COWICK PARK, Manchester — Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western Mikael Phillips says the suggestion by his political opponent, Damion Young, to approach the private sector for assistance with the collapsed Troy bridge is impractical.
“When persons are seeking jobs, sometimes they don’t try to understand how the process works. And I guess Mr Young — who wants the job of MP — ought to do his research on how it is that Government operates [and] the responsibility of an MP,” Phillips said on Wednesday at the collapsed bridge during a tour with Opposition Leader and People’s National Party (PNP) President Mark Golding.
Since the Troy bridge collapsed in August 2021 schoolchildren and other residents have been using makeshift methods, including a fallen tree and a zipline comprising a rope and bucket, to cross the river. The risky makeshift footbridge connects residents in the neighbouring communities of Cowick Park in north-western Manchester to Troy in southern Trelawny. Since the bridge collapsed residents have had to use a 15-mile alternative commute for safety.
On Sunday, Young — the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) representative in the constituency — criticised Phillips for not reaching out to the private sector.
“The Troy bridge was washed out so many years ago. It is true that he [Phillips] has talked, and all he has been doing is talk, talk, talk — there has been no action — and the people, I recognise, are tired of the talking and they want action. He could have approached the private sector a long time ago and say, ‘Let us put a temporary bridge, even a foot bridge, until the Government completes the procurement process,’ ” Young told the JLP’s Manchester North Western constituency conference in Mile Gully.
However, Phillips pointed out that there are guidelines to be followed to repair or construct government infrastructure.
“If it was for the private sector being able to build bridges across the island then I guess Jamaica would not have any bridges that would need any repair. As MP I cannot put up a ‘walk foot’ bridge, I can’t solicit materials from anyone, because if anything was to happen to anyone crossing that bridge then I would be held liable for that,” he explained.
“Any infrastructure that is being built has to be with the permission of the National Works Agency (NWA) as this is an NWA road. As MP I cannot just go and say I am going to build that bridge without their permission, so before people speak I would urge [them to] at least do their homework and to not try and give the people a narrative that is not realistic,” added Phillips.
He continued to criticise the Government for its response to the collapsed bridge, and accused the Government of victimisation.
“The frustration is that something that should be an emergency should not have taken two years, as I was told by the NWA. The procurement is still with the Ministry of Finance who, after two years, is trying to determine if this should be dealt with as an emergency. I have said to the Prime Minister [Andrew Holness] that this cannot be so,” he said.
“There are multiple other communities here in Manchester, St Elizabeth, and right across the island that have a similar situation like this, and if we are really to serve the people we cannot respond in the manner that the Government is responding now.
“If it is that they are trying to victimise me then that is another case, but don’t victimise the people. Right now, after two years, that is what it is really like — victimisation,” added Phillips.
Golding shared a similar sentiment as he pointed to the dangerous commute for residents.
“The fact [that] it has taken so long suggests to me that the Government is not treating this as a priority because they don’t happen to have this as one of their seats, and that is not the right approach. The people of this area vote for both parties, and they should have their bridge restored so that they can go about their daily lives,” he said.
“It is a very disruptive situation which is affecting the prospects of the children in this region. Many of them have had to change schools because they can no longer access the school on the other side of this river and have to be going to other schools in St Elizabeth and so on. It is an untenable situation and needs to be addressed,” added Golding.