On Thursday afternoon last week, a deal was signed between Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and the Private Sector Federation (PSF) in which the two parties agreed to become 'closer' partners.
A section of the private sector, especially manufacturers, have in recent months raised concerns over REMA's stringent regulations, specifically the ban on certain polythene and plastic materials in packaging, which forced them to adopt expensive alternatives. They argued that this reduces profitability margins as well as their competitiveness on the market where goods from regional partners are still using the banned plastics.
While the MoU signed by PSF CEO Hannington Namara and REMA's director general Rose Mukankomeje didn't mention any specific problems and solutions to them, both signatories agreed it was a development that will enable closer collaboration in information sharing and problem resolution.
REMA has been working hard on ensuring the protection of major wetlands through campaigns to relocate homes and businesses that are currently operating in the protected areas and an understanding with PSF which bring will help spread the message, according to REMA's Mukankomeje.
On the other hand, PSF's Namara observed that while there has been a relationship of sorts between his party and REMA, it has been dogged with challenges resulting from limited cooperation or understanding; he pointed out that the MoU will seek to deepen the partnership and make it a forum for dispute resolution.
Namara said they will encourage their members to treat environmental regulations as other policies in the country that are required of businesses to avoid conflicts that have risen in the past between the regulator and developers.
Mukankomeje also clarified that the environmental regulations in place are not made by REMA but by the government and that her agency is overseeing compliance not only by the private sector but all Rwandans.
"We are not after harassing the private sector or any Rwandan with the regulations. We acknowledge the importance of the role of private sector for our economy as they contribute most of the taxes to our treasury; but let us promote a green economy through clean production," she advised.
She added that development should be environment-friendly in order not to compromise future generations. "Environmental issues anywhere are trade issues but what we need is a compromise by both parties involved in order to achieve a prosperous green economy which at the same time doesn't hurt humanity," emphasized the REMA boss.
Compared to other countries in the region, Rwanda has moved far ahead in implementing major environment measures with the law n° 57/2008 of 10/09/2008 relating to the prohibition of manufacturing and importing of plastics. But the use of plastics is still widespread in neighboring states, which disadvantages Rwandan goods.
Benjamin Gasamagera, the head of PSF's Chamber of Industry, recently told The Rwanda Focus that in order to protect Rwanda's budding industry, the authorities should also ban imported goods packed in the prohibited plastics.
In reply, Mukankomeje said protecting the environment of Rwanda is a choice the country took and must be adhered to by all Rwandans regardless of what neighboring countries are doing. "We shall keep our end of the bargain as we try to engage our partners through relevant channels," she remarked.
PSF CEO Namara however pointed out that alternatives to plastics are be expensive to private sector members engaged in industrial production; at the same time, he recognized that this also constitutes a business opportunity.
The MoU for instance provides for capacity building programs where REMA will organize training targeting specific groups in the private sector to help them understand existing regulations and how they can operate within the law.
REMA says it has in the past organized workshops for miners on sustainable practices and clear production. The MoU will see more workshops of this type extended to other sections of the private sector.
What the agreement is expected to achieve is strong cooperation between REMA and PSF to integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation in the private sector planning through promotion and implementation of environment-friendly activities.
"The close collaboration between REMA and PSF towards environmental policy, laws and regulations will foster the implementation of the principles of protection, cooperation, information dissemination and community sensitization in the conservation and protection of the environment as recognized in article seven of the organic law on environment," Mukankomeje said.