Dawn Ritch, Contributor
IT IS deeply mean-spirited and low beyond words to demolish squatter dwellings at two o'clock in the morning. Necessary actions lawfully executed, should be conducted in good order and in the full light of day. This is yet another terrible stain upon the reputation of the Patterson administration. Through its subsidiary the St. Ann's Bay Development Company, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) carried out an ugly demolition of about 30 squatter houses on its Roaring River property in Steer Town with the zealous assistance of the local police.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made an impromptu statement on the matter to the House of Representatives that very afternoon. What he said is of little consequence. What is truly significant is that any incident in this country could get a peep out of him in less than 24 hours. That one did. The public was quickly told by Dr. Karl Blythe, Minister of Water and Housing that he knew nothing about it, and neither did the Prime Minister. But PNP councillor for the Beecher Town Division, Donovan Sydial, had warned the squatters on the eve of the by-election that if they voted for the JLP they would be in danger of "losing what they had". They did, and they have.
The Government has therefore made political martyrs out of some of the people of Roaring River, which is why the country heard so promptly from the Prime Minister himself. This might in turn lead to each of the families being granted a three-bedroom house and motor car as compensation. Prime Minister Patterson has been known to act impulsively when moved by strong feelings for the society, like the time he suddenly declared a public holiday without notice because he was happy the Reggae Boyz scored a qualifying goal for the World Cup. Who knows what he might do when sad?
The squatters of Roaring River who were bulldozed, (and the majority were not) might indeed have been given notice. But they are apt to regard the manner of eviction as sudden, utterly ruthless even. And it was indeed a nightime assault upon public decency by the state itself. Who is responsible, everyone will ask. Endless discussion will take place to no avail. Everything in this country must be slow, painful and humiliating, with the last vestiges of human dignity expunged as though by state fiat. It's a hell of a way to live.
Babies, the elderly and the sick feel it most, rich or poor. Public degradation is the order of the day from which no one can escape, save through death or voluntary exile, and far too many have so far chosen the latter. The poor warders who were interdicted were put on quarter pay nearly two years ago, because they demonstrated against the appointment of Lt. Col. John Prescod to head Correctional Services. They cannot collect their measly pay if they apply for other jobs. A slow death therefore continues among hard-working Jamaican warder families, and some have already lost their homes, a few have emigrated, all suffer. With still no public resolution to the matter in sight, our prisons continue to be partly manned by the military and served by privately-owned caterers. Madness it is. Open howling lunacy.
People have had their squatter dwellings bulldozed in the wee, small hours of the morning. Opposition Leader Mr. Edward Seaga said on site, "This is political victimisation of the highest order." And indeed there are no other words for it. I must point out, however, that while both Mr. Seaga and Prime Minister Patterson are known to jump to the tune of no one, the irony is that they both jumped instantly to the tune of squatters. These are people who illegally occupy lands belonging to others, including the state, and construct dwellings.
Squatting is a serious global problem of grinding poverty, public hygiene and control, and is a sore upon any society. The British have them, and call these derelict buildings "squats". The Americans have them, and call these "trailer parks". Police in both countries know to go there first to look for suspected criminals. Clearly this is a national issue that can only be handled by careful public administration. The national policy must be clear, and supported and known by all.
Dr. Vin Lawrence is the chairman of the UDC. Many people think of him as the grey eminence who stands behind the throne of Mr. Patterson. He is reputed to be a man of influence, although not a member of Cabinet. Dr. Lawrence is also chairman of numberless public boards, though unlike his many colleagues, is not collecting a fat-cat salary. A marvel in truth. Could this marvel of public administration have ordered an early morning assault upon poor people who voted JLP? Dr. Lawrence is another of the PNP's well-known intellectuals. Could it be that he is not "slightly foolish" like most intellectuals but utterly dunce? Or is it that he just doesn't care because the man who stands behind the throne is rarely pelted. Who is responsible? Odd circumstances, odd fate that the UDC falls under the office of the Prime Minister himself?
There is a deplorable pattern of behaviour here no less odious because these things, like the dumping of the street people, never have an author. This is why the Government of the country is such a disaster, and Mr. Patterson himself effectively leader only of a cult. All events must remain shrouded in mystery, so that the arbitrary hand of vengeance can strike at night, any time, anywhere. The pursuit of political goals by state craft to the exclusion of good sense and public decency, is the surest mark of a political party deeply in need of reformation.
FOOTNOTE: Dr. Peter Phillips, Minister of Transport and Works, cannot dispute that it was he who misled the House of Representatives by saying Bosung could not be fired, or the Japanese would withdraw the funding for the project. Please see The Daily Gleaner June 15, Page 9A.