The Government embarked on the official start of its Clean Jamaica Campaign at Dyke Road in Portmore, St Catherine, on Thursday, urging residents to work with the security forces to root out criminals.
The initiative was executed in response to a recent appeal from senior superintendent of police in charge of the St Catherine South Police Division Christopher Phillips for significant debushing to be done in the area as it is commonly used by criminals from the neighbouring Gregory Park community to elude law enforcers.
A shoot-out between gunmen and the security forces on Dyke Road last Thursday had resulted in the discovery of what police described as the headquarters of a deadly criminal gang in the heavily forested territory. One man was shot dead in the firefight and two of his cronies escaped in thick foliage.
The debushing is expected to last for a week and will cover the two-kilometre stretch from Ackee Village to the train line at Dyke Road.
Speaking at the launch, Member of Parliament for St Catherine East Central Alando Terrelonge pleaded with residents to ensure peace and safety in their communities.
"Continue to work with the Members of Parliament and the councillor, continue to work with the police; the Government can't do everything. It is only [by] acting on the intelligence that you provide that we are able to hunt down and find these criminals and get them out of the space," he said.
"Remember, if the criminals are in the space terrorising you, and the place is unsafe, NHT [National Housing Trust] nah go come, the gas man nah go come, the light man nah go come, the cable man nah go come, so it is in your best interest to help us. Not just to weed out the bush and the shrubbery, but to weed out the criminal elements in the community as well," he said.
Noting that the campaign is a big win for Gregory Park residents and others living in communities in the constituency, Terrelonge said talks have started with NHT about building low-income houses at the area being cleared, which includes informal communities known as Gulf and Mexico.
"It is very difficult to police a space like Gulf and Mexico because it is a labyrinth of zinc and bush, so, of course, proper development, proper housing conditions will also ensure that our children have the proper space to grow families and also for more business interest to come in this space," he said.
Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie said while Dyke Road needs urgent attention due to crime, work will be done in other areas soon.
"I am really disappointed that it took an issue involving death, mayhem, and the discovery of illegal weapons, and a hideout for criminals. This programme will go on, we will take it right across other parts of the country. We would want to focus today on the urgency to have this area clean," he said.
The work, he said, is being coordinated by the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) working closely with the Members of Parliament and the councillor for the area and is being supported by the security forces "because, as you know, this area has been under some pressure for many weeks now and I have been getting complaints from motorists, persons have been calling asking for something to be done".
Information Minister Robert Nesta Morgan said the effort was the first major project in the national clean-up campaign.
"We will be going across the island's various hot spots, whether it is a security issue, whether it is an overgrown issue, a mini dump issue. The NSWMA, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development will be working to clean these areas because we want a clean Jamaica for Jamaica 60," he said.
Head of the operations portfolio in the St Catherine South Police Division Michael Campbell agreed with Morgan, noting the campaign is a proactive approach to the crime problem.
"What is happening here now will provide us with an opportunity to have greater visibility policing the area more effectively, and we also encourage the citizens as best as possible to continue to work with the police to rid the communities of these kinds of persons who are giving the problems that we have been having in the Gregory Park space. It is a welcomed initiative," he said.
Last month, during a sitting of the House of Representatives, Minister of Finance and Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke announced that $2.7 billion of additional social intervention expenditure, including an allocation of $750 million for an Independence Clean-Up of Parish Capitals campaign.
Of the amount, he said $550 million would be allocated to the NSWMA and $189 million through Members of Parliament via the Constituency Development Fund.