Current Affairs

Current Affairs



Road work shut down
Killings spark debate over job distribution
OLIVIA CAMPBELL, Observer staff reporter
Thursday, October 02, 2003



SURREY Paving & Aggregates yesterday shut down work on its $100-million contract to repave the Tom's River to Stony Hill road after Tuesday's gunslaying of three men in Temple Hall, apparently over the distribution of jobs on the project.

Surrey says it wants the authorities to cool political tensions in the area before it resumes the job.

At the same time, the deaths of Derron Crawford, Glasford Collins and Howard Fuller, have reignited a debate on extortion in Jamaica, as well as political involvement in the hiring of workers on public works projects.

Yesterday, Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) MP, Andrew Gallimore, who represents the constituency in which the road work is now taking place, recommended that such jobs should be shared up one-third each between his party, the governing People's National Party (PNP) and civil society groups. These organisations would then parcel out the jobs to their supporters and others in the communities.

"What we need is an established formula that will ensure that all parties -- civil society and the major political parties -- have a feeling that nobody has been victimised in the process and that there has been fair play all around," Gallimore said in a statement.

Gallimore's proposal was immediately ridiculed as "backward" by the Master Builders' Association, which has been campaigning for strong action against the extortionists who prey on contractors and the role of politicians in recruiting workers.

"This is 2003 for crying out loud!" an indignant Don Mullings, the association's president, told the Observer. "Are we saying that MPs should now be given responsibility to run employment agencies to determine who gets work?"

The official position of the Master Builders' Association, explained Mullings, was that only contractors should be responsible for hiring, since they know best whose work meets the necessary standards.

"You can't hire a man to work on a road because he voted for a particular political party," he said. "The country can't afford that. The country must get value for money, so we must use the best materials, the best contractors, the best workers."

The police have not formally declared a motive for Tuesday's broad daylight murder in Temple Hall, but Gallimore quickly asserted that the murders were most likely linked to the allocation of jobs on the project.

One of the dead men, Fuller, was not only Gallimore's driver but was the designated "community liaison" for the Stony Hill area of the project.

In essence, as a leader in an area of strong support for the JLP he would be influential in determining who got non-technical jobs on this phase of the project and work with "representatives" of the PNP in dividing up the work.

Essentially, Gallimore argued that the shifting of influence from those who controlled the previous phase of the project was what got Fuller and his friends killed.

At the time of their deaths they were sitting in a car near the Surrey Paving project office in Temple Hall, awaiting the arrival of Michael Archer, the Surrey man in charge of this project. Fuller and Archer were to discuss how they would proceed, as the company had done with the "liaisons" in previous phases of the job.

Archer is now at a loss as to how to proceed.

"I need some guidance," he told the Observer. "What I don't hear from the political directorate is whether they would want to try to help to diffuse the tensions. I don't think that I should be the one to diffuse the situation. What I tend to hear is a kind of finger-pointing.

"Until I get some guidance from the political directorate and the security forces regarding some resolution or some abatement of the tension that exists, I will just have to cease working," Archer added.

Mullings, the Master Builders' president, said that his organisation was not against attempting to recruit workers from areas in which projects were being done. "But we really don't want to have the political directorate running our operation," he said.

Archer, himself a member of the association, agreed with that position, but said that the situation often dictated that contractors negotiate a compromise.

"Since we have contracts and work that we have to proceed with, we can't just throw up our hands in the air," he told the Observer. "We have to find a way, within this harsh and irrational environment, to try and get some consensus going that allows us to continue the work."

Mullings has said that the Master Builders' Association will seek to have talks with Transport and Works Minister Robert Pickersgill to deal with this problem of political involvement in hiring and the wider issue of extortion on contract sites.

But the political allocation of jobs and the use of political channels to ward off extortionists appear to have the implicit support of Pickersgill.

Last month, at the signing of a $236-million contract for road rehabilitation, Pickersgill urged contractors to stand up to extortionists, and recommended that contractors consult with local political leaders "to ensure that these problems do not arise".