'This is no con business'
Gov't promises work will begin on Oracabessa mini-stadium this year, 10 years later than scheduledTuesday, July 20, 2021
BY HORACE MILLS
ORACABESSA, St Mary — The Government has taken on the hard task of trying to convince residents here that construction will finally begin on the proposed Oracabessa mini-stadium which was initially slated to be completed more than 10 years ago.
“This is no con business or no trick business,” Member of Parliament (MP) for St Mary Western Robert Montague said while he, along with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, visited the project site near James Bond Beach last week.
They were scheduled to break ground for the project last Friday but that plan was whittled down to a mere visit.
A WhatsApp message sent out last Thursday urged residents to attend “a ground-breaking ceremony at the Oracabessa play field, for the proposed mini stadium project”. A section of the property was even prepared for the prime minister to dig, symbolically, but it was left untouched.
Montague assured residents who converged at the location that the $24 million required for the mini-stadium is readily available, thanks to the Sports Development Foundation.
He also noted that the building plan is in the possession of the St Mary Municipal Corporation, which will manage the project.
The corporation's Chief Executive Officer Ethlyn Douglas, who came to the site armed with the building plan, also sought to reassure residents.
“We are thinking of starting [the project] in November as soon as the procurement process [is] completed, because right now we are going into national competitive bidding for this contract,” said Douglas.
The proposed mini-stadium, Montague explained, will be ideal for athletics, football, volleyball and netball.
“We intend to establish an international-standard football field, some stands, a changing room and bathroom, and space for the vendors to vend their wares. There will also be a hard court down on the western end of the field,” he said.
His plan found favour with three councillor candidates of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) — Fitzroy Wilson, Ramon Henry, and Jouvaughnie Byfield — who were at the project site when the prime minister visited.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer, the three councillors lamented the relatively long wait to make the mini-stadium a reality.
PNP candidate for the Oracabessa Division, Henry, who coaches Oracabessa High School's football squad on the playing field where the mini-stadium is to be built, expressed his concern to the prime minister and Montague.
In response, Montague explained that he was the one who transformed the swampy plot of land into a playing field during his first term as MP. He added that plans were in place to further develop the facility, but they were shelved when he lost his seat in the 2011 election.
“I lost the election and, for four years, we had another MP who did nothing on the project,” Montague said. He added that he started focusing on the project again when he was re-elected in 2016.
Montague said, his effort was slowed due to land ownership issues involving the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and businessman Chris Blackwell.
“We ran into a problem with UDC and Mr Blackwell about ownership of the land, court papers and such. Lawyers dealt with that and the Sports Development [Foundation] finally accepted the project,” he explained.
The MP added that the procurement process had been another major hurdle that contributed to the delay.
“As you know, you can't just take Government money and spend it,” he noted. “The procurement was done [but] there was a technical issue. The Public Procurement Commission found a little issue and they asked that it be [addressed].”
For his part, Holness admitted that the project has been long in coming but assured that his Administration was not feeding the people false hope.
“There is a certain level of justifiable impatience and frustration with the public because, as I was recalling the history of this project, it is a long project in the making... I am confident that me being here is not another event of false hope. This project will happen; the funds are there,” the prime minister reiterated to the residents.
“What is being communicated here, in a very subtle way, is a distrust for Government. When we give commitments, they are solid commitments, but we have to contend with a bureaucratic process. Sometimes we have no control over it. It is you the citizens that require this so that pubic funds are protected,” added Holness.
The proposed mini-stadium will become the only public sporting facility in the Oracabessa area.
Residents who spoke with the Observer said the facility can't come soon enough.
“We are glad for this project; it should have been here a long time now,” said Alexander Bunting, who lauded Montague for pushing the initiative.
Another resident, Delroy Marks, who took his goats to graze on the grass on the outskirts of the playing field, was elated as he noted that his grandchildren may soon have somewhere decent to play. “I can't play football, but my grandchildren will come and do it. Mi proud ah it,” said Marks.
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