TOXIC CHEMICALS CONTROL BILL FOR SELECT COMMITTEE
Michelle Elphage The Chronicle December 1998
GOVERNMENT and opposition members of Parliament struck a marked compromise yesterday, and agreed that the historic Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Bill 1998, should go through a Select committee before its third reading and passage.
Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud in moving the second reading, told members that the Government has been considering the bill for some time now, against a backdrop of increased use of agricultural chemicals and pesticides in particular.
Following two and half-hours of debate, Minister Persuad relented to opposition requests for the document to be considered by a Parliamentary Select Committee.
All speakers representing the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC), the Alliance for Guyana (AFG) and The United Force (TUF), agreed that the much-awaited Bill was necessary in principle, but said that there was need for a bit more fine-tuning on the document.
"It is a bill which transcends narrow consideration. It is one which requires involvement, advice and support," Persuad told members, noting the ten-year gestation period of the legislation.
"My own view is that this Bill should have been before the House a long time ago."
He said it was important for the development of national awareness and sensitivity of the whole Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals issue, so that when the Act comes into force, it will not be the only mechanism to exercise proper control.
"We need people…so that the measures can be operable," Mr. Persuad stressed. "Some of the pesticides which are in use today, may turn out to be too dangerous to justify their use tomorrow.... Intervention becomes absolutely necessary. Subsequently, we need the concomitant legislation and clout to do so."
According to Persuad, the Bill's enactment sets the stage for the development of a legal and regulatory framework.
The legislation, tabled on October 29, provides for the establishment of a Board to control the manufacture, importation and sale of pesticides and toxic chemicals.
According the Bill, prohibited pesticides or toxic chemicals will only be sold by licensed persons, and anyone found contravening this order can face up to $500,000 in fines and imprisonment for three years.
For first offenders, a fine of no less than $500 and three months imprisonment are prescribed in the Bill, a position to which AFG leader, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine took objection.
Dr. Roopnaraine said the fines, which he described as laughable, were not sufficient to match the seriousness of the offence, and advised that they be redrafted.
The Minister is authorised according to the legislation to appoint inspectors and analysts to work along with the Board in carrying out its function.
He also proposes to appoint the Board, which should not exceed seven members, including the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Labour.
The Agriculture Minister also, according to the Bill, is to appoint the Chairman of the Board.
Pesticides used in agriculture generally, or in particular, on crops or pests, the arts, commerce, industry or any domestic purposes, will come under the regulations in this legislation.
Inspectors will have the right to visit and search the properties of persons who are using controlled pesticides and controlled chemicals, or if they believe someone using the controlled substances is in breach f the law.
Whoever fails to comply with inspectors or knowingly makes false statements, verbally or written, will be guilty of an offence under the new legislation.
The Inspector will then have just cause, as proposed in the Bill, to seize articles or samples for testing by analysts.
The Bill also seeks to give the Control Board authority to ask employers to put in place precautionary measures to protect their workers, who because of "their age, health or other circumstances" are subject to particular risk of poisoning.
"But we are not confining this matter to the legislation by itself," Persaud argued, calling for support in enlisting an intense public awareness campaign, on the use of pesticides and chemicals.
"We need to educate the nation. We need to enlist the support of the media…..We will foster the process at all levels," he stressed.
But PNC's Mr. Ivor Allen, who spoke immediately after Persuad, while admitting that the document was no doubt "well-intentioned," said it should have gone through more consultation, before reaching the House.
A businessman in the rice sector, Allen was quite critical of the "wide" powers vested in the Minister of Agriculture under the Bill.
'The use and management of pesticides and toxic chemicals is a highly technical and professional function, and one would have thought…any Board appointed under this Bill would comprise qualified and competent persons in this field…Our Ministers are mere powers, they're not Tzars," Allen contended.
Both Dr. Roopnaraine and TUF leader Mr. Manzoor Nadir, expressed similar concerns about the responsibilities vested in the Minister of Agriculture, to which Persaud responded that this has been the "trend" in legislation of this nature.
"You can go as way back as 30 years," he advised members.
The AFG leader also feels that there should be clear address of the EPA in the legislation and the institutionalisation of water management, air quality control and food.
Thirty amendments to the legislation were tabled in yesterday by the Agriculture Minister, who had the backing of colleagues Dr. Hughley Hanoman and Mr. Navin Chandarpal.
Hanoman in his presentation, said he has been involved in the processing of the Bill, and as far as he knows, the document went to almost every entity concerned with the subject.
The medical doctor, whose revelations, were supported by a professional colleague, Dr. Dalgleish Joseph of the PNC, said the mortality rates of chemical-related deaths were on the rise, and called for urgent redress of the issue.
Dr. Hanoman said he was not sure how much help, further consideration on the Bill would bring, but he was quick to add that he would be willingly guided by the house.
Mr. Lance Carberry and Mr. Thakechand Ramnauth also spoke on behalf of the PNC, both echoing sentiments that the Bill should be taken to Select committee for more consideration, before being passed.