A sore point?
Unfinished housing project could damage Jamaica/Venezuela relationsSunday, September 11, 2011
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
MEMBER of Parliament for South West St Catherine Everald Warmington has intimated that the relationship between the Jamaican and Venezuelan governments is "on the rocks" because of a neglected post-hurricane Ivan housing project.
Warmington charged Thursday that the failure to complete prefabricated housing units donated by that country in 2004 to assist with Hurricane Ivan reconstruction and relocation efforts was becoming a sore point between the nations.
"They gave those buildings to us and we allowed them to go to ruin and because of that, we have a serious problem with the Venezuelans," said the fuming parliamentarian during Thursday night's sitting of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament which was examining the First Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure 2011/12.
"They even refuse to have discussions with us because of the embarrassment. They went to the extent of giving Jamaica those houses for the poor people and both governments (PNP and JLP) allowed them to go to waste, and because of this the relationship is on the rocks," the Member of Parliament charged.
The MP was particularly concerned about a $76-million reduction in the original $176-million budget allocation for the Burkesfield "Hurricane Ivan scheme" which was where some of the 'prefab' houses were erected to accommodate dislocated Old Harbour Bay residents.
According to Warmington, it would take far more to restore the neglected units which have fallen into disrepair.
"This is a scheme that was started for the residents of Old Harbour Bay that were displaced by hurricane Ivan, the houses were donated by the Venezuelans, they were almost completed, and for seven years these houses have sat there unoccupied. They have been vandalised, all the roofs, windows, doors, bathroom and kitchen fixtures are gone, they are just shells," Warmington said, declaring that the destruction "started with the last administration and intensified after, so both administrations are guilty of neglect".
"I am concerned that at this time we are reducing the budgetary allocations for those poor individuals who were victimised before. I don't think we should victimise them again. I am moving that those poor people in Old Harbour Bay who are without shelter be considered more. Some of them 'kotch' all over the place, have nowhere to live, and I was very happy when I saw this year that we had some allocation, and at this time we choose to cut the allocation," Warmington contended.
The incensed MP, however, failed in his quest to have this allocation put back into the budget.
Water and Housing Minister Dr Horace Chang, attempting to address the MP's concerns, conceded that the completion of the scheme "has implications for our relationship with Venezuela, which is a very important international partner in the PetroCaribe Fund." He, however, said the project in Old Harbour Bay will be completed.
"We are ensuring that the houses are completed to be occupied," said Chang, noting that the $76-million shortfall will be made up through the National Water Commission's programme for the wastewater collection system for that area.
The Venezuelan Government shipped the 100 prefabricated units to the island to assist in the construction of 590 houses for families in the low-lying areas of Portland Cottage and Rocky Point in Clarendon, Old Harbour in St Catherine and Brighton/Salmon Point/Little Bay in Westmoreland, which were severely impacted by strong winds, storm surges and flooding during the hurricane in September 2004.
At the time it was expected that a total 250 families in Portland Cottage would be relocated to the Tulloch property in Harmony Hall while 169 families would be relocated from Rocky Point to lands at Salt Savannah, and some 129 families in Old Harbour would be relocated to Burkesfield, St Catherine. Construction was expected to begin that December with completion in eight months.
Racar Ingenieros of Venezuela, a construction company and a fabricator of pre-fab concrete housing units, were to provide the units which would be put together in Jamaica with the 270 sq ft studio units estimated to cost in the region of US$39.00 per square foot.
Warmington, in his contribution to the 2008 sectoral debate in Parliament said they would be built under an existing agreement that allowed the Jamaican government to access a revolving line of credit being offered by a Venezuelan bank, up to August 15, 2008.
The loan was being offered at seven per cent per annum for seven years, after which the government would have been able to access additional funding.