UPDATED: Carolyn Cooper | J$13,000 a year to license Puerto Seco Beach!
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column referred to a ‘lease’, not a ‘licence’, granted for the recreational and commercial use of the Puerto Seco Beach. In addition to the cost of the licence, there is a fee for the lease, issued by Jamaica Bauxite Mining Company, in the sum of J$3 million, with incremental increases, according to the Guardsman Group.
It’s a steal. Or, more accurately, a dead giveaway! The National Resources Conservation Agency has granted a licence to a private company for commercial and recreational use of one of our best beaches for little or nothing. For 20 years at that! Instead of investing in Puerto Seco Beach and making it accessible to Jamaicans of all social classes at a reasonable price, the irresponsible Government has carelessly divested itself of a world-class beach.
Let’s do some very basic maths. Below even GSAT level! The entry fee to the newly upgraded Puerto Seco Beach is $1,000 for adults. The entry fees of the first 13 people on the first day of operation would cover the cost of the licence for the entire year! Put another way, two weeks of minimum wage add up to more than the cost of the annual licence for Puerto Seco Beach. How in God’s name – or the Devil’s – does this make any sense?
The management of Puerto Seco Beach has been reporting daily visitor numbers as high as 900. If the beach got that many adult visitors every single day of the year, the total intake would be well over 300,000,000! Sure, there are substantial operating costs. But these are certainly far less than the potential profits.
WHERE THE BUCK STOPPED
It was relatively easy to get information on the licensing fee for Puerto Seco Beach. I called the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) and I was referred to the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). From there I was sent to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). And that’s where the buck stopped.
I sent an email to NEPA asking which government agency was responsible for leasing beaches. I was told that the Natural Resources Conservation Authority is the Beach Control Authority. In response to my query to NEPA, I was sent copies of the permit and licences. And I was referred to the Jamaica Bauxute Mining Ltd for the cost of the lease. But there in the 'Third Schedule' was what I thought was the answer to my question: $13,000 a year to lease the beach. In fact, that was the cost of the licence.
In amazement, I asked for an explanation of the incredibly low fee. I was told that the long-outdated Beach Control Regulations have been revised and are awaiting sign-off. But why have the revisions not been approved? What is causing the delay? Surely, the Government must want to maximise income from these licences!
I suspect that the people who hold beach licences in Jamaica feel entitled to pay next to nothing for control of prime recreational property. They are mostly the white and brown elite. With a sprinkling of blacks! They preside over the highest levels of the economy. They pull the strings and the puppet politicians do their bidding. You scratch my back and I scratch yours!
No wonder there’s been such a long delay in increasing the fee to license beaches! But somebody has to have the courage to say enough is enough. Private-sector companies cannot be allowed to license beaches at a cut-rate price and then charge exorbitant entry fees that lock out the public.
On June 27, 2018, The Gleaner published an excellent column by Kelly McIntosh with the clever headline, 'Puerto Seco Beach Bummer'. She argued, “The us-and-them reality of life on the Rock already rears its ugly head in how justice, education and healthcare are dispensed and how they look. And as access to recreation, based on the natural resources of our island, becomes more and more restricted, based on how deep one's pockets are, that divide will result in a foment of resentment that will one day blow the lid off the pot.”
Some of the responses to Ms McIntosh’s warning, posted on The Gleaner’s website, beautifully prove her point. 'Brian' wrote, “Sounds like a place I would want to visit. Maybe rise [sic] the price just a bit more would make it better to be a place of peace and tranquility.” In other words: Keep out di bruck-pocket ole nayga dem!
'Hard Questions' went on and on about how savage Jamaicans are in comparison to other Caribbean citizens. On that basis, they/we should not be allowed to associate with decent people on the beach. But the majority of Jamaicans are not savages. We are God-fearing, law-abiding citizens. We know how to behave in public. It is a relatively small minority of us who are undisciplined and break all the rules.
The present Government is advancing the work begun by the PNP to refurbish public beaches. But much more radical reform is needed. The Government must immediately begin the process of passing legislation to make ALL beaches accessible to the public. The Beach Control Regulations must be swiftly updated. The cost of a licence must be based on its commercial value. The renewal of licences, for example at hotels, must be conditional on public access to beaches.
As a supposedly independent nation, we can no longer blame colonialism for the old/new exploitative relationships. We must assume responsibility for making Jamaica a more humane society where we can work and play together. On and off the beach!