Waste imported from Italy is "environmental terrorism" uncovering real truth behind myth of sustainable development (insight)
22/11/2020 17:45, TUNIS/Tunisia
(TAP) - The case of imported waste from Italy, which sparked a widespread national scandal and resulted in the dismissal of Director-General of the National Waste Management Agency (French: ANGED) Faisal Bedhyefi has been brought before the Judicial Counter-Terrorism Division. A complaint over terrorism was submitted to the judicial division by a collective of Tunisian NGOs.

In a document received by TAP, a network of Tunisian NGOs focused on the case and its impact on Tunisians. It will be holding a press conference on Monday, November 23.

The import of waste is not authorised by the Tunisian law. The Tunisian law clearly regulates the field of waste disposal, under the constitution, international agreements ratified by Tunisia and the legislative and regulatory texts enacted for this purpose, in particular the framework law No. 1996-41 of June 10, 1996 relating to the waste and monitoring of its elimination and removal.

Therefore, it is strictly prohibited to import hazardous waste into Tunisia.

The import of non-hazardous waste is also ruled by laws and regulations, mainly Law No. 41 of 1996 of June 10, 1996 on waste and disposal control.

This law represents a general framework which defines the methods and conditions for the disposal of all waste in Tunisia.

Under Article 45 of Law No. 96-41 of June 10, 1996, relating to waste and the control of its management and disposal, "if the waste has been imported or exported against the provisions of this law or of the special regulations referred to in the preceding article, relevant authorities shall order their keeper, their carrier or their producer to return them to the country of origin within a timeframe it determines.

If the offender does not comply, relevant authorities may take all necessary measures to ensure the return of this waste at the expense of the participants in the operation ".

Institutional failure

The Ministry of Local Affairs and the Environment represented by ANGED and the National Agency for Environmental Protection (French: ANPE) has a very important and decisive role in this field.

For instance, the ANPE has, according to its creation law of 1988, a role of limiting sources of pollution and saving the natural environment and public health. The agency fulfills its missions on both the preventive and curative levels.

Regarding prevention, the ANPE mainly evaluates environmental impacts studies of projects submitted for its opinion. Once the impact studies have been approved, the ANPE plays an oversight role in monitoring such authorised activities.

On the other hand, ANGED approves the specifications of the conditions for the disposal of non-hazardous waste, namely collecting, storing and recycling all types of waste.

Besides authorising and approving the specifications, ANGED must regularly inspect the authorised site and make continuous checks, which have not been made in this case.

Indeed, this case disclosed several institutional failures. It uncovered a lack of governance in terms of collaboration and communication between various authorities and agencies, which are under the supervision of the Local Affairs and the Environment Ministry. 

The ANGED should have checked the available recycling infrastructure of this company, according to the activity mentioned in the file submitted by the company.

It should have collaborated with the customs authorities to prevent the exit of the first 70 containers (June 9, 2020), before verifying and analysing samples (carried out on June 13, 2020)

Likewise, the International Centre for Environmental Technologies (French: CITET) should have taken a representative sample of all imported waste carried in the containers.

Case outcomes, polluted soil and threatened safety

As far as the outcomes of this case are concerned, they are linked to Tunisia and the Tunisians, whose territory has been polluted by waste that may have passed the port.

This waste has been buried and few details have been provided about where and how, jeopardising the safety of the Tunisian population and their health.

It should be remembered that our environmental institutions are already unable to act.

For the Tunisian NGO collective, with this scandalous act, the myth of sustainable development is confirmed in Tunisia and the limits of its vision of sustainability are revealed. Such cases can only accentuate the lack of trust between citizens and the administration. This makes Tunisian citizens more anxious about the future of their country.

The supervisory institutions in charge of protecting the Tunisian environment which were not informed about this disaster, while the signature of the contracts of the importing private company was made under their protection, would only widen the gap of the lack of confidence between citizens and the administration, the network of NGOS says.

Beyond this first impact, this scandal calls into question Tunisia's bilateral relations with Italy and with the EU.

The Association Agreement signed since 1995, which establishes the rules of "cooperation between the parties, aims to prevent environmental degradation and improve its quality, protect human health and rational use of natural resources with a view to ensuring sustainable development ".

Stance of civil society organisations towards imported waste

The network of Green Tunisia expressed indignation at this scandal and the criminality of this act which seriously threatens the Tunisian territory and its security by undermining the health of its inhabitants and its environment.

It was also indignant at the deficiencies, lack of transparency, ambiguities and laxity of the State in protecting the environment and the health of citizens and their right to live in a healthy environment as stipulated by the Tunisian Constitution of 2014.

Other civil society organisations including the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (French: FTDES) last November 4 requested the Italian exporter to take back the waste.

Similarly, the National Federation of Tunisian Cities considered that the import of Italian waste represented an ecological disaster.

It called for reviewing the legal framework, in particular Law No. 41 dated 1996, which encourages impunity and supports corruption lobbies.

Translated by Helmi Ben Aziza
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