The reality of the Holness Administration — Part 4

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The reality of the Holness Administration — Part 4

Canute
Thompson

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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This is the fourth in a series which was started on December 5, 2019. In this instalment I will look at the environment.

In Part 3, published on January 14, 2020, I revisited the issue of crime (which was addressed in Part 1) and, using the availability of the final crime numbers of 2019, noted that there had been a 3.1 per cent increase in murders in 2019 when compared to 2018, despite there being seven states of public emergency (SOEs) and two zones of special operations (ZOSOs). Never in Jamaica's history have there been so many emergency measures in place, and yet such a high murder rate. Since the publication of that article there has been an eighth SOE and the extension of some of the others. Still, the murder rate for 2020 is running ahead of 2019.

In Part 2, published on December 31, 2019, I looked at the health and education sectors and found that much of the activity in health was by way of announcements. The minister of health, Dr Christopher Tufton, responded to the issues I raised and, among other things, presented the Jamaica Moves initiative as evidence of the inaccuracy of my contention that his portfolio has been characterised largely by announcements. I will make a quick detour to address two of the claims made by Dr Tufton — which simply reinforce my central analysis that he has been strong on public relations, but weak on results.

Dr Tufton posits that Jamaica Moves is intended to encourage more people to engage in physical activity. The big questions are: How will success in this initiative be measured? What are the key performance indicators? If Jamaica Moves were a logical and well-thought-out programme rooted in producing results, then at a minimum there would be:

(a) a clear definition of physical activity;

(b) the approximate number of people who were involved in the defined physical activity as at the date the programme was launched on April 7, 2017;

(c) the targeted increase the ministry set for year one and each year thereafter; and

(d) the measurable outcomes in terms of reductions in the number of cases of noncommunicable diseases, which the ministry expects to result.

So, while Jamaica Moves is a good idea, if it is to move (pun intended) from being a public relations exercise to a programme rooted in the policy of curbing noncommunicable diseases it must rely on measurable outcomes to assess its usefulness. I would, therefore, recommend to the minister that, ahead of the third anniversary of the idea, the ministry identifies relevant baseline data against which it will measure outcomes for the short, medium, and long term.

In further defending his stewardship in his January 5 piece, Minister Tufton asserts that the Government “…is to spend more than $30 billion in the next five years on health centres and hospitals, including Cornwall Regional, Spanish Town, St Ann's Bay, and May Pen. Works have begun with financing already secured and an overseas consulting firm selected for design work”. This is another announcement, minister.

Finally, in his January 5 rebuttal, the minister claims credit for work done in relation to a cardiac centre at Bustamante Hospital for Children. He asserted that the cardiac centre is completed and in use. Without the benefit of all the facts one would be forgiven for concluding that this cardiac centre was the minister's work from start to finish. The fact is, however, that the work started during the Portia Simpson Miller Administration. On May 6, 2016, a mere two months after the Andrew Holness Administration came to power, The Gleaner carried a story titled 'More than two years later, paediatric cardiac centre at children's hospital still under construction'. In that story, Minister Tufton is reported to have told Parliament's Standing Finance Committee that the physical structure of the cardiac centre was 95 per cent completed and should be ready in a few months. While Dr Tufton may rightly be credited with completing the remaining five per cent of the structure and seeing to its outfitting, he had a duty to have taken care not to create the impression that this cardiac centre was solely his work.

I turn now to the primary issue for this fourth instalment the environment.

There is an endemic problem of nastiness which afflicts Jamaica for which no political administration has found a solution. The pervasive practice of throwing garbage in gullies and on the streets may be likened to an affliction. The efforts at stamping out this problem cannot be reactive and piecemeal, as seen in the recent “dengue clean-up”. The solution will be found only in sustained and systemic behaviour-formation strategies. This means making it a part of the curriculum.

In Japan, students are required to clean bathrooms, and reckless garbage disposal is anathema. So, I would cut the Government some slack on its failure to maintain cleanliness on the streets and reduce the pile-up of garbage in the gullies, some of which have grown trees. I would, however, urge that radical efforts be made to include comprehensive environmental management in the primary and secondary school curriculum.

In the area of domestic garbage collection, the Government's performance has been weak, as can be seen by the many instances in which garbage bins remain full for several days. One supervisor for certain sections of Southern Parks and Markets can attest to the many times I have had to call on behalf of my community. Despite new trucks, the collection remains sporadic and unreliable.

The threat posed to the city of Kingston by the construction of high-rise buildings is another serious environmental challenge. There has been recent reporting showing instances of developers not conforming to approved plans, and criteria set by the National Water Commission (NWC) being breached. But the largest problem, in my view, is the seeming unregulated and ad hoc nature of these developments in the face of which the prime minister's comment was, “Unnu no see nutten yet.” With that kind of attitude there is the risk of a ruination of even more parts of the city.

The final environmental issue I would like to address is mining in the Cockpit Country. The Government now claims that it has established a protected area of some 100 km. In my view, this is not enough. There should be no more mining in the Cockpit Country. How can it make sense to permanently destroy our water and food sources for a few years of mining? As one wise old man reportedly told my colleague, Michael Witter, “It makes no sense to sell your lunch to buy your dinner.” With the severe water shortages, which we are facing, and given global warming and the risk of higher temperatures, every effort should be made to protect the resources of the Cockpit Country.

I was born and raised in a small community named Wales, about 10 miles south-east of the town of Mandeville, Manchester. My father was the lessee of about 200 acres of land owned by Alpart. He signed this lease in the early 1960s. These lands were a mixture of hills and flat or gently cascading grasslands, and my father reared cattle and produced crops such as yams, sweet potatoes, cocoa, cassava, pumpkins, cabbage, corn, peas, pimento, etc. From the hills we obtained yam sticks, fence posts, lumber, firewood, herbs (used to make tonic), mulch (for the yam fields), medicines, guavas, rose apple, red apple, and various berries. The hills also offered protection from the sun and heavy wind. The area was cool, lush, fruitful, and beautiful.

Today, that area is known as New Wales. Alpart, having mined out the area, created a housing community and sold the land to workers of the plant and others. Today the area produces no food. There are only a few trees, and shrubs and grass struggle to survive. Sections of the area look like a desert. Where hills once existed is flat lands as the hills were demolished to fill up the craters, some up to 60-ft deep, which were left after the bauxite was removed. I recall feeling that nature was weeping, as those massive machines kept digging deeper and deeper into the soil.

So, with the land unable to sustain crops, and with hills removed, gone are herbs, fruits trees, firewood, and farming resources. Despite the large houses some people have built, the place is an eyesore in many parts. During the period of mining, many roofs in adjoining communities were damaged, water supply was compromised, and cases of respiratory illnesses increased.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck, and with the protection of the hills no longer in place, roofs were destabilised, but few owners knew the extent to which their roofs had been undermined. In 2007, when Hurricane Dean made landfall, hundreds of homes lost their roofs. As to the heat, that is another story. Sweaters have now been replaced with fans and air-conditioning units — in south Manchester!

Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning and senior lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of five books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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