Find the money to fix Shearer’s house!
More than one year ago, Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill told Parliament of a plan to restore and maintain the birthplaces of Jamaica's national heroes and prime ministers. Today, The Sunday Gleaner continues a series on the present state of these premises with a look at Martha Brae in Trelawny, the birthplace of former Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer.
The planned upgrade and rehabilitation of the birth home of Jamaica's third prime minister, Hugh Lawson Shearer, in Martha Brae, Trelawny, has been stymied and there is uncertainty as to what has become of the money that was to be released for the project.
Last week, former minister of local government under the Jamaica Labour Party administration, Robert Montague, was adamant that money was approved by him for the project.
"I can tell you with certainty that I received an estimate for the upgrade. I cannot recall exactly but it was supposed to be about $3 million or so, but I am sure that I signed off on it and it was to come from the Equalisation Fund," declared Montague. "Whether it reached down there or not is another matter."
While accepting that allocations of this type usually do take some time to be fully released, Montague was oblivious as to the reasons the money would not have been sent to the Trelawny Parish Council after he had approved same.
"Normally, allocations like this are released in tranches but I don't know what would have stopped this allocation. Maybe a new minister comes in and priorities change, but I really do not know," said Montague.
However, chairman of the Trelawny Parish Council, Garth Wilkinson, told The Sunday Gleaner that checks by him since he took the position of mayor led him to the conclusion that the money was never approved for the planned restoration.
"This is not the first time that I am hearing this report about money, and since I took office I tried to follow up with the local government ministry to find out if a resolution was needed or what was needed for us to complete this process, but what we are coming to understand is that no money was ever approved for this project," charged Wilkinson.
According to Wilkinson, there is a need for the parish to recognise the contribution of Hugh Shearer to national development but there is simply no money available.
"Right now, we are trying to purchase some pictures of Mr Shearer to decorate the courthouse to honour his contribution to our parish but there is just no money to do even that."
Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill placed the poor condition of some of the birthplaces of Jamaica's former prime ministers and national heroes back on the front burner during his 2013 sectorial presentation.
At that time, McNeill announced a plan to restore and upgrade the birthplaces of heroes and prime ministers in order to "protect our heritage and show respect for our national heroes".
Since that time, however, only the Roxborough birthplace of People's National Party founder and National Hero Norman Manley has been upgraded at a cost of $42 million.
To residents of Martha Brae, the condition of the building which was the birthplace of Shearer is an affront to his memory.
"It would be really nice if them fix up the house because how it stay now you could never tell say somebody weh do so much fi Jamaica come from there so," said Delroy Lindo, who identified himself as a relative of Shearer.
"That house actually belonged to my aunt, Esther Lindo Bailey, that is Mr Shearer mother, and is right there him born and grow," explained Lindo. "Is more than two years now I hear that it suppose to fix and all now not even a sign at the gate is there."
Stacey Ann, who said she has lived in the two-bedroom dwelling house for more than seven years, echoed the frustration as they awaited restoration of the property.
"From me live here about five different times the history people come here. Them even come here bout three weeks ago and look at the place but nothing no really come out of it."
While confirming that the house had been designated a national historic site in 2011, chairman of National Heritage Trust, Ainsley Henriques, argued that with limited resources available action to upgrade the facility was not viable for the Trust.
NOT RIGHT NOW
"With the current situation that is now in the public domain, it wouldn't be prudent for the Trust to spend taxpayers' money on the restoration unless we can ensure that we are telling the story of Hugh Shearer in a new, exciting way that will attract visitors to that exhibit, and unfortunately, we are not in a position to do that right now," said Henriques.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Local Government have so far been unsuccessful as no response has been received to questions posed by our news team.