Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Patricia Green | Where is the line between destruction and development?

Published:Saturday | October 23, 2021 | 12:06 AM

In a virtual meeting recently over bulldozing activities in San San, Portland, which are apparently taking place at nights, removing lands from private properties and damaging fencing, the discussion led to Jamaica being a signer of the global initiative, ‘Open Government Partnership’ (OGP). There are 79 countries and 20 local governments working to implement open government commitments.

The OGP vision is that “…more governments become sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of public policies and services. This will require a shift in norms and culture to ensure open, inclusive and honest dialogue between governments, civil society and citizens…”. Since last week, citizens in Portland have been writing and making appeals to the Government without success to view development plans for a proposed highway through their community.

Governments in the OGP are expected to “…co-create an action plan outlining a concrete set of open government reforms...”, because “…citizens are rightly demanding more from their governments than ever before…”. Jamaica, through the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, is listed on the OGP website as “member since 2016, no action plan”.

On October 2, the Jamaica Information Service reports the Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke on developing an OGP Action Plan having priority focus areas “… justice and human rights, natural resources, environment and climate, access to information and youth…”.

ENDANGERING PORTLAND

The Portland bulldozing is endangering the wider Portland natural environment, small communities, plus a key natural resource of Jamaica, the ‘Blue Hole’ [aka Blue Lagoon] listed by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Over its inscription in 2018, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment, and sport, states “…we have long recognised the importance of this national treasure and efforts to protect it began as early as 1958. I am happy to be the minister who has taken the process to this stage where the site is now declared a national monument...”.

Questions loom over Portland. Is development taking place, or destruction? Where would that line be drawn in the Jamaica OGP Action Plan in this dichotomy, over ‘justice’/‘human rights’/‘natural resources’/‘environment’/‘access to information’?

OGP offers concrete recommendations for action to fall under four areas as representing the foundation of open government:

(a)transparency,

(b) public participation and inclusiveness,

(c)accountably, and

(d)integrity.

Therefore, Jamaica should be lauded for entering into OGP. Where is the coordination of various responsible Jamaica government entities through the OGP?

For Portland, three government ministries stand out that should be working in concert with the Portland Municipal Corporation and elected officials.

(1) Ministry of Tourism [Portland is the birthplace of Jamaica nature-based tourism product that attracts a higher-end visitor who stays longer and transfers wealth to communities, unlike cruise ship tourism];

(2) Ministry of Culture [The Blue Hole nominated boundary includes its parochial access road, is this currently under threat?];

(3) Office of the Prime Minister [“Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation” (MEGJC) resides under the OPM carrying portfolio for these, plus others – Land Policy and Administration; Land Surveys; Physical Planning; Subdivision of Land; Town and Country Planning; Beach Control and Coastal Management; Environmental Regulation; Forests; Land Acquisition; National Environmental Protection; Wildlife Protection; Housing; National Urban Upgrading; Port Royal Brotherhood; Domestic Water Supply; Sewerage; Surface and Underground Water Resources; Civil Works; Flood Water Control; Main Roads].

Entities such as the National Works Agency (NWA), National Water Commission (NWC), National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and Urban Development Corporation (UDC) all fall under the MEGJC.

TOURISM DEVELOPMENT?

In Bluefields, Westmoreland, what prevails, tourism development? Or is it destruction when a resident erects fencing to block direct access to a beach. The Gleaner of September 21 quotes attorney-at-law Frederick Hamaty “…when any beach has been used by the public or any class of the public for fishing, or for purposes incidental to fishing, or for bathing or recreation, and any road, track or pathway passing over any land adjoining or adjacent to such beach has been used by the public or any class of the public as a means of access to such beach, without interruption for the full period of 20 years, the public shall, subject to the provisos hereinafter contained, have the absolute and indefeasible right to use such beach, land, road, track or pathway…”. Should this matter be taken into the courts for a ruling, when the OGP Declaration upholds citizens’ rights, “…value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities...”.

Across Kingston residential communities of Red Hills, Forest Hills, Jacks Hill, Stony Hill, the Government has approved several higher density developments. Some also exceed limits prescribed inside the 2017 Provisional Development Order. On these hillside properties with inadequate provisions of central sewerage systems and no narrow roadways, what prior accommodation is in place to facilitate density changes? Citizens are denied access to information, or allowed public consultations over density increase and character modifications in their neighbourhoods without a ‘fight’. Yet, Jamaica is obligated to fulfil the OGP Declaration, “…citizens have a right to seek information about governmental activities. We [Jamaica] commit to promoting increased access to information and disclosure about governmental activities at every level of government…”.

Eastwood Park Gardens in Kingston is zoned residential, yet the citizens have lobbied repeatedly over the years for government to respect their covenant rights against encroaching infringements of commercial and industrial activities in their neighbourhood. The OGP advocates ‘Public Accountability’ calling, “…upon government actors to publicly justify their actions, act upon criticisms, and accept responsibility for failure to perform with respect to laws or commitments…”.

Ann Hodges in The Gleaner article of October 12, ‘Highway or avenue’ pleads “…why do we put so much money and effort into making roads better for cars and practically no money into making roads and sidewalks better for people?...”. Sounds similar to Portland? Yes, the line is drawn. The OGP guidelines for an Action Plan says, “…engage citizens in a dialogue on public policies or programmes, and request their input, feedback, and contributions, which lead to more responsive, innovative, and effective governance…”.

Patricia Green, PhD, is a registered architect, former head of the Caribbean School of Architecture in the Faculty of the Built Environment at University of Technology, Jamaica. Send feedback to patgreen2008@gmail.com.