KINGSTON — Government Senator Desmond McKenzie proposed a review of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, as he urged the Government to fast-track legislation dealing with mandatory evacuation and “no build” zones in disaster-threatened areas.
Senator McKenzie said a speedy review of the NRCA Act would facilitate the provision of housing settlements and contain development and expansion of squatter settlements. He said it would also streamline the land titling process, promote incremental infrastructure development, encourage industry specific sector housing and encourage aided self-help.
Senator McKenzie, who is also Mayor of Kingston and Chairman of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), urged that proposed legislation dealing with mandatory evacuation and the establishment of ‘no build” zones be tabled in Parliament with urgency, in order to institute these measures within the current hurricane season.
The Mayor said he was not recommending a mandatory policy which would dictate to residents that, “you better leave the area, or else”. He argued, instead, for the creation of a policy, backed by legislation, which ensures the engagement of residents as well as proper co-ordination of the evacuation efforts, starting with warning and public education systems.
“We also need to create a policy with a proper security measure, that ensures protection of property, especially those which are evacuated, and assistance in recovery from the disaster,” he stated.
“First, we need to look at the quality of the shelters we will be providing, to ensure that they are up to providing the evacuees with the basic amenities to continue their lives comfortably while staying there,” Mr. McKenzie added.
“We cannot force people into situations, like classrooms, where there is overcrowding and lack of bathrooms, toilets, kitchens, food and toilet paper,” he remarked.
He said that a decision has been made to reduce the quantity of shelters and increase the quality, and extensive work has already been done in this area.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte supported the motion, noting that it was quite timely.
Miss Malahoo Forte, who also chairs the National Council on Ocean and Coastal Zone Management, remarked however that it did not appear that the Government would be able to fast track the legislation and put all that needs to be done in place, before the end of the current hurricane season.
“It is somewhat unfortunate, but we need to take the next step to deal with this critical matter. There is no doubt, when we look at the evidence, that there is a need for better planning and a need for better protection of the environment,” she noted.
The Senator said one of her main concerns is the failure, on the part of some of the regulatory agencies, which have consistently turned a blind eye failed to enforce the laws.
“When we look at the number of laws on our statute books, we can readily see that we have not been tardy in passing laws, but we have fallen woefully in passing those laws and this culture of implementation deficit has done us no good,” she stated.
Opposition Senator, Sandrea Falconer, expressing support for the motion, said extraordinary measures are required to prevent, or minimise, loss of life or harm to health of persons, destruction of or damage to property, or destruction of or damage to the environment.
She argued that any new Bill must come with the requisite authority to give the power of arrest, and other sanctions, for those who flout the evacuation order.
“While we recognise that people are afraid to leave their homes and property unprotected, it is important that we impress up on them that the protection of life is paramount,” she stated.
By ATHALIAH REYNOLDS, JIS Reporter