A number of residents in Portmore, St Catherine, are objecting to the revised push by the Andrew Holness administration to make the municipality Jamaica’s 15th parish.
The Sunday Gleaner visited several communities in the Sunshine City to hear the views of residents on the move by the Government to establish a committee to examine a motion tabled in Parliament earlier this month by Local Government and Rural Development Minister Desmond McKenzie to designate parish status to Portmore.
The issue was first raised by Bruce Golding while campaigning for the 2007 general election, but it appeared to have been placed on the back burner after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) lost the general election in 2012. It was, however, revisited and included in the JLP Manifesto for the 2020 general election.
In the most recent move to restart the dialogue, McKenzie named St Catherine South Central Member of Parliament Dr Andrew Wheatley to chair the committee.
However, the popular view among the residents is that Portmore should not be designated a parish if there are no infrastructure benefits to be derived from the move, given the fact that with its present municipal status the only factor preventing the construction of a public hospital and a market is the unavailability of funds.
The residents are also of the view that the local governing authority has the capacity to attract investments that can provide much-needed employment.
McKenzie, in the motion, noted that Portmore now warrants parish status so that it can focus on managing the municipality in order to achieve sustainable development and maximise its cultural and social benefits as well as its revenue-generating potentials.
NO NEW BENEFITS
78-year-old Gerald Stephens, a member of the Joint Citizens’ Association and a block representative in the Garveymeade community where he has been living since 1978, told The Sunday Gleaner that there is absolutely no need for Portmore to be a parish.
“We don’t have a problem being a part of St Catherine. I don’t see why they are pushing for parish status, as it will not bring any additional benefits we are not now receiving as a city,” he said.
Stephens said what the relevant authorities should be doing is providing the funds to build a public hospital and a market and develop the courthouse instead of worrying about parish status.
“I also believe it is an insult to the people of Portmore for the Government to form a committee before consulting us,” the elder Portmore resident opined, adding that most of the citizens on his block shared similar positions.
Carlton Daley, who has been living in Naggo Head for 28 years, also feels that the citizens of the municipality are being disrespected by the Government.
“The Government is disrespecting the people to even name a committee without getting our views. Furthermore, Portmore doesn’t need parish status,” Daley said.
John Smith, who has resided in Hellshire since 1991, said what the Government should be focused on is putting in the basic infrastructures and improving the water supply.
“We were not consulted on the move. Right now Hellshire needs a proper police station, the municipality needs a public hospital and a market. We don’t want no parish, what are we doing with parish?” he stated.
Gee Makenzie, who has been living in Portmore for 43 years, also suggested that there is a need for infrastructure development which can come without naming the municipality a parish.
HOW WILL IT IMPROVE?
Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine Southern, Fitz Jackson, sided with the residents, noting that he is yet to see how parish designation would automatically create additional improvements that the municipality is not already providing.
“Show me where the development of any parish in Jamaica has been greatly enhanced because of parish status. Why is it that parishes like Hanover, St Thomas, and we can name others, are still wanting in development?” Jackson declared.
“Furthermore, how is it that the Government is seeking to do this without consulting the residents and stakeholder groups in Portmore?”
The People’s National Party MP said the citizens of Portmore wanted their own self-governing mechanism, and this they have achieved with the creation of the municipality.
“The local government authority is already tasked with attending to the matters that can lead to development of the well-being of the citizens in terms of infrastructure services. It is the extent to which central government provides the support for the local authority to function that makes it more effective,” Jackson told The Sunday Gleaner.
“Let us talk about how we can improve healthcare delivery, sanitation, security, public market, cemetery and other infrastructures which are not automatic designations for parish status. These are more meaningful dialogue the Government needs to have with the people of Portmore.”
He added, “It’s all about political gamesmanship at the expense of the Jamaican taxpayer and is nothing more than fulfilling a campaign promise, with the sole intention of reconfiguring the boundaries to separate Portmore from St Catherine for control of the St Catherine Municipal Corporation.”
Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas also expressed his opposition to the move, declaring that there is no revenue source that the municipality is not having now that will come with the designation.
“There has been no communication with the Municipal Council about the move. What the Government should do is deal with the infrastructure, and bring it to a level where the drains and roads are properly maintained,” the mayor pointed out.
According to him, if the parish status goes through it will reduce the funding the municipality is now getting, making Portmore a parish in name and not in benefits.
In the meantime, president of the Portmore Chamber of Commerce, Norman Walker, while acknowledging that the organisation was not consulted before the establishment of the committee, said he will be meeting with business leaders on Wednesday to discuss the issue after which the chamber will communicate its position to the Government.