The integrity of building codes and standards must be non-negotiable
CHUCK... it is frightening, absolutely frightening

For those who may have missed it, parliamentarians reviewing an Integrity Commission report this week highlighted seemingly blatant irregularities in the approval and post-permit monitoring by State agencies of a residential development at 11 Charlemont Drive in Kingston.

Justice Minister Mr Delroy Chuck, who chairs Parliament's Integrity Commission's Oversight Committee, reportedly expressed alarm at allegations that the development was done contrary to permits issued by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and the Building Act.

Reports say permits were granted for 12 one-bedroom units. Instead, six two-bedroom and six three-bedroom units were built.

Said Mr Chuck: "Having read this report... to have an officer [KSAMC] say that he inspected the property twice and on both occasions it was in compliance with the approval; it is frightening, absolutely frightening..."

And, as pointed out by Mr Chuck: "What is more, NEPA personnel pointed out to their superiors that things were amiss and nothing was done."

Jamaicans can relate to Opposition committee member Mr Julian Robinson's contention that the breaches reported by the Integrity Commission "are the norm, not the exception".

Apparent evidence of such behaviour is all around us. We see it in housing development approvals in flood-prone areas, in building approvals for new retail outlets — seemingly without thought to parking arrangements — in already congested town centres, and so forth.

Hopefully, the probe now ongoing in Parliament — with recommendations for the alleged breaches to be referred to the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee — will eventually lead to strong action against wrongdoers.

Yet, as we all know, such issues are not big on the agenda for many Jamaicans. For many people, breaches such as have been discussed here are just cases of people "hustling" for a living.

It's not accidental that in opinion polls, corruption in high places is usually low among concerns for Jamaicans.

However, it seems to us that this week's 5.6-magnitude earthquake, which caused widespread panic, provides an indicator of what's possible if corruption undermine our building codes and regulations.

Let's consider the fact that the earthquake which devastated neighbours Haiti in 2010, killing hundreds of thousands according to Haitian Government estimates, and displacing hundreds of thousands more, was a magnitude 7.0.

That's many times stronger than that which scared the daylights out of Jamaicans on Monday. In other words, a quake of that size would very possibly cause death and destruction, unprecedented in modern Jamaica — even if, as is suspected, building practices and standards here are superior to many other places.

Nor should Jamaicans discount that possibility. The experts tell us that, like Haiti and other countries in this geographic region, Jamaica sits on an earthquake fault.

Further, in 1907 a powerful earthquake devastated Kingston — claiming more than 1,000 lives. And in 1692 Port Royal, then an important outpost in the British empire, was destroyed by a massive quake — much of the land swallowed up by the sea.

The message is clear: we must not allow unscrupulous 'ginnals' — interested only in profit and easy money — to mess with our building regulations and standards.

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