Montego Bay legal aid building in squalor ... while available government spaces remain empty
Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
While millions of dollars are being paid out annually for the maintenance of unused office space owned by the Government in western Jamaica, taxpayers are footing the rental bill for the unkempt, dilapidated building which now houses the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic.
The St James-based clinic, which serves all the parishes in the western region, has been operating under ghastly and substandard conditions for more than a decade.
However, a few blocks away, at the Bay West Shopping Centre, more than 4,000 square feet of office space which has been the property of the Government since 1990 remain unoccupied.
"The Government owns a number of properties around Montego Bay, nice properties, closed up, not being used," a member of the board of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) told The Sunday Gleaner last Friday.
"On that list is thousands of square feet of office space at the Bay West Shopping Centre, which have been locked up and sitting there for the past 12 years.
"As you know, the Bay West shopping facility is a strata community, so the Government has to pay more than $150,000 every single month for maintenance," said the UDC board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Ian Max Cooke, the attorney-at-law in charge of the operations at the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic, refused to speak to The Sunday Gleaner on the matter and sought to prevent the taking of photographs of the dilapidated building.
But former government minister and member of parliament for North West St James, Dr Horace Chang, had no such issue.
Not enough priority
Chang argued that the long-standing problem at the legal aid clinic is a clear indication that not enough priority is being placed on improving the justice system.
"The lawyers and staff cannot continue to work under such conditions; it is something that must be addressed as a matter of priority," said Chang.
"I am aware that there are a number of unused government properties around, and yes, I understand that the State owns some space in Bay West, but I am not certain of the amount," added Chang, who argued that the use of government-owned space was being addressed by the Cabinet, of which he was a part.
The building which houses the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic was owned by former Montego Bay businessman Sydney Gordon, who died intestate several years ago.
With the caretaker, Percival Gordon, now dead, no one has come forward to repair the building.
Workers at the clinic are being badly inconvenienced daily as the building leaks, there are no proper toilet facilities, there is no water for clients and security is non-existent.
When The Sunday Gleaner's news team visited the building on Orange Street in Montego Bay last week, a cacophony of horns from vehicular traffic coming through the broken windows mixed with noise from a woodwork operation taking place on the balcony made life unbearable.
In addition to the daily confusion, the building is now a favourite spot for prostitutes at nights.
Montego Bay's mayor and chairman of the St James Parish Council, Glendon Harris, told The Sunday Gleaner that the weather-beaten building, which is falling apart, is not fit for human occupancy. He wants it to be declared unsafe.
President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry Davon Crump, who has been lobbying for the relocation of the legal aid clinic and the establishment of a justice centre in Montego Bay, is adamant that the situation should be addressed urgently.
"It is simply disgusting to have our people housed in a building which is so decrepit," declared Crump.
He said that, prior to learning of the availability of the unused government-owned office spaces in St James, his team had been seeking to identify a suitable location for the re-location of the clinic.
Crump is now calling on Minister of Justice Mark Golding to explore the idea of using the office spaces nearby to house the clinic.