Councillors trade barbs over who is to blame for flooding

MAY PEN, Clarendon — Tempers flared at the Clarendon Municipal Corporation meeting last Thursday as councillors blamed their political rivals for recent flooding in a section of the parish.

The fracas began with an assertion by Councillor Joel Williams (Jamaica Labour Party, Denbigh Division) that funds earmarked to fix the May Pen Woods drainage system had been “shifted over a period of three administrations”.

Scean Barnswell (People’s National Party, Hayes Division) immediately sprang to his feet to object.

“Chairman, the member is misleading the council by providing information which he cannot substantiate. I am asking the member to refrain from going down that line because he has nothing to substantiate that claim — unless he can provide it; then he can continue,” Barnswell said before taking his seat.

Councillor Williams shot back, “Mr chairman, I am amazed that my colleague is asking me to provide that information which has been in the public for many moons. It was in the press when the MP (member of parliament) was bawling out why the money was shifted to do upper Clarendon rather than starting the drain from Guinep Tree to Sour Sop Turn.”

Barnswell, who is also minority leader, again rose on a point of order but Williams decided he would not yield the floor. The meeting descended into chaos, with members on both sides shouting at each other.

Mayor Winston Maragh rose to his feet and pounded his gavel in a bid to quell flaring tempers and restore order.

He eventually allowed the point of order from Barnswell who stated emphatically, “I will not sit here and allow the member to continue along that line. If he cannot provide facts, he needs to take his seat.”

However Williams insisted that his argument had merit

“The facts are there: The drain was started prior to 1989, election came and we lost, money went back to the budget between 2007 and 2011 and it was removed — and that’s a fact,” he insisted.

That resulted in Barnswell rising again , urging the chairman to caution the member not to make unsubstantiated claims.

Williams promised to provide proof of his comments at the next meeting.

In a more measured contribution to the meeting, Councillor Uphel Purcell (PNP, York Town Division) stressed the need for a long-term plan to be implemented to prevent future flooding.

“Without vision, the people perish. If you come into a flood-prone area and you come with the same ideas of what was done before, how can you correct the problems?” he asked.

“Disaster is going to come anyway; we can’t stop it. What we must do is put things in place to alleviate the dangers that will come. Disasters in May Pen are unacceptable when it comes to rainfall. Citizens cannot go about their ways, businesses lock down sometimes for days, and yet we are talking about 2030 vision. What is being put in place to alleviate the flooding problems in May Pen?” Purcell questioned.

Barnswell suggested that warning signs, a flood gauge or a mechanism similar to that being used in the Bog Walk Gorge, be installed.

“There needs to be something along that corridor to warn and sensitise unsuspecting motorists,” he said.

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