Speech

I begin my first Budget Presentation as a member of the Cabinet by expressing my gratitude to those who have traveled this journey with me to this point. Some, from the beginning.
To some of my friends, that journey started as early as high school when we organized fellow students in activities ranging from visiting infirmaries and children’s homes; to collecting relief for displaced persons in the Nigerian Civil War; those in the political arena as part of Young Jamaica in the late 70’s, to a rookie Member of Parliament in 1980 at the age of 27 years..A time spanning the activism and radicalism of the 70’s; the challenges of the 80’s; the gradualism and frustration of the 90’s.
First I must mention my family, my wife and two children. They have not only supported my efforts in the good times and bad times, but have accepted the sacrifices without complaint. Together we have withstood the challenges and even the voices of discontent and enjoyed 31 years of marriage and family life.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I must note that the virtual schizophrenic attitude of social leaders towards Politics and Politicians, places undue and unreasonable pressures on our children in particular, a fact little appreciated and even unwillingly accepted.
My thanks also to my many supporters and workers, ( in political parlance, runners; agents; supervisors; fund raisers and managers) throughout the JLP especially in Hanover and St. James, particularly those of North West St. James, the Constituency that I have the distinct privilege of representing today.
The team of North West St. James is special in many ways. They serve with dignity, commitment and selflessness. I must have the only constituency with a leadership that more often than not, asks for more political work, but literally have to be begged to accept Public Sector work even where they have the capacity and ability.
A team of Councillors led by Mayor Charles Sinclair, a second generation politician, representing the best of our political traditions. They are committed, honest and hardworking.
To my Colleagues in the House, including those across the aisle. I feel I sit among Jamaicans with a common goal, namely a better country for our people. Even though we may seem to travel a different road, we in this arena seek a common destination.
To the Hon. Prime Minister, my friend, mentor and leader, the Hon. Bruce Golding (who has traveled a long and arduous road to this point), I thank him for his expression of continued confidence and for the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the possible fulfillment of a shared vision for this, our great little country.
Last but not least I wish to thank the staff that has served me. There is the team from the constituency led by Mr. Norman Hall, a small team ably assisted by a body of volunteers who have not only maintained the constituency organization but ensure that I am able to give the time required of me to government. The team from this Ministry led by PS Mrs. Genefa Hibbert a talented professional Jamaican ably assisted by capable and committed officers in the Ministry and our portfolio agencies. My Executive Secretaries and Communication Team and Executive Assistant operating out my office all of whom have assisted in guiding me through the early months of my stewardship. I am confident that we have laid a secure base upon which we will establish and build secure, healthy and sustainable neighbourhoods, the mission of this Ministry.
OPENING REMARKS Mr. Speaker, I make my inaugural budget presentation as Minister of Water and Housing, fully aware of the awesome responsibility that rests on my shoulders. I am also mindful of the fact that what I present today will be of vital importance to the future well-being of every man, woman and child in this country. I am sure that no one in this Honourable House will disagree with me, when I say that water and housing, the two portfolio areas for which I have responsibility, are critical to our existence and quality of life. In fact, the extent to which these two needs are met has always been a key indicator of the success of any society. Mr. Speaker, the challenges faced by my Ministry are enormous, but I stand here this afternoon not in dread but rather with a sense of purpose and resolve. Over the past nine months I have sat with the staff of the Ministry and we have critically and honestly analyzed where we are, but even more importantly, we came up with a vision of where we want to be. We know what steps we need to take in order to get there and we will ensure that Jamaica will be a country with strong, communities, healthy dynamic and culturally creative neighbourhoods, devoid of the hopelessness characteristic of so many of our communities stigmatized and branded garrisons.
HOUSING
Mr. Speaker, at the heart of the challenge that we are now facing with respect to housing, is one simple fact, the number of new housing solutions created have never kept pace with the demand, especially at the lower income end of the market. This is not a wholesale indictment on past administrations, as over the years several strategies have been employed to address this problem. The truth is, that globally the provision of adequate housing has, and continues to be, very challenging, especially for developing countries. I am confident however, that given the plan of action that we have come up and the competence and dedication of the team at the Ministry and its agencies, we can make the vision of adequate housing for all, a reality.
It is therefore no coincidence that the first step that we will take to solve the challenges with respect to housing, is to put in place a comprehensive policy with the required legislative framework for the industry while undertaking our own institutional strengthening. Mr. Speaker the current lack of capacity in the core Ministry and agencies is a major drawback on implementing our mission because government will always find it challenging to attract and retain the highly skilled professionals required by these portfolios. Indeed, every good builder knows, that in order to have a durable structure, you must first lay a solid foundation and put up a strong framework.
Changes to the Policy FrameworkFor too long the shelter sector has been operating without a comprehensive policy to guide its operations, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the problems being faced. It is for this reason that one of the first tasks I undertook when I assumed responsibility for this portfolio, was to drive the process to identify a team of suitably qualified persons to undertake the preparation of a National Housing policy and implementation plan.
Today, I can proudly say that after much effort, the Ministry has now entered into contract with the University of Technology, Jamaica for the preparation of this policy. This revolutionary arrangement sees the coming together of a consortium of some of the brightest minds from the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology, Jamaica, a mix of policy and technical strength that will result in a document of the highest quality.
Work on the project will start within the first week of June and will be undertaken over a one year period, during which time extensive regional, sectoral and professional consultation will be done to ensure the input of a wide-cross section of Jamaicans.
I will not go into any details on what will be included in the policy, except to say that it will address issues such as housing supply and demand, affordability, financing, investment, access to land, squatting, social housing and public private partnerships.
One of the key strategies that we will use to increase the number of housing solutions provided is that of public private partnerships. This not a new concept, and in fact, started with the original National Shelter Policy which was promulgated in 1987 by our current Prime Minister, who was then Minister of Construction. A policy which if pursued could have started the erosion of garrisons, as a programme in which the private sector plays a greater role in the delivery of units would have reduced the impact of partisanship.
The policy was not only not followed, but aspects of it which were operationalized suffered from a number of operational deficiencies that limited its impact and resulted in the creation of problem developments such as Kennedy Grove, where every time it rained, the residents were at risk of losing their hard-earned investment. The Ministry has now concluded a review of the prgroamme, which has led to radical changes to the Joint Venture Policy of 2003. The policy which has been renamed the Housing Pubic Private Partnership Policy to reflect its coverage of all types of partnership arrangements, was approved by Cabinet on April 14, 2008 and tabled in Parliament on May 13, 2008. This was necessary as we have to continue the public-private partnerships even as we continue to pursue our comprehensive housing policy.
Mr. Speaker, this revised policy framework represents a major milestone of this Administration and sends a clear signal that it is not business as usual. We are ‘changing course’ on the approach taken by the former administration. In this new dispensation it will no longer be acceptable for the hardworking tax-payers of this country to have to foot the bill to complete or repair developments where developers fail to honour their obligations.
We are also going to ensure that the name ‘Ministry of Water and Housing’ is synonymous with excellence in execution, so that when persons buy into any housing development undertaken in partnership with the Ministry they can be assured that they are investing in a well planned, safe, aesthetically pleasing, and environmentally safe community.
The use of the term community here is no accident, as I am painfully aware of the fact that a significant part of the challenge with which we are faced as a country, has to do with the fact that over the years, emphasis was placed on building houses not communities. As a consequence little or no thought was given to the social, economic and environmental structures that are need to create sustainable communities. The result has been an unacceptable level of urban decay characterized by deteriorating housing stock, high unemployment, fragmented families and crime.
In order to achieve this new paradigm, for housing developments undertaken in partnership with the private sector the new policy addresses issues such as partner selection, appropriate remedy for breaches, tighter monitoring of developments, project planning and payment for government lands. I want to especially highlight the fact that there will be greater adherence to the provision of the Housing Act with respect to the need to obtain parliamentary approval for those projects done under the Private Facilitation component of the programme. In addition, we have taken a policy decision that we will obtain approval from the relevant local planning authority for all developments. Under my watch, the Housing Act will not be used as a means of bypassing proper planning procedures.
Changes to the Legislative FrameworkIf we are to successfully address the housing challenge, we must of necessity have a vibrant housing finance system that has the flexibility to meet the varied and changing demands of the housing market. For sometime now the Ministry has been seeking to effect changes to the Mortgage Insurance Act and Regulations to facilitate this process and I can proudly say that we are now at the stage where the Bill has been introduced into this Honourable House. In addition to that the Regulations have already been amended to increase the ceiling for secondary mortgage from $500 million to $2.5 billion.
Mr. Speaker, among the benefits of the amendments to this piece of legislation are an increase in the amount of funds for primary financing that can be made available to mortgage granting institutions and greater coverage for risks in cases of default on mortgage payments. This will lead to reduced down payment for purchasers; a significant increase in the housing stock and by extension, more mortgages which will increase the pool of funds available to support a secondary mortgage market. The end result of these changes will be greater economic stability for the country, generated by the inflow of equity in the housing sector through the investments.
While it is the dream of most persons to own their home, the reality is that no matter what mechanism a government puts in place to provide shelter this dream will never be realized by all. In fact, depending on the stage of life that persons are in, it may be more advantageous to pursue other forms of living arrangements. It is for this reason that the Ministry is taking steps to revitalize and encourage new investments in the rental market. In order to facilitate this process, the Rent Restriction Act is now being amended to among other things, create a situation where the rights of landlords and tenants are equally protected and to provide the mechanism to enable speedy resolution of disputes.
Institutional StrengtheningThis Administration has given a firm commitment to upholding the principles of good governance and one way in which I intend to demonstrate this commitment, is to ensure that all the operations of the Ministry are undertaken in the most efficient manner thereby eliminating waste. I am now in the process of redefining and rationalizing the role and functions of the core Ministry and the agencies, to remove the existing areas of overlap that have made the current organizational arrangements inefficient. The Ministry is in the process of restructuring the organization in order to achieve greater cohesiveness and improve its capacity to implement its mission.
Our thrust at institutional strengthening will also include where necessary, changes to the existing structure of both the core Ministry and the agencies, to ensure that there is adequate capacity to undertake the tasks that we have set. Within the core Ministry, three of the key areas that will be strengthened are Policy and Research, Technical Services and Land Administration.
With respect to the National Housing Development Corporation, steps are now being taken to re-brand and reposition the organization. In this regard its name is to be changed and it will be reorganized in order to increase its technical capabilities and efficiency. The New Board has commissioned the preparation of a three year strategic plan and it is envisaged that by the financial year 2010/2011, the NHDC will be in a position to facilitate the completion of ten thousand housing solutions annually
The Mortgage Bank began its process of reorganization in November of last year when it came under new leadership and since then, a concerted effort has been made to streamline its operations to increase its efficiency and effectiveness.
Mr. Speaker, while we await the completion of the necessary enabling legislation, policy changes and institutional developments that will underpin a new and improved housing sector, we are aware that we cannot relax for one moment, the urgency of the current situation will not permit us to do so. I will therefore now speak to some of the specific strategies that the Ministry will employ in this financial year to address the four main challenges facing the sector, namely the need for new solutions; urban renewal; squatting and security of tenure.
Provision of New SolutionsUnder the Public Private Partnership Programme, the Technical Services Unit will bring to conclusion outstanding obligations by developers on 24 existing Joint Venture Projects and commence three new projects that are now in various stages of planning. It is also anticipated that 10 new projects will be planned, however completion will not be achieved in this financial year.
Let me take this opportunity to say to all the professional developers who dare to dream and are interested in the welfare of their country, come, the time is right, the stage has been set, let us pool our collective wisdom and resources together to house our people and build this nation one block at a time.
The NHDC will, during this financial year, expend some $789 Million on construction. Four schemes will be completed providing a total of 801 solutions. Construction will also be undertaken at five sites which when completed will yield a total of 546 solutions comprising a mixture of serviced lots and houses. The NHDC will enter into a partnership arrangement with the National Housing Trust to construct 340 serviced lots. Indeed the ministry itself will have to work more closely with the National Housing Trust to build solutions and to provide water for those developments being undertaken by the NHT.
The NHDC will also launch a major mixed residential development to be known as Luana IV in St. Elizabeth. It is envisaged that this project will comprise some 800 to 900 housing solutions, and will be a mix of lower and middle income houses and serviced lots with full amenities and social services.
Partnerships with the private sector will also be pursed by the NHDC and it is worthy of mention that a preliminary agreement has already been reached with Rose Hall Developments Limited, whereby some 132 acres of land at Rhyne Park, St. James, will be made available for housing development for hotel workers in the area.
I would like to point out that the National Housing Development Corporation is currently facing significant challenges resulting primarily from their assuming responsibility of the Operation PRIDE programme which was a well conceived idea badly implemented resulting in massive financial losses and impropriety. In fact the planned activities for this year will reestablish a viable foundation and restore its viability and prepare it to be a major player in the provision of housing solutions over the next few years.
Urban RenewalThe issue of urban renewal has also been high on my agenda and I am sure that you will understand my passion for this area, as my constituency of North West St. James has some of the largest squatter settlements in the island. All across the countryside, our urban areas are plagued by squatting, lack of infrastructure and socially dysfunctional communities.The Ministry is working to provide a framework for the transformation of these areas, with the knowledge that given the serious cost implications, we will have to undertake incremental development. As a first step we will have to look at shelter, water and basic roadways. After that we can address sewage and other necessary amenities.The Technical Services Unit of the Ministry is now looking at new models to resolve the chronic inner city decay. The Unit has demonstrated its capacity to design solutions to facilitate urban renewal and they will be working closely with the Housing Development Corporation on this effort. In addition, the NHDC will commence works to put much needed infrastructure in sections of Norwood, Flankers, and Barrett Hall in St. James.
Mr. Speaker, it would be amiss of me if at this juncture I did not make special mention of two pilot renewal projects that is being undertaken at the Albion Tenement in St. James and the Olympic Gardens Community Centre in St., Andrew. The tenement was constructed to TEMPORARILY house persons displaced by Hurricane Charlie in 1951 and some 57 years later words cannot even come close to describing the abject squalor in which the persons were living.
I am happy to report that we have now completed the designs for the new units, a process that was done in consultation with the community to ensure that each existing household is reasonably accommodated.
The consultation is also to ensure that the residents are aware of their obligations and to introduce them to socio-economic opportunities for their personal development in order for them to fulfill their responsibilities. Construction is slated to begin in July and should be completed in one year.
Earlier I spoke to the concept of building sustainable communities and this is an example of how we plan to make that happen. The Social Services Unit of the Ministry is already working in tandem with the Social Development Commission, the Small Business Association, the Department of Friendly Societies and other Non-Governmental Organizations to ensure that as we work to complete the houses, a plan is being developed and implemented to resolve the economic and social needs of the residents.
This whole concept is being examined to provide a comprehensive programme for sustainable urban renewal. The objective is to not only improve the physical infrastructure but to make our inner city residents participate and integrate in the formal economy We will complete a comprehensive document for the Prime Minister by the end of June, as we seek to chart a new course for successful and sustainable urban renewal initiatives. In this regard we will be working closely with the National Housing Trust, all the relevant government agencies and Non-governmental organizations.
SquattingSquatting is, in my estimation, is the single biggest social challenge that we now face in this country and the cause of great social dysfunction. The statistics indicate that there are some 700 informal settlements across the island, which are home to a possible 15 to 35 per cent of the population.
While the total incidence of squatting cannot be attributed to any one cause, the overriding factor has been an insufficiency of housing for the low income worker. The massive expansion in the tourism sector along the north coast for example, has resulted in the creation of a significant numbers of jobs, both directly and indirectly and as a result, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and other growing urban centres have been overwhelmed by informal settlements.
We have to attack the problem in a holistic manner. We have to actively prevent any new incidence of squatting, we have to deal with the existing communities and we must to provide adequate and affordable housing solutions for working Jamaicans.
I have had dialogue with the Prime Minister and we have agreed that this Administration will be adopting a Zero Tolerance approach to squatting. This means that from hereon in, once we identify new structures going up, they will be demolished.
In recognition of the need for adequate housing for workers, we are in the process of identifying those areas along the north coast where major developments are taking place and where we are therefore likely to have an influx of workers. Through the NHDC in conjunction with the National Housing Trust and in partnership with the private sector, we will be building a range of affordable solutions to meet the demand so as to meet the demand and prevent further expansion of the informal settlements. I mentioned earlier the notable gesture by Rose Hall Development in donating lands to build houses for workers in the Rose Hall area and the only condition is that any profit derived from this initial scheme will go to build additional houses in the Rose Hall area. This is where we want to go in the future, where when you have major developments, land is identified to build houses for the workers.
For those settlements already in existence we will have to deal with them on a case by case basis. Some will have to be regularized while others will definitely have to be relocated.
In order to facilitate this process, the Squatter Management Unit is currently spearheading a project to assess the extent of squatting island wide. The project is being done as an inter-agency collaboration with the National Land Agency, the Forestry Department, the National Housing Trust, the National Housing Development Corporation, the Urban Development Corporation, the Department of Local Government, the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Spatial Data Management Division within the Office of the Prime Minister.
At the end of the study which is scheduled to be completed in October of this year, we will have a clear understanding of where we stand so that we can develop a comprehensive plan of action for moving forward.
Security of TenureThe Ministry is taking a multi-faceted approach to improving security of tenure. One such approach will be to regularize properties that were declared under the Local Improvements (Community Amenities) Act, LICA. During this financial year the Ministry will develop and regularize seven such properties to provide secure tenure to the 203 existing residents. In addition, work will commence to acquire six properties that were already declared, so that they can be regularized to provide security of tenure for a further 119 individuals.
Another major thrust will be in respect of the old housing developments for which there are no titles because the lands were never formally acquired. The Ministry will be acquiring 89 parcels of land on which the Denham Town scheme was built in the 1980’s, to facilitate the provision of titles for 783 units. Preparatory steps will also be taken to acquire another 90 parcels in Hannah Town to enable the Ministry to issue titles in those schemes. In addition, surveys will be carried out to facilitate the provision of titles for 704 units in Trench Town. It is instructive that in all these urban centres which have acquired the stigma of garrison, the residents have no real stake in the real estate. This is just one example of the arbitrary abuse of the housing act.
The legal department of the Ministry has developed a community outreach programme to address those housing schemes where persons have completed payment for their solutions but have not taken the necessary steps for their titles to be transferred to them.
How this works is that a team of legal officers visit the schemes, provide legal advice on matters affecting housing solutions developed by the Ministry and have the residents execute the necessary documents to facilitate the titles transferred. This is done even where payments for the solutions have not been completed so that immediately upon settling their accounts, persons can receive their titles.
Jamaica Mortgage BankBefore I end my presentation on the Housing Sector, I want to briefly highlight the work of the Jamaica Mortgage Bank, which continues to play a pivotal role in the drive to provide affordable housing solutions for Jamaicans. In terms of Primary Market Financing under which, short term loans are granted for construction and infrastructure development, the bank’s current portfolio stands at 34 active projects island wide which will provide some 5,873 solutions. This financial year, the Bank expects to finance 2,391 additional housing solutions covering 23 projects across the island.
The Bank is also pressing ahead with the establishment of a framework for the re-activation and maintenance of a vibrant and sustainable Secondary Mortgage Market through which it will buy mortgages for securitizing into mortgage backed securities.
There are a number of major challenges in establishing and maintaining a vibrant Secondary Mortgage Market, however, chief among which are the Bank of Jamaica’s regulations which require Mortgage Granting Institutions to retain a large portion of their portfolio in Mortgages, the non-standardization of Mortgage Documentation and the interest rate structure with short term rates close to or higher than long-term rates.
Notwithstanding these challenges, the Mortgage Bank intends to lead and influence the changes required to make the Secondary Mortgage Market a reality.
The laying of the FID report, is not seeking to reopen old sores and create scandals. the matter is now before arbitration and the DPP and the law must take its course. However, the public must be made aware of what went on in this institution irrespective of the outcome of the various legal activities. This report demonstrates how no government institution should be operated. I bring it to this house that we may learn as we move towards closure on this matter.
WATER I will now turn my attention to the area of water, the lifeblood of our bodies, our economy, and our social well-being.
Comparatively speaking, Jamaica has made significant strides in the provision of potable water to its citizens, although if one were to listen to the talk shows you would think otherwise. The National Water Commission which is the primary provider of potable water, produces some 60 billion gallons of water per year through a network of 460 water supply systems and 9,000 kilometers of pipelines with which it supplies over 70% of all households directly, and a further 10-12% indirectly.
Improvements to our Water Supply SystemsAlthough we have made strides in this area, we are not resting on our laurels and as we move towards achieving our goal of universal access to potable water, the NWC is undertaking massive expansion projects. The Great River to Lucea Water Supply Project was completed at a cost of US$40 million or J$2.8 billion and a further US$38 million or J$2.6 billion was spent to undertake the Martha Brae to Harmony Hall/Braco Project.
The NWC is now working on the KMA Water Supply and Rehabilitation Project at a cost of US$ 85 million or approximately J$6 billion, the Kingston Water Supply and Sanitation Project at a cost of US$ 55 million or J$3.9 billion and the Harmony Hall/Braco to Runaway Bay Water Supply Project at a cost of US$ 17 million or J$1.2 billion.
These are not the only projects that the Commission has in the pipeline. There is the Kellits / Crofts Gate Water Supply, the Portland Cottage to Portland Point Pipeline, the Santa Cruz Well Site Development, the St Dalintober to Sandy Ground Water Supply and the Birds Hill/Chateau/Palmers Cross Water Supply to name a few. In addition, the Greater Mandeville region will shortly have an improved water supply as after a lengthy delay we are finally in the process of acquiring a well at Pepper. If we are unable to complete the negotiations in a timely manner we will be acquiring the property through compulsory acquisition.
I took the time to highlight the major projects however, not just to show the huge steps that are being taken to improve the country’s water supply, but to make what I think is a salient point that many Jamaicans do not seem to fully appreciate, which is, the supply of potable water is an extremely expensive affair. Furthermore, the costs which I just enumerated were just the cost of putting in the infrastructure. Another major cost element is the astronomical and ever growing energy costs involved in the retrieval and distribution of water across Jamaica’s hilly terrain.
The NWC is the biggest customer of the Jamaica Public Service Company. While this has always been so, in recent times the electricity bill has escalated moving from $1.96b at the end of 2005 to $2.7b at the end of 2007, an increase of 138%. This is largely due to the movements in the price of oil as the consumption during this same period increased by a mere 4.5%. The bottom line however is that the NWC is now paying more than $300 million every month for electricity.
I think at this juncture it is important to note that despite being a publicly owned company with wide economic and social objectives, the NWC has been mandated to operate as a commercially viable entity, so as to ensure sustainability and expansion of its operations, without dependence on the central government for financial support. It is therefore worthy of mention that the NWC has an impeccable record in repaying the loans it has had to secure for the expansion of its operations.
I have spent sometime focusing on the financial side of our plans to improve the water supply so that persons can understand the context in which the recent request for a tariff increase was made. The NWC is steadfastly committed to improving the country’s water supply, but as a former leader of our party once said “it takes cash to care”
Reduction in losses due to Non Revenue WaterThis is not to say that we do not have some areas where we have to improve our efficiency. The level of Unaccounted For or Non-Revenue Water, for example, is still unacceptably high. A large part of the problem stems from the fact that the NWC is saddle with a host of very old, leaky and problematic water and wastewater systems. In fact, more than 60% of the existing water and wastewater infrastructure used by the NWC have exceeded their useful engineering or economic life. Non-Revenue Water also includes water lost due to theft and illegal connections, water used at un-metered connections, non-functioning metered connections and fire hydrants.
The NWC is now working to address this problem by vigorously fixing all leaks and pursuing delinquent customers, illegal connections and other commercial losses. In relation to the aging infrastructure, this is being addressed by the major infrastructural works that I spoke of earlier.
While improvements to the infrastructure is a necessary requirement for improved efficiency, it must be borne in mind that this investment in infrastructure will not bring you new customers and therefore while it will improve customer satisfaction, the impact on revenue will be marginal
Before I turn to the Management of our Water Resources, I would like to point out that the National Water Commission operates some 68 Wastewater Treatment Facilities with 1,000 kilometres of sewer mains to about 30% of households in major townships and housing developments island-wide.
It is therefore imperative that while we seek to extend water supply services to more and more areas, we also must give due attention to expanding and improving our central wastewater services to protect our drinking water supply and fragile eco-systems, as well as to secure public health and guard our economic investments. NWC will therefore continue to work at moving more households especially in urban areas from the various types of on-site systems such as septic tanks, soak-away pits, and pit latrines to properly developed and fully functional central sewerage systems.
55 Million dollars will be spent on upgrading infrastructure for both sewage and water in the corporate area. The bulk of the sewage in the corporate area is disposed of by way of absorption pits with just about 30 percent going into centralized treatment plants. This amounts to about 12 million gallons per day
Two major plants are Greenwich and Western, old primary sewage treatment facilities that are being retired by the Soapberry Treatment plant. We operate another 26 small package sewage treatment plants associated with housing developments. Some of these will be retired as we extend the mains, others will be upgraded to meet current standards including the Harbour View Plant.
The Soapberry plant has a capacity of some 18 million gallons per day but has lands suitable for expansion to a capacity of up to 50 million gallons per day.
In addition to many extensions in the Corporate area, we intend to retire in Phase Two of this project, the Independence City and Bridgeport plants. Work will also be done on the Darling Street Pumping Station.
The soapberry plant is operated by a special purpose company – Central Wastewater Treatment Company, owned by NHT, UDC, NWC Ministry of Housing and Ashtrom Building Systems.
In addition to the many small packaged plants we have inherited from the housing estates, the Ministry was instructed by cabinet to take over eleven plants which are old, dilapidated and below standards.
These include the Eltham plant, where developers have made connections to this plant although it does not have the capacity to handle the additional inflows.
The NWC has budgeted a sum of $172 million for its rehabilitation during this financial year. We will be exploring the possibility with our lawyers of developers who have connected into this system, making their required contributions to the cost of the works.
Proper Management of our Water ResourcesOne cannot have a fulsome discourse on the water sector without speaking to the issue of management of our water resources.
Water is often taken for granted. For many people, they just turn on their taps and expect to have water without giving a passing thought to how their daily actions have an impact on this critical resource. As we engage in activities such as the wanton destruction of our watersheds, the pollution of our rivers and streams, channeling raw sewage into our aquifers and illegal sand mining, we are slowly but surely ensuring that our children and grandchildren will die of thirst. The truth is that the effective management of our water resources is a must if we are to have sustainable supplies of reliable and high quality water to meet our demands in the future.
The Water Resources Authority is responsible for regulating, allocating, conserving and managing Jamaica’s water resources and this agency of the Ministry, though small is doing an excellent and effective job.
The WRA’s responsibilities include the monitoring of ground and surface waters under normal and extreme conditions, the allocation of water resources and controlling the quality of these water resources.
Of note is that the WRA has completed 95% of its web-enabled database. When this database is completed users will be able to access via the internet, data on ground and surface water, water quality and abstraction as well as view maps and charts illustrating the water resources of Jamaica. I am sure we can all appreciate the tremendous impact that this will have on planning and development in this country.
An upgraded Water Resources Master Plan is scheduled for completion in August of this year. This will provide new information on resource availability and demand as well as identify areas of deficit and surplus. This is critical because while we are blessed with relatively abundant water resources, oftentimes the areas of high demand are far removed from the sources.
Flood Alert SystemsWe have just entered the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season and so it is timely to note the work being done by the WRA to upgrade our Flood Alert Systems.
Repairs have been done to 18 community flood warning gauges and the communities trained in use of the systems to prevent damage and loss of life from flooding. Equipment has also been procured to establish flood alert base stations at ODPEM and the Met Office.
A major area of concern has always been the Bog Walk Gorge and the WRA is now in the process of upgrading the Rio Cobre Flood Alert System, a process which should be completed in this fiscal year. This includes the upgrade of 4 automatic recording rainfall stations and 2 river gauges that transmit real time data into the WRA computers enabling an assessment of rainfall, river levels and the flood risk in the Upper Rio Cobre and Bog Walk Gorge.
The WRA will this year undertake comprehensive mapping of our flood plains throughout Jamaica. This information will allow for proper risk assessment and give the NWA adequate information for updating their flood control systems.
CONSTITUENCY REMARKSMr. Speaker, I would like to make some final remarks which while focused on my Constituency, have broad national implications for my portfolio and several other areas of government.
Decaying central urban areas and proliferating informal settlements in suburbia are maybe Jamaica’s most pressing socio economic issues today.
These areas are, by definition, lacking legitimacy. They become the centres of social dysfunction and nurseries for illegal activity – from illicit connections to utilities, to more hardcore criminal activities.
Montego Bay and North West St. James remains the centre of our resort industry, home to our largest international airport and to some of our most well known hotels. We claim to be the resort capital for good reason.
Yet we have the largest informal settlements in Jamaica, some areas of chronic urban blight, for example Canterbury and Gully, and emerging from that, we experienced the highest per capita homicide rate outside of a war zone. It is indeed a graphic example of the conditions associated with a wider national problem. It therefore provides the circumstances in which, if we can succeed to reverse the tide of crime and violence, we will find the solution for all Jamaica.
In the region defined as North West St. James, we have seen everything, and we have experienced abject failure, seen seeds of success and experienced shattered hopes.
However, as MP and a Minister of this Government, it is my intention to restore harmony to North West St. James, and if I leverage the resources of my office with some excess, it is not merely because it is my Constituency, but the country needs a success story in this troubling tale – one that distresses the nation.
I may not have the broad portfolio responsibility, I am merely the elected Member of Parliament, but in that little piece, North West St. James, I an’ I will take charge and take responsibility, and the agencies of Government will work with me to ensure success.
I say so without hesitation and without fear, because I have a team including Mayor Charles Sinclair, with the capacity to lead who will give the required support when the right decisions are taken, even those who wear the orange shirts.
We are not a garrison. We work together in the interest of the community at all times.
Let me review some of what has happened, highlight some successes and outline the foundation for the way forward.
The stories of innercity crime and violence for me, Mr. Speaker, are real and close. In all our communities we have had many unkept promises and therefore people no longer trust the Government. In addition to promises, millions have been spent and the people abandoned without any gains.
We have seen every agency, which appear more self-centred than service-oriented, intervening with limited or no success. USAID, DFID, NGO’s, Private Sector and various funded programmes stepping on each other’s toes and leaving without the desired success, in many cases paying high powered consultants.
I am thankful that the Prime Minister has called for some co-ordination, but present operational methods are as turf oriented as the corner crews are, and spend more money on high priced consultants, and repetitious consultations than on the real problem.
FLANKERFlanker deserves some special mention because they are well known not only for their infamy, but like Grants Pen they get some extra attention because they are, when riotous, a real threat to the formal economy. This they know and they take advantage of it. When Flanker sneezes, the Tourist Industry catches a cold. So every do-gooder gets in the act. But we continue to bleed. We need to examine this.
Today, however there are signs – real possibilities.
It may be ironic after earlier comments, but the first item I wish to mention is effective policing. Flanker has had a troubled history with the local police authorities of many administrations. They failed to establish the kind of working relations required for successful policing.
A Mobile Reserve team was introduced recently at the peak of our problems and today if the community riots it will be because an attempt is being made to remove that team.
The Police High Command needs to examine how this has come about, and speak with the Inspector in charge on the ground who has provided local leadership with a fair and firm hand. They have therefore provided an opportunity to move effectively on the other issues in order to ensure sustainability.
It may be coincidental, but worthy of note that the World Bank’s Innercity Programme under the Jamaica Social Investment Fund is present, and it is one of the better, maybe the best Social initiatives to date, as for the first time, it combines physical development and human development in a comprehensive manner. I have maintained a close relationship with the agency, and am ensuring some synergy with the National Housing Development Corporation which is now working in Providence, part of Flanker.
My own efforts with the Constituency Development Fund, what was formerly the Social and Economic Support Programme, have moved to introduce other activities in the community, to ensure a comprehensive and complete development process.
The Primary School in the community has a new and functioning computer laboratory, which is critical to maintaining the interest of the male students and we will soon have musical instruments, designed to develop the talents of our people in the area. Music is one of the areas in which our young people also show an unusual level of interest.
It is also important that the young men who will find work in the Construction Industry will not only gain an income and develop good work habits, but we are seeking to begin the process of training them for better paying jobs in order to restore them to the formal sector, and importantly, restore the credibility of the state.
This Mr. Speaker, crdibility is a critical problem. Flanker and Grants Pen may be uniquely located.
The rest of the ghetto is often forgotten, until they start “slaughtering” each other, for example in Canterbury and Norwood. But we are about to change this perception in North West St. James.
North West St. James has been like a crucible of the informal, not only informal settlements; Ponzi schemes, foreign exchange trading, drug trading, export of labour, have all been part and parcel of the entire Montego Bay structure.
The level of diabolical killing is however a new because we now seem to have a generation growing up devoid of emotion, hopeless, apathetic, placing little value on life. The character of life they see around them is not one which they wish to live.
It is important that we succeed in changing the values here. If we succeed in doing it in Montego Bay, we can do it anywhere.
But we do not accept, Mr. Speaker, the stigma of ‘garrison’. We take all the other stigmas, but it is important that we don’t accept this.
I say to those who say so, that the statement is based on ignorance, and the comment is asinine. I feel strongly, because it is in this, that lies the seed of possible success in this Constituency.
Indeed if it was a garrison, I would have had to do it, and I have not done so because it only leads to short term political gain and persistent long term problems.
Let us refer to Flanker again as an example. The first Chairman of the World Bank Consultative Committee was a well known Jamaica Labour Party activist and leader, a Justice of the Peace to boot, and a successful small businessman in the Tourist trade.
His Vice Chairman turned out to be the PNP Candidate for the area. The Chairman had to resign because of work demands, and the Vice Chairman is now the Chairman. We continue to work together.
Indeed, whatever success we have had from all the various interventions, have only come about because of one person who functions in a role we need to emulate. She is provided with a small stipend by the Peace Management Initiative – not a salary, a stipend.
That is Mrs. Marilyn McIntosh, but she too is Secretary for the constituency for the Peoples’ National Party and her loyalty to that organization is unquestioned. But she is my friend and we work together as a team.
In the neighbourhood in which she lives, the conflict is intense, brutal and murderous.
A good friend of hers who works closely with her at the PMI is my senior supervisor, another Justice of the Peace, Miss Carmen Haughton. This is not the behaviour of a ‘garrison’ Mr. Speaker. It is out of this kind of relationship at the local level that we will build a better community.
I therefore will not accept the arrogant and stupid comments of those who do not know and who do not wish to find out what is happening, but pontificate from armchairs about what is happening.
Mr. Speaker, I feel strongly because in Montego Bay I deal with reality, not hearsay, not debate. I feel, I see, I touch and I share the grief. “I have seen friends literally butchered and roasted whole”. Some say I am being soft when I promote social initiatives because I am not directly affected by criminal activityI have seen the State in an act of impotence react with raw power destroying young men, some among the few that were able to persist and achieve success in school, others still children in 2nd and 3rd forms.
On the other hand, I have seen young men devoid of emotion, unconcerned with life, react by taking the lives of longstanding community based police officers.
I have come to understand that in the Ghetto, the State is not the national arbitrator of justice or provider of opportunity, but just the “baddest crew on the block”, better armed, better trained, with more resources,
and therefore the new generation of young men, having no faith in the State, no hope for a better future, willingly pick the easy targets, which are sometimes, the best community workers.
I have buried the victims, I have buried the perpetrators, who themselves become victims in this vicious cycle of violence in Montego Bay. But most troubling Mr. Speaker, I speak to the children, whose fathers and mothers were victims of criminals, criminal reprisals and actions of the State in their impotent struggle to restore order.
My abiding concern in this is that these kids of seven and eight are already socialized to kill and to continue the mayhem. When you lose a mother a brother or a sister it is hard to accept and when you look around you at the hopelessness, the disrespect and the utter drudgery, maybe it’s the only way out. These are the ones we have to rescue because the end result will be more violence if not corrected.
Whether it is the result of police action or criminal action, a child who sees death in their yard at age seven or eight on a regular basis accepts death as routine. This we must change and will change.
If necessary, I will exercise any authority and power given to me by the people of North West St. James and if I have to leverage the resources of this Ministry, I will.
I can only ask for the understanding of my Prime Minister because I say again, failure in this Constituency is not an option Mr. Speaker.
Some good work has started and the agencies have up to now been co-operative. I have funded community profiles for all my communities. I have done several socio-economic surveys to lay the foundation for effective intervention. Today we know and it may be true of many urban areas that 70 percent of our boys drop out of school by grade nine. Seven out of ten, are unemployable, functionally illiterate and innumerate. They do not even qualify for HEART.
These are the ones we have to rescue. We have to correct this and I am hoping that working with the innercity schools, Glendevon, Albion, Flanker, Chetwood, we can reverse this trend and bring it to the same level as our girls with at least 70 percent attending school regularly. It is a target I am setting over the next three years. At the same time, we have to offer opportunities to those who are already on the road to bring them back into the formal system and give them hope and at least the opportunity to be productive.
I have started elements of urban upgrading not only in Flanker, Norwood and elsewhere, but would like to mention a small scheme near Canterbury, Albion Tenement. This is one of several schemes that were built after Hurricane Charlie as temporary residences and have remained temporary for some 57 years.
They are devoid of proper sanitary facilities, they are overcrowded, run down and the residents have all lost faith in the Government ever doing anything about their dire plight.
You will see circulated Mr. Speaker, a well researched document done by the policy arm of the Ministry to provide accurate data on which we can intervene.
A similar survey was done on a small community at the Olympic Community Centre Lands.
I have circulated them Mr. Speaker because they show the kind of work that will precede our intervention. They not only provide accurate data, they re-engage the population while providing socio-economic information prior to designing the appropriate social initiatives working with other agencies of Government.
We will not only improve the physical infrastructure, but will bring in the Social Services Unit to engage with the SDC; the Jamaica Business Development Centre; the Registrar of Co-operative and Friendly Societies; NGO’s; Churches; the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and others to ensure the process of re-socialization and the development of economic activities is part of our programme. Those who are self employed individuals must be socialized to begin to contribute to the NHT, to the NIS to ensure their pension and to ensure that their children attend school and in fact become active, productive individuals in the formal economy.
But of course, Mr. Speaker, it should be of interest to all of us, that the primary response of the members who are part of my Constituency after several meetings are still saying that when they see the building, they will believe.
We have to understand Mr. Speaker that there is a loss of faith in the system in our innercity areas that must be reversed. That is critical to success and is dependent on those of us in this House.
I could speak at length on this kind of activity Mr. Speaker.
I have identified lands to be acquired. We continue community engagements. I am working with Food for the Poor through the Catholic Church, and I will be using the Housing Act and LICA for good and within the law, to empower the people.
We are pre-qualifying contractors for Norwood. We have started the development of water systems, and have designed, in consultation with the SDC, our own social intervention programme of training for our young people and providing for the re-socialization of our young men to begin in several communities and to conclude in a centre of excellence to be operated in conjunction with HEART where we offer young men vocational training and a complete programme of rehabilitation including issues of self esteem, dispute resolution, anger management, adolescent health and responsible parenthood. Mr. Speaker, with the team of dedicated councilors that I have in this Constituency and a host of volunteers, I want to assure this House that we will succeed to restore hope to our people, provide opportunities for productive engagement, restore peace, restore credibility to Government and Democracy.
In the process, it is likely I will be labeled a friend of gunmen and so will some of my Councilors; a protector of squatters; an appeaser of criminals; an apologist for wrongdoing.
This burden Mr. Speaker, I will bear and only pray that my immediate family will continue to have the strength to bear it with me and my staff and the agencies of Government in Montego Bay will find the courage to continue working with me because the mission that we are on is one in which failure is not an option. Succeed we will and must. We will build strong communities and healthy neighbourhoods in our friendly City of Montego Bay.Closing RemarksIn closing I want to once again express my thanks to the Prime Minister for the level of confidence he placed in me when he asked me to assume the responsibility for the Water and Housing portfolio.
I want to assure the citizens of this country, especially those who are operating under challenging circumstances with respect to water and shelter, that I have heard your cry and I sympathize with your situation. I know that sometimes the wait gets unbearable, but I have a strong team at the Ministry with the expertise and the will to find the solutions and I am fully confident that if you work with us, together, we will get it right.
The commitment of this Ministry is to build strong communities consisting of healthy and peaceful neighbourhoods not garrisons.