Two 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.
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.
As 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?