednesday through Babatunde Adejare, the commissioner for the Environment, denying the claim that it was planning to displace the PSP operators with a foreign investor.
Mr. Adejare said the government would only restrict the private operators to commercial customers and businesses while the foreign investor would focus on residential areas.
“The PSP operators were made to understand that the new operational plan allows them to compete within zones for the 10,000 commercial customers and businesses that operate within the city,” said Mr. Adejare.
“They were also briefed that the funds allegedly being owed would be addressed through a recertification and revalidation process (commencing February 2017).
“They were additionally urged to form strategic partnerships that will give them the numeric strength and capabilities to compete under a competitive integrated system.”
A government’s ‘grand deception’
The Lagos State waste disposal system is split into waste generators (residents, businesses, markets, and public places); collection and transportations (PSP operators in charge of both residential and commercial wastes); and disposal and treatment (handled by the government).
Lagos currently generates 14,000 metric tons (about 490 trailer loads) of wastes daily, according to LAWMA.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the government had already terminated its contract with the PSP operators on residential wastes collection, to pave way for the new foreign investor.
“The so-called commercial waste only represents an average 10 per cent of the total waste generated in the state, which cannot service ten operators effectively, how much less the over 350 operators scattered all over the state,” Mr. Adegboruwa said.
“The real waste is the residential waste, which is to be taken away from our clients, to some foreign investors.”
Mr. Adegboruwa accused the state government of insincerity in its dealings with the PSP operators.
He also said the government had inflicted untold hardship on the PSP operators by failing to remit full payments for commercial waste services rendered by the operators.
“The very factors that have militated against the effective operations of waste managers in Lagos State have been the absence of the requisite political will to enforce the payment collection methodology, which was subsumed under the regular bureaucracy of government resulting in inefficiency,” said Mr. Adegboruwa.
“Presently, a Bill is before the Lagos State House of Assembly to empower the foreign investor to collect revenue privately. This is what PSP operators have fought over the years without the listening ears of the government.”
Mr. Adegboruwa described the proposed scheme by the government as inequitable because his clients had invested a lot in waste collection in the state.
“They started with manual disposal vans, they later improved it to tippers and now compactors, all of which cost them money, time and energy.
“Many of the operators have acquired and paid for offices and garages as the base of their operations as PSP operators, based on the agreement with the Lagos State government and hence, the current plan of the government to frustrate the operators by excluding them from the new policy on domestic waste collection, transportation and disposal will hurt and ultimately jeopardize the business investments of the operators beyond measure.
“The equipment and trucks and compactors being used by PSP operators are specially made for the operations of refuse collection and they will be rendered useless, for other purposes should the government go ahead with their plans to force the operators out of business.”
Mr. Adegboruwa said repeated efforts by the PSP operators to reach Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had been unsuccessful, adding that his clients are willing to dialogue with the governor.
“In it all, government must move away from the policy of use and dump, by which genuine businesses that have endured over the years are dumped for the benefit of so-called foreigners,” he added.