Carolyn Cooper | Conflict of interest at Peach Beach
On Tuesday, March 1, Martin Gooden, chairman of the Property Committee of the Jamaica Red Cross, emailed me in response to my column published last Sunday, ‘Lee Arbouin – Fierce champion of justice’. He wrote, “I hope I can have a dialogue with you regarding portions of your article relating to Jamaica Red Cross.” As it turns out, Mr Gooden didn’t seem to actually want to have dialogue. It appeared as if all he had planned to do was to correct what he thought was misinformation about the Red Cross.
I had reported that Lee Arbouin, along with others, had spent about two hours cleaning up the beach on Monday, February 14. Mr Gooden claimed that the beach did not need to be cleaned. And he objected to my challenging his assertion. Or raising any issues that were not on his agenda! When I asked why the Jamaica Red Cross had rejected the proposal of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) to upgrade the beach, he asked if I knew the terms of the proposed partnership.
I said I did not and asked what they were. He refused to answer. So on Thursday, March 3, I emailed the Director General of the Jamaica Red Cross, Miss Yvonne Clarke, on the matter. She did respond to say she was forwarding my email to the Board of Directors “for their attention and instruction”. Mr Gooden is a member of the board so, perhaps, he’ll be forced to answer my question. So far, I haven’t heard back from Miss Clarke.
That same Thursday, I tried to get an answer directly from TPDCo. I emailed the Executive Director Wade Mars. I got no response. I telephoned several times and was told that he was “in a meeting”. When I called on Friday, March 4, I was informed that he would not be in office. One of his assistants, Abbygayle Ellis, asked me to forward the email, which I did. She said she would try to address the matter. I haven’t heard back from her.
Some residents of Discovery Bay speculate that the reason the Jamaica Red Cross turned down TPDCo’s development plan is that they want to lease the beach to private sector interests. On August 4, 2018, THE STAR published an article by Carl Gilchrist with this headline: ‘Discovery Bay residents fight for Peach Beach’. It was a report on a demonstration organised by the Community Development Committee (CDC), led by the formidable Lee Arbouin, then president of the association.
Lee is quoted: “We are appealing to Red Cross, which manages Peach Beach, not to lease it to big business but to work with us, with Tourism Enhancement Fund, with government, to develop the beach so that locals will have a beach that is affordable and clean.” In our “dialogue”, Gooden claimed that the Red Cross had negotiated private-sector funding to upgrade Peach Beach. But, because of the demonstration, support was withdrawn.
I asked Mr Gooden if the Red Cross had informed the CDC that the improved beach was going to be open to the public. I didn’t get a straight answer. I suggested that it was most unlikely that the CDC would have held a demonstration if they knew the alleged intentions of the Red Cross. The concerns of the CDC appear to be quite legitimate. A massive new gate to Peach Beach has recently been erected. It is firmly locked. It is rumoured that a wealthy resident of the neighbouring community donated the gate to Red Cross. This benefactor allegedly has access to the key. If this is indeed so, there’s an alarming conflict of interest at Peach Beach.
‘RIGHT TO REST AND LEISURE’
The public has been effectively shut out of the beach by the Jamaica Red Cross and its allies. The CDC has no key. In the 1970s, the Kaiser Bauxite Company donated Peach Beach to the Jamaica Red Cross in support of the community development work in which the organisation was engaged. The beach was not supposed to benefit the rich exclusively. It was not to be locked up. It was to be open to the public. The Red Cross appears to have forgotten why the beach was entrusted to them.
The problem of beach access in Jamaica is widespread. Tourism interests, in particular, ensure that Jamaicans have limited access to prime beaches. Successive governments have done very little to enable citizens to actually get on the beach. This is, fundamentally, a human rights issue. Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”
One of the primary forms of leisure for many Jamaicans is going to the beach. Even if most of us can’t swim! We can still have a very good time splashing in the water close to shore. As Lee said in that STAR interview, “Today is Peach Beach, tomorrow it will be another beach, and before long we Jamaicans will be walking around looking at the sea and not being able to get in it, except we go for a rocky bit.” We already can’t even look at the sea along some parts of the coast. Multistorey hotels and high walls block the view.
The website of the Jamaica Red Cross announces its grand mission: “To improve the lives of vulnerable people by developing capacity, mobilizing critical resources and promoting humanitarian activities.” Its vision is “To be the most effective humanitarian organization in Jamaica, promoting at all times all forms of humanitarian activities with a view to preventing and alleviating suffering, thus contributing to human dignity and peace.” One of the most effective ways in which the Jamaica Red Cross can fulfil its mission and promote its vision is by allowing all Jamaicans to enjoy the right to rest and leisure at Peach Beach.