Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Waning resistance to Portmore parish status

Published:Wednesday | August 4, 2021 | 12:09 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer

There seem to be a waning resistance to the idea of the municipality of Portmore becoming Jamaica’s 15th parish on the part of some residents who spoke at the joint select committee of Parliament virtual town hall meeting last Thursday.

Since the move by the Andrew Holness-led adminstration announcing the formation of a joint select committee of Parliament to establish the framework for granting parish status to Portmore, a number of residents, including St Catherine Southern Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson, Portmore Mayor Leon Thomas and councillors, have voiced objections to the idea at different forums held in the municipality.

The residents who objected in the past, citing lack of amenities, mainly a market, cemetery, hospital and a fire station, as well as basic infrastructure that need to be address before any consideration is given to granting parish status. Jackson argued that the establishment of the municipality was the residents’ initiative for self-governance, and any decision for a change of status should also be their decision. Thomas and the councillors have been mainly concerned about revenue fallout from the move.

However, the proverbial pendulum swung at the town hall meeting on Thursday when a number of residents, encouraged by the announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while speaking at a ceremony in Portmore two weeks ago, that the municipality will get a hospital, expressed support for the idea of parish status. Some were even critical of Jackson’s leadership in Portmore over the years that he has been member of parliament and a senior government minister.

Their support was also hinged on committee Chairman Andrew Wheatley’s opening remarks, in which he established that the designation of parish status should be predicated on population size - Portmore having a population of just under 200,000 people - and the fact that although important, amenities are not prerequisites for the granting of parish status.

“I am pretty much concerned about utterances from my member of parliament, Mr Fitz Jackson, opposing the move for Portmore becoming a parish,” said Okeono Robinson. “I am very concerned because everytime there is a move for development in Jamaica, the Opposition says that Jamaica doesn’t have the capacity for such development.”

According to him, Jackson, on more than one occasion, has said that there is no benefit in Portmore becoming a parish, even though it rivals St Catherine in population.

“It sounds to me that the question of Portmore becoming a parish is one of competence as oppose to readiness. If it is the case that Portmore isn’t ready, it is the current leadership of Portmore that is not ready to lead a parish of the 21st century,” Robinson charged.

Jackson snapped back, suggesting that Robinson was uninformed.

“If you just spend some time and inform yourself, you would be much clearer, that’s all,” Jackson said.

In an effort to downplay the concerns of revenue fallout from Portmore being severed from the greater St Catherine, Tricia Walters questioned the validity of the assertions about revenue fallout enunciated in earlier forums by the mayor.

“It is my understanding that when Portmore becomes a parish, it will have access to greater revenue via property tax and other revenue streams to facilitate the social infrastructure development currently not being undertaken by the mayor. If this is true, will there be increased revenue once Portmore becomes a parish?” she enquired.

The chairman, in affirming her understanding, said that as a parish, Portmore has the ability to become more creative in garnering revenue, and will be able to manage its revenue flow, so there is no negative in its capacity to generate revenue as Jamaica’s 15th parish.

Jackson, however, suggested that the standard revenue collected will remain the same, making reference to a position articulated by local government sources at a previous meeting.

Jenifer Lee, chairperson for the All Hellshire Leadership Council, in her support said she is hoping that Hellshire will not be treated as an appendage to the Portmore parish, but as a town in the parish ... “a diamond in the rough”.

She is lobbying for Hellshire to be treated like Discovery Bay in St Ann, by exploring its enormous tourism potential and become the primary tourist resort town in the parish, where visitors would want to return.

Steve Johnson, in a placid support, noted that the exercise is a concerted effort in order to develop the community of Portmore in whatever way possible.

He highlighted the need to document the amenities and infrastructure and the efforts to resolved them, so that the residents can be sold on Portmore becoming a parish.

“I don’t think it is an issue of us not wanting to become a parish, but we just don’t want to put the cart before the mule,” he said,

And without discounting the issue of amenities and improved infrastructure that the residents are requesting, committee member Natalie Campbell-Rodrigues argued that Portmore should not be an appendage of greater St Catherine.

“We have to be careful that we don’t put issues on the table that are not necessarily there,” she stated.

Campbell Rodrigues, who was born in Portmore, questioned, “How can we say that the community of Portmore, which has the most educated people in Jamaica, will not do a better job at self-governance, instead of been an appendage to another parish?”

“For decades Portmore has been operating as such, why not try a different strategy?” she asked, pointing out that with self-governance, Portmore will have authority over how money is spent, in addition to seek funding as an organised bloc.

Committee member Homer Davis pointed out that a current anomaly existed from the outset of the establishment of the municipality, which will be corrected with parish status.

He highlighted the issue of Portmore municipal councillors currently been paid by the St Catherine Municipal Corporation and having voting rights in St Catherine’s municipal and also in Portmore’s, as an issue that the establishment of the municipality failed to address. He suggested that with parish status, that will be addressed.