OWNERS and operators of businesses in downtown Kingston are said to be preparing to take the Government to court over the general lack of order that exists in the capital city's bustling commercial hub and which, some insist, is a violation of their economic property rights.
At the same time, they are repeating an appeal to the Administration to stop paying lip service to the decades-old idea of downtown redevelopment and revitalisation, saying that unless there is genuine commitment to the creation of an organised and welcoming city centre, with thriving reinvestment, successive governments will continue to fail Jamaica.
“We are taking legal advice on the possibility of filing a class action suit against the Government,” one business operator, who asked that his name be withheld at this time, told the Jamaica Observer.
One of the issues that has created great discontent among the business operators is the haphazard nature of street vending that has created access challenges to their stores, both to customers and supply delivery vehicles — problems that they acknowledge will worsen in coming weeks as the country enters the busy Christmas shopping season.
“The issue now is the lack of law and order, and the lack of trying to get anything done. We are not against street vending because we know that people have to make a living, but the entire thing is disorganised and dysfunctional,” the business operator said.
“We don't want a catastrophe, we don't want a fire, we don't want a building collapse and the essential services can't get in because all the roads are blocked. That's just one of the issues,” he said. “The fact of the matter is just the lawlessness.”
According to the business operator, he and his colleagues, including the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), have been trying, without success, to meet with the mayor, Councillor Delroy Williams, for the past two years to discuss the problems.
“I think that this hands-off attitude, this lack of engagement, this lack of partnership that is dealing with the redevelopment of downtown Kingston, we have to get to the bottom of it,” another business owner told the newspaper.
“It is an absolute disgrace that in 2021 Heywood Street stay the way it is,” he said in reference to the chaos that exists on that street and which poses safety risks to vendors, shoppers, pedestrians, and motorists.
“We need action, we need a conversation to start. We just need to get him [the mayor] in the conversation room. We're not saying that our ideas are all correct, but we need to start a conversation because it's not fair that people have businesses and have trouble accessing them,” he said.
“Let's start with some ideas. What we do know is that people can't just come set up shop on the roadside and emergency vehicles can't go in,” he added.
Repeated calls over the past week by the Observer to the mayor's phone for a response have not yielded fruit. The calls all went to voicemail.
In September this year the JCC had expressed “deep disappointment” but said it was not surprised at the frustration expressed by one if its members that investors had pulled out of a billion-dollar project in downtown Kingston.
“The JCC has repeatedly advised members of the Government, both privately and publicly, of the dysfunctions that exist with respect to downtown Kingston and the absence of any practical and coordinated plan to support the lip service paid to the idea of downtown redevelopment and revitalisation by Government leaders,” the chamber said in a news release.
It described as mind-boggling the myriad agencies and departments that have 'ownership' of the responsibility for issues relating to downtown Kingston.
“There is, among others, the KSAMC (Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation), the Urban Development Corporation, the Ministry of Local Government, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Ministry of Growth and Development, and now the one-year-old Ministry of Urban Renewal,” the chamber said.
“Of the rest, we can say many appear to prioritise 'guarding their turf', oftentimes pulling in different directions, or just actively ignoring any effort from stakeholders or, more dishearteningly, from their own counterparts,” the chamber said.
“The JCC, our individual members, and wider investors have demonstrated, time and again, willingness to do their part but see little or no cooperative effort from this alphabet soup of State leadership with responsibility for our urban centres.
“To possess all the elements for success and spurn them is akin to a sin. However, to spend taxpayers' money with little possibility of solving the issue, while effectively preventing others from pursuing a solution, is unconscionable,” the JCC said.
The chamber reiterated its call for the establishment of “a single joint leadership group with cross-cutting authority in order to get serious about this work, which remains impatient of our inability to organise and execute”.
Added the JCC: “We commend this call to the prime minister, as the band leader, and ask that he consider how history will judge this Administration if, after decades of false starts and failures, they are the one to finally get this right.”