Valerie Nyirahabineza (Rwanda, standing) presenting a committee report on the polythene materials control bill 2016

Polythene bags will still be in use for more five years in East African community because there is no binding law among the bloc member states.

Ten years ago, the East African Legislative Assembly received the ‘EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill’ which was first tabled in the 2nd EALA assembly by Patricia Hajabakiga (Rwanda).

All member countries except Tanzania reviewed the bill and provided suggestions and proposals to changes in the bill.

later in 2016 during the 3rd EALA assembly, Hajabakiga re-proposed the bill. Again Tanzania did not submit its amendments to the bill.

An attempt to cut this time delay to adopt a committee report on the bill during the ongoing 5th session of the fifth meeting of this year’s assembly in Kigali, Rwanda has proved futile and could see the bill pushed to the next level.

“Tanzanian stakeholders were notified to make suggestions and proposals during a committee on information gathering from all five member states in 2016 but Tanzania didn’t respond, according to Valerie Nyirahabineza, the committee chairperson on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural resources.

In the bill’s second hearing in Kigali, EALA MPs agreed on the importance of the bill and dangers of polythene bags but agreeing to adopt the committee report to pave way for passing the bill, met challenges.

“There is no way the bill can be passed without views of Tanzania because heads of state will still ascend to adopt and make the comments before the bill is approved as an act. We should wait” Maryam Ussi (Tanzania) said.

However, some MPs argued that interests of investors and jobs in plastic manufacturing will be devastated and also asked for more time to educate the community and wait for views from Tanzania.

Shy-Rose Shadrudin Bhanji (Tanzania) also supported the idea of postponing the bill adoption saying that contribution from Tanzanian is needed to have the community move at the same pace.

With eminent dangers posed by polythene bags especially in shopping and packing services in the community, Uganda and Rwanda MPs cannot wait anymore.

“We are either choosing life or money here. Rwanda is not surviving on ‘Kaveera‘ investments and taxes. Why can’t we choose life and be like Rwanda where you only see clean roads and cannot see a single road drainage blocked by polythene bags like in Kampala” Susan Nakawuki (Uganda) said.

A committee report shows that EAC has about five polythene manufacturers (accounting for 10 percent of the EAC investments) who have invested heavily in polythene manufacturing and less has been done in recycling thus creating more environmental menace in the region.

“Management of plastic waste is very costly and this is our problem. Studies show that cost of producing and recycling is one to four. So why have we not been recycling if we think that this is a good business in the region,” Hajabakiga said.

Patricia Hajabakiga (MP Rwanda in white jacket) first tabled the ‘EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill’ during the 2nd EALA assembly

The report also indicates that plastic manufacturers concede that polythene bags are a menace and have asked for more time to implement possible bill regulations which will see some of them divert from using polythene to alternative packaging materials- such as sisal, cotton and water weeds or plant fibers.

Findings indicate that it costs about $4000 to recycle one ton of plastics and the profit one gets is equivalent to $ 32.  And a person working in recycle plant earns one cent of a dollar per kilogram of recycled plastic bags made.

Rwanda is the only country that has banned use of plastics since 2004, and Kenya is the only other member state that has today announced a new commitment to ban use of polythene bags, with a six-months notice to adhere to the announced in 2017 according Environment and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu.

Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi have made some steps towards educating the community and stakeholders but passing the laws in their individual governments has been blocked along the way.

Some MPs argue that the delay in passing this bill is a lack of exemplary leadership and adopting to change in EAC when interests of citizen lives are put in danger at expense of investors.

“When we cross to Rwanda we easily adopt to what Rwanda is doing and no one complains, but we find it hard to agree on this bill because when we go back home we continue in the dumping of bottles and plastic bags. Why are we even discussing this bill yet it is evident plastics material are dangerous to the community” said Dora Byamukama (Uganda).

It takes about 400 years for plastics to degrade and delaying this bill will see four decades of the next generation suffer the consequences of the EALA failing to act now.

“Why do we have to make our children suffer in future because of our inaction. “We should act now, no need to wait and ask for more time. Are we serious here…do you mean that we shall have a crisis when we ban plastics,” Byamukama asked.

“History will judge the EALA session harshly if the bill is not passed immediately in the next meeting. If anyone has anything to add to this bill they should do so we don’t fail here” EALA Speaker Daniel Fred Kidega said.

The EALA third assembly adjourned (extended) debate on this bill and deferred adoption of the committee report until the next EALA session which will be in Arusha, Tanzania in May 2017.