Wed | Dec 19, 2018

O. Dave Allen | The scramble for Montego Bay’s waterfront

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM
O. Dave Allen
Beachgoers splash about in the cool waters of Aqua Sol Beach Park, which has been closed down for renovation by the Urban Development Corporation.
Security guards mill about behind the locked gates of Aqua Sol Beach Park.

When the Jamaican Government reclaimed the Montego Bay waterfront during the late 1960s and the early 1970s, it was believed that this development would be to the benefit of all Montegonians.

The Government spent billions of dollars to expand the city and, in the process, dislocated the waterfront districts of Brick Hill, Meagre Bay, North and Railway Lanes. This development destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of stevedores and fisherfolk, and demolished the spawning ground of the grouper and yellow tail, along with the destruction of the coral reefs.

But to our shame and embarrassment, the waterfront is today the hunting ground of alien ambitions, scrambling over the last remaining frontier of Montego Bay, by a small clique of carpetbaggers and scallywags of dubious origins.

Today, Montegonians have been displaced by an avaricious cabal. Already the lease on Aqua Sol has been terminated and the Jamaica Railway Corporation is seeking to repossess the property on which the People's Arcade is built, without compensation to the 400 shop owners who were asked by the St James Parish Council to invest in that development.

In addition, the Jamaica Railway Corporation is also in the process of displacing 168 residents of New Ramble to make way to accommodate the installation of the railway system to facilitate the Appleton Tour.

It is also rumoured that the Harbour Street Craft Market, with some 300 vendors, is to be removed to make way for a multi-storey parking facility to accommodate the proposed 20-storey high-rise apartment complex on the waterfront; while others are eyeing the Fisherman complex for development into a Little Ochie-style facility, which would be in breach of the commitment given to the fisherfolk to own and control that beachfront property in perpetuity.


'Black man time'


During the initial period of the P.J. Patterson administration, the slogan was 'Black Man Time'. This was not empty rhetoric, but a conscious effort to alter inherited iniquities of a postcolonial Jamaica where the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect, according to Franz Fanon: "You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich."

That irritating gap between the haves and the haves-not had to be addressed in a fundamental way, so state banks like Workers' Bank and National Commercial Bank were privatised where black men were in management and control.

There was Century National Bank that had as its major shareholder another black man, while sugar lands that were owned by the State were now black owned and controlled.

This shift in the short-lived economic architecture would have fulfilled the dreams of O.T. Fairclough, one of the founders of the nationalist movement, a black Jamaican who had managed a bank in Haiti and returned to his homeland to find the only job he was offered was that of a porter.

Patterson took on that mission to transform the Jamaican society through the transfer of lands and capital as a means of empowering the black man, but someone 'colt' the game. FINSAC came and the rest is history.

... "[T]he tigers came at night, with their voice as soft as thunder, as they tear your hopes apart, as they turn your dreams to shame."

A well-positioned member of the Montego Bay ruling class posited that areas like Flanker and other coastal communities should be rezoned for town houses and apartment complexes to stratify the demands of the upscale housing market while the working class should be relocated to Queen of Spain Valley.

Hence the announced new town in the Adelphi area and the peri-urban road from Hague to Westgate that would facilitate rapid transit of the working class to a sanitised urban Montego Bay. Yes, Montego Bay is a global brand, well positioned for propulsive economic take-off had it not been for these menacing gunmen and shanty towns that need to be razed.

Despite the vaunted growth in gross domestic product during the 1960s, it was the struggle for land that gave rise to the Coral Gardens Uprising of 1963 that is rooted in the iniquitous distribution of land. The Rastafarian farmer Benjamin 'Rudolph' Franklyn was shot and killed by the police on that mournful Holy Thursday of April 11 over the unsettled issue of land tenure on the Rose Hall property.

Today, the wholesale and retail businesses along Barnett and St James streets are owned and controlled by Asians, with some loud-mouthed underpaid workers pushing Brazilian hair, bleaching creams, plastic nails and knockoff colognes from meshed-wire barricades in the urban centre of Montego Bay.

Meanwhile, our micro and small businesses and transport operators are in a desperate bid to survive and find a widow of opportunity to overcome systemic barriers brought on by the vagaries of the neo-liberal economic system and its lateral integration.

Jamaica has one of the highest-index income inequalities in the world. Of the 141 ranked countries, only 35 have greater income inequality than Jamaica. Speaking at its National Executive Council meeting in January, Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips made the point that the problem of the unequal distribution of land, which has existed from 1838 until now, has been at the heart of much of the social and economic inequalities in the country.

At the managerial level in the tourist industry, there is the glaring evidence of inequity and discrimination not dissimilar to the hierarchical structure of the plantation system we thought we left behind, wherein top management posts are occupied mainly by foreign white males as we build a nascent apartheid enclave.

If we are truly sincere in addressing the perennial issue of crime and violence, there must be fundamental change to the economic architecture on which the city is structured. For in the final analysis, the boys on the gully banks are demanding a piece of the action and they are prepared to take it by whatever means necessary.


Temporary peace


While we can now enjoy this moment of peace because of the state of public emergency (enhanced security measures), we need to use this respite to access the underlying cause of this endemic crime and violence that has beset Jamaica and develop strategies to transform the Montego Bay community and, indeed, western Jamaica.

Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Let us start the discourse to dismantle the iniquitous economic architecture that has strangled economic growth and boosted class antagonism and start the process by which we create the road map for the building of a Jamaica for all.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to academia. According to the economist Gary S. Becker, "... [I]ncome inequality makes it difficult for the poor to survive and on a wider scale it lowers the economic growth. When income inequalities are high, crime is equally high, as it is a major determinant of crime. When the poor feel inferior to the rich, it causes serious social tensions, hence decreasing the opportunity cost of crime.

Consequently, as the income distribution gets more unequal, the gap between the benefits and costs of crime widens and thus the incentive for crime becomes higher." (Becker, 1968)

- O. Dave Allen is an advocate of sustainable development. Email feedback to and