JIS News

In an effort to safeguard the island’s national monuments and to combat the illicit trafficking of cultural properties, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) is moving to revise the laws that govern the historical treasures.
“We have discovered that there are several inconsistencies in the Act – how we treat our two major categories of sites, national monuments sites and protective national heritage sites. They should actually be treated equally under the law, but there are several provisions which show certain gaps which were not intentional, which we want to resolve,” Legal Officer at the JNHT, Miss Lisa Grant, tells JIS News.
She says that the amendment proposes to revise the outdated fines for breaches, and to strengthen the JNHT’s powers and its enforcement capabilities. It also suggests offering greater information and guidance for persons who want to modify heritage sites.
Currently, the fines range from $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 for demolition or alteration of a national monument. “We want it to be a deterrent. We want it to be quite prohibitive,” Miss Grant adds, stating that consultations with regulatory agencies and the Chief Parliamentary Counsel will have to take place before coming up with an appropriate fine.
The Legal Officer noted that it has become necessary to amend and revise some of the deficiencies in the Act “in light of the changing norms of society.”
She says that an enforcement strategy is to be developed in an effort to properly monitor heritage districts. “We want to deal with all the other regulatory agencies. For instance, we want to approach the Parish Councils, the Forestry Department, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the community groups, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), the police, Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Fire Brigade, anybody who is on the ground and who can assist us in monitoring and then enforcing,” she states.
“When the Act gets amended, we are hoping that we would get the power to delegate some of these authorities so that some of these persons can go on the ground and enforce the Act on behalf of the Heritage Trust,” she continues.
Another proposal on the table is to have different levels of protection for heritage sites, so that persons wishing to develop the area may not have to get approval from the Trust, depending on what is on the site.
“It is more the concept of permitted development, where in some instances you are allowed to do certain things, so that the process becomes less cumbersome for some persons,” she added.
Executive Director of the JNHT, Mrs. Laleta Davis-Mattis laments on the disappearance of cultural properties and said that a fine or imprisonment cannot help the Trust when a piece is stolen.
“Once it is lost it cannot be replaced, even if you replace it, it is not the same thing. So if you replace a replica in 2010 it is not the same thing. It is not like we are planting a tree. You cannot destroy cultural property and get it back,” she emphasizes, referring to two cannons, which were recently stolen from Columbus Park in Discovery Bay, St. Ann. Additionally, she says the JNHT has seen an increase in the destruction of some historic structures by persons who sell the red bricks to earn a living.
“We have been having these problems. Over the last couple of years, persons have been stealing objects. We are not sure where they are going, some of them are being used on the domestic markets. Some, perhaps, are being exported, smaller pieces of course. We want to control that,” she says.
In terms of managing the sites, the JNHT will provide guidelines for the public, so that persons living in heritage districts are aware of what is required of them. Along with the guidelines, the Trust proposes to undertake a systematic inventory of heritage sites for the production of a map, which will outline the sensitivity of each site and its location.
Mrs. Davis-Mattis notes that even though a site might not be declared, persons will still be required to do an archaeological assessment or a heritage impact assessment before embarking on a development project.
“In that way, people will have the information on which to act and plan and it wouldn’t be a case where they find out things after they have already made some investment,” she explains.
As part of the new thrust to secure historical pieces, she says the JNHT will have all historical pieces registered. “So if you have a cannon in your possession, it suits you to have it registered for the simple reason that if it is stolen, then the cultural property is much easier to track,” she advises.
The Executive Director also urges persons to look around for significant areas in their communities so as to have it declared and preserved as a historical monument. She adds that once this was done, the Trust will examine its significance and have it declared. The Trust has the power, under the Act, to erect a preservation notice on a site for a period of six months until the completion of the declaration process.
She recalls the destruction of an historical building in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, which was not declared. “When it came down, there was much ado about it, but somehow it was never declared. So once a place is not declared, the JNHT has no jurisdiction over it,” she says.
She notes that there are plans to revise the criteria used for the declaration of significant areas in order to expand the scope of heritage sites to be declared.
Despite the need to preserve historical buildings Mrs. Davis-Mattis notes, there are some that are in a state of disrepair and may have to be demolished. However, she says that if a building has to be demolished, then it is the duty of the JNHT to devise a mechanism to determine how to preserve its history.
“These are some of the things that we are looking at that are practical in the legislation in terms of preserving what we have, particularly in the area of intangible cultural heritage,” she added.