Industries in Oman must pay pollution tax

SALEH AL SHAIBANY – saleh_shaibani@yahoo.com – Industry managers in Oman will not admit it but their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme is one way of appeasing residents for causing air pollution in the areas they operate but that is never enough.
It is time they start contributing to a special annual tax for cleaning up and pay for the installation of expensive environment monitors.
Last year, the government put up eight environment monitoring devices across the country in its bid to comply with international standards for clean air.
Various compiled figures show that the total annual revenues of all industries in Oman are in the region of about $70 billion. It is fair for these industries to pay a fixed amount of money, based on their productions and how they pollute the air we breathe.
They can afford it since they make a huge profit from their trade.
They would argue that they already pay CSR to help local people in entrepreneurship or community projects. However, industrialists in Oman surely know that their CSR efforts, though highly appreciated, will not compensate for the steadily growing environmental damage caused to towns and their inhabitants. The CSR money is arguable a token, deemed as charity work, and industries have no obligations to keep paying up.
However, the new tax, will force the biggest offenders to contribute in an obligatory tax program to ensure they can sufficiently provide compensation for irreversible damage.
Industries that must participate in the environment tax system will be mining, smelting industries, lead battery manufacturers, power stations, chemical and steel factories. Petrochemical companies, like the refineries, gas and oil producing companies, chemicals and hazardous waste would also be forced to participate.
The annual tax collected from the polluting industries will go into special environmental protection funds to clean up the beaches, remove floating sediments in our waters and pay for the maintenance of the costly environment monitoring system.
They should be penalties for industries which don’t pay up and must receive a negative environmental impact report from the government.
The downgrading of their credit, which will sure impede their development, may eventually hit their exports and profitability for those reluctant to pay up. Such measures, will encourage them to minimize pollution and improve their environment management programmes to cut down accident risks.
Do they think it is harsh?
If they think it is harsh, then they would need to think of all those poor souls who are daily breathing, as you read this paragraph right now, of the polluted air as the fumes mingle with the environment in their own townships.
Environment damage in Oman is not pandemic, at least not yet, but it would be if companies, especially foreign ones, change their attitude about it. Do they care enough if a baby is born without a limb or a farmer develops a colon cancer before he reaches the age of 50?
According to the United Nation’s statistics, environment’s health hazard is the third biggest killer of all diseases. The same figures show that the victims are mostly residents in the rural areas or those who live within 20 km radius from a major industry.
An annual fund of $1 billion, contributed by industrialists, to protect Oman’s environment and its people, will not dig any holes in their bank accounts but money honourably spent. Let’s look at it this way.
A Chief Executive Officer walks away with a handshake of a couple of millions after 30 years of service in a major industry.
He would not want to have a dark shadow hovering above his head in his twilight years knowing that he made it good for himself while he left a score of townspeople with a hole in their lungs.
On my last trip towards the northern border, the flares lighting up the night sky offered a spectacular sight. Children playing in the backyards of their homes don’t know that the fiery fire together with the smoking funnels may be a sign of doom. Well, it is also a sign of progress, depending how you interpret it.
Their future careers depend on the soot that floats in the air, gently landing on the palm of their little, innocent hands. One of them, years from now, might be walking away with that huge handshake, hopefully with his organs intact.