Tue | Jul 23, 2019

Carolyn Cooper | Red Cross wisely guarding Peach Beach

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2019 | 12:22 AM

Last Friday, I called the Jamaica Red Cross to get an update on Peach Beach. Community groups in Discovery Bay are still fearful that one of these days they’ll wake up to find that the beach has been leased to the Guardsman Group. And privatised, just like Puerto Seco Beach! Then, even more dolphins will be excreting in the bay. In spite of all the scientific evidence confirming the destructive consequences of setting up a dolphin prison in the calm bay, greed has taken precedence over environmental protection.

When I called the Jamaica Red Cross, I kept on getting disconnected. I wondered if the humanitarian organisation was deliberately cutting me off in a vain attempt to avoid answering my questions. It turned out that the problem was not the Red Cross. It was the inhumane organisation, FLOW/Columbus Communications Ltd, doing its usual unconscionable thing. I am tired of complaining about the bad service from FLOW.

You’re in the middle of a conversation and, after a few minutes, you realise that you are talking to yourself like a mad person. I cannot believe that in the 21st century, Jamaicans cannot expect basic telephone service that actually works. Why do we have to keep paying for substandard service? And the competition isn’t any better. Switching from FLOW to Digicel is like swopping white dog for monkey. And, yes, monkeys do come in white, as well as black.

LIVING IN A FOOL’S PARADISE

Incidentally, FLOW is owned by Michael Lee-Chin, a man living in a fool’s paradise. In his capacity as chairman of the Government’s Economic Growth Council (EGC), he recently told a Gleaner reporter, covering the quarterly meeting of the EGC, that we must do “everything” to attract and keep foreign investors. I wonder if that includes prostitution.

If that wasn’t enough folly, Lee-Chin made this pronouncement at the EGC meeting: “We in Jamaica need to develop a culture of saving. We don’t save. We dis-save; we consume.” Who is this “we”? Is Lee-Chin including himself? As chairman of the National Commercial Bank, he is, supposedly, in a good position to know how little/much Jamaicans save.

But big banks, bought on the cheap, don’t tell the whole story about how Jamaicans manage the little money we have. Lee-Chin seems to have forgotten about the partner system that poor people have used for centuries to save money and pay school fees and other essential bills. From his lofty position as a billionaire in foreign currency, Lee-Chin can afford to diss poor Jamaicans who are barely managing to survive.

And, clearly, he is speaking to a very small sector of the society when he commands Jamaicans to invest in stocks and businesses. He gives more advice: “Own assets, own a home, pay down on something, pay down on a piece of land, join up in a partnership and do that.” How can someone scraping by on the minimum wage own any assets at all?

Two Saturdays ago, a man at Papine Market gave me a message for “dem”. I suppose he meant the politicians. It went something like this: “Miss Cooper, like how yu write inna newspaper, beg yu tell dem dat we don’t want Michael Lee-Chin fi run di country.” He didn’t elaborate, but I think I know why he said that. Lee-Chin no know wat a gwaan. Poor people a suffer. Dem naa no money fi invest!

YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

Mrs Lois Hue, deputy director general of the Jamaica Red Cross, reassured me that the organisation was not going to lease Peach Beach to the Guardsman Group or any of the other commercial enterprises that have been trying to get their hands on the property. Peach Beach was a gift to the Jamaica Red Cross from the Kaiser Bauxite Company. It was intended for youth development.

Since acquiring the property in 1976, the Red Cross has hosted youth camps; taught first aid, sign language and art and craft; offered swimming lessons; and given water safety training – a whole range of developmental activities! The main building on the property was damaged in a hurricane and this has somewhat hampered activities. The structure has not been repaired because of limited resources.

Discovery Bay community groups are willing to assist with restoring the building and maintaining the property. On Labour Day last week, the Community Development Committee and the Swimming Club did a major clean-up of the beach. They are committed to ensuring that Discovery Bay has a public beach that is in excellent condition. And the Red Cross wants to keep the beach open to the public.

Instead of giving away Jamaica’s beaches to foreign investors who export their profits, the Government should be ensuring that Jamaicans have access to public beaches. Poor people in Jamaica don’t have the means to invest in stocks and businesses. But they should be able to afford leisure.

Then there’s the whole other issue of how Kaiser came to own the Peach Beach in the first place. If successive governments don’t stop selling off Jamaica’s prime assets to foreigners in the name of development, there won’t be much left for future generations.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com