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Residents want so-called political activist removed from project

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 22, 2013    

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RESIDENTS of the farming community of Richmond Gap in St Thomas have for several years been lobbying for paved roads to make it easier to transport their produce to the market.

Finally, a proposal written by a resident through the community’s benevolent society found favour with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), which provided the resources for resurfacing work which started three weeks ago.

However, residents claim that political tribalism is threatening the project with the recent employment of a political activist from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as liaison officer, which they say has affected the original arrangement for the community group to select a non-partisan person to oversee the employment of workers.

This arrangement, residents said, was made to ensure that as many people as possible were hired on a rotation basis, regardless of their political affiliation.

Justice of the peace and community member Howard Shepherd, who wrote the project, said this was done using the module of community contracting, which would allow the community to play a major role in the execution of the project.

He explained that the project, which had been stalled over the years, finally got off the ground three weeks ago with the signing of two four-month contracts for surface work and the construction of drainage and revetment walls.

Under the JSIF-funded project, Shepherd said there is equal employment opportunity for both male and female residents and a liaison officer is usually selected from the community to recruit workers. In addition, 11 per cent of the $22-million project was to be done through voluntary community service.

“The voluntary service would include bushing roads, hosting community meetings, storing equipment, and security services,” Shepherd told the Jamaica Observer North East.

He explained further that some 30 residents have since been a part of this voluntary service.

“Nothing much happens in these areas in terms of employment... and it is sad that this is costing a rift between residents,” said Shepherd.

When the Observer North East visited the community last week, residents declined to speak about the matter for fear of a political ‘backlash’.

Members of the community group, which is responsible for the project, also declined to comment on the matter.

However, resident Jermaine Clarke said people were fearful of speaking about the matter because of a past incident in which a gun was drawn during a dispute over the same project.

“The road [work] stopped three times already because of politics and this is what JSIF is afraid of,” said Clarke.

A request for a comment from JSIF was not forthcoming up to press time.

Clarke, who said he was shocked to discover that a political activist was taken on as liaison officer on the project, called for the removal of any political interference.

“What we want is for the community group to be able to choose two liaison officers and we want the political activist to be removed,” said Clarke, who admitted to being a supporter of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP).

Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the nine people currently employed on the project for the first two weeks, six were allegedly employed by the JLPaligned liaison officer and the three by the community group.

“We no want to see no politics take over anything because we want it to remain a community thing and the community group fi choose the people fi work,” he argued.

In the meantime, the residents say they were fearful the project could stop again if this rift widens and called for the liaison officer to be removed immediately.

The residents said that under the original arrangement the first set of people who were to have been employed on the project were those who volunteered their time.

“Some of the people working right now were not in the volunteer work and they were the ones to be given first priority,” said another resident.

According to the resident, the only compromise he was willing to accept is for a PNP political activist also to be employed as a liaison officer.

“Under that way we would have one liaison officers from the community group and one each from the JLP and the PNP. That way, if there are 20 spots the community group take 10 and the next 10 is to be shared equally by the other two liaison officer,” the resident said.

Marsha Francis, mayor of Morant Bay and PNP councillor for the Cedar Valley Division, in which the community falls, said that should not be an option as the project should remain non-political.

“I don’t want anyone from my side to be a liaison officer either because the programme is for the community,” she told the Observer North East.

Francis also called for the immediate removal of the liaison officer as she lamenting that the project is in jeopardy of stopping, if the matter not addressed soon.

“Community members are threatening to stop the work if these people are not removed and we don’t want that because this road was to be done for years,” she said.

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