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Jamaica-Venezuela relations on shaky ground

Published:Sunday | September 11, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

THERE ARE indications that the relationship between the governments of Jamaica and Venezuela is on rocky ground as a result of Jamaica's inability to complete a housing project for Hurricane Ivan victims in Old Harbour Bay, St Catherine.

Water and Housing Minister Horace Chang said in Parliament last Thursday night that the Hugo Chávez-led Venezuelan government, which donated the houses, is anxious for the project to be completed.

"It has implications for our relations with Venezuela, which is a very important partner in the PetroCaribe Fund, and we are ensuring that the houses be completed to be occupied," Chang said.

The minister was forced to respond after Everald Warmington, his government colleague, chided the Bruce Golding-led government for turning its back on the poor people of the area.

Warmington, the member of parliament (MP) for South West St Catherine, raised concerns about a $76-million reduction in the budgetary allocation for the Bourkesfield Housing Scheme in Old Harbour Bay.

Parliament, in April, approved the spend of $176.9 million for the completion of the scheme. It was the first time since the 2009-2010 fiscal year, when $18.8 million was approved, that funds were set aside for the scheme.

The fiery Warmington moved a motion, which was seconded by Opposition MP Noel Arscott, for the budgetary allocation to the scheme to remain unchanged.

Vote on motion stayed

In his motion, Warmington moved that the allocation to complete the houses for the "poor, unfortunate, destitute people of Old Harbour Bay be reincluded in the budget".

But a vote on the motion was stayed after Prime Minister Bruce Golding intervened saying it would set a dangerous precedent if parliamentarians attempt to rearrange the estimates of expenditure.

Warmington had said that the reduction would adversely affect the completion of the scheme. He said the 75-unit scheme has no electricity, water supply, or sewerage system.

He also argued that "the houses have to be repaired because not one of those units can be occupied.

"The Venezuelans gave those buildings to us and we allow the buildings to go to ruin, and because of that we have a problem at this stage with the relationship with the Venezuelan government," Warmington charged.

"The Venezuelans refuse to even have discussions with us because of the embarrassment. They went to the extent of giving Jamaica all those houses for the poor persons who lost their houses and both governments (People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party) did nothing about it and allowed it to go to waste. This is why, at this stage, the relationship is down on the rocks."

Up to press time, The Sunday Gleaner was unable to reach a representative from the Venezuelan Embassy here for a response.

Houses vandalised

The Venezuelan government in 2004 donated 100 houses to the people of Jamaica following the passage of Hurricane Ivan. Of the number, 75 units were constructed in St Catherine and the remaining 25 in Brighton, Westmoreland.

In his passionate plea to his colleagues to not reduce the allocation to the schemes' budget, Warmington impressed on MPs the situation with which residents are faced in the area.

"The houses were donated by the Venezuelans. They were almost completed, and for seven years these houses have sat there not occupied. They have been vandalised. Where have all the roofs gone, all the windows, all the doors, all the bathroom fixtures? You have shells; everything is gone.

"Both administrations are guilty of neglect. I am very concerned that at this time we are reducing the budgetary allocation for those poor individuals. They were victimised before. I don't think they should be victimised again."

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Chang said the housing scheme would be completed this fiscal year. He said the $76-million shortfall would be made up through the National Water Commission, which is to upgrade its waste-water treatment plant in the Blackwood Gardens area of the constituency. The treatment plant will serve the Bourkesfield housing scheme.

But an unrelenting Warmington said it would require $30 million for the upgrade of the treatment plant. He told The Sunday Gleaner that the Government should take $76 million from the budget of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and give it to the Housing Agency of Jamaica to complete the housing scheme.

Warmington had said in Parliament that the JSIF was not fulfilling its mandate of poverty alleviation and suggested that the entity had been implementing projects in a partisan political manner.