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Portmore not a ghetto, says mayor

BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer reporter robinsonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 23, 2013    

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EVERY effort is being made to ensure that the municipality of Portmore in St Catherine does not deteriorate into a vast informal settlement.

The reassurance came last week from Portmore Mayor George Lee, who responded to concerns that Portmore — which this year celebrates 10 years as a municipality — is quickly becoming the island's largest ghetto.

"I disagree with that view. When you look at Portmore, and all through Jamaica, there are challenges and I don't think Portmore is any worse off," Lee told Jamaica Observer journalists.

Amidst growing concerns regarding squatting, illegal vending, sewage disposal, mosquitoes, and water woes, Portmore has over the years recognised a steady increase in gang rivalry, murders and motor vehicle theft.

Sections of Waterford, Gregory Park, Naggo Head, Newlands and Braeton have been labelled by the police as 'hot spots', and motor vehicle theft, especially in Greater Portmore, continues to be a major problem — at least one vehicle stolen weekly, according to Deputy Mayor Leon Thomas. But the authorities say they are committed to remedying the 'model' community's ills.

"We have experienced a great deal of car theft across Portmore, especially within the Greater Portmore area," said Thomas. "That community was built and the parking was on the road, so we experienced a lot of that (theft)."

"So what we have done is to try to organise neighbourhood watches and citizens associations, and work closely with the police," he continued. "But we still have a difficult time with regards to theft. Up to about two weeks ago, we were having discussions with the police to see how best we can minimise that situation," he said.

In the meantime, Mayor Lee called on Central Government to assist the parish council in dealing with squatting, even as the it enforces a zero-tolerance policy.

"One of the things that we've tried to do in Portmore is to have zero tolerance; no new squatting," he said. "But the issue of squatting is something that Central Government has to be in. Because if you just go to take people out of an area that they are already in, then you must have a place to put them," he said.

And even with the zero-tolerance approach, Lee continued, residents still flout the regulations as there are not enough personnel to enforce them, he said.

"We are trying to get help with enforcement. We used to have at least 10 municipal police and now we have around three," Lee said, explaining that the salary of a municipal police officer is only a little above minimum wage and so many leave their posts to join the Jamaica Constabulary Force or the Jamaica Fire Brigade. The municipal council is now training a new set of municipal officers, he said.

Lee also noted that community policing is lax in Portmore, and that the force is bereft of enough vehicles to efficiently patrol the area. "We need to see the police in the communities a little more," he said.

"But we are committed to provide enforcement in Portmore. And with the beautification programme and the littering programme that we are launching we intend to clean up Portmore. So it's not going to become the ghetto that people predict," Lee said.

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