Rosemarie Shaw | St Thomas – on a bumpy road of uncertainties
Significant changes are long overdue in St Thomas. Now, with over 60 years of independence and colonial retentions continue to batter this parish; causing it to be still the most disrespected and left-behind parish. Morant Bay is the only parish capital of this island that did not get a parish-clock from the British Colonial government. The parish was the last to get a high school when the first minister of education, Jehoida McPherson, was West St Thomas first member of parliament (MP).
It is the last parish to be benefiting from the ‘Highway 2000;’ a highway/road construction project commenced in 1999 by the then P.J. Patterson-led government. The St Thomas leg – Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP) – is not without the usual incomparable adversities. Dust nuisance and deplorable road conditions resulted in astronomical levels of respiratory and other illnesses and deaths, closure and downsizing of businesses, undue damage to motor vehicles, and an inevitable loss of motivation among students and workers.
Woefully, the MPs of both East and West St Thomas – Michelle Charles and James Robertson, respectively – have virtually ignored their constituents as they have suffered. Both sided with Prime Minister Holness in repeatedly chastising demonstrators, claiming that they were undermining progress.
On April 11, West Portland MP Daryl Vaz admitted on Nationwide Radio that the Government has lost popularity in Portland and is likely to pay a heavy price if amends are not made. He cited the dust and other miseries fmro the East Portland roadworks and water woes as primary causes. Only two days afterwards, Prime Minister Holness was touring St Thomas assuring residents with empathy that he was fully aware of their wounds from the St Thomas roadworks - another case of hypocrisy and colonial politics in the east.
CREATED THIS CRISIS
Notwithstanding, it was the Holness-led Government that created the crisis in the east by scrapping the four-lane highway plan, from Harbour View via St Thomas to Port Antonio. This plan was designed and approved by the then Portia Simpson-led administration. Albeit, this Government was without an effective substitute plan.
In fact, it was less than four months after the general elections, on June 15, 2016, that then Finance Minister Audley Shaw, from a platform in Montego Bay, announced the downgrading of the St Thomas leg. “How could we justify spending US$500 million on a highway to St Thomas? It just does not make economic sense,” Shaw argued and further stated that St Thomas only needed a “decent road from Harbour View to Morant Bay”. While it was discourteous to change something so intimate to the St Thomas people, it was more disrespectful to announce such change in St James, a parish so far away.
Shaw, representing this Government, was most disheartening, uncompassionate, and undemocratic in deciding the “need” and what is “decent” for St Thomas without consulting the residents. Not even the then Eastern St Thomas MP, Fenton Ferguson, was informed beforehand. Ferguson had single-handedly pushed the then PNP Government to approve the four-lane highway plan. He was adamant that he would not settle for anything less. Like many of the parishioners, Ferguson is still unwavering in his commitment that a four-lane highway is best to unlock the real economic and social potentials of this parish.
Paradoxically, the scrapping of the four-lane highway was penny wise and pound foolish. When the cost overruns, economic, physical, and social losses of residents are factored in, the total is bound to be in excess of that of the initial plan. The Government of Jamaica has seriously blundered on this project with some bad choices.
East St Thomas MP Charles overtly defended the subcontractor’s delinquencies as she bashed demonstrators in her constituency. She tweeted, last September, “Birdie say dem have conference dis weekend and them nuh get no mony from de contractor – dem block road! The question is, therefore, which of the political parties took money from any subcontractor?
This Government might be doing itself a political favour in the east by providing an inclusive estimate of the project from commencement to completion and also compensating all those seriously affected by the construction miseries.
Colonial retentions are quite obvious in the handling of the SCHIP – residents denied input in major changes, the east considered not “good enough” for a four-lane highway, the voices of residents repeatedly ignored, and sustained verbal and other forms of disrespect from public officers. Only days ago, Minister of Government Everald Warmington scraped the barrel bottom to uphold colonial traditions, classing East Portland resident and PNP caretaker aspirant Colin Bell as flies, flees, as he (Warmington) tried to cripple Bell’s rights to freedom of movement and access to information.
Seemingly, Warmington had wanted to pre-empt Mr Bell questioning him on the unwarranted scrapping of the PNP four-lane highway plan, the Government’s poor handling of the roadworks, and the possibilities of compensation for people affected beyond repair from construction miseries.
It is no coincidence that Eastern Portland often suffers the fate of St Thomas as the then St Thomas in the East Parish had extended to Manchioneal, East Portland and had included all of the now Eastern St Thomas and a bit of the West. Then “Queen Victoria had broken her pen against St. Thomas” – meaning, there is an unwritten sanction to keep St. Thomas poor and destitute.
Rosemarie Shaw is St Thomas Eastern PNP constituency chairman. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.