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150 years after the Morant Bay Rebellion ... St Thomas begs for development

Published:Thursday | February 26, 2015 | 2:38 PMDaraine Luton
Norva Rodney: Walter Rodney spoke of how Europe underdeveloped Africa, we know what happened with Haiti, relative to the colonial powers, and I believe St Thomas, to some extent, is along a similar line.

Legend has it that after the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865, Queen Victoria, in anger, broke her pen and uttered the words "those rebels, let them suffer".

Now, 150 years on, as the nation reflects on that pivotal point that changed the course of history, some parishioners hold the view that the gem in the east is still reeling from the effects of the rebellion.

"The colour of the faces has changed, so we now have black people in charge, but it is the same policy that is being carried on," said Dorrett Abrahams, secretary of the St Thomas Parish Development Committee.

Abrahams, who was a guest at a Gleaner Editors' Forum held yesterday at the newspaper's North Street offices in Kingston, said the parish has suffered from poor infrastructure such as bad roads and intermittent or no water supply.

This, she said, is despite the fact that the parish supplies aggregate to much of the country and provides water, via the Yallahs Pipeline, to the Corporate Area.

"St Thomas is the only parish that is not connected to the highway network. If you leave us off that grid, how are we to develop because every developer will say St Thomas is not ready," Abrahams said.


related to history


The Reverend Norva Rodney, who was born and raised in St Thomas, said the stage at which the parish finds itself is directly related to its history.

"Walter Rodney spoke of how Europe underdeveloped Africa, we know what happened with Haiti, relative to the colonial powers, and I believe St Thomas, to some extent, is along a similar line," Rodney said.

Faced with its problem of underdevelopment in the parish, Alston Stewart, who too was born and raised in the parish but emigrated to the Corporate Area, said a concerted effort is now needed to transform the parish into being the place of first choice for doing business and raising families.

"We are very rich in natural resources, whether it be the water, the aggregate or other things that are constantly taken out of St Thomas to build the rest of Jamaica. St Thomas itself has been left behind," Stewart said.

He said the time has come to mobilise all of St Thomas' resources to get a development plan.

"Nobody is going to assist you because you asked for a road to fix. Why do your want the road to fix, for comfortableness? No! Because it will open up A,B,C,D. This is the impact it will have on GDP (gross domestic product); this is the impact it will have on health services ... . We have to tell our story, we have to do the numbers," Stewart said.

The businessman, who hails from Wilmington, said St Thomas has great tourism potential, arguing that if the road network is improved, it will make travel from the Norman Manley International Airport into it shorter than the journey from the Sangster International Airport to places in Westmoreland such as Whitehouse.

"The beauty is there as well as the history," he added.


Unemployment, poverty high


As if its infrastructural problems were not enough, St Thomas, according to Lorian Peart-Roberts, the head of the Social Development Commission in the parish, has a high unemployment rate and a high level of poverty.

She said a series of consultation is taking place with major stakeholders out of which a development order would evolve.

"St Thomas has never had one," Peart-Roberts said, while adding that it will define "where and how development takes place in the parish".

Meanwhile, Stewart said it is not enough for persons to blame government for the state of the parish. He said many of the persons who can influence the development of the area have only maintained token connection with the parish.

"I would like for us, people from St Thomas, to take responsibility for not having lobbied hard enough and not having proposed significant development programmes. Not enough effort has been made. Nobody gives anybody anything out of gratis; you have to work hard for it," Stewart said.

He added: "There are limited resources, (and) there is even limited attention span. Unless those of us who have an interest fight for it, it is not going to come. There is great potential and we ought to do something about it."

Said Stewart: "Paul Bogle was prepared to walk from Stony Gut to make his case; we need some additional Paul Bogles to take a plan to the Government and say, 'here are the facts, here is the development plan, here are the resources, here is what we bring to the table and we require you to step up'."