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?

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Human zoo in Hope Pastures

Almost a year ago, there was big scandal in London about ‘Exhibit B’. This was a human zoo that should have been installed at the Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts centre. Conceived by a white South African artist, Brett Bailey, this human zoo was a throwback to 19th- and early 20th-century exhibitions of black bodies put on display in Europe and America for the entertainment of white people.

Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ featured black actors in cages. There was a woman chained to a bed. This primal scene was based on the rapacious life of a French colonial officer who kept black women as sex slaves, literally imprisoning them in his bed. I suppose he knew that if they had a choice, they wouldn’t be there.

Another scene featured a black man sitting in a cage. Attached was a bilingual sign in English and Afrikaans, ‘The blacks have been fed.’ That’s right. You know the usual sign in non-human zoos, ‘Don’t feed the animals’! The message was clear.

mgid-uma-image-mtvWhite people have been fixated on the bodies of black people for many centuries. The current obsession with Serena Williams is typical. Unwilling to concede that Serena is actually a beautiful woman, lunatic racists insist that she’s really a man. Supposedly repelled by her magnificent structure, they are, nevertheless, magnetised by her alluring form. And not just on the tennis court.

It is this fascination with the ‘other’ that drives racist exhibitions like the human zoo. Though Brett Bailey claimed that he was actually criticising the historical zoos, hardly anybody believed him. It wasn’t just black people who denounced the ‘show’. People of all races objected to the way in which racism was masquerading as art. Vigorous protest erupted and the London exhibition was shut down.

PRISON ARCHITECTURE

Believe it or not, there’s a real-life human zoo right here in Kingston. It’s definitely not a work of art. And the exhibits in this human zoo are not victims of a racist artist projecting stereotypes. These humans have deliberately imprisoned themselves in the zoo. To be honest, I haven’t actually seen anybody in the zoo. But I’ve viewed the cage. And what a sight it is!

I was recently driving through Hope Pastures and, luckily, I was not stopped by the police for a spot check. But I had to stop, almost on the spot, when I saw the spectacular human zoo. From the fence to the house, there’s a solid web of grillwork covering the entire yard, it seems.  The Jamaica Observer published pictures:

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/SIGN-OF-THE-TIMES_19209516

ksacI wondered who would live like that so I went to have a chat with one of the neighbours. She said she didn’t know the occupants of the house but she’d heard that there had been a break-in. So the grilling of the yard seems to be an extreme response to crime. All the same, the psychology of the inmates is troubling. To feel so vulnerable that you would imprison yourself in this way!

Neighbours watched in dismay as the invasive prison architecture took shape. Then the citizens’ association contacted the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) asking them to visit the site. Naturally, the association wanted to know if grilling the yard was a violation of building regulations. Up to the time of my conversation with that neighbour, the KSAC had not inspected the premises.

CASTLE OR EYESORE?

Proverbial wisdom asserts that one’s home is one’s castle. Many Jamaicans aspire to own a castle – Comrades, Labourites and sceptics. Returning residents, especially from the UK, are notorious for building homes that look like a wannabe Buckingham Palace. After putting up with racism and bad weather for decades, they think they deserve a castle.

Even if they haven’t lived ‘a farin’ and earned hard currency, many ambitious Jamaicans feel entitled to a castle. Big ego, bigger house! But the whole point of the proverb is not to encourage ‘castledom’. It’s the principle of privacy and security that is to be protected, no matter how small one’s house is.

107449Of course, one person’s castle can become another’s eyesore. So how do we balance the right to privacy versus respect for the vision of one’s neighbours? The human zoo in Hope Pastures is a classic test case. Is the occupants’ need for security more compelling than the neighbours’ desire for ‘normal’ grillwork? And will the KSAC insist that the grills be removed from the yard? We’ll just have to wait and see.

It strikes me that, eyesore aside, the grilled yard poses a serious security risk. And I don’t mean just the security of the occupants of the house who could get trapped in the yard in an emergency. Enterprising criminals might see the grilled yard as an Olympic challenge: “Dem tink dem whole heap a grille a go stop we? Don’t test!”

Then I suspect that the house is soon going to become a major tourist attraction, drawing spectators from far and wide. This must be the only house in Jamaica, if not in the entire Western world, that is fortified in this way. Residents of Hope Pastures are going to have a hell of a time policing traffic to the human zoo. Perhaps they should ask Kenny Benjamin for help. He’s an expert on animal zoos. Not to mention security.