BUMPY RIDE TO POLLS
Give us roads or get no votes, says Central Westmoreland
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Porter's Mountain sits high in the hills of western Jamaica, linking communities such as Welcome and Fort William to more populated areas like Petersfield, Williamsfield, and leading all the way to Savanna-la-Mar, the heart of Central Westmoreland.
But the journey to the city centre is easier to think about than to do, as the condition of the roads in these communities is, at the very least, rugged.
Residents have berated their political representatives for failing to address some of the key issues facing them, chief among them being the poor roads.
Donald Gordon, councillor for the Petersfield division in the People's National Party (PNP)-controlled Westmoreland Parish Council, said that it would cost an estimated $65 million to rehabilitate the roadway from Fort William up to Welcome and through to Porter's Mountain.
With no timeline set for the road repairs, some residents in the Westmoreland hills are threatening to withhold their votes in the upcoming December 1 by-election as a mark of protest.
Last week, Gordon dumped two loads of marl at one section of the roadway, at an area called Watson Hill.
For him, it is a signal to residents that he is working to address the poor road conditions, but for some, it is a blatant misuse of state resources to gain political favours.
The dumping of the marl coincides with the impending by-election in Central Westmoreland, which will be contested by the PNP's Dwayne Vaz, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Faye Jacobs, and Ras Astor Black, an independent candidate.
Gordon has emphatically denied using the promise of road repairs to secure votes for Vaz, who, he said, has the ability to not only become a great member of parliament but also a good prime minister.
"I had committed to them before that I would seek to get it fixed. It has nothing to do with the election," the councillor told The Gleaner.
"I am not trying to drum up any support. There is a need; the people can't travel in and out as they want to travel in and out and, therefore, work has to be done," Gordon said.
He continued: "Even the polling station, people might not be able to access it because of the road conditions, and that is very crucial for a man to be able to exercise his democratic right.
"There are aged persons there. That area traditionally votes JLP, and I am not looking to see whether they are JLP or PNP. I am just doing what I can do when I have the resources," Gordon sought to explain.
The JLP won Porter's Mountain 2:1 in the 2011 general election, with Marlene Malahoo-Forte securing a total of 79 votes in the two polling divisions to former MP Roger Clarke's 39.
Willie McKenzie, who describes himself as a delegate and organiser for the JLP, said while the dumping of the marl may be an election strategy, it is not a vulgar abuse of state resources. For him, repairs to the road ahead of the election would redound to the benefit of Jacobs.
"We have to use car and take out the people to go and vote on election day, and no car can negotiate this piece of road here at Watson Hill," McKenzie said.
He expects Jacobs to come out on top as, he says, a lot of the young PNP supporters are disappointed by the poor representation they have received and are prepared to cast their votes for the JLP.
"The prime minister said it is a PNP territory, but we [are] going to take it home this time around because the people are tired of what dem getting from the PNP," McKenzie said.
Meanwhile, Gordon said he has sought to organise the residents of the farming community in groups, in a bid to get the Jamaica Social Investment Fund to carry out the repairs as "the State would not be in a position to do all that is needed".
'Danny', a PNP supporter from Mackfield Road, appears to be disgusted at the neglect by politicians, although he has not ruled out voting in the by-election.
"When election come, dem tek all the old people dem and carry go vote and, after dem vote, yuh nuh see dem again," Danny said.
John Baker appears certain that the people are tired of poor representation from the PNP and are ready to give Jacobs the vote of confidence.
Elated to see the Gleaner news team in his area, Baker dashed off to call members of the community to air their views about representation. When a small group gathered, none declared support for either the PNP or the JLP.
"If you did a mi father, mi handcuff you and mek you caah leave fi go vote," one young woman said.
With age-old asphalt fighting desperately to shake off the dust and loose soil that had covered it and turned its silk-black outfit into a rugged outback, Mackfield Road cries out for attention.
At a section of the community leading from Haddo, a water main has come to an abrupt stop, having travelled for about two miles. Water has never flowed through it, and residents said it was installed ahead of the 2007 general election.
"Taxi refuse to come round here because of the road. People have to walk from Haddo. We have only one street light in the community," one resident lamented.
The resident, adding that he will be withholding his vote, said it makes no sense switching to the JLP, because they, too, have failed at providing the community with things such as drinking water.
"We have to wait until rain falls or buy it from truck or we suffer," the dissatisfied elector said.
Baker, however, said the fact that he does not have piped water or good roads will not deter him from casting his ballot.
"Mi vote when voting time come. Mi affi support me party because if mi party did win, this road wouldn't stay like this. Mi can tell yuh dat," Baker said.