By Gordon Robinson
Gene Autry and I played a thrilling domino game against Dessie and The Dunce, during which neither pair dominated. Finally, at 5-all, we won the 11th game amid thunderous banging and loud celebrations.
Dr S. Blank and Jimmy Hunchback edged towards the table to take the losers' chairs. But The Dunce wouldn't move. "Wha'ppen, Dunce?" Blank queried. "Yu tu'n squatter?"
"Well," The Dunce spoke thoughtfully, "If a macca, mek it jook yu!"
"Cho, man." Blank was impatient, "Dun de foolishness. Git up!"
"Me nah move," was The Dunce's stubborn riposte. "Dis not fair. We is playing winners pose. At 5-all, man supposed to win by two games like in tennis."
Not being hard-and-fast traditionalists, we played and won another game, after which The Dunce willingly vacated his chair. But, the incident inspired a change in house rules from the amateurish 'winners pose' to 'double six (or the holder thereof)'.
SOLVED WITH COMPROMISE
Hence the domino game's mini-squatter crisis was solved with compromise, followed by attacking the fundamental problem. But it appears our national squatter crisis, permitted over decades to deepen to an intractable stage, is now to be addressed in the standard knee-jerk, insipid, irrational, idiotic way politicians prefer whenever thinking might prove stressful. Morais Guy recently announced Government would pass legislation making squatting a criminal offence.
Well, whoop-de-doo! Why address basic flaws in our social order driving squatting, such as non-existent population control; pathetic basic education; demoralising primary and secondary education driven by oppressive hide-and-seek-style exams; unreasonably exorbitant tertiary education; skewed land-distribution policies; and a calamitous jobs market; when we can, with a stroke of the legislative pen, pass the squatting buck? By this act of genius, the need for long-term solutions evaporates and, instead, our overcrowded, underperforming justice system is further pressured.
This might shock and amaze you, but 'squatting' isn't a new problem. In 1999, the Government was warned by its own North East St Ann MP, Danny Melville, in a private brief, that squatting had become intolerable. With his permission, edited excerpts from that brief follow:
"The North East St Ann coastal strip runs from Priory ... to White River ... .
Any tourist [travelling] along that coastal strip won't see a single mile of squatter-free territory. That tourist ... will see:
1. At Priory, a squatter colony on the Seville property owned by National Heritage Trust;
2. Between Priory and St Ann's Bay, squatter settlements dot the landscape to the north and south of the road;
3. In the formerly beautiful capital, St Ann's Bay, with its several Georgian buildings of interest, the streets are blocked by sidewalk peddlars jus' hustlin'.
4. Moving right along, ... we'll soon arrive at the commissioner of lands' Windsor property, once a land-lease project with which we 'jooked dem' in 1976. Now, the site is overrun with squatters;
5. Next stop: Roaring River, owned by UDC, where, like the adjacent Mammee Bay South [owned by the commissioner of lands (COL)], squatter settlements are creatively blended with Operation PRIDE sites bereft of infrastructure. The result? Instant slums;
6. At Dunn's River, I'm happy to report the UDC has unceremoniously removed the Belmont squatters but, immediately south of the falls, there are many more on the Bogue lands owned by COL;
7. Ocho Rios itself, like the Alamo, is surrounded by squatter settlements ... not even Davy Crockett can fight them off forever. The squatter colonies are at Shaw Park, Spring Piece, William Pasture and Geddes Land. There's some interesting local colour as the Spring Piece settlement sits on the headwaters of a spring which supplies parts of Ocho Rios. The original recipe of mixing spring water and squatter waste will soon make for exciting culinary delights in the town ... ;
8. Southeast of Ocho Rios, Hyattsfield, another former land-lease project, is now a proud squatter settlement.
This is not a joke!
Ocho Rios, the town that attracts the largest number of tourists annually, is under siege!
I've pointed out to the powers that be the availability of lands at Beecher Town and that the commissioner of lands also owns thousands of acres of Reynolds Bauxite lands ... . I've taken the minister to Beecher Town a year ago. No result.
The latest plan to turn back this creeping scourge is a committee set up by the PM to be chaired by the MP. Talk about getting it back to front!"
That was 13 years ago in one constituency. Now, we celebrate Jamaica 50 by making squatting a crime. Congratulations, Portia, your love for the poor chokes me up.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.