Is the HAJ of any use? Just asking for a friend
Port Maria residents blast State entityMonday, November 22, 2021
BY HORACE MILLS
PORT MARIA, St Mary — Some residents of Frontier Phase 2 on the outskirts of this parish capital are accusing the State-owned Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) of being insensitive to their needs, especially their perennial plight of being unable to access a steady supply of potable water.
The Frontier development commenced under the PJ Patterson-led Government's Operation Pride initiative, which crumbled after being mired in scandal.
The HAJ was launched in 2008 to, among other things, complete housing projects such as Frontier that were stalled under Operation Pride.
The HAJ is now in the firing line for its failure to provide promised amenities, such as potable water and proper roads.
“Since Operation Pride [collapsed], everything stuck,” said Leroy Ricketts, who has been living at Frontier before Operation Pride began. “Wi talk an preach, and still nothing still naah gwaan.”
Another member of the community, Ann-marie Wilks, said she bought a parcel of the land from HAJ because, at the time, water and other infrastructure were being put in place.
“I wouldn't know that after 10 years I still wouldn't get what HAJ was dangling in front of me. I think we were tricked into purchasing these lots by HAJ,” she posited.
Tonia Harris, who said she also purchased land at Frontier, echoed what appears to be a general sentiment that water is the community's most pressing need.
“The road is bad, but wi need the water more than the road,” Harris asserted.
She argued that, although truck operators sell water in the district, not all residents are able to constantly foot the related costs.
“When the water finish and wi don't have any money, wi have to go somewhere else to stay until wi can afford to buy the water [then we come back home to Frontier]. That is not fair to us. Wi have kids using water to bathe, flush bathroom, and so on,” Harris further commented.
One of the water truck drivers seen in the community, Derwayne Shakespeare, is happy to be cashing in on the opportunity for three years now, but he sympathises with the residents.
“Mi feel good to know mi can supply everybody with water,” he declared.
The average cost for 1,300 gallons of water trucked to Frontier ranges from $6,000 to $7,000.
Residents, who stated that their constant lobbying has brought electricity and Flow Internet to their community, are optimistic that their plea for water will also bear fruit sooner than later.
They also formed a citizens' association, headed by Sophia Duncan, and have been doing projects they can manage. “We clean the drains and do bushing. We also get cement and patch out some of the roads because nobody pays any attention to us,” lamented Annette Tracey, an executive member of the citizens' association.
In the meantime, senior manager for Community Development and Corporate Communications at HAJ, Nakia McMorris, told the Jamaica Observer that funding remains the biggest challenge facing her agency regarding Frontier Phase 2 and other projects inherited from Operation Pride.
“We know that there are concerns, and it is not only in Frontier 2. Unfortunately, it is across the board for our informal settlements under the no-defunct Operation Pride,” she explained. “There are lingering works to be completed in many of those communities and, unless we get the funding to do so, we can't. However, we are more than open to having a meeting with the residents.”
McMorris further stated that, although some residents still owe HAJ for land they occupy, that is not the sole reason funding is not available.
“Unless we get that money [that is owed], plus additional funding to complete the work, the timeline [for completion] is really hard to define,” she said.
McMorris also noted that there are significant variations in the cost of infrastructure projects that started under Operation Pride more than a decade ago.
She urged residents in communities such as Frontier Phase 2 to approach their Members of Parliament to lobby to get funding to assist with the provision of amenities. “I encourage my communities to engage their Members of Parliament because we do have communities where the Members of Parliament have done this and works can be carried out. The situation is bigger than [saying] HAJ hasn't completed works,” McMorris further reasoned.
During his state of the constituency presentation in Parliament on October 27, weeks before the Observer's interview with McMorris, Member of Parliament for Frontier and other parts of St Mary Central, Dr Morais Guy, urged HAJ to do right by the people.
“Even during the 2012 to 2016 period [when we were] in Government, the same cry had come from the HAJ that they didn't have nuh money. The purchasers [of land at Frontier Phase 2] are up in arms and have even written to the public defender to intercede on their behalf. I am again calling on the HAJ to fulfil its commitment in providing water to the residents of the [Frontier] scheme as part of their contractual obligation,” Guy said then.