Columns

No need for blame game in Palisadoes debacle

...Address the breakdown

Mario
Christie

Monday, January 08, 2018



I wish to make a response to a letter to the editor published in the Jamaica Observer on January 4, 2018, titled 'Gov't's inaction the reason for Palisadoes debacle'.

Let me start by saying that, it's good to have the facts, but it is also another thing to understand them, and I think a lack of understanding of the facts is the reason for all the confusion and apparent circuitous nature of the conversations in the media. The letter started with a bold assertion that Minister of Entertainment Olivia “Babsy” Grange has offered “untruths”. Minister Grange, in a release following the Palisadoes debacle, indicated to the public that there is only one declared zone of entertainment and that is Fort Rocky at Port Royal, which is beyond the Norman Manley International Airport. The author accused the minister of being disingenuous due to a development order for the construction of an entertainment complex (theme park) at the 7th Harbour location. I share the link used in an attempt to disprove the minister's claim: http://www.developmentalert.org/jamaica/project/?id=38419. The contents of this link include environmental permits from National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for the construction of a theme park at Gunboat Beach located at 7th Harbour off the Palisadoes main road in the vicinity of Caribbean Maritime University.

It ought to be made clear that Gunboat Beach is not the Palisadoes main road itself, nor does it include the same. Nowhere in the list of documents says the area has been declared a zone of entertainment, though this does not preclude it from being used for parties once all the permits are granted as required by law.

NEPA approved the area for construction of an entertainment complex, it did not make a declaration that the entire area is to be used for entertainment. NEPA's approval for the use of a space does not mean that the space is automatically declared as such, it only means that they are satisfied that proper environmental due diligence was given by the proprietors.

Though 7th Harbour was one of the areas earmarked for development in this regard, and was being pushed by the previous Administration, Minister Grange made clear her position that she does not support the use of Gunboat Beach as an entertainment zone, but that doesn't change the reality that the proprietors received their permits to construct a facility to be used as such. Within the framework of establishing a zone of entertainment it is the ministry's prerogative to have the zones declared, so pointing to NEPA's approval doesn't help in the assessment of the breakdown that took place on New Year's Day.

The concept of the park and shuttle system is also irrelevant as the conditions of the approval granted included that arrangements be made for alternative parking for patrons and subsequent shuttling of these persons to the event. Again, due consideration was given in this specific case, even though the structure as conceived under the framework for entertainment zones has not yet been officially put in place.

The idea of the parish committees, too, is insignificant in this scenario, as the relevant people were involved in the process to grant the required permits. The airport was also involved, so to ascribe blame to the lack of formation of a committee has missed me in its relevance, unless the thought was that the committee would have policed the event.

The only point worthy of mention is the fact that the police officers weren't deployed to ensure the event did not cause a public nuisance, in addition to ensuring that peace is maintained throughout the course of the event.

Against this background, if one blames the Government it says to me that the purpose of Government is not quite understood. The letter, while ascribing blame, made no mention of the fact that Jamaica, as a nation, battles indiscipline and we are continuously suffering ill effects from this cultural trait. When 6,000 individuals gather for an event, and decide to do as they feel, there is very little that can be done without the presence of law enforcement.

The discussion of zones of entertainment is a non-issue because the matter comes down to a lack of enforcement — which, of course, can be an issue also within established zones. Jamaica has a rich history of slacking off when it comes to enforcement. We have some good environmental protection and public laws — not to say they don't need updating — but we continuously fail to enforce them.

We therefore need to figure out:

1. Who was responsible for enforcing traffic protocols? Was it the promoters of the event or was it that the police high command should have ensured this was done?

2. Why weren't said protocols enforced?

3. Why wasn't it clear in the beginning what should have happened?

4. What can we do to prevent recurrence?

The conversation needs to now be about how we fix this problem. But before we can know this we have to ask the tough questions and passing the blame now to the Government, or anyone else for that matter, helps no one.

We need to understand the roles of the different agencies in promoting development and seeing to environmental protection and national security. We need to understand both the legal and practical requirements and assess each scenario on a case-by-case basis to understand what is necessary to ensure compliance. Government agencies, party promoters and municipal corporations need to come together in crafting these frameworks and protocols to ensure this debacle never recurs as it paints the entire nation in a hue of incompetence.

Spewing all the facts helps no one because, in the end, the reality we now face is that there was a breakdown in the system, and that is what we need to address.

Mario Christie is technical manager at an environmental consultancy firm. However, the views expressed in the article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employers. Send comments to the Observer or christiemario@gmail.com.

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