The scramble for Montego Bay's waterfront

The scramble for Montego Bay's waterfront

O Dave

Thursday, March 29, 2018

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When the Jamaican Government reclaimed the Montego Bay waterfront during the late 1960s and the early 1970s it was believed that this development would be to the benefit of all Montegonians. The Government spent billions of dollars to expand the city and, in the process, dislocated the waterfront districts of Brick Hill, Meagre Bay, North and Railway lanes. This development destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of stevedores and fisherfolk, demolished the spawning ground of the grouper and yellow tail, along with the destruction of the coral reefs. But, to our shame and embarrassment, the waterfront is today the hunting ground of alien ambitions, scrambling over the last remaining frontier of Montego Bay by a little clique of carpetbaggers and scallywags of dubious origins.

Today, Montegonians have been displaced by an avaricious cabal. Already the lease on Aqua Sol has been terminated and the Jamaica Railway Corporation is seeking to repossess the property on which the People's Arcade is built, allegedly without compensation to the 400 shop owners who were asked by the then St James Parish Council to invest in that development. In addition, the Jamaica Railway Corporation is also in the process of displacing 168 residents of New Ramble to make way to accommodate the installation of the railway system to facilitate the Appleton Tour. It is also rumoured that the Harbour Street Craft Market, with some 300 vendors, is to be removed to make way for a multi-storey parking facility to accommodate the proposed 20-storey, high-rise apartment complex on the waterfront, while others are eyeing the fishermen's complex for development into a “Little Ochi” — which would be in breach of the commitment given to the fisherfolk to own and control that beach front property in perpetuity.

During the initial period of the P J Patterson Administration, the slogan was “Black man time!” This was not empty rhetoric, but a conscious effort to alter inherited iniquities of a post-colonial Jamaica in which the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect, according to Franz Fanon, “You are rich because you are white; you are white because you are rich.” That irritating gap between the haves and the have-nots had to be addressed in a fundamental way, so State banks like Workers' Bank and National Commercial Bank were privatised where black men were in management and control. There was Century National Bank, that had as its major shareholder another black man, while sugar lands that were owned by the State were now black-owned and controlled.

This shift in the short-lived economic architecture would have fulfilled the dreams of O T Fairclough — one of the founders of the nationalist movement and a black Jamaican who had managed a bank in Haiti and returned to his homeland to find the only job he was offered was that of a porter.

Patterson took on that mission to transform the Jamaican society through the transfer of lands and capital as a means of empowering the black man, but someone colt the game. The Financial Sector Adjustment Company (Finsac) came and the rest is history: “. ..the tigers came at night, with their voice as soft as thunder, as they tear your hopes apart, as they turn your dreams to shame.

A well-positioned member of the Montego Bay ruling class posited that areas like Flanker and other coastal communities should be rezoned for townhouses and apartment complexes to stratify the demands of the upscale housing market while the working class should be relocated to Queen of Spain Valley. Hence, the announced new town in the Adelphi area and the peri-urban road from Hague to Westgate that would facilitate rapid transit of the working class to a sanitised, urban Montego Bay. Yes, Montego Bay is a global brand well-positioned for propulsive economic take-off had it not been for these menacing gunmen and shantytowns that need to be properly managed and mainstreamed.

Despite the vaunted growth in the gross domestic product during the 1960s, it was the struggle for land that gave rise to the Coral Gardens Uprising of 1963. The Rastafarian farmer Benjamin “Rudolph” Franklyn was shot and killed by the police on that mournful Holy Thursday of April 11 over the unsettled issue of land tenure on the Rose Hall property.

Today the wholesale and retail businesses along Barnett and St James streets are owned and controlled by Asians with some loud-mouthed, underpaid workers pushing Brazilian hair, bleaching creams, plastic nails, and knock-off colognes from wire mesh barricades in the urban centre of Montego Bay, all while our micro and small businesses and transport operators are in a desperate bid to survive and find a window of opportunity to overcome systemic barriers brought on by the vagaries of the neo-liberal economic system and its lateral integration.

Jamaica has one of the highest income inequalities in the world. Of the 141 ranked countries only 35 have a greater income inequality than Jamaica. Speaking at his People's National Party's National Executive Council meeting in January of this year, Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips made the point that the problem of the unequal distribution of land, which has existed from 1838 until now (180 years), has been at the heart of much of the social and economic inequalities in the country.

At the managerial level in the tourist industry there is the glaring evidence of inequity and discrimination not dissimilar to the hierarchical structure of the plantation system we thought we had left behind, wherein top management posts are occupied mainly by foreign, white males as we build a nascent apartheid enclave.

If we are truly sincere in addressing the perennial issue of crime and violence, then there must be fundamental alterations to the economic architecture on which the city is structured. For, in the final analysis, the boys on the gully banks are demanding a piece of the action and they are prepared to take it by whatever means necessary.

While we can now enjoy this moment of peace because of the public state of emergency (enhanced security measures), we need to use this respite to assess the underlying cause of this endemic crime and violence that have beset Jamaica, and we must develop strategies to transform the Montego Bay community and, indeed, western Jamaica.

Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Let us start the discourse to dismantle the iniquitous economic architecture that has strangled economic growth and boosted class antagonism and start the process by which we create the road map for the building of a Jamaica for all.

Don't take my word for it, let us hear from academia. According to the economist Gary S Becker (1968): “…income inequality makes it difficult for the poor to survive and, on a wider scale, it lowers the economic growth. When income inequalities are high, crime is equally high — as it is a major determinant of crime. When the poor feel inferior to the rich it causes serious social tensions, hence decreasing the opportunity cost of crime. Consequently, as the income distribution gets more unequal, the gap between the benefits and costs of crime widens and thus the incentive for crime becomes higher.”

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