Portmore pushback

THERE is growing discontent among some Portmore residents over the Government’s plan for the municipality to become Jamaica’s 15th parish.

The angry Portmore residents say they have been excluded from the decision-making process and are demanding to have a say.

They argue that if Government pushes ahead to make the municipality a parish, certain developmental and civil matters need to be in place before they sign off on the proposal.

More than 100 residents turned out to air their views at a townhall meeting staged on Tuesday by the Portmore Municipal Corporation at its Braeton Parkway office.

The main focus was on the proposed adjustment of Portmore’s boundaries, and the matter of a directly elected mayor. At different intervals, the meeting descended into chaos as attendees hurled insults, and the moderator fought to keep control.

Following the almost four-hour-long meeting which saw tempers flaring and bickering amongst the attendees, mainly based on their political leaning, Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas told the Jamaica Observer that fruitful feedback was provided by the residents.

“The residents have made it clear that they want to elect their mayor. They don’t want anybody to gather in a room and select anyone for them… Based upon the announcement by the prime minister, what the residents are saying is that if he commits [to the process], we will work with the parish, but leave the procedure of selecting a mayor as is,” said Thomas.

He said the residents have also made it clear that they are not in agreement with the boundary proposed for the new parish.

“The lands that they take off, the Hill Run area — all of that area that they take off, if you are going to talk about parish, or a municipality that you intend to grow, because we lack of a lot of infrastructure right now in Portmore, and if you narrow it down to the boundary that they are proposing then [limited] land space will be left for those types of development,” added Thomas.

In his opening remarks to the meeting, Thomas said the municipality received a letter from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development which included a draft Bill and a map seeking to establish Portmore as a parish and asked for feedback from the corporation.

According to Thomas, the corporation decided to host the first of several intended townhall meetings across the municipality to get the input of residents.

He said that while he was aware that the Government had hosted a consultative meeting online with 28 persons present, “we have nearly 300,000 people in the municipality of Portmore — 28 cannot decide for the people of Portmore. There is need for proper consultative meetings with the citizens of Portmore if the Government wants to change this municipality to a parish”.

Thomas charged that the Government hosted a second meeting online which he believes was not appropriately done, “so we are now taking it to the people of Portmore”.

He insisted that the people of Portmore should have a say in whether or not the municipality becomes a parish, nothing that there are some amenities such as a fire station, hospital and parish court that ought to be considered in the process.

But Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Eastern, the JLP’s Robert Miller, argued that there have been consultations with Portmore residents on the matter starting from when a joint select committee of Parliament was established. He added that the deadline for people to give their input had been extended by two months and at the online townhall meetings it was disclosed that the only thing missing for Portmore to become Jamaica’s 15th parish was a courthouse.

“Also, it was asked in the townhall meeting if a hospital is needed to become a parish. The Ministry of Health [said] the worldwide benchmark for reaching a hospital is 10 miles and to Kingston Public Hospital is less than 10 miles, to the Spanish Town Hospital is less than 10 miles… and also, the prime minister committed to building a hospital in Portmore and that is in writing,” added Miller.

In terms of the call for a market, Miller said the municipal council has responsibility for the establishment of markets.

Councillor for the Braeton Division Anthony Wint also raised the issue of the boundary as he charged that the area proposed to be cut from Portmore is a developed area and the propsal is to see this replaced by swamp lands.

“The land behind Riverton City coming along the freshwater river into the Hunts Bay area — all of those lands are swamps and no development can take place there. I want to know where is the increase in value to Portmore and where is the benefit to Portmore if it becomes a parish that is going to exclude the developed areas… to the western side of Portmore and to the south-west of Portmore for an area that is predominantly swamp land,” said Wint. “In effect, we are being bamboozled to believe that being parish will create more benefit,” Wint added.

In the meantime, president of Garveymeade Citizens’ Association Steve Johnson argued that the development of Portmore needs to take place in a structured way.

“It should be done in an inclusive manner in which it should not be handed to you that Portmore is to become a parish. A manifesto does not speak for the citizens of Portmore. A manifesto just speaks to the intent of an administration to put something in place. But in terms of it going forward, the inclusivity must reflect that all persons want to move in that direction,” declared Johnson.

But Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Central, the JLP’s Dr Andrew Wheatley, who chaired the joint select committee of Parliament which discussed the draft Bill, entitled “An Act to Amend the Counties and Parishes Act to declare City Municipality of Portmore the 15th parish of Jamaica”, defended the Government’s action.

In an almost one-hour presentation, Wheatley outlined the history of Portmore becoming a municipality and the events that led to the proposal for it to become a parish.

Wheatley also made mention of some of the developments slated to take place in Portmore, including the widening of roads to ease traffic congestion.

He argued that a robust public education campaign should be launched on the matter as many people are responding to incorrect information.

The Portmore Municipal Corporation is slated to continue its consultation with residents next week.

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