Building upon The Rock


Building upon The Rock

Duane Smith

Sunday, January 17, 2021

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Out in the Streets they call it murder… Welcome to Jamrock

Truth be told, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Jamaica, Jamrock, Yaad, Paradise in the Sea or whatever it may be to you; depends heavily on the sustainability of its people and its limited natural resources. However, sometimes with names comes expectations.

The Prime Minister Andrew Holness in 2017 launched a quip at the then leader of the People's National Party (PNP) who suggested that the Government convenes a land ownership commission, stating, “I am a builder. I know what it is to take one block and put it on top of another and put another on top of it.”

It was pleasing that his Government went on the following year to pass the Building Act, 2018 followed by the Registration of Titles Cadastral Mapping and Tenure Clarification (Special Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 2020 (SPA), and the Registration of Titles (Amendment) Act, 2020 (RTA).

The builder has taken the stones hurled at him during what can be described as a scathing 2016 General Election campaign and crafted a title for himself and others, laying a foundation for a safer and more sustainable built environment. The vision and the legislation have seemingly been seamless, but the concerns across several factions of society echo worry and concern.

The Government, led by Prime Minister Holness, continues to work across the length and breadth of Jamaica to make homeownership a reality for all Jamaicans. Despite other skills, the current minister of finance's experience as chairman of the National Housing Trust (NHT) has given him invaluable insight into the realities of the Jamaican contributor and the arduous task they face regarding homeownership.

The policy changes made at the NHT with the lowering of interest rates and increase in disbursements facilitate hope, yet more must be done to ensure that what is built is built to last.

We have seen where months of rains have devastated sections of St Andrew, an area that falls within the municipality that I am elected to serve, and several other areas across the island. The wise man builds upon the rock, but this rock called Jamrock is not all rock.

If we review the aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert and the thousands that it left homeless along with the many Government housing programmes that followed, we see that a lot of building took place on the sand and though it was decades later; the rains came tumbling down.

The newly-minted leader of the Opposition made pronouncements in Parliament that he would not object to any call from the Government for the relocation of persons in high-risk areas following the heavy flooding that swept Jamaica in the latter parts of 2020, claiming lives and property. He then seemingly made a 180-degree turn when he was quoted saying that residents affected by the flooding do not need to be relocated. I would never presume that he meant they could possibly be safe in remaining there for the purpose of political numbers, but rather that the word relocate was not the preferred phrase of the very articulate advocate. Whatever the term, as far as the residents living along riverbanks and within flood-prone areas are concerned, better must be done.

The Member of Parliament serving the area referenced by the learned leader of the Opposition, Juliet Holness, is placed in a most precarious position.

So tedious is this day, or so she must feel as sections of her constituency have been left almost isolated as a result of landslides and breakaways.

Though many of the challenges she will face relating to flooding and landslides in St Andrew East Rural predate her leadership, she must be the wise man and ensure that moving ahead, building on the sand is a thing of the past.

Last week I shared how Abraham grew tired of living in tents and shared his longing for a land with firm foundations. You pitch tents in the sand, not structures intended to be permanent. I may have not learned a lot in Sunday school, but we all were taught what type of man builds his house upon the sand.

Perhaps fortuitously, the Building Act, 2018 allows for local authorities to do what they deem to be in the best interest of the public in addressing both new and existing structures. Some have wondered why in 2021 nothing has been done to stem and reverse these instances of irresponsible and in many cases illegal buildings. Some have classified them as socio-economic issues. But I ask, What's in a name? That which we call a rose… by any other name… I think without offence to Juliet; the same principle for a rose would apply for manure.

We can call it what we will, the undeniable truth is that we all know the consequences of these actions and irrespective of what anyone calls it within the comforts of their luxury homes and apartments or within the walls of Parliament; knowing what we know over the years and seeing what we have seen in 2020; out in the street they will call it something else.

The Hope Programme took on the ambitious task in 2020 of providing housing to families living in deplorable conditions and I believe that it can stand as a pilot for the expansion of such a vision to include not only housing for the poor, but also for the thousands of Jamaicans who were left exposed and flooded by tropical storms last year.

As a small island developing state, we are very conscious of climate change and the impact that it has had on our weather pattern. We must, therefore, not look at the consistent downpour in July and August last year as unprecedented but rather as precedence. For August 2020, 10 of 13 parishes; with Kingston and St Andrew being counted as one; recorded above-normal rainfall amounts and did so with values ranging from 106 per cent to 161 per cent of their respective 30-year (1971-2000) monthly means.

Feigning ignorance as to what the outcome will be if we continue to build with scant regard for sustainability has outlived its usefulness. We have the knowledge; what we need is vision. I believe that for such a time a this, we are led by a man that has dubbed himself a builder, not lacking experience in the laying of bricks and building of solid foundations. We have had the driver, Mama P, the One Don, the Chief and Joshua… I think the stage is set for a great legacy to be laid for the one we have come to call the “Builder”. Like many political decisions, what is right may not be popular, but I have always contended that popularity was for elections and policy is for the elected.

Duane C E Smith is Councillor for the Chancery Hall Division in the Kingston & St Andrew Municipal Corporation

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