Columns

Cruel relocations — past, present and future

Michael
Burke

Thursday, August 30, 2018

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The way in which the people in Back 'o' w all were evicted in 1966 to allow for the building of Tivoli Gardens was an act of cruelty. The removal being contemplated of the people in Allman Town sounds like the same sort of cruelty that took place in West Kingston. And the way in which the vendors in the Constant Spring Market have been given notice with nowhere to go also borders on cruelty.

Yet the Government, on all three occasions of the past and present, has done nothing wrong in terms of the law. Unfortunately, not all forms of cruelty constitute a breach of law.

Jamaica needs a new Parliament building. But should it entail moving thousands of residents from Allman Town? Is the real reason for this to reconfigure Kingston Central in terms of votes or to find a reason to abolish the constituency? The idea of dropping Kingston Central altogether came up in the past when the People's National Party was in power.

In law, no constituency should be more than 50 per cent of the average number of electors per constituency or less than 25 per cent of the average. The only exception is when a parish has the required minimum of two constituencies and one or both have a lower population than 25 per cent of the average. I was told that it was this precedent (the case of Trelawny Southern) that saved Kingston Central from being abolished altogether a decade ago.

It appears that the Plan B was to reconfigure Kingston Central to include Franklin Town, which is presently in the Kingston East and Port Royal constituency as has happened between 1976 and 1989. Franklin Town is the real solid base of the PNP in Kingston East.

In 1976, Kingston West Central was created again, as it was between 1959 and 1967, a fourth constituency, in Kingston proper. In 1976, when Kingston East Central was expanded, it stretched eastwards to the western side of Paradise Street to the south of Windward Road and the western side of Portland Road to the north of Windward Road.

In 1980, the Jamaica Labour Party won Kingston East and Port Royal but it was not likely to have done so had Franklin Town been still a part of the constituency. In such a scenario, Michael Manley would have lost in Kingston Central that year but he was saved by Franklin Town. In that election, Allman Town was a part of Kingston West Central as it had been from 1976 when Ralph Brown was victorious on both occasions.

In 1989, Kingston proper reverted to three seats as Kingston West Central did not have enough electors in law. It was then that Franklin Town returned to Kingston Eastern. Michael Manley ran in Kingston Eastern in 1989 and won with a margin of 7,692 votes.

If a reconfiguration of Kingston Central takes in Franklin Town (especially if the Allman Town residents are removed and makes the constituency too small to continue to be one), Kingston Eastern would become a marginal seat. Was this why Manley Meadows Housing scheme on the Bellevue lands was built to strengthen the PNP base just in case that happened?

Only about a thousand electors in Kingston Eastern vote JLP for the past two decades. It might well be that most JLP supporters in Kingston Eastern, like most PNP supporters in Kingston Western do not vote because they suspect that the party of their choice will not with the seat.

According to the late Norman Manley, it was he who secured the grant from the late US president John F Kennedy to build Tivoli Gardens in Kingston Western. But by the time the money came the JLP was in power. Back 'o'wall with its majority of PNP supporters was bulldozed and according to reports only persons holding Jamaica Labour Party branch cards were allowed to get houses.

The first housing scheme in Jamaica was built by the Roman Catholic Church in Homestead, Bamboo, St Ann to promote good family life. But when the politicians got involved in housing, most of the times it was done for political advantage to the party in power. Even Mona Heights, the first middle-class housing scheme, was built to accommodate young professionals and civil servants who supported the PNP in those days. It became a PNP bastion and remained so until 1980.

Stories abound that before 1976, people were forcibly removed from Tavares Gardens in St Andrew Southwestern to ensure a safe PNP seat. But the evictions in Tivoli Gardens were reported in the press. Both Michael Manley (then a senator) and Vernon Arnett MP (both now deceased) were arrested for disobeying police orders to move and keep on moving. Both men tried to block the bulldozers.

But it is the political distribution of housing that creates the so- called garrison constituencies which are now plagued by crime and violence. It is only proportional representation that can remove this scourge that is upon us. Proportional representation has its problems, but I am prepared to treat that as side effects from a dose of medicine.

Then there is the Constant Spring Market. This time it has nothing to do with reconfiguring constituencies but it is equally as cruel. I hope that the Government will listen to the pleas of the market vendors and use the land behind the market to erect a new one. Even the gully space can be used if a bridge is built over the gully.

Correction: Last week I made the point that in developing an idea one should always give credit to the original inventor. I mentioned Orville and Wilbur Wright who were credited for inventing the aeroplane. But it was Charles Lindberg, not the Wright brothers, who first flew from New York to Paris. The Wright brothers' aeroplane only lasting 59 seconds in the air makes my point all the more valid. Thanks to those who pointed out the error.

— Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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