Business leaders in the resort town of Ocho Rios, St Ann, are bemoaning the leadership malaise in that area, and they claim that the parish council is not in charge.
The issue came to light during a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the Sunset Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios yesterday, during which it was claimed that responsibility for drain maintenance and other issues normally dealt with by the island's parish councils have been spurned by the St Ann body.
Against the background of the alleged lack of leadership, Vana Taylor, area chair of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), called for the re-establishment of the Ocho Rios Resort Board.
"We had an effective resort board," she said, noting that the Government discontinued it some time ago and, although Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett assured it would be re-established, to date it has not.
Taylor was supported by Kumar Sujanani, president of the St Ann Chamber of Commerce, who said the resort board should be reinstated to take charge of the management of the town.
Cruise visitors on decline
Among the problems business leaders want urgently addressed is lingering tourism harassment, which has been blamed for a decline in cruise-passenger support for commerce in the town.
Ocho Rios relies on tourism for up to 90 per cent of business, but cruise-passenger arrivals have declined from a high of more than 800,000 in 2006. According to Sujanani, in 2011 the figure is not expected to reach even 400,000.
Describing Ocho Rios as dirty and dilapidated, the business leaders also cited squatting, most of which occurs on land owned by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) throughout the parish, as well as itinerant vending, as problems they believe an effective parish council could help to resolve.
However, Sue Morris, representing the National Cruise Council of Jamaica, told the forum that "we have a parish council that chooses not to attend meetings", despite being invited by merchants and several other stakeholders in the town.
"Nobody is in charge in Ocho Rios," declared Morris. "Other than law enforcement, who is in charge?"
Mayor of St Ann's Bay, Vinnette Robb-Oddman, who replaced Ivan Anderson when he resigned after being arrested on a fraud charge, has also been invited to meetings with the JHTA, merchants and other stakeholders to address the problematic issues. But, so far, she has not attended any.
Several efforts were made to get a response from Robb-Oddman, but she was not reached for comment up to press time as she was said to be attending meetings.
The lack of leadership apparently stems from the reality that much of the land in the parish is owned by the UDC, the business leaders say.
With the St Ann Parish Council determining that drain maintenance, for example, was not its responsibility, approaches have been made to the UDC, but it, too, said it was not responsible, Taylor said. She noted that that and other issues were affecting the parish in general, and were not confined to Ocho Rios.
Morris said that whoever took charge of the town needed to enforce laws such as the Prescribed Areas Act.
"The business community is more than prepared to work with the leadership of Ocho Rios, once that leadership is established," Morris said.