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Vaneisa: Suffering for silence, with missing fireworks legislation and EMA inactivity

Nearly 80 per cent of the people responding to a survey done by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) said fireworks affected them negatively. Without knowing the extent of the survey, it is still a large and significant proportion. 

Another of their surveys said the majority of the animals affected (60 per cent) were dogs—mostly by disorientation, trauma and death. The effect is practically the same on humans. And that is only from the sound.

Image: Anyone for fireworks?

Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal has reported that, in 2017, injuries resulted in burns to the eyes, skin and hands, hearing loss and even amputations—and seven of the cases were children aged 12 and under.

For years, citizens have been complaining about the distress caused by the inconsiderate and indiscriminate hands into which these weapons are placed with impunity. Whenever major celebrations draw near, as our 60th Independence anniversary is, the anxiety is demonstrated by the pleas and complaints circulating. Every year, one hopes that something will be done.

The general excuse is that there are no resources to enforce the legislation in place and so the AG’s office is making changes to the Summary Offences Act under Summary Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2022—known as The Fireworks Bill.

Photo: Attorney General Reginald Armour.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

You can’t blame people for feeling that these legislative proposals are heavily biased towards ensuring that those who profit most from the sale of fireworks are allowed to continue their lucrative businesses. 

Minister Stuart Young offered his opinion that fireworks should not be sold to the public. It seemed the most decisive way to address it legislatively, although we know that sales will go underground. 

The point is that the majority of the population suffers needlessly, and has complained endlessly—and there is nothing to say that anyone gives a damn.

It’s like the man who recently complained in a television news story that he had visited four different WASA offices to report that he has had no water supply for eight years and he was still being billed for something he was not receiving. 

How could he not feel that no one cares?

Photo: A resident endures a firework display.

On 12 August, the AG’s office held its second round of consultations virtually and said it would be probably another three months before a new bill is ready. This is only until the bill is ready to be debated and enacted, which could take who knows how many more months or years.

Reporting on the outcome of the consultation in the Express, Anna Ramdass chose to couch it as good news. 

“Fireworks lovers may be getting a reprieve for Independence Day celebrations and possibly other holidays this year as legislators will be going back to the drawing board to make changes to the fireworks legislation,” she opened.

A representative of Animals 360 Foundation used Facebook to vent. 

“The private sector has just been blindsided by the AG’s office. Several representatives were invited to a public consultation on fireworks on the 12th August, 2022 and then blocked from participating. The AG’s office proceeded to put on a show for the public and have an internal discussion which they were so bold face to refer to as consultation. 

Image: Hooray for Independence Day…

“This is total disrespect to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago capped in dishonesty.”

The Fireworks Action Coalition of TT (FACTT) reminded us of how long this battle has been going. 

“Nineteen years have passed since the Law Reform Commission prepared a report (2003) on legislating the use of fireworks and successive administrations have done nothing,” wrote its member, Roger Marshall.

I can’t understand why we keep playing around with fireworks legislation. I have yet to see a strong case for its retention. But like thousands of others, I have lost faith.

Noise pollution is accepted as a way of life, so much so, that despite the anguish of residents in the vicinity who have repeatedly listed the assaults to their property and their mental wellbeing by revellers, Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell audaciously announced plans to make Ariapita Avenue a party strip.

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

How are people supposed to feel?

I had written the EMA in January, complaining about the incessant disturbance from my “neighbour’s” welding next door.

That whole business has been one of great sadness and frustration for me. Sadness, because we grew up together and when the noise, particularly of the grinding, got out of hand, I tried to work with him to find a solution. 

It got bad eventually when I discovered he was just dancing me around: promising to insulate the area (the cost of which I offered to help), to stop working late into the night and so on. When I told him I had asked the EMA to come and measure the sound levels and advise on what would be acceptable, he took it as a threat and got hostile. 

Image: Heard that?

Only after I wrote about the silence of the EMA in a column, did I get a response. They went to the premises at the end of June. I have no idea what happened except when I enquired a month later I got this response: “The site visit report as well as referral letters to the Regional Corporation and County Medical Officer of Health were prepared and are in process now.” 

Meanwhile, the noise continues late at night, and obviously with a vengeance.

Is it any wonder citizens feel helpless and frustrated?

About Vaneisa Baksh

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

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