Govt Agency’s Ksh4 Million Threat to 3 Hawkers Sparks Outrage

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Three hawkers who were arrested by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) for the use of plastic bags on Monday, February 17, 2020.
Irate Kenyans expressed their displeasure at the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) after the agency took to social media to announce an arrest made on Monday, February 17.

Via Twitter, Nema made public the arrest of three roadside traders in Nairobi who were using the banned plastic bags. 

“3 traders were arrested in Nairobi yesterday using banned plastic bags. About 500 pieces of the bags were seized. The trio is being presented in court today,” the statement by Nema read in part.

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Three hawkers who were arrested by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) for the use of plastic bags on Monday, February 17, 2020.

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The authority further pronounced that the trio would face charges in accordance with environmental laws.

“According to Section 144 of EMCA (Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act), any person using banned bags is liable to [Ksh]2-4 million fine or imprisonment of 1-4 years,” NEMA pronounced. A statement that invited much criticism from netizens who questioned Nema’s focus on the roadside traders.

On August 28, 2017, the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment effected the ban on the use of plastic bags all over the country.

With the initiative, Kenya joined more than 40 other countries that had by then banned, partly banned or taxed the single-use of plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.

Irate Kenyans on social media castigated Nema for what they described as upturned priorities, alleging that it was ill-bent on punishing small-time traders yet did little to act on what they considered to be more immediate environmental concerns.

“After a whole exposure of lakes and rivers having waste being drained in them in two months you only deem fit to arrest common low-income traders trying to make a living while those killing us with their effluent continue scott free,” one Joab Lukhale Makinda argued.

Human rights activist Boniface Mwangi weighed in on the matter, contrasting the penalty the government agency had put on plastic bag use to that imposed on drunk driving.

“Drunk driving that causes death a fine of Ksh20,000 or 6 months in jail. Being caught with plastic bags, 1-4 years in jail or [Ksh]2-4 million fine.

“It’s the poor street traders who are arrested but the importers of the plastic bags aren’t arrested. How is that justice NEMA?” Mwangi posed, joining several other Kenyans in asking why the agency seemed not to have targeted the manufacturers or importers of the polythene bags.

Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris opined that it was the obligation of the government to offer an alternative solution to the small-time hawkers around the country.

“Solution needed for this type of hawking trade that is lucrative and a breadwinner for many youths. It is the government’s duty to ensure sustainable alternative hygienic packaging options in the era of banned plastics. It’s also prudent to arrest the suppliers, not the end-users,” Passaris argued.

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<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Traders display the required woven carrier bags.

Traders display the required woven carrier bags.

“Will be happy to see the manufacturer taken down instead of a common mwanainchi who is trying hard to make ends meet at this harsh economy,” a Joshua Kiverenge stated.

Rather than pick on the end-users of the products, netizens urged Nema to work with relevant authorities to establish the root of the plastic bags, or even find the cartels importing them into the country if not manufactured locally.

“Nema has the capacity to unearth the channels through which the illegal polythene are shipped into the market, and possibly arrest the ‘big fishes’ to end this menace. It is extremely saddening to see that only the poor small scale traders are netted by Nema operations,” Giitwa Gichuki opined.

Since the ban of the plastic bags on August 28, 2017, the country is yet to fully curb the menace as evidenced by the number of reported cases of polythene materials intercepted in the course of importation, or transportation.

On July 2, 2019, the Daily Nation reported that Nema led an operation that resulted in the seizure of tonnes of plastic bags at Busia on the Kenya-Uganda border.

The publication reported that the agency had earmarked the border as the major threat to the plastic bags ban.

Several major retailers and manufacturing companies moved to adopt the new regulations, resolving to woven bags, while others have yet to comply.

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