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Leaders missing

Published:Tuesday | March 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM

JSIF head blames community failures on inactive stakeholders

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

A LACK of leadership at the community level is being blamed for levels of poverty in many Jamaican communities.

Scarlette Gillings, managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), told a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday that many communities have not been able to access poverty- reduction programmes because stakeholders sit on their laurels.

"If a member of parliament (MP) or the Church or the teacher is worth its salt, they are going to come forward for help. With a good teacher in a community, or a good pastor, or a good MP, that community never fails," Gilling said.

The JSIF, established in 1996, has been involved in targeted poverty-eradication programmes throughout the island. The fund currently has US$55 million (J$4.9 billion) in loan funds and another US$20 million (J$1.8 billion) in grants that has been spent on interventions.

"Sometimes I can't understand. I go to a primary school or you hear in the papers that this school is (in bad condition) ... it is leadership," Gillings said.

At least one community leader agrees with Gillings that a community will only advance whenever its residents and key stakeholders actively pursue solutions.

Londey Ottey, chairman of the Norman Gardens Benevolent Society and a resident of Jarrett Lane in eastern St Andrew, said that if the community did not take charge of its direction, it would not benefit from avenues of advancement that are open.

"It is not entirely JSIF's problem why some of these communities don't benefit. It's the community's. They don't feel like they must step out. They hear about the projects yet sit back in the communities. They don't get out and go out into the communities and try to find out how to benefit," Ottey said.

"Some of these communities are waiting for the organisation to come in and spoon-feed them," he added.

Jarrett Lane, which suffers intermittently from outbreaks of violence, is one of the many communities across the island to have benefited from the intervention of the JSIF.

Ottey said his community applied to benefit from the JSIF project in 2001 and waited five years for its implementation. The assistance came in the form of a resurfacing of a one-kilometre roadway into the community.

"We have a community centre at the top of that road and it used to be difficult for people to access it. That road has provided better access to the centre; policemen who want access to the community, and the community itself have been better for having it," Ottey said.

Gillings underscored that the organisation which she heads exists to assist communities in a targeted way.

She said the absence of leadership in areas has led the JSIF on some occasions to place social workers within communities to strengthen their relationship and to give guidance while projects are being implemented.