MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Yesterday's monthly meeting of the Manchester Municipal Corporation was marked by anger and unease over the prolonged closure of Melrose Yam Park.
The facility was ordered closed by the health department on August 16, 2021 due to breaches, but yesterday Mandeville Mayor Donovan Mitchell and Councillor Mario Mitchell (Bellefield Division, People's National Party) expressed disappointment that the facility remained closed despite the correction of breaches.
“Every time that there is an inspection done we shift the goalpost, and so no matter how best we are working or trying to do what we are doing, the goalpost moves, and once [that happens] we can't achieve the goal that we are going at,” said Mayor Mitchell (PNP, Royal Flat Division).
Mitchell said 95 per cent of the work at the facility was completed and insisted that minor work should be completed by this weekend.
He appealed to the health department to be “more considerate” of the vendors who have been out of a job for almost three months.
He said discussions were also ongoing for the rebranding of the yam park by J Wray & Nephew.
“... If you ask these [vendors] to stick to just their roast yam, we would not have any problems… We have 10 shops at the front. These are 10 families that are suffering from August 16 under this pandemic. I know the health of the nation is [important], but we have to be a little bit more considerate as it relates to these people. They have their children going to school. They have a whole lot of other things and the little money that they make sometimes can hardly [maintain] these families,” he said.
“… People are suffering… It is coming to the festive season. We have to be a little bit more considerate and have some human in us,” he added.
When the Jamaica Observer toured the yam park with the mayor and officers of the municipality on Wednesday, a public health inspector said work had to be done to the fireplaces in the 10 stalls where vendors prepare roast yam.
But the mayor contended that no work needed to be done to the fireplaces and pointed out that the issue was not included in the initial recommendations from the health department.
Councillor Mario Mitchell, meanwhile, said it is “impractical” for the vendors to remain deprived of their livelihoods.
“The majority live in my division and I get the calls. These are not rich people… It has been from August and these minor things need to be done, and it cannot be that people who are Government workers, who no matter what is happening — whether the country collect the taxes — get their pay and these vendors have families to look after and they have been out of a source of income for months,” he said.
“It is impractical for us to sit here another month. I am not going to accept it,” he added.
Chief public health inspector for Manchester Charmaine Palmer-Cross, however, insisted that the outstanding work to elevate health standards must be completed before reopening.
“There are some areas that we are still holding you accountable for before we can actually give the go ahead for reopening,” she told the municipal corporation.
“The truth about it, we really try to work closely with the municipal corporation even though there are times where it may not seem [so],” she said.
“We have a responsibility to the people of this country to ensure that safe food is provided in a safe manner to them,” she added.
Mayor Mitchell became furious when asked by minority leader Councillor Cleon Francis (Jamaica Labour Party, Knockpatrick Division) why the matter wasn't dealt with privately in a meeting with the health department.
“This is the people's business. Have you read the reports that have gone into the media?” he asked.
The mayor appeared to suggest that there were ulterior motives for the health department's refusal to permit reopening of the yam park.
“…When the officers from the Manchester Health Department make their silly, frivolous and vexatious comments, that is why we are where we are today, because we didn't give them permission to have a parking lot over by the Road and Works Department,” said Mitchell.
The Road and Works Department is located near the Manchester Comprehensive Clinic in Mandeville.
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