Editorial | Norman Grant’s complacency
The idea that the marquee event, The Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show, could be scuttled because of unsanitary conditions borders on the unthinkable. It would be a national embarrassment to postpone an Independence flagship event that aims to showcase the resilience, creativity and sustainability of the agricultural sector. It's a family show that attracts thousands of Jamaicans and visitors over a three-day period.
But there is really no great surprise here, because decades of neglect have placed many of the country's well-established institutions under strain and have rendered much of our infrastructure unreliable.
The concerns that have placed Denbigh in the spotlight include public-health breaches such as failing to destroy mosquito-breeding sites, improper storage of food, lack of working sanitary facilities, food handlers who have no permits, and indiscriminate disposal of garbage. In this, Denbigh mirrors the wider society where all the above and more are nuisances faced by citizens daily.
Someone needs to puncture Norman Grant's complacency, for he was reported in this newspaper as paying scant regard to the seriousness of the challenges the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) faces if it becomes unable to fix these breaches, merely six weeks before the show.
Again, the attitude of the JAS president, who is a long-standing senator, mirrors the general apathy observed among leaders who continue to ignore the critical demands for infrastructure maintenance and repairs, to the detriment of the country's development and the people's well-being.
In every forum where infrastructure needs are discussed, it usually boils down to the same excuse: lack of funding. In the end, the same prescription is applied, with maintenance being deferred and repairs being delayed. We saw how deferred maintenance crippled services at the Cornwall Regional Hospital earlier this year. The decision to ignore problems with the air-conditioning system going back decades gave a black eye to one of the country's foremost health institutions and caused major inconvenience in the lives of patients and staff at the hospital.
Complaints about decaying infrastructure come to the fore with alarming regularity. Ageing police stations, courthouses, fire stations and hospitals, together with crater-filled potholes, creaking bridges, random garbage disposal and clogged-up gullies, have not been properly confronted by any government.
The sweeping scale of the problems comes into sharp focus when citizens' simmering distress boils over and they take to the streets to protest broken mains, lack of water, collapses, or when transportation is disrupted because of poor roads. It is also a matter of discussion in the aftermath of disasters.
Take water-catchment facilities and water infrastructure, as an example. These facilities appear to be near the end of their useful life, which explains why the National Water Commission is in a mad scramble almost daily to plug leaks and solder broken mains. Luckily, and perhaps miraculously, the quality of drinking water in Jamaica remains very high.
Despite millions on infrastructure spending by governments, there is little to show for it. Yes, there are expensive new highways, existing side by side with hundreds of crater-filled roads. Do we need highways more than we need proper agricultural roads? Do we need a transport centre as much as we need to have police stations refurbished? It boils down to what are seen as national priorities.
This Government talks a great deal about economic growth. The stark truth is that crumbling infrastructure cannot support a growing economy. To delay is to court disaster, for with every passing year, the task becomes greater.