Andre Wright | Samuda's land grabbers
Jamaica should endow Karl Samuda with a national honour for his intervention in the struggle for control over property at 85 Red Hills Road. For he has unwittingly reminded us of how our political and governance structure has been contorted into a clientelistic fiefdom in which members of parliament and ministers of government trade places and switch hats for expedience.
Samuda, the MP for St Andrew North Central, where the disputed property is located, is also the minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, and has parachuted himself into the row after constituents cussed out his backside for not coming to their rescue. He reported that the Government would be seeking an injunction to bar the eviction of the squatters and would use state funds to buy the land from the owner.
"Any judge who declares that a person who claims to own the land, whether it is so or not, has the right to evict the people is not to be tolerated," said Samuda in footage aired on TVJ Thursday night.
That a Cabinet minister could issue that kind of threat to the judiciary, in whom the population has greater confidence than in politicians, must be condemned by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. If not, it stands as further proof of his administration's appetite for judicial interference and trespass which Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has been trying to walk back in recent weeks.
To hot-headedly say that a judge's possible ruling to have squatters evicted should "not be tolerated" is inflammatory language unbecoming of a member of parliament and, worse, a government minister. And how far does Minister Samuda and his Government intend to press this intolerance for judicial decisions? To higher courts? To seek to interfere with judicial independence and tinker with the Judicial Services Commission and have the judge sanctioned? Or to find more persuasive ways to send a message to the judge?
Tone-deaf Samuda also fails to recognise the dissonance between his permissiveness of land capture and his ministerial purview of encouraging industry and commerce.
He said, "I don't want anybody to leave here believing that because this is the way we are going to proceed, that every Tom, Dick and Harry can now come and grab a corner."
Samuda then takes a swipe at the supposed landowner in a bid to justify his intervention.
"I hope it (my action) will set a good example that you cannot use time to force people and bypass an act of Parliament in order to build expensive projects," Samuda added.
The temerity of this landowner to use commercial property and develop a plaza, facilitating business growth and jobs! Him renk! What does he take the Holness Government for? Pro-business and pro-growth?
Samuda's scandalous remarks reveal how national interests can be taken hostage by political representatives who are beholden to their constituents. Had Karl Samuda been in Opposition, he would not have boldly declared that the Government would be seeking to acquire the property.
But his imprudent, impudent and hostile posturing to the putative landowner and to the Jamaican electorate displays how the Holness administration can, willy-nilly, take taxpayers' money to strengthen a political enclave for narrow party interests.
This is about votes - plain and simple. The property at 85 Red Hills Road is an informal web of families who are likely to be reminded of their expected continued loyalty to the patron saint of political benevolence. Samuda could well accommodate them on his farmland in Knollis, Bog Walk, but hell, they can't vote for him out there.
And that is one of the cogent reasons why members of parliament should not have control of government coffers through Cabinet influence. Our politicians are bipolar and have a history of sacrificing the national good to feather the party's nest. They have consistently channelled state funds and sought to co-opt state power to establish near impregnable roosts.
That is why they circle the wagons and lobby hard for the retention of the Constituency Development Fund - and want that amount, now standing at $20 million, to be increased. That's why they enjoy the power of selecting farm workers for contract jobs in North America. That's why they drool over the power to dole out funds for mosquito-control mitigation efforts in communities. MPs would rather blame and circumvent, than fix, the bureaucracy that is sometimes slow to act but which represents the most transparent conduit of state benefits.
Karl Samuda is not a unique politician. He represents standard political reflexivity to chat crap about poor people suffering and the need to step in to save them from rapacious private-sector interests. He sings the same Sankey as Portia Simpson Miller ("bowels of the working class", "I love the poor", blah, blah, blah) and Andrew Holness ("we will eliminate poverty", blah, blah, blah).
But if our veteran MPs were really so concerned about the plight of the poor, if they were really alarmed about the living conditions of 85 Red Hills Road, and Spanish Town's inner cities, Mona Commons, Cassava Piece, Mannings Hill Road's Big Yard, Ackee Walk, downtown Kingston, and right across the countryside, they would have passed legislation, at IMF speed, to address land reform in Jamaica. They would disincentivise the hoarding of land by proprietors who have no intention to develop vast acreages and who are not sufficiently prodded by special taxation against idle assets. They would target landowners whose lawyers are able to work around years of unpaid property tax.
Jamaica cannot achieve Michael Lee-Chin's grandiose dreams of five per cent economic growth without the Holness administration reversing 40 years of a descent into lawlessness and an absence of public order. Land reform and urban redevelopment are crucial parts of the growth engine.
The pitchy-patchy mushrooming of communities represents a major indictment on all parliamentary representatives, as no single factor has been more detrimental to the erosion of public order and community development. These dens of zinc fences and coarse living have served as recruitment centres for political thugs who have corralled votes for both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party while doubling as factories churning out youths vulnerable to gang conscription to fight bloody wars for turf, extortion and gunrunning.
Where is waiting-in-the-wings Mark Golding's plan for commercial and residential realignment for the wastelands and dust bowls of Trench Town and the contiguous communities off Collie Smith Drive? And over his two decades of political representation in West Kingston as MP and councillor, where is Desmond McKenzie's redevelopment plan for the shanty towns that are crime dens?
And what of commercial redevelopment in Lower Maxfield by Omar Davies, a 23-year heavyweight for South St Andrew; and commercial and residential revival for stretches of Spanish Town Road and its offshoots by Portia Simpson Miller, a 40-year grande dame of South West St Andrew?
And what of the Mona Commons eyesore in front of the University Hospital of the West Indies? Has Fayval Williams published her blueprint for transformation for that much-talked-about maze?
Where is the big plan? Where is the strategy? Where is the legislation to incentivise investment in these areas and the law and order muscle to sustain it?
WILL NEVER CHANGE
These politicians will, despite some genuine attempts for improvement in their constituencies, never spearhead a paradigm shift in the economic and social landscape mainly because they are too busy doing everything else. Portia has spent the last 10 years fighting for party and national leadership and running the country. Omar Davies and Peter Phillips have worked in the most stressful and hateful jobs - both as finance ministers and Phillips as national security minister. Karl Samuda has been hopscotching parties or holding down ministerial posts for more than 20 years. Fayval Williams is too busy outing fires as junior finance minister. How much time does Floyd Green have for South West St Elizabeth?
These and many other MPs will never have the time to manage and transform their constituencies. But they will, perhaps, never change that reality because of the allure of being called 'Minister'. Our MPs don't have a clue about their core job - which is to pass studied legislation for the betterment of the Jamaican people and to be community organiser, development lobbyist and change agent in their constituencies. But they have dumbed down their role as funeral attenders, 'bollo work' distributors and pork carvers.
Any free land for me, Karl?
- Andre Wright is opinion editor of The Gleaner.
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