Editorial | Floods, economics and competence
Like our rutted and potholed roads, last weekend's floods in sections of the parishes of St Ann and St Mary are, in large part, indices of Jamaica's poverty - the inevitable results of bad economic policies that have delivered little growth. The upshot is that the country has been unable, to the extent required, to invest in the maintenance or expansion of physical infrastructure.
So, many roads, bridges, and drains are run down to the point of collapsing. Or, even if they are not, many of them are inadequate for current population densities and changed environmental conditions. The good thing is that there has been a turn towards fiscal discipline by Jamaican governments in recent years. Hopefully, this, increasingly, will free resources for investment in infrastructure, even as the Government, as we hope it will, pursues public-private partnerships for such ventures.
However, the northshore debacle, as was the case with the September flood on Kingston's Marcus Garvey Drive and surrounding communities, was not only about the country's inability to rebuild its infrastructure, or to even undertake fundamental upkeep. It has to do, also, with the failure of routine maintenance - not because it cannot be afforded and wasn't paid for; rather because it is usually poorly done, with little oversight and without anyone being held to account.
In other words, it is another example of that monumental area of failure of Jamaican governance - of the inability of the authorities to get the little things right.
Three months ago, when the flood waters carried away vehicles, inundated homes, and marooned communities in the lower Kingston and St Andrew area around Marcus Garvey Drive, among the main culprits were gullies that dump water into sea, having drained the plain - much of it now concreted over - further to the east. But for significant stretches of some of these drains, well-grassed islands, some with large fruited trees, the result of the accumulation of silt, have developed on their concrete floors. One example is the Sandy Gully, along Washington Boulevard in Kingston, between the communities of Pembroke Hall and Patrick City. The islands restrict water flow through the gullies, a problem exacerbated by the dumping of garbage, especially PET bottles and styrofoam containers, in the waterways.
No one, it appears, notices these things, or, much more, does anything about them. Everyone eschews responsibility - the central government; its solid waste agency; the municipal corporations. Or, they are incapable of coordinating their efforts to get anything done. Or, incredibly, claim that the fixes to these simple problems are unaffordable.
Not surprising are the reports that a major contributor to the flooding in Runaway Bay, St Ann, and other areas badly affected by the weekend rains, were blocked drains. This annual travesty calls into question not only the competence of the municipal authorities and the National Solid Waste Management Authority and the National Works Agency, but what value taxpayers get for monies spent on their behalf such as the J$600 million allocated for the recent pre-election, clean-up jobs project.
In the face of what has now happened, there needs to be forensic accounting of that expenditure and the proposed spending from the Constituency Development Fund on what, we hope, won't be another contrived jobs project for the Christmas season. It is past time that taxpayers get value for such expenditures.