Current Affairs

Current Affairs




PM steps in
Jamaica House meeting to discuss disorder downtown Kgn
OLIVIA LEIGH CAMPBELL, Observer staff reporter
Tuesday, December 10, 2002



PRIME Minister P J Patterson will meet with downtown Kingston interests today in his government's latest effort to stem the wave of criticisms over its management of the old section of the capital.

Today's meeting will include representatives from the much-maligned Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the capital's local government; the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), the Kingston Restoration Company (KRC), officials from the local government ministry and members of street vending organisations.

It was called in the wake of another failure by the KSAC to implement promised measures to regulate street vending in the business district and a barrage of criticisms of the KSAC for its alleged incompetence.

The central government, too, has not escaped the onslaught from the JCC, whose members complained of a lack of order and the high level of crime that pervades downtown as well as its gritty environment.

It was not clear last night what new the prime minister is likely to offer the store owners, who are often pitted against street vendors, whose haphazard arrangements lend to disorder and encourage crime.

The government was embarrassed by the JCC in the midst of the campaign for the October general elections when it led a strike by downtown store owners, ostensibly to press its case for a broad renewal programme. But many in the ruling People's National Party (PNP) interpreted the action as a political move in support of the Opposition and has since been wary of some in the Chamber's leadership.

The political undercurrent was being downplayed yesterday and the head of the JCC's Francis Kennedy said that the organisation had come to the conclusion that the KSAC did not have the resources or capacity to carry out its role.

"So we just have to go to central government," Kennedy said.

JCC president, Michael Ammar said that the chamber's agenda would include more than the problem of illegal vending, but fundamental local government reform and the need for someone to take responsibility for city management.

"With downtown, much of the problem lies in the fact that there is just nobody in charge," Ammar said. "Everyone just keeps shifting the buck. The first thing that central government needs to do is realise that there is a serious problem in our urban centres: crime is a part of it, management is part of it, and vending is a part of it."

The solution, he added, rested substantially with reform, including "a directly elected mayor who will be accountable to the citizens of Kingston and a staff made up of a city manager and competent people who can run the city like a modern city should be run".

Not only was the organisation of the KSAC "archaic", Ammar said, but it did not have the quality staff to do the job.

"We hope that the prime minister will convene a group (to run the city), and put someone relatively high up in charge of it at least until the reforms have been made," he said.

Nearly a year ago, former local government minister Arnold Bertram unveiled a reform plan that would have collapsed the 13 existing parish councils into five regional councils, with directly elected mayors for larger cities and appointed city managers for smaller towns.

The idea was to create economically viable local government regions with greater accountability. However, it is not clear whether Bertram's successor, Portia Simpson Miller has embraced this idea.

In any event, with only limited debate on the issue, and no legislation proposed for implementation, it is unlikely that this system could be in place for municipal elections which the government has said will take place by next March.

Simpson Miller, since her appointment after the October 16 general elections, has had several meetings with downtown interests, hoping to agree on solutions to the city's problems, particularly vending.

Late last month, the KSAC released an 11-point proposal for vending, which should have came into effect in December -- the busiest commercial period of the year. The KSAC promised to:

* enforce no-vending areas;

* register and issue licences to vendors;

* create additional vending areas and pedestrian malls for the Christmas season; and

* get help from the police to enforce its orders.

At the start of the month the KSAC published advertisements declaring "strict enforcement of no-vending regulation" but nothing has changed -- a mirror of last Christmas' failed agreements for street vendors to go into malls and arcades.

The vendors promised to move in the New Year.