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Editorial | Try ESET-style approach to inner-city renewal

Published:Monday | May 23, 2016 | 5:00 AM

West Kingston is a blighted urban slum. Thousands of its residents live in squalor, or circumstances close thereto.

An obvious but unstated subtext to the recent tour of the constituency by Horace Chang, and the parliamentary representative, is that the community is, by and large, in the state it's in because of deliberate political neglect. It mostly votes for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which has only enjoyed short stints in government in recent decades.

"The last development done in West Kingston was undertaken by Edward Seaga (the former West Kingston MP, who last served as prime minister 27 years ago)," Mr McKenzie said. "So, it tells you how far back those developments go."

It may be true, as Mr McKenzie implied, that West Kingston and its perceived heart and centre of JLP influence, Tivoli Gardens, are especially burdened by their politics and reputation for criminality and violence. But many other communities across Jamaica can claim similar neglect.

Fixing Jamaica's urban decay, part of the solution cited by Mr McKenzie, will be especially challenging. First, there is the scale of the problem. Then there is limited government resources with which to attack urban blight, given the historic underperformance of the island's economy. Overlaying all these is the politics of garrisons, into which many of these communities have been corralled: zones where a single political persuasion is allowed to adhere and others excluded.

While some past efforts at urban renewal may have collided with, and undermined by, these characteristics of inner-city Jamaica, this newspaper believes that recent successes elsewhere in the economy have provided a model that can be usefully employed in addressing this issue. We refer to the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), which polices Jamaica's compliance with its economic support agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET), that have driven policies and projects in the energy sector.

 

GAME CHANGERS

 

Both groups have proven themselves to be game changers, largely because they are made up of thoughtful, independent, private-sector people, technically skilled professionals, competent bureaucrats, as well as, in the case of ESET, individuals with political heft. So, not only have they initiated technically sound projects, but they have been able to get them done. And in the case of EPOC especially, it brought a new transparency to the operations of government. The public is aware what is to be done and the potential pitfalls that confront the effort.

A similar oversight approach, we feel, can be applied to inner-city renewal: a public-private-sector body that works with the Government and its agencies in identifying priority communities for redevelopment, while monitoring necessary regulatory approvals and resource allocation to projects. Like ESET and EPOC, this body would report periodically on its work, including on roadblocks or other constraints to ongoing programmes.

The real gain, we believe, would be the removal of partisan political considerations, or the perception thereof, from redevelopment projects, thereby facilitating broader partnerships - economic and social - to the schemes being proposed and/or undertaken. Taxpayers would likely also get value for their money.