Montego Bay Abused – Needs Local Government Reform

It is a truism that the struggle for existence is the struggle for food and space. Nowhere is that struggle more intense than here in Montego Bay. It is a struggle that leads to the untenable situation wherein one third of the population of Greater Montego Bay lives on captured land. It is a struggle where over forty percent of the population earns their livelihood outside of the formal economic process.

It is this matrix which produces the Bogue land scenario, a conflict of those who horde productive property without any serious attempt at development thus retarding the growth of Montego Bay as opposed to a new and aggressive breed of entrepreneurs who are voiceless and powerless, who are locked out of development opportunities by a dying breed of land barons and their lackeys

The so called Bogue Land scandal was a contrivance by real estate interests to exclude Montegonians of a particular ilk from owning prime commercial property in the city and to artificially inflate the cost of coastal land.

In 1992 the late Mayor, Arthur Gilchrist, sought to broaden the ownership base of the Montego Bay economy by creating space for the marginalized and the emerging entrepreneurial sector. This infamous Bogue property owned by the St. James Parish Council, adjacent to the Bogue Industrial Park was to be developed as an automotive node to accommodate the street side garages. This was not to be due to the recalcitrance of the bureaucracy and the lack of autonomy by the local authority to dispose of its own land.

The protracted delay by the Ministry of Local Government in granting approval of the subdivision and the sale of the land led to the capturing of that property. This was facilitated by some People’s national party (PNP) councilors who corruptly benefited from the exercise. This should not detract from the fact that there were persons who had genuine need for space and who had a sincere desire to purchase the lots that they occupied once the subdivision was approved.

They were, however, not prepared for the ensuing political controversy that followed nor for the vindictive, exorbitant and punitive cost that is now being leveled for the land. After the JLP had milked the issue of all it had to offer and has benefited electorally with the whipping out of the so called Bongo Crew, it is time for the Council to move on. There are now some 19 new businesses operating at the new Bogue Industrial and Commercial Estate, providing a range of services and employing nearly two hundred workers with the possibility of employing far more with the security of tenure.

Here we have a nascent capitalist Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)party coming to office without a plan to provide the jobs to which its manifesto speaks yet it is prepared to contradict the basic tenet of free market by its actions in frustrating entrepreneurs. The Mayor of Montego Bay with a Shylock like behavior is demanding his pound of flesh. Vindictiveness has no place in a society that is teetering on the brink.

Truth be told, there are more labourites at Bogue than socialist (PNP) and that should not really matter. In this economic crisis, progressive municipalities are seeking to create jobs or to save jobs and not to discourage enterprises and frustrate those who are best positioned to foster growth and development. Every municipality should now be looking at stimulus packages that will generate growth in light of the ominous signs of an economic collapse.

The St. James Parish Council, wittingly or unwittingly, by its action has become a co-conspirator in blocking expanding opportunities for a emerging entrepreneurial class.

A cursory examination of the ownership pattern of the Montego Bay coastal area validates the position that efforts are being made to maintain privileges in alliance with the mid island carpetbaggers that exclude small and medium sized businesses.

The deliberate blocking of the Montego Bay by-pass from Bogue to Ironshore is another crude attempt to restrict the opening of Moreland and Kirkpatrick for commercial activities and to maintain the over valued coastal lands, blocking new entrance and opportunities for smaller and medium sized players as the construction of fortress properties continues unabated designed to monopolize commercial activities.

We implore the Mayor of Montego Bay Councilor Charles Sinclair not to follow in the footsteps of the Gestapo like behavior of his Kingston counterpart with his stormtroopers but take on the mantle of a partner in development; development that is not limited to the traditional business class but to create the space for the new and emerging business sector of Montego Bay as exemplified by the occupants of Bogue and to growing a new black entrepreneurial class.

We are well aware that the cupboards of the Council are empty but this Mayor, given his antecedents, should resist the temptation of becoming an extortionist or worst, a mendicant. Neither should he be content in picking the low hanging cherries. It is not too late for him to restore the mantra of noble St. James by rallying the citizenry around the principle of autonomy and the devolution of authority.

He should take a leaf out of former Mayor Charles Sinclair Senior’s book – a strident advocate for the autonomy of Montego Bay, he launched the Montego Action Committee (MAC) and forged an agenda for the city in partnership with civil society. Under his watch the 1,800 Retirement Property was purchased to facilitate municipal services and the expansion of the city. He was no lackey of the member of parliament, the avaricious Howard Cooke, that may have cost him a ministry in the Manley regime but he remained unrepentant and steadfast in his commitment to the devolution of authority. We expect no less from Charles Sinclair Jr.

In every progressive and respected municipality there is a dedicated pool of fund or established source to finance the budget of the council, an independent source of funding that is not based on the goodwill of the central government.

It cannot be that the local elected authority must petition some private individual or in our case, the Tourism Enhancement Fund or the so-called member of parliament through his Constituency Fund in order to provide critical services to the community. There is a conspiracy between the major political parties to starve the local authorities of the needed resources so that they can maintain domination and control, transforming big men into lackeys. Robert Montague, Minister of Sate in the office of the Prime Minister in charge of Local Government announced recently that the deadline set for Local Government Reform must be extended, despite the stated commitment of the Bruce Golding-led administration to grant autonomy to the local authorities within two years.

From the very beginning this commitment was a sham. If there were any sincerity the committed 2.5 per cent of the annual national budget should have gone to the local authorities instead of the members of parliament under the Constituency Fund. Local development should be carried out by the local authorities that have in place the institutional mechanism and administrative staff to carry out local development. The Constituency Fund is nothing short of a grand pork barrel with the makings of corruption on a grand national scale.

The Council is the local planning authority, yet, they are unable to find the funding necessary to prepare a Development Plan for the city while the Tourism Planning Development Company (TPDCo) through funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund spent over $40 million for a discreet schematic design of Gloucester Avenue, the so called hip strip, the present day Sodom and Gomorrah, designed to address the interest of the little cabal which currently runs the city. Concurrently, Montego Bay’s urban centre is dying and St. James Street is being transformed into a street market of madmen, failures, beggars and thieves, a place where people are murdered in broad day light – a place where the police, the municipal wardens and the Transport Authority are like three John Crows (vultures) sitting limp, waiting to pounce on some dead meat, the hapless taxi operator and innocent car driver as they seek to extort revenue for the city .

Where is the catalyst project designed to revitalize downtown Montego Bay as envisaged by the forward thinking, contained in the Greater Montego Bay Plan 2014? What has become of the board walk from the old hospital site to the River Bay Fisherman Beach lined with kiosks to benefit small enterprises? What has become of the proposed down town waterfront district designed to regenerate Old Montego Bay in anticipation of the new town development of Montego Bay South?

One of the catalyst projects proposed by the GMRC is the creation of a Market District spanning Charles Gordon Market and the River Bay Bay Fishing Complex. The implementation of the proposal is now even more urgent, now that the Railway Lane relocation exercise is completed. The district is abandoned and remains an environmental disaster exacerbated by Jamaica Railway Corporation that have converted their holding into a dump and a shanty town. The absence of a municipal abattoir remains an embarrassment to the city. What has become of the proposal to relocate that facility and to build a meat processing plant?

The tourism capital of Jamaica cries out in desperation.

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