What’s that foul smell, NEPA?

Dear NEPA,

This is an open letter to you from the board of directors of the Beverly Hills Citizens and Benevolent Society. As you very well know, the National Environment and Planning Agency of Jamaica (NEPA) is charged with the protection and development of our natural infrastructure. Do you have the teeth to do your job properly?

Are you satisfied with the circumstances in which you now find yourself? Both NEPA and the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) are located in the same ministry, answerable to the minister of water and housing. Isn’t NEPA’s strength being watered down? How can you independently carry out your mandate when HAJ is constantly snapping at your heels? Their job is to provide housing solutions, and it sometimes seems as if they want to build more and more housing in every available green space.

But it gets worse. How is it that some of the members of NEPA’s board of directors are also on the board of HAJ? Some of your board members are quite vocal in declaring their interest, either for or against particular developments. In the case of the proposed development of some 54 lots overlooking the Mona Reservoir and uphill from Pines of Karachi, there is a very strong stench in the air; it’s called conflict of interest.

Is there a policy for dealing with the cloudy issues that do arise when a matter comes up for deliberation involving a member of the board of either NEPA or HAJ who is a resident of a community that will be affected by the boards’ decisions? Are these members asked to sit out the discussion and the vote? Have the members of the board of directors of HAJ been barred from being beneficiaries of any of the agency’s developments? Have the members of NEPA’s board been similarly barred?

Stench of failed promises

Pines of Karachi townhouse

We don’t know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that a foul smell is usually a sign of trouble brewing. For nearly a decade, the residents of Pines of Karachi have been bawling out about a stench. Apparently, when the Long Mountain Country Club was built, a sewer pipe from the development was connected to the one in Pines of Karachi. As a consequence, sewage from the Club quite frequently floods some of the houses in Pines of Karachi.

The residents of that community have been engaged in an extensive letter-writing campaign to the ‘authorities’ about the stench of failed promises. They have gone public on radio and in the press. With what result? The stench remains. And their character has been maligned. Those long-suffering citizens have been accused of being ‘bad-minded’, because they have assigned blame for the nasty impact of the Long Mountain development on their community. They are misrepresented as being ‘against’ housing solutions.

This is not so. What they want is quite simple: Their tax dollars must be used by the relevant government agencies to fix the foul problem. The faulty sewage system resulted from the failure of the responsible agencies to do their job properly.

Given this history, we want NEPA to answer this question: How is it that when HAJ proposes to clear 54 lots across from the Mona Reservoir, the developer for the Government designs the plan to ADD the sewage from these new lots to the same stinking sewer in the Pines of Karachi that has been malfunctioning for a decade? How is it that the experts at the housing agency see no problem in making that recommendation?

The same Anansi story

More questions: How is it that the approved plan for the Long Mountain Country Club was for 300 houses, but 600 were built?

What happened to the road that was approved for the bulging development? It magically disappeared off the map with dire consequences for the residents of Beverly Hills. Montclair Drive has become the main through road for the Country Club. The huge volume of traffic from the 600 households, many with more than one vehicle, is far more than the narrow roads in Beverly Hills were meant to bear.

When the Country Club was being developed, the then minister of water and housing wrote a letter to the Beverly Hills Citizens and Benevolent Society assuring us that the opening up of the natural cul-de-sac at the top of Montclair Drive was a temporary measure to allow critical earth-moving machinery to easily access the Long Mountain construction site. We were given a commitment in writing that a cut-stone wall would be built to restore the cul-de-sac.

How is it that 11 years later, the temporary access road is still very much in use? The residents of Pines of Karachi were told the same Anansi story. Access through their community was to be ‘temporary’.

A recent survey of traffic from the Long Mountain Country Club tracked 2,400 vehicles moving along the ‘temporary access’ roads through Beverly Hills and Pines of Karachi.

So, NEPA, do you plan to take the advice of the experts who have told you in their recent environmental impact assessment that all is well with the proposed development? How can the National Works Agency, in all honesty, claim that the existing roads are ‘adequate’ for the new development of 54 lots? The smell is rising. Are you simply going to ‘cork’ your nose? Or are you going to trust the evidence of your senses?

Does NEPA have teeth? HAJ certainly does. It is whistling along its merry way. It is not responsible for fixing the mess that other agencies make. And it has an ace up its sleeve. It knows that anyone who opposes suspiciously smelly housing ‘solutions’ is going to be accused of ‘elitism’. That’s a big, bad curse word; redder than the reddest of bloody cloths.

The JLP Shows Its True Colours

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) seems to be really going green and taking a firm stand on environmental issues. Minister of Housing and Water Dr Horace Chang, who has oversight responsibility for environmental issues, recently admitted that a lot of ‘development’ in the Corporate Area is downright dangerous.

 ‘Chang predicts disaster for upper St Andrew’ was the screaming headline of an Environment Watch article by Luke Douglas, published on September 28.

Speaking about houses on overdeveloped sites such as Jacks Hill and Long Mountain, Dr Chang made a startling prophecy: “They’re going to come down.” The minister appears to support Mayor McKenzie’s principled position that the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) will not approve further construction on Long Mountain.

Dr. Horace Chang

This, of course, could be nothing but doublespeak: Say one thing and mean another. Or, even worse, say one thing and do the very opposite. In fact, as reported in Environment Watch, there’s a catch to Minister Chang’s apparent advocacy of sustainable development. You have to read the fine print:

“While declining to clearly state the areas where no construction should take place, Chang said he would be guided by the ministry’s technocrats in this regard, and that the development orders should be carefully examined by the KSAC and relevant entities, such as the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).”

Conflict of interest

Quite frankly, I have no confidence that the ministry’s technocrats are going to guide Dr Chang in the right direction. The fundamental problem is the obvious conflict of interest within the mega-ministry. The agendas of the housing and environment sectors appear to be diametrically opposed.

The Housing Agency of Jamaica Ltd (HAJ) is mandated to find ‘solutions’ to the nation’s housing problems. Shortage of housing is particularly acute in the overpopulated Kingston Metropolitan Area where many environmental problems are concentrated. The HAJ claims that it has no money to do its job properly. It has been given a basket to carry water.

NEPA’s mission is to “promote sustainable development by ensuring protection of the environment”:  NEPA promo  If a proper balance is maintained between the priorities of NEPA and HAJ, housing solutions should not create environmental problems. But what happens when there’s a Beenie-Bounty clash between NEPA and HAJ?  Which agency is more powerful? And who referees the fight?NEPA appears to have the upper hand. Proposals from HAJ have to be reviewed by NEPA.

NEPA consults with a wide range of other agencies to inform its decisions: the Environmental Unit in the Ministry of Health, the National Works Agency, the Water Resources Authority, the Mines and Geology Division. On the basis of these consultations, NEPA makes recommendations to the Natural Resources Conservation Authority to either approve or turn down proposals from HAJ.

Backward PNP government

But all of this consulting can end up being nothing but a farce. Cabinet can completely disregard the recommendations of the various agencies and simply do as it pleases. This is precisely what happened when the environmentally backward People’s National Party (PNP) government, led by P.J. Patterson, shortsightedly approved the development of the Long Mountain Country Club – despite all warnings about the dangers it posed.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the scheme – pun intended – carefully outlined all of the risks: possible contamination of the Mona Reservoir and the four wells at the foot of Long Mountain; a 50 per cent increase in destructive surface run-off from the site, soil erosion that could clog National Water Commission pipes and drainage outlets, accumulated septic sewage that would produce quite a stench, traffic congestion in adjacent communities, on and on. But politics prevailed over both scientific evidence and common sense. The development was approved.

On top of that, the PNP government handed over to HAJ more than 200 acres of protected lands on Long Mountain. The agency is now planning to sell off approximately 30 acres, cut up into 54 lots, for a new ‘development’ just below the Country Club. This proposal is in the final stage of review, awaiting the outcome of NEPA’s deliberations.

HAJ expects to rake in approximately $800 million from the sale of the lots. At least $250 million of that will be spent on the infrastructure for the housing development. HAJ also plans to subtract a substantial percentage of the ‘windfall’ to fix the disastrous drainage and sewage problems that have leaked down from the Country Club.

The residents of both the Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills have long been suffering from the very threats that the EIA identified a decade ago. Many homes in the Pines are regularly flooded with sewage. The main roads in Beverly Hills have become riverbeds because of the high volume of traffic and storm water coming from the Country Club. HAJ ought to rehabilitate these roads.

The agency should also rightfully assume responsibility for completing the approved access road for the Country Club that the developer just abandoned. With twisted logic, HAJ proposes to make money by adding to the environmental problems on Long Mountain. The agency will actually make a mess that it will have to turn around and fix. Where is the profit in this?

Former prime minister Patterson

The present minister of housing and water has the authority to right some of the environmental wrongs of the last PNP administration. No matter what the technocrats tell him, he ought to believe his own prophecy and veto the proposed development on Long Mountain.

He should also recommend that Cabinet reclaim the hundreds of acres so freely given to HAJ by the PNP and restore Long Mountain to green public space in perpetuity. The environment may very well become a hot election issue. If the JLP fails to show its true colours, orange might just prove to be the new green.

Dudus Sings And Bruce Croaks?

Bruce Golding

It had to come to this. It was only a matter of time. Bruce Golding has finally been forced to accept the fact that his political career is over. He couldn’t have lasted until the next general election. He’s become a very heavy burden for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to carry. Saddled with a leader who has scandalously earned the damning reputation of being an unrepentant liar, the party had no choice but to rear up and pitch Bruce off its back.

Well, that’s how it looks from the outside. And in the absence of information, all one can do is speculate. The prime minister’s impenetrable silence has allowed conspiracy theorists and journalists to enjoy a whole week of asking wicked questions and fabricating even more wicked answers about his sudden resignation.

Did the Central executive of the JLP really agree unanimously not to accept Bruce Golding’s resignation this time round? Or did the executive just say no because it would have looked bad if it had immediately said, “Thank you, Jesus!” Is there anyone in the executive who actually wants Bruce to stay? Does Bruce himself want to stay, or is he dying to go?

Was it a foreign taskmaster that drew the whip that lashed the horse that threw Bruce Golding to the ground? Was Dudus’ admission of guilt on all counts a factor in the prime minister’s resignation? What, exactly, if anything, has Dudus told his captors about who knows what and when they knew it? Is our prime minister implicated? Is this why he has precipitately resigned? Did Dudus sing? And, if so, was it his song that made Bruce croak?

Left in limbo

Last Sunday, immediately after making his dramatic announcement to the JLP’s Central Executive of his imminent departure from politics, the prime minister should have properly addressed the nation on this burning matter. We shouldn’t have been left in limbo. After all, Bruce Golding is not just the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party. First and foremost, he’s Jamaica’s prime minister.

Golding’s apparent refusal to treat the nation with respect on the urgent business of his latest resignation takes us right back to his bumbling confusion of roles in the Dudus extradition fiasco.

Even now, Golding does not seem to understand that he needs to clearly separate the function of party leader from that of prime minister.

Caught in a compromising position with Dudus, the prime minister tried to blame the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party for his predicament. Or was it the other way around? Who knows? In any case, the two had clearly become one and the same in Golding’s mind; and neither seemed to be acting on principle. It was all about political expediency.

Almost a year and a half ago when Bruce Golding first announced that he intended to resign as JLP leader and, consequently, as prime minister, the party’s Central Executive should have gladly accepted his decision. It was obvious then that he had become a liability. His reputation was so tarnished that no amount of ‘cake soap’ could bleach it out.

All the same, Bruce did try to rehabilitate himself. He came on TV asking the Jamaican people to forgive him for his sins. Since we are a fundamentalist, Christian society, if only in name, diehard believers did forgive, though some of us simply could not forget.

And we put up with the ‘poppyshow’ Dudus-Manatt commission of enquiry when we all knew that nothing would come of it. I got a very good joke on the commission at one of the farmers’ markets in Kingston. I’m very suspicious of vegetables that are too big and pretty. I fear that deadly fertiliser accounts for the pumped-up look of the produce.

So when I saw some tomatoes that seemed to be a reasonable size, I asked the vendor if she was the farmer and if she had used fertiliser on them. She reassured me that the tomatoes were ‘organic’. Wanting to believe her, I optimistically asked, “Yu naa tell mi no lie?” Her friend who was helping on the stall wittily replied, “This is not the commission of enquiry.”

A youthful Sister P

Clovis cartoon (Jamaica Observer)

And what of Golding’s successor? As it turns out, some of the very same members of the JLP Central Executive who supposedly refused to accept his resignation last Sunday are now jostling to replace him. That’s politics, I suppose. ‘An it no pretty.’

The front-runners in the race appear to be Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness. By all accounts, Shaw has done much better as minister of finance than was expected. But that is not exactly a glowing recommendation. The bar of expectations was set rather low, I suspect.

In the case of Holness, I have grave reservations about a candidate who doesn’t appreciate the therapeutic value of a choice ‘bad’ word. As a teacher of literature, I can recall that our minister of education wanted to ban Zee Edgell’s classic novel Beka Lamb because of the author’s use of expletives. Surely, the minister ought to be focusing on more pressing matters like ‘failing schools’!

Las May Cartoon (Jamaica Gleaner)

Mike Henry, at 75, cannot possibly be serious about competing for the post of party leader and prime minister. Since the next general election is already shaping up to be a contest between youth and age, he would definitely give Sister P a welcome advantage. Almost 10 years his junior, the leader of the Opposition would be magically transformed into a rather youthful candidate by comparison.

For the time being, Bruce Golding is still our prime minister. I hope that in his message to the nation this evening, he will come clean and tell us the plain truth about why he’s resigning at this psychological moment. Perhaps, that’s too much to expect. ‘Jack Mandora, mi no choose none.’

Looking for Hot Sex (and Romance)

Sperm and egg

Desperate situations require equally desperate measures.  Two Mondays ago, I discovered that one of my courses in the Department of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, Mona was at risk of being cancelled because of low enrolment.  I took immediate action.

I designed an ad with the seductive headline, ‘Looking for hot sex?’ Romance appeared on the second line in small print and in brackets. It wasn’t quite an afterthought.  But it didn’t get top billing. Sex was definitely the ‘grabber.’   Everybody knows that sex sells:  alcohol, cars, medicine, insurance, pet food, airline tickets, toilet paper – just about everything.  So why not literature, the mother of all advertising stories?

To be honest, this wasn’t a case of bait-and-switch:  appealing to fiery passion and delivering cold reason.  There was a lot of both sex and romance in the required texts for the course, African/Diaspora Women’s Narrative. I simply highlighted some of the ‘hot’ issues in the books.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s novel, Tar Baby, was hyped in this way: “A ‘high-colour’ fashion model in Paris swops her white lover for a black man.”  This was the hook for Ama Ata Aidoo’s novel, Changes:  “A Ghanaian woman divorces her insecure husband and becomes the second wife of a sexy, polygamous Muslim.”

“The widow of an upwardly mobile African-American man remembers their passionate lovemaking”.  That’s how Paule Marshall’s novel, Praisesong for the Widow, was marketed. The most difficult book on the course, Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, written by Erna Brodber, was undressed to bare essentials: “A Jamaican woman falls in love with a black militant, loses her head and finds her culture.”

Tsitsi Dangarembga

The tag line for Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy came as easily as the heroine: “An upright young woman from the Caribbean searches for hot sex in urban America.”  The only book in which the main character was too young to be having sex was Nervous Conditions, written by the Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga.  So instead of focusing on sex, I highlighted sexism.  Not entirely unrelated but not quite the same.

Selling literary sex toys

By the end of the week, the number of students registered in the course more than doubled and we were good to go. And they kept on coming.  The number tripled last week. I’m not claiming that my unorthodox advertising campaign was the only reason for the dramatic increase.   Students often register late.  But sexy marketing couldn’t have hurt.

The department secretary, Mr. Doniq Salmon, reported that, as he was putting up flyers, he was almost run over by eager students wanting to see what it was all about.  One of them thought we were selling sex toys!   Interestingly, what the ad revealed was just how prudish Jamaican society really is – even in the supposedly liberal environment of a university.

One of my male colleagues confessed that the ad did catch his attention but he hadn’t wanted anyone to see him reading it in the open. After all, he was a respectable married man, presumably getting hot sex and romance at home.  He was delighted to find the ad on another notice board in a less public location that allowed him to satisfy his desire to read it in relative privacy.  He was most amused, and, perhaps, disappointed to see that it was only an ad for my course.

Flyers put up in the immediate vicinity of the Faculty Office kept on being taken down; not by uptight censors, I hope.  The Head of Department, Dr. Nadi Edwards, teasingly chastised me for bringing literature into disrepute. All the same, he was quite pleased that the course didn’t have to be cancelled and conceded that the sexy ad must have been enticing.

Afraid of feminism

In the 1980s when feminism was still a hot topic, that course on fiction written by African, African-American and Caribbean women routinely attracted well over a hundred students.  These days, many young women are afraid of feminism.  They think that being feminist means they won’t get a man.

But feminism is not about rejecting men.  It’s a challenge to patriarchy, that oppressive system which imprisons both men and women in rigidly defined gender roles.  And many young men are cautious about studying literature – especially feminist literature – for fear they will be seen as ‘soft’.  That’s one of those crippling gender stereotypes:  literature is not a ‘manly’ subject.

As it turns out, it wasn’t just my course that was in trouble.  For the last five years we’ve seen an ominous decline in course registrations in the Department of Literatures in English.  Several factors account for this falling off.  For one, tuition fees have gone up. And students are also worried that they won’t get jobs after investing in university education.

On top of that, there’s been a significant reduction in the number of high school students doing literature up to CXC level, even worse, CAPE. So the pool of qualified candidates for tertiary programmes is drying up.  I think the Ministry of Education needs to consider making both English language and English literature compulsory subjects for all high school students.  They do make a very good pair.

Jamaica Library Service event

One of the best ways of developing English language skills is to read literature. Stories, poems and plays teach the nuances of a language in a most entertaining way.  I have to thank the Jamaica Library Service for the bookmobile that came to my neighbourhood twice per month when I was a teenager.  I got four books at a time and read with relish.

Of course, studying literature is not just about learning the mechanics of a language.  Literature is an exciting gateway to many worlds – real and imagined.  We really shouldn’t have to resort to sex to sell that idea.