Vaneisa: The uncaring voice of silence—what is the point of the EMA?

For decades, the approach and departure of festive occasions—Carnival, Independence Day, Divali, Christmas, Old Year’s Night—have elicited desperate missives. 

Complaints about unbearable levels of noise from unrelenting sound systems and fireworks have poured out to the impervious Environmental Management Authority (EMA). Nothing’s changed.

Image: A depiction of noise pollution.
(via DNA India)

On its website, the EMA describes four types of complaints which may be submitted: illegal dumping of waste; extreme noise breaches; air and water pollution, and endangerment of environmentally sensitive species. It defines the role of the EMA within the category of excessive noise—the issue I am raising today.

We are a noisy people, so much so, that we have convinced ourselves that objectors to loudness are unpatriotic, selfish and too bold-faced to be even given a hearing. Perhaps this is what the EMA believes.

I have made numerous complaints about excessive noise to the TTPS and the EMA. My phone calls to the police were always greeted courteously, always sympathetically; but no relief was offered because they could not enforce anything. The EMA never even responded.

On 24 January, I submitted a complaint online. Within an hour, I received a phone call from someone who wanted more details. I was pleasantly stunned. The call kept dropping and the EMA officer diligently kept calling back.

Photo: The EMA headquarters.
(Copyright EMA)

At one point, she emailed me apologetically to explain that their Internet access was dodgy that morning. Within an hour I got an email from the EMA Support Team:

“This is to acknowledge that your ticket has been created with the ticket Id 6423 and subject ‘NOISE AND DUST FROM WELDING ACTIVITIES – Petit Bourg, San Juan’. It will be reviewed by our support agent and a response will be sent shortly.”

I was impressed. But that was the end. On 30 March, I wrote to enquire about the status of the complaint. There has been no acknowledgement up to now.

One of my cousins sent me a response he had received from the EMA when he complained about the ongoing disturbance from a steelband which practised on his street, in a residential neighbourhood. He filed his complaint via a lawyer which was probably why they’d deigned to respond. They told him they could not do anything as it was unamplified sound. That was in 2014, eight years ago.

Photo: The Chord Masters Steelpan Orchestra let loose.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/ Wired868)

This week gone, a version of Barbara Jardine’s letter to the EMA was published in the Trinidad Express:

“I am a long-standing resident of Lady Chancellor Apartments, a 50-year-old apartment block situated approximately 400 yards from the Lookout on Lady Chancellor Road. Over the years I have watched, with dismay and utter impotence, the complete erosion of a quiet residential area into a noisy, public fete neighbourhood.

“The EMA will already have numerous documents cataloguing the ongoing scourge of an immediate neighbour, an illegal structure that hosts weekly all-day/night fetes with extremely loud dance-hall music and the attendant vices of gang-related behaviours, drunk driving, prostitution and littering. (Some families have to leave their homes in order to sleep).

“Constant calls and visits to the appropriate police stations are to no avail.”

Photo: Police recruits enjoy a toast at their graduation ceremony in 2021.
(via TTPS)

This May, in response to objections by politicians who had their eardrums assaulted after a fete at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Khamarie Rodriguez reported in the Express that the EMA “is taking steps to issue a notice of violation to the event managers”, as the “event had produced noise levels of 6.6 decibels in excess of the prescribed noise variation”.

The report referred to comments from Citizens Against Noise Pollution in Trinidad and Tobago (CANPTT). 

“Referring to the EMA’s prior statement that EPU officers had asked event managers to lower volume levels while on site, the group asked why the event had not been shut down. ‘CANPTT would like the EMA to explain why its officers did not shut down the event after a warning was made. 

“What were the officers doing at this event in the first place? Did they just stand around and allow the menace to continue? Is there some other reason why the EMA’s rules were not enforced?’ said the group.”

The report said the EMA was “taking steps” to issue its notice of violation. Has that been done?

Photo: Does the EMA take noise pollution seriously?

The EMA has since issued a statement that it met with the TTPS and the Trinidad and Tobago Promoters Association on 9 June. 

“The TTPA agreed that there must be a balance where event organizers can engage in their entertainment activities, but with due consideration to the well-being of communities and residents. 

“In this regard, the TTPA, in response to the conditions stipulated by the EMA in Noise Variations, was involved in an assessment of the Brian Lara Stadium, Tarouba, to conceptualize a noise mitigation plan.”

Was this it? The TTPA will go away and think up a noise mitigation plan? As if this was something new and unexpected that had been dropped on them?

Trevor Bridglalsingh of Lange Park shared his frustration about noise too.

Photo: EMA chair Nadra Nathai-Gyan.

“Calls to the police are useless. I made 30 calls to the Chaguanas Police Station to no effect, except excuses. Similarly, the EMA was informed but no action taken. 

“It shows again, as we are seeing now that those who have the power will protect their friends, those who are their peers, friends or who have status in terms of business or politics.”

Perhaps the EMA Chair, Nadra Nathai-Gyan, should consider reminding the Authority of why it was formed in the first place.

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About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is the author of a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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One comment

  1. It is always the same thing every year.
    The EMA was started with good intentions, but then Politics intervened when it could have become a nuisance to the well connected.
    It was deprived of it’s enforcement powers and now operates like a toothless watch dog.
    All bark and no bite.
    Many of our supposedly enforcement institutions operate the exact same way.

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