IV. ANALYSIS OF MEASURES USED TO IMPLEMENT ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES
A. Measures for protecting the environment
2. Environmental health, waste disposal and pollution
The Public Health (Building) Regulations contain several environmental measures covering varying aspects, such as: (a) the need for building permission in urban areas to be granted by a medical officer; (b) the siting of buildings relative to others in the immediate vicinity; (c) the number of buildings to be built on any one site; and (d) providing sufficient space for latrines and other conveniences. The measures are not as effective as they should be because they are often not enforced; if enforced, the penalty for non-compliance is a maximum fine of T$ 40, while being in default of a fine carries a maximum penalty of three months' imprisonment. Provisions for forcing the removal and/or destruction of buildings would be a more effective deterrent.
The Garbage Act, 1949 (amended), the Public Health Act 1913 (amended) and Public Health (Refuse Dumping Ground) Regulations require every owner or occupier of any premises to keep garbage cans covered, clean, in good repair, easily accessible and to avoid dumping garbage on roadways, vacant land, the foreshore, streams or creeks. They empower the Minister of Health, with the consent of the Cabinet, from time to time to designate certain areas or places as dumping grounds for refuse. The Ministry of Health is in charge of municipal solid waste management, including waste pick-up, dumping and maintenance of the dump site. But the authority to set aside/allocate land for public purposes is vested in the Minister of Lands, Survey and Natural Resources; without the agreement of the Minister, as has often been the case, the Ministry of Health cannot carry out its responsibilities under the Acts and Public Health Regulations.
Unfortunately, the Environmental Health Services, with which the responsibility lies for the activities detailed above, are so short-staffed that action is taken only when there is a complaint; very little active monitoring or enforcement of the regulations is carried out. Only one rubbish truck is being operated and which services only a small proportion of the urban population. More or less uncontrolled disposal of commercial and trade waste is practiced by the entities which produce that waste. The penalty for offences by members of the public, if convicted, is limited to a maximum fine of T$ 50.
Section 94 empowers the Minister of Health to specify which types of waste are to be regarded as toxic or hazardous, as well as how such waste may be disposed of, transported or stored. But as the provision now stands, it is not mandatory for the Minister to carry out the activities envisaged by the Section. As a result, the effectiveness of the measures is minimized.
Section 98 expressly prohibits the import of toxic or hazardous waste into Tonga. Any person who contravenes the provisions of section 98 is guilty of an offence, and is liable to a fine not exceeding T$ 10,000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both.
That is an example of the "user-pay principle" type of measures, and the stipulated fine of T$ 10,000, while small by international standards for such offences, is reasonably substantial by Tongan standards. Also, it is large compared with the fines and penalties provided for under other earlier environmental statutes. The comparative severity of the fine also indicates a strong concern over the environmental dangers of toxic/hazardous wastes. Similar provisions exist which cover air pollution. Unfortunately, the Act has a major shortcoming in import controls that needs to be rectified as soon as possible; it should stipulate that any person illegally importing toxic waste will be held responsible for its removal or destruction.
The Petroleum Mining Act, 1969, is another example of environmental legislation that requires polluters to held responsible for their actions. The Petroleum Mining Regulations require that any company exploring for petroleum must adopt all practical precautions to prevent pollution of the high seas or coastal waters by oil, mud or other fluid substances which might contaminate the sea water or shoreline, or which might harm or destroy marine life. The company responsible for pollution is required to take all the specified measures in its petroleum agreement to remove the pollution and minimize the damage to the environment.