Help, Montego Bay is falling apart!
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
— The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats
THE murder rate in St James continues to rise, and even more so in the newly established constituency of St James Central of which I am the member of Parliament. For many decades, the homicide statistics in the parish have seen troughs and peaks, but the underlying trend continues unabated as successive administrations and the police high command have been reactive rather than proactive.
The harsh truth is that there are too many young men who are untrained, in many instances uneducated, and are therefore unemployable that reside in this area that comprises most of what is Montego Bay, the second city. Such communities as Rose Heights, Salt Spring, Railway Lane, Barnett Lane, Hart Street, Mt Salem, North Gully, and Canterbury have had a long history of criminal violence. Piecemeal interventions by government and the police have been mere band-aids that hide a festering sore that stinks to high heaven and, like a cancer, is fast devouring the body of the victim.
I entered the arena of political representation because I felt compelled -- even though I had reached retirement age -- to become a part of the solution rather than the problem. As the late Michael Manley, a former president of the People's National Party and prime minister of Jamaica, opined, left to themselves political parties become merely the distributors of the spoils of office, or words to that effect. Many of the persons in these trouble-plagued communities have been the beneficiaries of pork barrel politics and are still of the view that the main function of a member of Parliament is to "let off".
I had made it quite clear, prior to my election, that I was not into the business of handouts, and many persons thought I was committing political suicide even before the first vote was cast. Luckily, I won, and since then it has been a hard road to travel, but I have decided to stay the course while not compromising my principles.
It is well known that I do not condone criminality and that I do not consort with criminals, so the present crisis in St James puts me in a most pivotal position to be an agent of change. But, alas, my pleas for meaningful intervention have so far fallen on deaf ears. St James Central has no major hotels or factories, indeed, educational institutions are my main asset, hence I have put education and training as my number one priority.
In my Sectoral Debate presentation earlier this year, I outlined the problems facing the constituency and offered some solutions. However, after a few hugs and kisses, congratulatory slaps on the back and complimenting handshakes, not much has happened. I am, therefore, fast coming to the conclusion that no serious intervention will take place unless the tourism industry is directly affected.
Of interest, the once very volatile community of Flanker has got a great deal of attention of these many years. Why? Because it is a few metres away from the Sangster International Airport and the city's main resort areas. Tourists no longer come downtown Montego Bay and do not have to traverse its many inner-city communities, so they are being taken for granted. Let the "dutty nyagahs" continue to kill off themselves. Who cares?
For too long there have been two Montego Bays, one for the tourist and one for the residents. This is what has influenced the planning and development of my beloved city. Abject poverty is juxtaposed with opulence -- a recipe for anarchy and ultimately social upheavals which the powers that be continue to take for granted.
Yes, I am part of a PNP Government, but as a "bawn-a-Bay" Montegonian, and one who for most of his life has sought to serve this city in various capacities, but I am finding it very difficult to remain silent even as Rome burns.
The bottom line is that Montego Bay needs a major social intervention with an economic underpinning, and the sooner the better. Urban decay is everywhere, and amidst the decay there reigns much decadence and hopelessness. I am well aware, like so many other well-thinking citizens, that resources are scarce, but I do believe that a carefully thought out strategic plan implemented in an equitable and above-board manner can make a difference. No doubt there will be calls for seminars, conferences, summits and studies. We are famous for staging talk shops and providing various platforms for persons to rant and rave, but when the dust settles it is business as usual. The time for action is now. Montego Bay needs help.
It was the late Mayor Arthur Gilchrist who observed that Montego Bay suffered from a culture of informality in which anything goes. Persons are being gunned down in broad daylight in front of many witnesses, yet very rarely are these killers caught and punished because of the system of justice. Is this why the police have adopted a take no prisoners approach?
As an aggrieved messenger I know that I may well suffer the consequences of my utterances, but let the chips fall where they may, enough is enough.
I am pleading with the prime minister, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller, to pay some attention to Montego Bay because it is falling apart. Indeed, the best Christmas gift she can give this fair city is a promise to move swiftly to address what is becoming a desperate situation and which, like a time bomb, is ticking away quickly, set to explode.
Of course, Government alone cannot do it, so it is also the duty of the business community to get involved. At present, very few corporate giants and successful enterprises are making any meaningful and lasting inputs. Just recently, Jamaica Football Federation President Captain Horace Burrell bemoaned the fact that very little support was coming from the private sector by way of sponsorship for the popular sport. History has proven that when football is on a high in St James the crime rate goes down. Need I say more? And this is but one example of what can be done to change the city's socio-economic landscape. There is too must selfishness among persons in the private sector, but they had better wake up and smell the coffee because things are definitely falling apart. Enough said!
Lloyd B Smith is a member of Parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.