Jamaica going up in smoke

One day last month, there was a pestilence of smoke in my neighbourhood. It wasn’t an act of God. Just one of my selfish neighbours burning rubbish in his yard. And it certainly wasn’t enlightened self-interest. This is an intelligent man who must know that smoke can’t be good for his health.

Soon after I started to smell the nasty fumes, I got a call from his next-door neighbour asking if I’d gone for my walk. I told her I was just about to when I smelled the smoke. She asked me to come and see. That made no sense. When I looked out, I couldn’t believe the density of the smoke. And I was several houses away from the source!

I immediately locked up all my windows, hoping to keep out the ash that was sure to come. I eventually went on my walk after the smoke had cleared. Of course, the ill effects were lingering. There was still the acrid smell and God only knows what was in the air.

dont-let-lung-health-go-up-in-smoke-thumb.jpgBurning rubbish doesn’t make it go away. It just turns into deadly particles of disease that attack your lungs. Why is that so hard to understand? Why do we persist in believing that smoke is harmless? Respiratory problems are a very high price to pay for not getting rid of rubbish.

BURNING OUT OBEAH

I was quite prepared to tackle my neighbour. But he wasn’t at home. Perhaps, he’d left before the fire was lit and I was falsely accusing him of negligence. If yu can’t ketch Kwaku, yu ketch im shut. In this case, it was the gardener. So I asked him why he had lit such a huge fire. He was burning out termites.

According to him, no other treatment was as effective as fire. Not true! Bleach and boric acid are a deadly combination. Believe it or not, a few days later, he was at it again. This time, it was a dead dog. Why couldn’t the dog have been buried instead of cremated?

Another morning, I confronted a gardener up the road who had set a big fire that was sending up clouds of smoke. When I asked him what he was burning, he said it was old clothes. I couldn’t believe it. So I asked why the clothes couldn’t have been put out in regular garbage. His response: “The lady don’t want nobody use her clothes do her nothing.” Words to that effect.

Mi couldn’t even get vex. Mi just had to laugh. As far as I know, that lady is a big Christian. But she was covering all her bases. Christian or not, she knew the power of obeah and was not taking any chances. She was just going to burn it out. Or at least the clothes!

mhyh2qo

I keep wondering if my inconsiderate neighbours don’t know that it is illegal to light fires in residential communities. It’s not just a courtesy to one’s neighbours not to smoke them out. It’s actually against the law.

The problem, of course, is that the law is not enforced. I’ve actually called the police station to report illegal fires. You can just imagine the response. With all the crimes the police have to deal with, you know illegal fires are very low on their list of priorities.

Sometimes it takes a near-disaster to cure some people of their very bad habit of setting fires. A gardener who works in my neigbourhood had the fright of his life when a fire he lit got out of control. He was sure the fire was going to burn down his employer’s house. He ran away, fearful that he would be arrested for destruction of property.

He was very lucky. The fire was put out in time. By then, he was very far from the scene of the crime. You can just imagine his relief when he found out that the house was still standing. And he’s never ever set another fire. He learnt his lesson the hard way.

PUBLIC EDUCATION

We can’t continue with business as usual. We have to start a national campaign to educate Jamaicans about the dangers of setting fires here, there and everywhere. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is heroically doing what it can to bring the matter to public attention. But there’s only so much that one underfunded NGO can do.

It is the responsibility of the Government to come up with solutions to this persistent problem. In a press release issued last Monday, Diana McCaulay, CEO of JET, called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to use all of the regulatory agencies to deal with the problem of extremely poor air quality across the island. Chief of these agencies is the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

According to its website, one of NEPA’s seven core functions is “environmental management”. This is defined as “Pollution prevention and control; pollution monitoring and assessment; Pollution incident investigation and reporting”. I wonder how much of this is actually done daily.

semi_burning-1

The Government absolutely must enforce the law against setting fires. Both domestic and industrial offenders must be systematically targeted. Until we start prosecuting lawbreakers for setting fires, nothing will change. Jamaica will just continue to go up in smoke. And not even obeah can save us.

KSAC Sells Street to Chinese?

ksacTwo Sundays ago, I got an alarming email: “Having read your article ‘Pearly Beach a no fi poor people’, I found it imperative to make you aware of a troubling situation existing in downtown Kingston. What obtains on Princess Street, between West Parade and Barry Street, are spaces along the roadway marked ‘No parking. RESERVED KSAC’, accompanied by a number of some sorts. These spaces are sold to Chinese business operators by someone at the KSAC at a reported cost of $200,000.

“I took the liberty of parking in one of the spaces recently and was instructed to move by a Chinese gentleman. I made some enquiries and found out that the business operators received letters with KSAC letterhead offering the purchase of parking spaces along the Government’s roadway. Well, suffice it to say, I did not move, as I don’t think I can buy space on the public thoroughfare in China, and believe Chinese should not be able to do so in Jamaica. I hope you may find interest to investigate this matter and bring some public attention through your column.”

I was interested and called the office of the CEO of the KSAC. He was in a meeting. When I said I was enquiring about the sale of parking spaces on Princess Street, I was referred to another office. But I didn’t want to buy a parking space. I needed information on the policy. It was only the CEO (in the meeting) who could update me.

So I sent an email: “Can you please let me know the terms on which parking spaces are sold? To whom are parking spaces sold? And at what cost? When was this policy first implemented? And how is it managed? I very much look forward to your answer to these questions and to any other pertinent information you can offer.”

To date, I haven’t got a response. If the KSAC operates in the same way as the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), I suppose I’ll get an answer in about two weeks. No matter how long it takes, these questions must be answered in the public interest.

 

PRESUMED RIGHTS

 

The perceptive man who emailed me made a connection between the business of selling parking spaces on the street in downtown Kingston and limited access to Pearly Beach. It appears to be the same issue: The Government of Jamaica selling the rights of citizens to the highest bidder, whether foreigner or local.

e874c2259dbf5ae5c59c44f4e29bdcedAs it turns out, some of these presumed rights are not rights at all. They are figments of our collective imagination as a supposedly independent nation. I was intrigued by the response of Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), to both my column, ‘No beach for local tourists’, and Diana McCaulay’s excellent article, ‘The problem of beach exclusion’.

First of all, Mr Knight makes an error in reporting the headline of my column. He writes, ‘No beach for local tourist’. Singular. I actually wrote ‘tourists’. Plural. The issue of beach access is much bigger than the exclusion of a single individual. It’s about all Jamaicans who ought to have the right to enjoy well-kept beaches.

And, again, I’m appealing to all Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora to sign the petition to the prime minister launched by the Jamaica Environment Trust: ‘Better Beaches for All Jamaicans’. You can find it at change.org. So far, 1,245 of us have signed. Our goal is 5,000, at least.

Mr Knight’s response was published on January 22 with the deceptively succinct headline, ‘Jamaica’s beaches: access and rights’. I wondered if he was hoping that only a few people would read the long-winded article, especially since the news was not good:

“Ownership of the foreshore is vested in the Crown, except where rights are acquired under or by virtue of the Registration of Titles Act or any express grant or licence from the Crown subsisting immediately before 1956. The portion of the beach above the foreshore may be private or public property. The Beach Control Act did not seek to convey general rights to the public to gain access to and use the foreshore or the floor of the sea.”

 

DOG NYAM WI SUPPER

 

In plain English, this is what Mr Knight was saying: “It’s the Crown (now the Government) who owns the beaches – unless the beach was sold or leased before 1956. So beaches can be either private or public property. The Beach Control Act was not set up to give the public any general rights to beach access.” In other words, dog nyam wi supper.

There is also the even older Prescription Act of 1882. That was passed over a century ago, a mere 15 years after the Morant Bay war. This act allows rights to fish and bathe, based on tradition. But, again, as Mr Knight writes, “There are no general common-law rights over the foreshore, except to pass over it for the purpose of navigation or fishing.”

Why have we held on to these outdated acts? Because they protect the interests of the rich and powerful, especially those who have made major investments in the tourist industry? I suppose we need tourism in much the same way we need Chinese businesses on Princess Street. But at what price? Where is the vision to save us from perishing?

top-10-jamaican-business-stories-for-2016-810x810