01 November 2009

The Rape of the Public Interest

John Maxwell

In 1973, nearly forty years ago,I was one of the journalists on the new JBCTV public affairs programme, Press Conference – later renamed Firing Line. One of the first guests on the programme was Moses Matalon, the first chairman of the UDC – the Urban Development Corporation.

Mr Matalon was then – as we say in Jamaica 'in him ackee'. He had been installed in 1968 by the JLP Finance and Development Minister Edward Seaga and confirmed by the new, PNP Prime Minister, Michael Manley when he took office in 1972.
Someone of course had to invent the aphorism: 'JLP or PNP in office, no matter, Matalon in power!'
The UDC was then at the height of its public relations prowess, spinning out brochure after brochure detailing how the corporation was going to give Jamaica an extreme makeover and convert it into the Miami of the Caribbean.
At that time, Hellshire had only recently been rediscovered. The rugged geology conspired with the harsh climate to keep Hellshire out of sight to all but a few Jamaicans, mainly bird-shooters and crocodile hunters like James Gore, father and son, hog hunters and fishermen. The UDC decided to change all that. It was going to build another Kingston across the water – eclipsing Portmore whose prospects were pretty dim at that time.
Some of us who knew something about Hellshire would drive out on the new UDC road to swim and eat some fish with the fishermen. It was even possible to skinny dip on the deserted white sand beach with 20-ft dunes walling off parts of the beach from easy view.
It was paradise, whether you inhaled or imbibed or simply lay about in blissful, peaceful idleness.
About two or three weeks before Mr Matalon's appearance on Press Conference a few of us found an enormous gully cut across the road to Hellshire – between Fort Clarence and Halfmoon Bay.

On Press Conference Mr Matalon expatiated on his plans to remodel Jamaica, always skirting delicately round Hellshire. In response to a direct question he admitted, yes, there was a plan to develop Hellshire as a tourist resort . I asked him whether he realised that Halfmoon Bay was the only good beach within reach of Kingston's sweltering multitudes. He said there was Gunboat Beach. I said Gunboat was now too dirty for swimming and even with its neighbour, Buccaneer Beach there was not enough space for Kingston's people.

Since he didn't reply to that I asked him why had the UDC cut the road to Hellshire preventing people going to the beach?
Matalon said he didn't know the road had been cut. I told him it had been done, when and by whom. Would he make inquiries and ensure that the road was back in operation say, by the weekend?
Somewhat sheepishly, he agreed.
Matalon regarded me, as a journalist, as a damned nuisance. In 1977, when I became Chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, he became really upset with me.

Obnoxious Obstructionist

Matalon was what they call 'multi-faceted': He was not only chairman of the public sector UDC Group, he was also Chairman of the Portmore Land Development Company the developers and West Indies Home Contractors, the builders of Portmore, and a director of the Adventure Inn/Forum group, etc., etc., ad nauseam.
We clashed over Portmore, further development of which we stopped, until the developers agreed to reserve land for parks, schools, public buildings including an advanced health clinic, a fire brigade station and several police stations. We also insisted on serious strengthening of the foundations of the houses, since Portmore was underlain by irregular lenses of peat, sand, quicksand, unconsolidated clay and gravels and other debris deposited by the Rio Cobre, the Sandy Gully and other streams which had formed the estuary on which Portmore was being built. The whole area was subject to liquefaction in a sufficiently violent earthquake.
We also insisted on a complete modern sewage treatment plant plus measures to mitigate hurricane storm surge and flooding from the rivers.
The upshot was that Michael Manley summoned me to Jamaica House to inform me that the houses at Waterford, originally to be sold for $7,000 would now cost $11,000.
In one particular exchange Mr Matalon was upset by some figures I had quoted on earthquake risk at Portmore. He then said: "But Mr Maxwell, you are not an engineer!"
To which I replied: "But neither are you, Mr Matalon!".
As far as he was concerned, and as he told Vin Lawrence a few minutes later, Maxwell was simply "an obnoxious, overeducated Rasta!" In addition to which, I seemed far too fond of mangroves and mosquito-breeding swamps.

Relocating the Fishermen                    

I got along well with the Rasta fishermen of Hellshire. They had heard that they were to be 'relocated' and asked me to help them. Their beach was to be converted into an exclusive Beach Club and they would have to find some other place to scratch a living
Some of these men had been on Halfmoon Bay for more than thirty years, and there seem to have been fishermen on that beach since the Tainos. The UDC had come in, knocked down Fort Johnstone and other ruins or allowed freebooters to sack them for the stones. A pair of contractors told me that they had been paid to remove the dunes and transport the sand to the nascent Adventure Inn/Forum in Port Henderson.
The UDC had revised its plan for Hellshire. In that limestone desert they were going to build a collection of suburban developments but still backed by the beach club.
I argued with the UDC, wanting them to reserve wilderness and scientific reserves. I argued the despite what they thought, the hog-hunters knew that iguanas and coneys were not extinct but still lived in Hellshire.
I begged them for 32 acres of land at Halfmoon Bay for the fishermen. We wanted space for a fishing village, a secure area for boats and gear and an area behind the beach where the fishermen and the families could sell the cooked result of their labours.
I got nowhere until I went to talk to Michael Manley He deputed Hugh Small and D.K.Duncan to try to solve the problem. We were valiantly backed up by Beverley Manley.
It was agreed – in 1979 – that the UDC would turn over ten acres of land to the Fishermen's Cooperative

Slippery customer

The UDC is by far the slipperiest customer with whom I have ever had to deal.
•A few years ago, fully aware that their legal department had already signed off on the transfer of Title to the fishermen – although the fishermen had not been informed – the UDC proceed under cover of darkness to criminally trespass on the houses of the fishermen, bulldozing them, while publicly and libellously claiming that the people were squatters.
•In or about 1980, the UDC, having been informed that what they proposed was illegal, proceeded to construct a groyne at the outlet to Jackass Water Hole, starving the fisherman's beach of sand. now, a quarter of a century later, because the Jackass Water hole groyne has colleted enough sand on its southeastern side to make a new, small beach, additional sand is once again flowing to Haalfmoon Beach. The dunes are back and new middleclass squatters have built substantial buildings on them, contrary to law and common sense and against the interest of the original stakeholders and the public interest.

•According to the campaign now being waged in the Gleaner, the fishermen are merely leaseholders and any minute now I expect the UDC to claim that these are 24-hour leases, or some such lunacy.
The propaganda is that the beach is a hotbed of gun and drug smugglers though how these activities would go unnoticed in this community mystifies me. Perhaps the beach will be seized as the product of contraband activity and sold, perhaps to the Spaniards. I wonder who will get the finder's fee?
It is simply the latest in a series of campaigns to demoralise the fishermen, subvert their leadership, undermine their will and spirit and drive them off the beach.

Now that the white sand is back, the beach has become 'marketable'– the sand is valued by the ounce, and the poor fishermen and their families are about to be defrauded of their legitimate interest. The public is about to have another beach stolen, despite the existence of prescriptive rights inherent in the fishermen and in their clients such as you and me.
The state, as the Public Trustee, will betray its trust, as usual
Incredible stories have surfaced, all to suggest that poor people's rights are not worth respecting. And all those who, over the years, refused to help defend the fishermen and to build a really attractive folk industry centre will no doubt be happy when steel gates go up across the beach and you are offered croissants instead of festival with your Dover sole a la bonne femme.

The Brutification of Falmouth.

    I haven't seen it myself, but I do not doubt the stories I've been told of the savage attack now in progress on the history and archaeology of Falmouth. I know, as a boy and much more recently, that in the Falmouth nearshore it was possible to pick up 300 year old bottles and other relics of the past.
Now, people watching the dredging say they have seen historic artefacts in the material being dredged for the establishment of the proposed cruise shipping pier. These artefacts are unceremoniously dumped in the offshore deeps.
If this is true I believe the coroner for the area should be informed and that he should take immediate action to end this depraved assault on our history and our culture. Is there no one in Falmouth, or Trelawny or in Jamaica, public-spirited enough to pledge some money to fight these barbarians in court?

Copyright ©2009 John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

No comments: