Mon | Jun 14, 2021

We have been complicit in keeping inner-city residents in poverty – Chang

Published:Friday | January 15, 2021 | 12:11 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
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Chang
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Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang on Wednesday evening admitted that the current government of which he is deputy prime minister has been complicit, as have successive administrations over the years, in keeping inner-city residents mired in poverty.

His admission came during the sitting of the Joint Select Committee on ‘Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017’ in Gordon House.

This came after Managing Director of the Jamaica Social Investment (JSIF) Omar Sweeney and his social development manager, Mona Sue-Ho, having made their presentations to the committee, were hit with a barrage of questions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Member of Parliament for South St Catherine Fitz Jackson, who was the last in the firing line, pressed Sweeney about the impact JSIF has had through its various interventions in these troubled communities.

“It seems to be just meandering along with no end in sight and lastly, what are those qualitative and quantitative measurements that we can look at and say yes, it is successful or we can do more,” was Jackson’s parting shot.

In response, the JSIF head calmly schooled the parliamentarians in some of the basic steps to achieving effective sustainable people empowerment.

“Vulnerable communities need support. There is a reason why Hunts Bay and Mountain View and the strip from Majesty Gardens to downtown require a different level of resources for policing than say Barbican; there is a reason. If we continue to look for a panacea or a magic bullet that’s just going to go into these communities and apply a set of targets or a set of interventions and walk away and all will be well, that’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen because there is a myriad of other issues that are abstract to what we are doing that lead to the problems that we have.

“What the government should look at is a long-term strategy so that you don’t have to wonder if ZOSO is meandering along or why is it three years? You need a long-term, a 10-year a 20-year strategy that says okay, we are going to invest. If the budget is J$800 billion, we are going to invest J$3 billion a year in 20 communities or 30 communities for the next 20 years. That’s what has to happen,” he bluntly told the committee members.

Having learned its lesson over the years, JSIF had gone on to successfully implement projects in 12 communities at a time, as well as in 18 communities in seven parish simultaneously. And Sweeney was willing to share part of their formula.

“It can have this balloon effect where you apply this intervention here and then a set of problems start to happen over there.”

LONG-TERM IMPACT

Chang, who chairs the joint committee, then admitted that the Government had recognised that the “social services side” had not been functioning long before the Zones of Special Operations were introduced in 2017, and he sided with Sweeney.

“The social services to the citizens in the troubled communities cannot be an intervention. It has to be a long-term impact because when you (JSIF) finish correcting the environmental problems, you need to move on. It is not a matter of meandering. The purpose of JSIF is to get in there, fix the basic environmental issues – road, light, water, etc.

“We need to ensure that the social services that these people are denied for years … that’s why they are deteriorating. The schools are bad, when you go down to South St Andrew none of the students you meet in the primary schools want to go Haile Selassie (High School) and that has been going for 40 years. We build the school and leave it down there and all the bright students come to Jamaica College and Excelsior [Community] College and eventually they leave what’s left for the children down there and we treat them like what’s left, rather than provide a programme that will really raise them and get them out that syndrome of poverty.

Still, he was not finished.

“Interestingly Mr Sweeney when we decided to pay some attention to Denham Town, your team was there. We found 56 cheques for disabled and lactating mothers and the agencies have the cheques to give them, but was sitting on the cheques until they were getting stale-dated. They were over four months old,” Dr Chang admitted

He lamented that this was happening while PATH payment, which is a small social safety net provided by government and meant a lot to the poor, was going to waste. This is because some people in charge have been sitting on the cheques without making any effort to get them into the hands of people who desperately need them.

“That is what is going to lift them out of their apathy and begin to give them some empowerment,” he said.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com