PUB­LIC AF­FAIRS Sa­muda’s land grab­bers

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - An­dré Wright Opin­ion Ed­i­tor An­dre Wright is opin­ion ed­i­tor of The Gleaner. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

JA­MAICA SHOULD en­dow Karl Sa­muda with a na­tional hon­our for his in­ter­ven­tion in the strug­gle for con­trol over property at 85 Red Hills Road. For he has un­wit­tingly re­minded us of how our po­lit­i­cal and gov­er­nance struc­ture has been con­torted into a clien­telis­tic fief­dom in which mem­bers of par­lia­ment and min­is­ters of gov­ern­ment trade places and switch hats for ex­pe­di­ence.

Sa­muda, the MP for St An­drew North Cen­tral, where the dis­puted property is lo­cated, is also the min­is­ter of in­dus­try, com­merce, agri­cul­ture and fish­eries, and has parachuted him­self into the row af­ter con­stituents cussed out his back­side for not com­ing to their res­cue. He re­ported that the Gov­ern­ment would be seek­ing an in­junc­tion to bar the evic­tion of the squat­ters and would use state funds to buy the land from the owner.

“Any judge who de­clares that a per­son who claims to own the land, whether it is so or not, has the right to evict the peo­ple is not to be tol­er­ated,” said Sa­muda in footage aired on TVJ Thurs­day night.

That a Cabi­net min­is­ter could is­sue that kind of threat to the ju­di­ciary, in whom the pop­u­la­tion has greater con­fi­dence than in politi­cians, must be con­demned by Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness. If not, it stands as fur­ther proof of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­petite for ju­di­cial in­ter­fer­ence and tres­pass which Jus­tice Min­is­ter Del­roy Chuck has been try­ing to talk back in re­cent weeks.

To hot-head­edly say that a judge’s pos­si­ble rul­ing to have squat­ters evicted should “not be tol­er­ated” is in­flam­ma­tory lan­guage un­be­com­ing of a mem­ber of par­lia­ment and, worse, a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter. And how far does Min­is­ter Sa­muda and his Gov­ern­ment in­tend to press this in­tol­er­ance for ju­di­cial de­ci­sions? To higher courts? To seek to in­ter­fere with ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and tin­ker with the Ju­di­cial Ser­vices Com­mis­sion and have the judge sanc­tioned? Or to find more per­sua­sive ways to send a mes­sage to the judge?

Tone-deaf Sa­muda also fails to recog­nise the dis­so­nance between his per­mis­sive­ness of land cap­ture and his min­is­te­rial purview of en­cour­ag­ing in­dus­try and com­merce.

He said, “I don’t want any­body to leave here be­liev­ing that be­cause this is the way we are go­ing to pro­ceed, that ev­ery Tom, Dick and Harry can now come and grab a cor­ner.”

Sa­muda then takes a swipe at the sup­posed landowner in a bid to jus­tify his in­ter­ven­tion.

“I hope it (my ac­tion) will set a good ex­am­ple that you can­not use time to force peo­ple and by­pass an act of Par­lia­ment in or­der to build ex­pen­sive projects,” Sa­muda added.

SCAN­DALOUS RE­MARKS

The temer­ity of this landowner to use com­mer­cial property and de­velop a plaza, fa­cil­i­tat­ing busi­ness growth and jobs! Him renk! What does he take the Hol­ness Gov­ern­ment for? Pro-busi­ness and pro-growth?

Sa­muda’s scan­dalous re­marks re­veal how na­tional in­ter­ests can be taken hostage by po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are be­holden to their con­stituents. Had Karl Sa­muda been in Op­po­si­tion, he would not have boldly de­clared that the Gov­ern­ment would be seek­ing to ac­quire the property.

But his im­pru­dent, im­pu­dent and hos­tile pos­tur­ing to the pu­ta­tive landowner and to the Ja­maican elec­torate dis­plays how the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion can, willy-nilly, take tax­pay­ers’ money to strengthen a po­lit­i­cal en­clave for nar­row party in­ter­ests.

This is about votes – plain and sim­ple. The property at 85 Red Hills Road is an in­for­mal web of fam­i­lies who are likely to be re­minded of their ex­pected con­tin­ued loy­alty to the pa­tron saint of po­lit­i­cal benev­o­lence. Sa­muda could well ac­com­mo­date them on his farm­land in Knol­lis, Bog Walk, but hell, they can’t vote for him out there.

And that is one of the co­gent rea­sons why mem­bers of par­lia­ment should not have con­trol of gov­ern­ment cof­fers through Cabi­net in­flu­ence. Our politi­cians are bipo­lar and have a his­tory of sac­ri­fic­ing the na­tional good to feather the party’s nest. They have con­sis­tently chan­nelled state funds and sought to co-opt state power to es­tab­lish near im­preg­nable roosts.

That is why they cir­cle the wag­ons and lobby hard for the re­ten­tion of the Con­stituency De­vel­op­ment Fund – and want that amount, now stand­ing at $20 mil­lion, to be in­creased. That’s why they en­joy the power of se­lect­ing farm work­ers for con­tract jobs in North Amer­ica. That’s why they drool over the power to dole out funds for mosquito-con­trol mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts in com­mu­ni­ties. MPs would rather blame and cir­cum­vent, than fix, the bu­reau­cracy that is some­times slow to act but which rep­re­sents the most trans­par­ent con­duit of state ben­e­fits.

Karl Sa­muda is not a unique politi­cian. He rep­re­sents stan­dard po­lit­i­cal re­flex­iv­ity to chat crap about poor peo­ple suf­fer­ing and the need to step in to save them from ra­pa­cious pri­vate­sec­tor in­ter­ests. He sings the same Sankey as Por­tia Simp­son Miller (“bow­els of the work­ing class”, “I love the poor”, blah, blah, blah) and An­drew Hol­ness (“we will elim­i­nate poverty”, blah, blah, blah).

But if our veteran MPs were re­ally so con­cerned about the plight of the poor, if they were re­ally alarmed about the liv­ing con­di­tions of 85 Red Hills Road, and Span­ish Town’s in­ner cities, Mona Com­mons, Cas­sava Piece, Man­nings Hill Road’s Big Yard, Ac­kee Walk, down­town Kingston, and right across the coun­try­side, they would have passed legislation, at IMF speed, to ad­dress land re­form in Ja­maica. They would dis­in­cen­tivise the hoard­ing of land by pro­pri­etors who have no in­ten­tion to de­velop vast acreages and who are not suf­fi­ciently prod­ded by spe­cial tax­a­tion against idle as­sets. They would tar­get landown­ers whose lawyers are able to work around years of un­paid property tax.

Ja­maica can­not achieve Michael Lee-Chin’s grandiose dreams of five per cent eco­nomic growth with­out the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vers­ing 40 years of a de­scent into law­less­ness and an ab­sence of pub­lic or­der. Land re­form and ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment are cru­cial parts of the growth en­gine.

COARSE LIV­ING

The pitchy-patchy mush­room­ing of com­mu­ni­ties rep­re­sents a ma­jor in­dict­ment on all par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tives, as no sin­gle fac­tor has been more detri­men­tal to the ero­sion of pub­lic or­der and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment. These dens of zinc fences and coarse liv­ing have served as re­cruit­ment cen­tres for po­lit­i­cal thugs who have cor­ralled votes for both the Ja­maica Labour Party and the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party while dou­bling as fac­to­ries churn­ing out youths vul­ner­a­ble to gang con­scrip­tion to fight bloody wars for turf, ex­tor­tion and gun­run­ning.

Where is wait­ing-in-thew­ings Mark Gold­ing’s plan for com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial re­align­ment for the waste­lands and dust bowls of Trench Town and the con­tigu­ous com­mu­ni­ties off Col­lie Smith Drive? And over his two decades of po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in West Kingston as MP and coun­cil­lor, where is Des­mond McKen­zie’s re­de­vel­op­ment plan for the shanty towns that are crime dens?

And what of com­mer­cial re­de­vel­op­ment in Lower Max­field by Omar Davies, a 23year heavy­weight for South St An­drew; and com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial re­vival for stretches of Span­ish Town Road and its off­shoots by Por­tia Simp­son Miller, a 40-year grande dame of South West St An­drew?

And what of the Mona Com­mons eye­sore in front of the Univer­sity Hospi­tal of the West Indies? Has Fay­val Wil­liams pub­lished her blue­print for trans­for­ma­tion for that much-talked-about maze?

Where is the big plan? Where is the strat­egy? Where is the legislation to in­cen­tivise in­vest­ment in these ar­eas and the law and or­der mus­cle to sus­tain it?

WILL NEVER CHANGE

These politi­cians will, de­spite some gen­uine at­tempts for im­prove­ment in their con­stituen­cies, never spear­head a par­a­digm shift in the eco­nomic and so­cial land­scape mainly be­cause they are too busy do­ing ev­ery­thing else. Por­tia has spent the last 10 years fight­ing for party and na­tional lead­er­ship and run­ning the coun­try. Omar Davies and Peter Phillips have worked in the most stress­ful and hate­ful jobs – both as fi­nance min­is­ters and Phillips as na­tional se­cu­rity min­is­ter. Karl Sa­muda has been hop­scotch­ing par­ties or hold­ing down min­is­te­rial posts for more than 20 years. Fay­val Wil­liams is too busy out­ing fires as ju­nior fi­nance min­is­ter. How much time does Floyd Green have for South West St El­iz­a­beth?

These and many other MPs will never have the time to man­age and trans­form their con­stituen­cies. But they will, per­haps, never change that re­al­ity be­cause of the al­lure of be­ing called ‘Min­is­ter’. Our MPs don’t have a clue about their core job – which is to pass stud­ied legislation for the bet­ter­ment of the Ja­maican peo­ple and to be com­mu­nity or­gan­iser, de­vel­op­ment lob­by­ist and change agent in their con­stituen­cies. But they have dumbed down their role as funeral at­ten­ders, ‘bollo work’ dis­trib­u­tors and pork carvers.

Any free land for me, Karl?

I don’t want any­body to leave here be­liev­ing that be­cause this is the way we are go­ing to pro­ceed, that ev­ery Tom, Dick and Harry can now come and grab a cor­ner.

I

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