By Peter Espeut
In 2006, I conducted the first (and still only) census of the Pedro Cays. Jamaica is not an island state but an archipelagic state, because three of the more than 60 islands and cays that make up this nation are continuously inhabited. Yet Jamaica's laws and administrative framework operate as if the nation state of Jamaica consists of only one island.
Two of the four islands in the Pedro Cays are inhabited year round. At the time of my fieldwork (September-November 2005) - at the end of the most active hurricane season in recorded history, when many dwellings had been destroyed and many persons had left for the safety of the mainland - the number of residents I counted was 310 (266 men, 44 women) in 271 dwellings.
Imputing data from the 67 locked-up, obviously lived-in dwellings whose occupants were away, the resident population was about 488 persons. Anecdotal evidence is that at one time, the Cays were home to more than 1,000 people.
Much is being made recently in the media about the living conditions on the Cays, including the lack of adequate sanitary conveniences and the pile-up of garbage. Residents have informally 'zoned' their cays: each has a 'garbage dump' zone (similar to ones on mainland Jamaica) and a 'toilet' zone, where faeces are deposited directly on the sand or hurled there in scandal bags.
Rats abound, and faecal coliform bacteria are available to cause gastro-enteric diseases. None of this is new, as I fully reported on it in 2006. Nothing has been done since then to remedy the situation.
The truth is that even if there were pit latrines on the Cays, it would make no difference; whatever is deposited in the soakaway pits would ... soak away into the sand and into the aquifers and surrounding sea, contaminating the water and all that live and swim in it. Some other technology will have to be used that prevents soaking away.
The Government uses the fact that these Cays are inhabited by Jamaicans as justification under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for Jamaica being considered an archipelagic state, and for the waters between Jamaica and the Pedro Cays to be considered territorial sea rather than national limits and Exclusive Economic Zone. Because Jamaicans live there, Jamaica's national limits are calculated from the Pedro Cays (rather than from Portland Point), which has increased tremendously the marine space under Jamaica's exclusive jurisdiction and control.
You would think that because Jamaica needs people to be living on the Pedro Cays to support its territorial claims, the authorities would put some order into the living arrangements. Being part of the Jamaican state, all Jamaican laws apply there, including the Public Health Act and the Solid Waste Management Act; but you would never know it. The conditions on the Pedro Cays are the ultimate case of the failure of governance over the last 50 years.
There is one specific Jamaican law which governs activities on the cays: The Morant and Pedro Cays Act of 1907, and its two amendments (in 1971 and 1975), administered by the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. The third section states that the cays, "for all purposes other than taxation", shall be "deemed" to "be within and form part of the parish of Kingston".
ABANDONED BY STATE
It is not clear in the law or practice in which sense the cays form part of the parish of Kingston. Up until the time of my census, the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation had never paid the slightest attention to the cays, probably because they do not fall within any electoral division and no particular parish councillor or member of parliament has any responsibility for them.
In fact, neither the National Census nor the National Electoral Machinery has placed the cays in an enumeration district or a polling division (PD); persons resident on the cays on census day are not counted (only persons resident in one of the PDs on census day are counted as part of the population of Jamaica), and residents have to return to the mainland to vote, if registered.
Unless the cays are going to be attached to a particular constituency or parochial division, this affiliation with Kingston would seem to be meaningless. No councillor submits any budget for any work there, and no MP assigns any portion of his Constituency Development Fund there.
The Fisheries Division has stated its intention to repeal the Morant and Pedro Cays Act. What will replace it? When will the Jamaican Government live up to its responsibilities to its citizens?
Peter Espeut is a rural development sociologist and a natural resource manager. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.