Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Remembering Hope Country Club

Published:Friday | November 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Easton Douglas - as full of it now as he was in the '90s. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Towards the end of 1999, I had a public run-in with then minister of housing, Easton Douglas. He announced his scheme to build a housing complex - the 172-unit Hope Country Club - in partnership with a private developer, on the Hope Gardens compound, next to the zoo. Public lands (including the bandstand) used for recreation - largely by the poor - were to be converted into upper middle-class residences.

For four weeks running, I used this column to challenge the travesty the honourable gentleman proposed and, when he eventually replied in the press, instead of sticking to the issues, and blowing away my arguments with logic, he did not miss the opportunity to be abusive.

He called my commentary "malicious, specious and riddled with conjecture - misleading information and half-truths". I had allowed "reason and intelligence to be replaced by tittering vacuity". My column was "political propaganda", and "spurious commentary". I was "pursuing a malicious and myopic agenda". Even then he was full of arrogant bombast!

The land was zoned as 'public open space', and Minister Douglas, who had made so much noise about persons violating zoning regulations, was about to breach them himself. When asked about that, he replied to the effect that he was the one in charge of making zoning regulations, and he would simply change them! Talk about conflict of interest!

Hope Gardens out of bounds

In 1991, as minister of health, the honourable gentleman tried to obtain a piece of Hope Gardens to use as a School of Nursing. P.J. Patterson, then minister of finance, development and planning, wrote him a letter dated October 1, 1991 telling him that Hope Gardens was out of bounds. And I quote: "The area is zoned for recreational use. Concern has been repeatedly expressed about the infiltration of non-recreational uses in the Hope Gardens Estate. Consequently, the decision was taken that there should be no further subdivision of the area, particularly those lands adjacent to the gardens, and its recreational zoning must be maintained ... . The Hope Gardens is the only organised-passive recreational area in Kingston to which the public has access. It is, indeed, a national asset which should be preserved."

In 1999, Patterson was prime minister, and when Douglas had taken the Hope Country Club Scheme to Cabinet, he had identified the location not as Hope Gardens but as "Hope Estate", the designation on the plantation-era title.

The matter ended when Prime Minister Patterson fired Douglas as minister, accusing him of misleading the Cabinet, and his parliamentary career soon came to an end. Douglas thereafter joined the Portia camp and has remained a strong supporter and loyalist. During her first term of office as prime minister, Douglas was her chief-of-staff at Jamaica House.

I have not heard a word out of former PM Patterson on the Outameni issue!

PNP Popularity Plunges

If a Gleaner-Bill Johnson political poll were conducted now, I wonder what the results would look like? The last published poll - that snapshot was taken just before the mishandling of the chikungunya epidemic by the Cabinet of Jamaica and the minister of health - was not favourable to the Government and the People's National Party (PNP). The poll showed that almost 40 per cent of the persons who voted for the PNP in the 2011 general election had jumped ship and would not vote for them if an election were called. A further 14 per cent of persons who ensured Simpson Miller's victory were undecided if they would vote PNP, while 10 per cent said they would probably switch their vote to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The vast majority of Jamaicans polled in 2014 felt the PNP Government was headed in the wrong direction.

I would guess that after the chik-V fiasco - which rained on PNP and JLP alike - even more PNP voters have jumped ship. The National Housing Trust-Outameni earthquake has produced cracks in the party walls among strong stalwarts. The party chairman said he was not worried, as "ordinary Jamaicans" don't care about the Outameni issue; only an "articulate minority" are sounding off. How condescending!

Let us see how the by-election in Central Westmoreland turns out. PM Simpson Miller has declared the constituency to be "PNP country". Is she taking them for granted, suggesting that they no longer think, and weigh the issues?

In 2011, Roger Clarke won by 11,567 (57 per cent) to 8,525 ballots (42 per cent), a margin of 3,042. The electoral history of that constituency suggests the PNP candidate should romp home. But should they lose - or should the victory margin be small (many PNP voters might stay home) - maybe Chairman Pickersgill might begin to appreciate what "ordinary Jamaicans" think about.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural-development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.