Spencer says he has remedy for St Elizabeth SE
When The Gleaner last week caught up with Dr Dwaine Spencer, the People’s National Party’s (PNP) standard-bearer in St Elizabeth South Eastern, he was in the midst of conducting a free back-to-school medical fair for scores of students, an initiative he has undertaken for the last seven years.
From July 28 to August 5, he, along with two other doctors and a team of volunteers, visited 19 locations over the six days, with five stops on July 30 in remote sections of St Elizabeth.
It was evident that the success of the event was due in large measure to the organisation of the volunteers, who laid the groundwork for the three doctors – Spencer, his sister Ashley, and Yulan Brown.
At the Warminster Community Centre, Shanice Heath and Terrick Simpson went about setting up the height and sight charts against the wall, while Renee Cameron calmly noted the names of students as they arrived. Chantae Wellington, Sabrina Vassell and Moesha Bent, who had set up the stations where the doctors would examine their patients, were explaining to parents that if they didn’t have their child’s immunisation card, a photocopy should be taken to the school thereafter.
There was also much work to be done in filling out the medical information form, detailing, among other things, allergies and history of illnesses.
Marcia Pennycooke, a self-employed mother, brought her children Yolanda and Dean to the centre to do medicals in preparation for starting Hampton School and Black River High, respectively.
“Because of the cost of the medical, and being that is two children, it cut down the cost and will make it a little bit easier for me. The last time I went to the doctor it was $1,500 per child, and with two children going to high school we have lots of expenses and I got this one cut down and so it is a little better for me,” she told The Gleaner.
Spencer said that the organisation of the team was key to preventing chaos and emphasised that the initiative was free from any political considerations.
“It started seven years ago at a time when I was nowhere near politics, and as you can see, nobody wears party colours and we don’t hand out any paraphernalia. We don’t separate who we see, and anyone can volunteer to help and we see every single person that turns up,” he told The Gleaner.
Making his debut this year seeking political office, the younger brother of former Junior Energy Minister Kern Spencer cannot avoid comparisons with his sibling and the likelihood of political opponents trying to use the light bulb scandal to discredit him.
He quickly brushed that aside, saying he didn’t see an issue.
“It was polled and never came up as an issue,” Spencer said. “People don’t recognise that he (Kern) is still very popular islandwide, which is why CVM TV saw it fit to employ him to do Street Link as well as a gospel reporter.”
Spencer said that he was instead focused on wresting the seat from the Jamaica Labour Party’s Franklin Witter, who he accused of failing his constituents, citing a number of “deficiencies” in St Elizabeth South Eastern.
“The incumbent MP continues to have issues with road rehabilitation and water. Then there are the ongoing issues with Alpart. Unemployment and education are just some of the things that need to be fixed,” Spencer said.
Admitting that a combination of factors, including the PNP’s mismanagement of the constituency, cost it the seat in 2016, Spencer vowed that this time around, things are going to be different based on what he is bringing to the table.
For years, St Elizabeth enjoyed the status of being breadbasket parish, but in recent times, it has been eclipsed by St Ann and Manchester, so fixing agriculture must be a priority, Spencer said.
“The problem we face is that there are fluctuations in the prices of produce, with St Elizabeth, as the traditional breadbasket part of the country, directly affected,” he pointed out.
The resultant losses stemming from a combination of drought, inability to move produce to market due to COVID-19 restrictions on movement, as well as the absence of a proper produce distribution system and centralised marketing facility will have to be addressed, he further said.
Spencer said that under a PNP administration, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority will have to be strengthened to direct more effort and resources into the parish to help to guide the production mandate. In support of this strategy, it would be critical to establish a centralised marketing facility, which would take produce from farmers at a consistent price and sell to consumers for a reasonable profit.
He believes that incentivising young people to invest in agriculture must be predicated on consistent figures relating to cost of production as well as minimum guaranteed prices for produce.
“So if we can manage to stabilise production prices and get our produce through a centralised selling and buying point, this will benefit farmers not just in South East but all across St Elizabeth in general,” he said.
“I don’t want to say too much, but I feel very confident, and I like the position that we are in right now. Going into the election, I like where we are now!”