Regional

Former MP blasts J'can governments

‘Until you can solve water problem, stop calling St Elizabeth the bread basket parish’, he says

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 03, 2014    

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LITITZ, St Elizabeth — Len Blake says he is sick, weary and tired of hearing from government officials that St Elizabeth is the "breadbasket parish" of Jamaica.

"I wish they would stop saying it until they put water through the communities of south St Elizabeth," said Blake, who served as member of parliament for South East St Elizabeth 2002-2007.

Blake lays the blame for the chronic water problems in southern St Elizabeth squarely at the feet of successive governments and the water company, National Water Commission (NWC). He insists that, contrary to popular opinion, political representatives from both sides have done all they could have done to improve the situation.

"All MPs would have tried. You have to consider it would have been a major plus for any MP to get water coming through. It is Government that must take the responsibility in terms of its priorities," he said.

Blake, a businessman and farmer, who was speaking to the Jamaica Observer at his base in Lititz close to the South Manchester border, recalled that back in the 1950s, then MP the late BB Coke initiated a piped water project from New Forest up the hill to Junction.

Population growth, largely fuelled by the booming bauxite/alumina industry, and the theft of water by farmers on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains led to a situation where taps are now running dry in areas such as Junction and Bull Savannah.

Blake recalled that even after the pipeline was shifted "along the main road from Duff House to Bull Savannah and (placed) some six, seven feet down... people still find a way to tap into the pipes and remove water to various farms".

Nonetheless, Blake insists that the NWC has a responsibility to "manage" such problems and to ensure that domestic water reaches its customers.

Most residents in SE St Elizabeth were able and very willing to pay for water, Blake argued. To him, it "makes no sense" for such people to be paying for expensive trucked water, costing many times more than NWC water.

"I believe the NWC should manage the system better, and I make no apology for saying that. Because if you are to manage, you must manage, you can't be pumping water that is costing you millions of dollars per month to pay JPS electricity bill and you just casually manage it...," said Blake.

He argued that Government's tardiness had resulted in the Essex Valley Water System, first launched in 2001, taking far too long to be completed.

Further, Blake believes, there is a strong case for public/private sector partnership, based on the quantity of water being generated by a private well at Cheapside, just below Junction.

"The only day that they don't load water (at the Cheapside private well) is a Saturday because the owner is a Seventh-day Adventist ...there are hundreds of trucks loading water there. The only concern I have is that it is a private well, it is not treated water, so if you going to drink it you must boil it ...But if this private man could put this well up and have it functioning for so long, I believe NWC should speak to him and get a proper water system from that well...," said Blake.

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