BITU wants municipal building named after former mayor

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 07, 2019

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Sebert Davis was a veteran local government politician and trade unionist serving the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation (WMC) and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) for more than five decades before his death on Saturday, January 23 at the age of 91.

He was mayor of Savanna-la-Mar between 1981 and 1986, councillor for the Grange Hill division of the then Westmoreland Parish Council and BITU supervisor for the region covering Hanover, St Elizabeth and Westmoreland and including the Frome Sugar Factory in Westmoreland.

Davis died peacefully at home, leaving a legacy of service to his professions, and probably a sense of betrayal that the issue closest to his heart — the construction of a municipal office for the Westmoreland Council (now the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation) — is still unfulfilled.

Since his death, president of the BITU, Senator Kavan Gayle, has taken up the matter and is suggesting that in honour of Davis' contribution to the local government in the parish, and his constant demands for the construction of the building, when it is completed it should be named after him.

“He consistently spoke about the need for a municipal building in Sav-la-mar. He was hard-working, committed and dedicated to the council, as well as the sugar workers in the parish and deserves having it named in his memory for his commitment to the cause,” Gayle said.

In fact, he noted that during Davis' years of service in the parish, he often expressed his disappointment that the only capital town in Jamaica without a municipal office was Savanna-la-Mar.

Fortunately for him and like-minded members of the council, the council eventually won the support of then minister of Local Government in 2003, Portia Simpson Miller, who found it hard to believe that the town was left without a municipal building, and ordered the technocrats in her office to rectify the situation, immediately.

The situation was extremely serious, as far as Davis was concerned, after the local government body was kicked out of its own rat-infested building for interrupting the parish's Resident Magistrate's Court which shared the accommodation, after the judges became annoyed with the constant noise coming from their meetings and interfering with court activities. The council had to be relocated to a rented space.

In 2003, an architect at the Ministry of Local Government, Adrian Smith, visited the coastal town to inform the council that the then minister of Local Government, Portia Simpson Miller, was surprised to learn that it was still without a municipal building. He said that explained his rush to get the project started.

But, several years later the project had not started, until following a change of government the new minister of State with responsibility for Local Government, Robert Montague, announced plans to finally have the building constructed at a projected cost of some $35 million.

A groundbreaking ceremony was eventually hosted in November, 2011 by the mayor of the town, Councillor Bertel Moore, with Montague and MP for Western Westmoreland, Dr Wykeham McNeill, as guests.

Moore welcomed the allocation from Montague to have the building constructed, adding that the minister had not only helped the councillors to lobby for the funding, “but he has already given us a portion of the funds for the establishment of the building”.

However, with another change of government in December 2011, the project did not get off the ground, even then.

In August 2015, a second groundbreaking ceremony was hosted by Moore, at which Montague's successor at Local Government, Noel Arscott, announced plans for a two-storey structure to be constructed at the intersection of Murray and Great George Streets at a cost of approximately $75 million.

He said that the new building would provide adequate space for staff and customers, and would also feature a council chamber that can accommodate up to 60 people. Construction work got underway in late 2015, and the project was scheduled to be completed within 10 months. However, that deadline was later changed to February 2017.

But the February 2017 deadline was not met either, resulting in the intervention of the current minister, desmond McKenzie, in October last year. McKenzie told members of the media then that, hopefully, work should be completed on the building before the end of November, 2018.

“I think the timeline that was given is the end of October into November. I am hoping that they will come within that timeline,” McKenzie said then.

But, when the Jamaica Observer contacted the minister last week, he was not in a position to say when that would be.

McKenzie explained that in terms of the contract which was awarded in 2014/15, the contractor ran into serious problems which delayed completion.

“The contract was given out in 2015, but the contractor is obviously not capable of completing the building and that contract was terminated last year,” the minister explained.

He added that his ministry is currently awaiting approval from the National Contracts Committee (NCC) for another contractor to complete the project.

In a news release on Davis' passing earlier this week, Senator Gayle described him as a pioneer who had made a tremendous contribution to improve the lives of the sugar workers, and other residents of the parish and had shown selfless dedication to the most vulnerable in the parish.

Davis is survived by his wife, Rosseta and several children. The date of his funeral is expected to be known soon.


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