The many challenges of a first-time Member of Parliament
WHEN Rudyard Kipling in his poem "It" identified success and failure as two impostors, he was in fact providing accurate guidance counselling for those of us who have dared to enter representational politics.
In these past nine months, I have experienced the highs of victory, bi-partisan applause, the vitriol of a few Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) die-hards and the debilitating schemes of some adherents of my party. Beyond that, the sheer weight of expectations from decent, hard-working constituents and others who aggressively demand handouts, are distressing.
My journey into representational politics has been an eye-opener. The level of poverty that exists among some of my constituents is almost unbelievable. Still, hopes remain high.
I cannot be deterred by the negatives. I have promises to keep. I must go on.
From my vantage point in the high seats of Parliament, I have listened, learned and observed much in the first session of the class of 2011-12. Although I have not yet spoken out, there are a number of issues that I feel strongly about.
A major omission I believe is that the public has not been clearly told that the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) that it inherited was fatally flawed and doomed to fail before it began.
We now know that the JDIP expenditures were US$95 million over budget, or almost 40 per cent.
We now know that there was neither a public tender nor the National Works Agency negotiating of sub contracts, including 18 per cent of which was issued to one contractor.
We also know that the NWA did not have the administrative infrastructure or control to manage the JDIP programmes, that despite this limitation, the initial 19 projects was expanded to accommodate over 1000 projects, without the required documentation to ensure transparency in the selection process.
It has also been revealed that the mark-up paid to China Harbour was in excess of 22 per cent, which meant that only 78 per cent of the total loan was available at project start for fixed price contracts. This does not include sub-contractors mark-up and variations which would have meant less than 50 per cent of the loan proceeds to complete 100 per cent of the fixed price contracts.
As I have indicated in questions to the Parliament, a lot of variations were caused by generic or standard designs without details.
The sub-contractors were were selected without the appropriate NCC grade to undertake the value of work granted to them. Incredibly also is the fact that there is something called institutional strengthening, with expenditure of $194.5 million, which even more amazingly, included the purchase of 25 Sports Utility Vehicles amounting to $78.1 million, including 19.5 per cent in mark-ups to China Harbour.
So having inherited unbelievable infrastructural decay in West Rural St Andrew and only one small road completed under JDIP, I cannot be happy as some members of the Opposition seem to be with the JDIP.
We are now witnessing a reduction in work scope and elimination of a number of projects. It is now time for the government to order the removal of a number of these JDIP signs that continue to mock the hopes of the people and sow political mischief to the detriment of MPs.
I have recommended the implementation of a capital gains tax in the Tax Reform sub-committee, which is long overdue. The recent takeover of a major financial company saw a published gain of approximately J$1.6 billion, yet not a cent in taxes could have been imposed. This has been a continuing omission by successive governments.
Very shortly I will be working with my colleagues to foster the enactment of Jamaica's version of the Community Reinvestment Act of the USA which will mandate the banks to make loans and investments in areas from which they received deposits, no matter how poor those areas may be.
The current rationale of rejecting loan requests from poor communities while benefiting from remittances and other inflows from those areas, has simply led to a net outflow and a disinvestment effect which concretises poverty in our inner cities.
The Act will speak to significant incentives and corrective penalties.
Every constituency has towering issues. In West Rural St Andrew, it is the perilous infrastructional devastation that can be seen everywhere. Apart from this, there is the unacceptable lack of potable water and crater-filled roads. There are innumerable breakaways and precipices. Of course, chronic unemployment rears its head, but with 14,000 persons on the PATH programme in my constituency of over 36,000 people, the situation is catastrophic. In this regard I have established a technical management committee to prepare a short and medium-term plan to arrest the decay and bring some stability to the socio-economic setting.
The central elements involve:
1) The elimination of the major breakaways. Work has begun at Parks Road, Allman Hill and those at Mt Ogle and Mt Horeb are to begin shortly.
2) A comprehensive road rehabilitation programme which is evidenced by: The relaying of road surfaces of some of our major thoroughfares, for example Red Hills to Rock Hall, sections of Mt Olive, Duncastle and Clarke Hill, Panton Road and Sterling Castle.
The patching of a section of Sherbourne Heights, Parkes Road, Brandon Hill Road, Castle Drive, and Pinto. Other roads works are scheduled for Golden Spring to Mount Airy, Airy Castle, Boon Hall, Cypress Hall, Bornside Valley, St Christopher to Lawrence Tavern Square, King Weston among others.
3) Upgrading of the water supply through the installation of 12-inch mains underway at Stony Hill, Manning's Hill, Golden Spring and Temple Hall.
4) Liaising with NWC to regularise supply through installation of its water meters drive, which has been completed at Long Wall and is in progress at Rocky Valley.
5) Facilitating temporary employment for over 100 tradesmen and labourers through the Jamaica Infrastructure Development Programme.
6) Facilitating 19 retaining walls through sub-contracts of between $1 million and $5 million for the people of Red Hills.
7) The appointment of a infrastructure sub-committee to monitor and ensure value for money in respect of all work programmes.
The achievements so far in education are encouraging. These include:
1) The provision of 194 education support scholarships to outstanding and needy students.
2) The convening of an education leadership seminar with 20 school principals from the constituency, coordinated by the chairman of the National Council on Education, Mrs Elaine Foster Allen.
3) Establishing an education sub-committee of professionals, chaired by Mrs Foster Allen to liaise with the schools, monitor performance, and provide critical advice and recommend funding for school requirements and scholarships.
4) Providing funding assistance towards the lease/purchase of a bus to transport students of Padmore primary school.
Community Tourism is always important. In this regard, we have established a tourism sub-committee to advise an programmes and strategies to upgrade the eco and heritage tourism product in the constituency. The main areas targeted are: Cooper's Hill Great House and its environs, the Temple Hall Great House, The Langley Great House, the Straun Castle and Boon Hall Oasis Hotel and nature preserves.
Under the present administration, a Health and Human Resources sub-committee has been appointed to liaise with the health sector towards the upgrade of our health centres and promotion of proper standards.
A review is being completed and quantity surveyor estimates for upgrading of the centres have been put on the table.
Sports development is critical in any constituency. So far a sports development sub-committee to promote sports and advise on upgrading requirements has been set up.
The Paul Buchanan netball competition has been completed and will be strengthened this year. Other sports competitions will be introduced soon.
A technical sub-committee on agriculture has been established to work with the Jamaica Agricultural Society and 4-H branches and provide meaningful advice and assistance.
Specifically, the sub-committee has been asked by me to provide a blueprint and project module for an Agricultural Marketing Corporation-styled outlet to purchase farmers produce and a coffee research centre to offer information and technical support to our farmers.
The appointment of a sub-committee of management and Informaion Technology practitioners to implement a training programme for the creation of software products is underway.
In this regard a training model involving 360 beginners, intermediaries and programmers will be trained in 20 locations throughout the constituency.
A partnership has been established with Oberlin High School to facilitate the training of programmers at their existing lab. Oberlin has also identified space for the construction of a state-of-the-art facility to house the programmers.
After completion of the two-year training which also involves distance teaching, plans are underway to construct a software production facility in the hills of Mt Airy to literally quarantine Jamaica's first batch of programmers totally dedicated to produce software products for the domestic market, exports and significant value added growth. It is a no-brainer. With all our posturing, that is the only sector that can guarantee our economic salvation. We have the human resources. We must now ad the technology to refine it.
The challenges have been great but I have sought to provide inspirational leadership through the establishment of a non-partisan office of the Member of Parliament at Golden Spring, which is painted in beige. To complement this I meet regularly with the JLP councillors in discussing plans and ensuring their participation in work programmes.
Great challenges remain, but I will continue to work for the betterment of my people until my time is done.
Paul Buchanan is Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Rural