Minister Ramjattan needs to proceed with caution on noise nuisance and take account of previous consultative initiatives
Dear Editor, It has become rather commonplace these days for government and ruling coalition officials to make statements that serve no other purpose but to make Guyanese a laughing stock.
“We want to take the profit out of this illegal (noise nuisance) activity and that means ... we want to revoke some of the licenses of those bars that play loud music, music carts or hucksters walking down the street or cars of people or probably it might be better to enforce the law by taking away their equipment.”
These were the words of the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan when he addressed recently a one-day seminar on noise management.
Apparently, the Minister was addressing noise nuisance only in respect to loud, continuous and repetitive music and not noise emanating from a mechanic/ machine shop, a car wash bay, or a bottom house joinery in a residential neighbourhood.
All the talk about “revoking licenses of bars,” “taking away equipment “and “taking the profits out of this illegal activity“sounds bullish and combative for all the wrong reasons. Counter-productivity beckons.
The Minister must know that he should proceed with care, caution and consideration when issuing general orders and direction to the Guyana Police Force to take action specifically in respect to noise nuisance complaints whether in the tourism, entertainment, industrial or any other sector for that matter.
Complaints of a vexatious nature ought not to be ruled out.
Mr Ramjattan must know that before the police or any other law enforcement officer proceeds in the direction he is suggesting, a report about loud, repetitive and continuous music must have been lodged by a complainant at a nearby police station.
Unless a complaint is lodged at a police station in the station district where the noise, whether industrial or musical is reported, only on that basis will the police be able to act albeit in a matter circumscribed by a Magisterial Order or a permit granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Moreover, assuming that the police decide to act on the complaint, on arrival at the location, the police must ask those playing the music to produce the order issued by the District Magistrate granting permission to play music between the hours applied for.
In any event, the police in the concerned Station District should have in their possession a copy of the District Magistrate’s Order lodged with them by the applicant.
The mistaken understanding by many that they must have a piece of paper called a ‘Police Pass’ to play music at a wedding house or any other public function is a nonsense and is wrong in law.
And provided that the persons playing the music have in their possession a Music and Dance License granted by the Chief Fire Officer it will be even more difficult for the police to intervene, much less seize their sound system, their private property thus impinging on their Constitutional rights.
In the case of noise nuisance emanating from both industrial and sound systems successful consultations were held between the then Minister of Home Affairs, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the EPA, the Guyana Police Force and the then Attorney General resulting in agreement being reached on the roles of the Police, the EPA, the District Magistrates as well as the responsibilities of Citizens, NDCs and other organizers of public and private events where loud, continuous and repetitive music or industrial noise was anticipated.
This is precisely why Mr Ramjattan needs to proceed with care, caution and consideration lest he directs the police to act foolhardily and to bring the Force unnecessarily into disrepute.
The Minister should take a leaf out of the previous government’s book whereby a ‘name and shame’ campaign was launched though notices published in the local media following investigations by the Community Police Groups and the Guyana Police Force. That campaign was highly successful. Moreover, the then Ministry of Home Affairs had published in the local media, an advisory offering advice to the general public on steps to be taken should they wish to lodge a noise nuisance complaint at a police station or the EPA.
Many persons affected including senior citizens, welcomed publication of the advisory.
In addition, the Ministry facilitated passage through the National Assembly of an amendment of the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act to prohibit the playing of loud music in mini-buses and other means of public transportation.
An agreement was reached between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the General Minibus Association in April 2009 stating that `no amplification of sound is permitted, whether by way of power amps, tweeters, equalizers, boosters or any other means, in minibuses or hire cars’.
Minibus owners and taxi drivers complied much to the satisfaction of the traveling public.
In respect to the involvement of the EPA to address industrial or musical noise nuisance issues, it is to be recalled that the EPA is powerless since the agency never showed any inclination to establish an enforcement arm to arrest and prosecute nor to assist the police in arresting and prosecuting alleged perpetrators.
In any event, a number of laws would have to be amended if the GPF is to collaborate with the EPA and be associated with measuring decibels. Inter-agency meetings were held with a view to harmonizing laws and regulations and formulating draft legislation.
Though some progress was made the consultations were not conclusive.
As regards the issue of loud, continuous and repetitive music being played via music carts, the now disbanded National Commission for Law and Order (NCLO) held several rounds of discussions on the matter. Consultations were held between the NCLO and the proprietors of music carts at the auditorium of St. Stanislaus College.
Agreement was reached to regularize music cart vendors by having them become licensed as Hucksters; that designated locations be identified for the operators to vend their goods rather than have them traverse the streets and block traffic with their carts; that the vendors would wear a uniform and finally, it was agreed to re-design the carts in such a way that they would be outfitted with headphones for use by customers when purchasing cd’s.
Captain Gerry Gouveia, the Private Sector Representative on the Commission was selected as its plenipotentiary to meet with the music cart vendors to follow-up and bring closure to the matter.
Some owners of music carts complied while others resisted and had to be engaged on an on-going basis.
While desirous of appearing strong and using the heavy hand of law enforcement, the Minister of Public Security should consider the above mentioned ‘softer’ antecedents which suggest a much more consultative and inclusive approach with stakeholders to address noise nuisance, a matter of public interest.
Yours faithfully, Clement Rohee