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Stabroek News

Making noise in St Mary
published: Tuesday | December 12, 2006

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer


Left: Mayor of Port Maria Robert Montague. -   Right: Never shy of the cameras, Port Maria Mayor Bobby Montague (left) airs grievances of the Jamaica Labour Party-controlled parish councils on May 29 this year. To his left are Information Minister Colin Campbell and James Robertson, Opposition Member of Parliament for Western St. Thomas. - file photos

IN THE aftermath of heavy rains that devastated sections of St. Mary on November 23, Port Maria Mayor Bobby Montague's angry protests seemed as loud as the roaring waters that damaged his parish.

As looters ran amok in the capital Port Maria, Montague accused the Ministry of Local Government of not doing enough to help residents there as well as those in other affected areas.

He also took on the National Works Agency, blaming the government organisation for constructing a faulty bridge that failed to withstand the violent gushes of the Otrum River.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Local Government Minister Dean Peart visited Port Maria one week after the rains to examine the damage.

Residents have since benefitted from relief packages and cash grants worth $10,000. The moustachioed Montague told The Gleaner, last Friday, that although the Government has stepped in to help, things are still far from sunny in Port Maria.

"We thought things would have been moving at a faster pace. The mud has been cleared from a number of places, but none of the drains in Port Maria have been cleaned," he said.

Career climb

Montague, 40, has been councillor for the Carron Hall division since 1990 and Port Maria Mayor since March 2003. He was appointed to the latter in the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) landslide victory in the local government elections, snaring 13 of 14 parish councils.

Never one to shy from the media, Montague said the parish councils are being better run than they were under the People's National Party (PNP).

In recent months, he has clashed with Peart on several issues. He questioned the minister's statement that most of the councils have not been following contract procurement procedures, and last week, when Peart announced that Local Government elections will not be held this year, Montague described it as an act of "cowardice".

"We are being castigated because the councils are caught in the internal wranglings of the governing party," he charged. "We were being praised for doing a good job until February when the then Minister of Local Government (Mrs. Simpson Miller) became president of the PNP and Prime Minister."

Montague, who will represent the JLP in the Western St. Mary constituency in the next general election, has gained a reputation for what some say are outrageous remarks.

He is a 'member' of the JLP's so-called 'Young Turks', which also includes the Creary brothers - Don and Richard - Daryl Vaz and Western St. Thomas Member of Parliament James Robertson.

They have been champing at the bit since the JLP's resounding victory in the 2003 parish council elections.

CRITICS

Harry Douglas is the PNP MP for South East St. Mary and State Minister in the Ministry of Local Government. He has known Montague since his early days in the parish council.

While he respects his resilience, Douglas said he shoots his mouth off a little too much.

"He's a bright fellow and he's strong on education, which I admire. But if you look at most of the things he speaks on, Bobby puts a political twist to it," Douglas told The Gleaner.

Other Montague critics share Mr. Douglas' views. The mayor, however, is unfazed.

"If they don't like me, they just don't like me. I can't force people to like me," young Bobby said.

Young Bobby

Montague is the youngest of five children for Asquith Montague, a contractor, and his wife, who was a teacher and social worker.

Although he was born in Islington, he grew up in Woodpark and attended St. Mary High School. He is also a graduate of the College of Agriculture, Science and Education and is an agronomist by profession.

Agriculture played a vital role in the glory days of St. Mary where the banana and sugar sectors thrived. Famous British literary figures like Ian Fleming and Noel Coward once lived there; so, too, the former Gleaner columnist Morris Cargill.

The parish has experienced a change for the worst in recent years. A recent Government survey showed St. Mary as Jamaica's most impoverished parish with record levels of illiteracy.

Montague, a father of four, says he has already drafted a blueprint to transform St. Mary if he is sent to Parliament.

"I'd like to see our early child- hood institutions be physically improved and given the necessary technological tools for the global village," he said. "I would also like to see a network of training centres to capture the people who are out there unemployed and without skills."

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