Mr. Speaker, as I rise, it is with a deep sense of gratitude that I stand here today to give thanks to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for affording me the opportunity to be here in the capacity of Minister of State.
I thank our Prime Minister, The Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller for including me among the august body of Ministers she chose to work with in this administration.
I also use this opportunity Mr. Speaker to acknowledge my Minister, the Hon. Noel Arscott, my very able Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Sharon Crooks for her guidance and the competent senior management team and staff at the Ministry of Local Government & Community Development.
To you Mr. Speaker, I say thanks for your guidance of the proceedings in this house, and I wish to put on record my support to you for the renewed steps you have taken to return dignity to the way we conduct ourselves and the people’s business in here.
A special thanks to my special advisor and executive assistant for your daily support.
To my constituents, in Southeast St. Catherine, including my councillors constituency secretary and executive members, I thank you for once again registering your confidence in my leadership, thus enabling my return to this honourable House.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to my wife, Joy and family for their unwavering commitment and support.
My fellow colleagues in this honourable House, thanks for your support.
Mr. Speaker, while I have acknowledged that the Sectoral presentation is largely on the matter of the business of government at this time I crave your indulgence just to thank my constituents of South East St. Catherine again, and highlight two major areas that we are focused on at this time.
Wastewater Treatment Plant
You would have heard me speaking on previous occasions in Sectoral Debates since 2008 about the poor state of our sewage system, especially as it affects the Independence City and Bridgeport Plants. I can tell you that the plants have now outlived their life span and are unable to process the waste to the extent that raw sewage is entering the canals.
Mr. Speaker, I want to announce today to the people of South East St. Catherine that help is on its way, as steps are being taken by the National Water Commission (NWC) to select contractors to carry out works that should enable the replacement of the Independence City and Bridgeport Sewage Treatment Plants. These sewage treatment facilities are in an advanced state of disrepair and none is operating satisfactorily.
The National Water Commission (NWC) is taking steps to decommission these facilities and utilize the Soapberry Wastewater Treatment Plant. A schedule of implementation for the work is well underway which is expected to last just under eighteen (18) months.
Mr. Speaker, the issue of unemployment is a troublesome one in all sectors of our society. But let me go on record to thank our Prime Minister, The Most Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, for her initiative that has resulted in over three hundred (300) persons benefitting in the first phase in South East St. Catherine alone under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
These persons have been recruited for works including the rehabilitation of collapsed and cross-drains in Waterford, Edgewater and Bridgeport and guard rails installed on the Port Henderson Road.
Mr. Speaker we are continuing to plug the unemployment gap and this should be a reality soon with the expansion of the port facility at Fort Augusta and Gordon Cay as well as the Caymanas Economic Zone, which is situated close to South East St. Catherine. And, since we boast a growing skilled and educated population in the constituency, we expect a decrease in the level of unemployment.
Mr. Speaker I will duly speak to other matters such as education, social welfare, sports and general rehabilitation of the constituency infrastructure that are all being dealt with but for which time does not permit today. I assure the people of South East St. Catherine that I will seek to expound on these vital issues of the constituency when I meet with you at our regular face-to-face meetings. ***
Advancing the Community Agenda
Mr. Speaker, today I seek to inform this honourable House, the people of Jamaica and my constituents on the state of Jamaica’s community development efforts and the thrust towards transforming our communities as we embark ‘on a mission for the next fifty years’.
Mr. Speaker I make this presentation in the broader context of the Local Government and Community Development portfolio in continuity of the presentation made earlier by my Minister, the Hon. Noel Arscott.
Community development is that arm of our governance structure that is so critical to shaping our society in more ways than one. Our community network in Jamaica, Mr. Speaker, is so complex but crucial to our identity as a people, as a nation and as a beacon of standard for the development of our nation and its outward reaches with our global villages and partners.
Today’s presentation, Mr. Speaker, is a framework that will tell you that if our objectives as a nation on a mission to achieving the ideal of being the place to live, work, do business and raise families, is going to become a reality, then we are going to have to revisit the community model, recapture the spirit of voluntarism, the spirit of involvement, the building of partnerships and rekindling the ethos of self-reliance.
In other words Mr. speaker, for us to advance the community agenda in a meaningful way and engage each other in conversations towards this end, I am saying we need collective responsibility as a nation to take back our communities to be responsive to the needs of each other, to be the cohesive unit that strives towards the same goals of making us a better nation and a better people.
But let me first lay on the table our working definition of a community to better aid our understanding of what and where we will take the discourse.
“A community is that defined geographical area, grouping of people based on common ownership of resources or sharing of social, economic and cultural facilities, and where residents share regards for themselves as having common objective, interest and needs.”
It is this working definition, Mr. Speaker that we are utilizing at the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development particularly, with the Social Development Commission which is the implementing arm mandated to take an integrated approach to community development, in the creation of an enabling environment for genuine community participation in the formulation of development plans and the coordinated implementation objectives and projects beneficial to communities.
Mr. Speaker, one of the fundamental pillars of the Local governance revitalization programme, is the principle of citizens participation – and by this Mr. Speaker we are really referring to community development through deeper involvement at the community level with government playing a facilitatory role. But key among the facilitators is the Local Authorities, Mr. Speaker. They are the Parish Government. They are the arm of governance closest to the people with the pulse on the needs of the citizens.
But as we seek to deepen, broaden and transform our communities, Mr. Speaker, partnerships with our agencies, international collaborators and a deep sense of building our communities must be at the heart of the community development matrix. For frankly speaking, Mr. Speaker, a cohesive and responsive community can act as the catalyst for national development.
Community Development Paradigm
Mr. Speaker, I now want to quickly turn our focus to what we have done, are planning to do and how we can jointly transform the thinking, action and planning of our communities to foster greater national development.
To further address this new community development paradigm we will be looking at initiatives by our agencies, the Social Development Commission, the Jamaica Fire Brigade as well as revisit the review of the Portmore Community model, with consideration for a proposal to replicate the model in the Papine area, among other integrated approaches.
Mr. Speaker, under the revitalized local governance paradigm, we are currently working to develop contemporary methodologies based on a model of inter-dependence with partner Ministries, Agencies, Departments and our communities informed by mandatory consultations, increased dialogue and participation. This, Mr. Speaker, is our way of pursuing the transformation of our communities.
The Portmore Model Review
Mr. Speaker, a major accomplishment of this administration in advancing the community agenda has been the Portmore Municipal model. I am a creature of this design and of course Mr. Speaker I have vested interest for more reasons than one to see this effort succeed.
My past experience and involvement as Secretary of the initial Joint Citizens Association, and Chairman of the first City Council that preceded this Municipality model, have intensified my conviction of the benefits of the model.
As a matter of fact Mr. Speaker, it is my belief and the local government principle of a citizen- centred approach to development as well as my past role as Deputy Mayor in the Portmore Municipal Council (PMC) that have led me to enquire about the action taken with regard to what was a bold experiment in governance – the establishment of the Portmore Municipality.
Mr. Speaker while some work has been done there is room for much more and so, I directed that the technical staff of the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development conduct a participatory review with all stakeholders of the recommendations contained in the Final Report presented by the consultant contracted to do an assessment of the Portmore Municipality experience.
The action taken by my Ministry has resulted in the following:
· Feedback consultations on recommendations from the Portmore Mayor and Deputy Mayor, representatives of the Portmore Citizens Advisory Council (PCAC);
· Recommendations on the reconstitution of the PCAC in order to widen its representation of citizens of the Municipality;
· Recommendations on amendments to the Municipalities Act which remove current anomalies including limitations to the authority of the Mayor; and
· Engagement of stakeholders in respect of the completion of the Portmore Sustainable Development Plan
Mr. Speaker, I now have in my possession an interim action plan report which covers the short to medium term activities. This Action Plan includes:
· Special Review meetings of the 13 communities of the Municipality;
· Development of an enhanced public awareness programme;
· Update of the Organisational structure of the Portmore Municipal Council ;
· Selection of Portmore Municipality as a pilot in the Local Economic Development Programme; and
· Commencement of Sustainable Development Planning Process through data collection, community planning and multi-sectoral consultation.
Mr. Speaker, these actions demonstrate a substantive response to the issues outlined in the Consultant’s report and a confirmation of this Administration’s commitment to strengthening the links between citizens and their local government and thus ensuring the growth of strong communities.
And speaking of strong communities, Mr. Speaker, the community of Papine/Liguanea and its environs Mr. Speaker is exhibiting the traits of independent thought. They have moved from thought to verbalizing and planning the future of their community. I will not shed some light on this initiative.
The Univeristy Town of Papine/Liguanea
I just spoke to the Portmore Municipal model, and its success is not lost on the residents in communities of Papine, Liguanea and the immediate environs. They are thinking of a university town centre Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, the Papine and Liguanea Development Areas together presently accommodate a very heavy concentration of the island’s largest and premier educational institutions, particularly in respect of tertiary education.
This reality, coupled with projections for planned expansion of several of these institutions, is a source of both great challenges as well as tremendous opportunities, in urban planning and where the provision of the requisite services, amenities, infrastructure, housing and commercial services is concerned. On the other hand, it constitutes great prospects for placing Kingston as a major centre for education and learning, not only to meet Jamaica’s needs, but for the Caribbean and indeed for the rest of the world.
This Area Mr. Speaker, presents prospects for tremendous growth with the attendant potential for job creation and for contribution to the national development effort and the generation of significant foreign exchange inflows for the country. It also poses great challenges in terms of ensuring that the requisite infrastructure, transportation, services, amenities, utilities, housing and other necessities are in place to facilitate such development and to avoid chaos which would otherwise be created.
Mr Speaker, the KSAC is currently in initial discussions with key stakeholders in the Development Area towards the establishment of Papine as a University Town and the development of the Papine and Liguanea Areas to accommodate the kind of development that is envisaged.
Preparation of a more detailed plan to guide the development of this area is a vital first step in this process. And it will be pursued in earnest Mr. Speaker, as we are about empowering our communities for national growth and development. This is just an example of the kind of initiative that can be undertaken in all parishes.
But before I leave this subject Mr. Speaker allow me to respond to the then mayor of Kingston regarding the development of downtown Kingston. Mr Speaker what he has failed to recognize is that while he now speaks so passionately from the opposition benches about the need for Plans to redevelop Downtown Kingston to include the upliftment of existing residents, did not catch the vision.
He failed to realize that he had in his hands the means to accomplish the very outcome that he now pleads so desperately for. The result is that the draft KSA LSDP completed in 2005, was totally neglected by his administration and put on the proverbial shelf.
But Mr Speaker, let me assure the honourable member from West Kingston, that the new KSAC Administration has caught the vision and is in fact right now in the process of revisiting the KSA LSDP with a view to updating that Plan and have already begun to engage major players in the Redevelopment of Downtown to forge a real partnership and ensure the that re-development plans are in sync with the vision for the overall development of the City and most importantly, that such plans place people at the centre of such development.
Indigent Housing & Homelessness
Mr Speaker, one of the hallmarks of a healthy community is the premium it places on the needs of the poor and most vulnerable. It is a fact that a significant portion of Jamaica’s population has special needs that affect their ability to procure or maintain suitable housing solutions.
Mr. Speaker, to borrow a phrase “the poor will always be with us”. There is no escaping that reality and so we must make provision for their welfare.
The member on the opposing side in his presentation noted that he wanted to see more done for the poor. Mr. Speaker this is what we are planning to do and will do to help the most vulnerable among us in our communities.
Data provided by the Board of Supervision indicate that at the end of March, 2012 there was a total of 1,097 homeless persons on record (911 males, and 186 females) as against the total number of 991 which was recorded for the previous year. Kingston and St. Andrew (KSA) with 584 had the most homeless persons followed by St. James and St. Ann with 114 and 85 respectively.
The care and protection of the indigent is the concern of my ministry because local government is not just about making the Development Approval process more efficient for the more endowed investor who wants to contribute to Local Economic Development. It is also about preserving the dignity of the most vulnerable and dispossessed in our communities, including the homeless and destitute.
Mr. Speaker, wisdom has taught us that it is not sufficient to put a roof over the head of a homeless person; though we are aware that such a person may be living on the street and needs immediate assistance to be sheltered from the elements and be protected from the vagaries of that horrid existence. That is essentially what the Indigent Housing initiative that has been pursued for years, has been limited to. This administration will employ a more holistic strategy in addressing the range of social challenges that the poor, homeless people of this country face. We have every intention therefore of pushing for the promulgation of a Social Housing Policy in this financial year.
The Policy will aim to increase housing opportunities for indigent households through the:
• Provision of incentives to private developers to offer indigent housing solutions through joint venture arrangements;
• Promotion of sheltered housing (assisted living) accommodation; and
• Provision of homeless shelters in all parishes
Mr. Speaker, this policy will outline a system to determine other social needs that the poor, indigent beneficiaries may have so that we can provide a comprehensive response to ameliorate their situations. This will necessitate the strengthening of the capabilities of the Local Authorities to respond more effectively to critical housing needs.
It will also require access to existing social protection schemes, especially for persons who have some kind of dwelling but live in severely dilapidated facilities. In fulfillment of our commitment in relation to the Millennium Development Goals and our raft of Human Rights obligations, we will be careful to employ gender mainstreaming tools to identify the special needs of the exceptionally vulnerable women and men and as a subset of that general group, marginalised, non-attached, emancipated youth, children in difficult circumstances, the physically challenged, the elderly, persons who are displaced on account of fire, hurricanes and other natural disasters and women farmers who live in our rural communities.
The Client Service Tracker Software
Mr. Speaker we are moving even deeper into addressing the needs of our homeless. We are seeking to solve the problem of identifying them, accounting for them in numbers as well as areas that they frequent. This is a major challenge for us at this time but I have news for this honourable house on this aspect.
Mr. Speaker, in order to alleviate this challenge the Board of Supervision has acquired the Client Service Tracker Software to assist in developing the Information Identification Homeless Database System (IIHS). The Client Service Tracker Technology is a Microsoft Access database. This software captures a person’s data including a photograph.
A Point in Time Survey of all homeless persons on the streets of Jamaica is scheduled to be conducted by the first week (4th -10th) of November 2012.
Hopefully, at the end of these activities the system will have a photo of the homeless person as well as capture the necessary demographic details such as name, age, gender, locations, education, family life,employment, self-reported health status nutrition, the main illnesses, abuse and substance abuse , the reasons for homelessness, the length of time being homeless and the nature of previous living arrangements, the support structures that are in place from their perspective etc.).
Mr. Speaker each Inspector of the Poor in the Parish Council will have access to this database with all the relevant information. They will also be able to view the photograph whether the homeless person moves from parish to parish. In other words Mr. speaker, there is the vital method of cross referencing in the system.
Mr. Speaker you cana tell that we are serious about our homeless and so we will go further. The system will include assigning a unique number to identify all homeless persons, so that they can be better traced and provided with the necessary support services.
Mr. Speaker, here is what the system will do. It will:
· Provide a count of the number of homeless adults on the streets and in the shelters across Jamaica;
· provide data on the number of shelter nights for any period under review;
· Identify shelter programmes or who reside in the shelter;
· Allow for Case Notes to be added to a client’s record; and
· Allow for the tracking of services to the client for example counselling, referral to hospital etc.
Way Forward for the Homeless
Mr. Speaker, the Ministry will continue to provide budgetary support for the various programmes to assist with the continuing care of the homeless in Jamaica. This allocation was increased from $15.8million to $19.98million in the 2012/13 Estimates of Expenditure to assist with feeding programmes being facilitated by the Local Authorities.
We are moving ahead with the welfare of our homeless Mr. Speaker and the Board of Supervision will continue to play its vital role in its coordinating of services and public sensitisation.
And as we are on the subject of vulnerability as it relates to our people Mr. Speaker I will now turn my focus to Jamaica’s vulnerability as a geographic location.
Like our homeless, Jamaica is a vulnerable island state prone to disasters. Therefore, the matter of disaster preparedness, its management and risk reduction Mr. Speaker, is a major plank of our community development thrust. Minister Arscott, has pointed out in his presentation that over the last 10 years, it is estimated that it has cost our country, an average of $14billion dollars per year, to deal with the impact of disasters. I can name communities where it could be said that the development of these communities has been stymied due to the impact of disasters.
As you are aware Mr. Speaker, we have made progress in our ability to respond to disasters, but as we improve, we must also pay attention to the resilience of our communities. Community economic development and the ability of communities to bounce back after a disaster go hand in hand.
So Mr. Speaker, we have had some examples of building disaster resilient communities with work from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), other local partners such as the Social Development Commission, the Jamaica Red Cross and many others. We have also got support from our Canadian development partners – Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). We have just concluded a major project, where over twenty-eight (28) communities were introduced to the concept and practice of building community resilience against disasters. We will be striving to implement in our work plans , the lessons learnt.
Some aspects of that project included the development of risk transfer mechanisms for communities. So for the Financial Year 2012-2013, we will seek to find at least one community with which we will work to establish a defined risk transfer mechanism that can be replicated and adopted by other communities in the country. We will also be working to ensure that personnel in Local Authorities have the skills to write project proposals which, when funded, can assist with development of their communities.
Mr. Speaker, you are aware that as a government, we have placed significant interest on the topic of climate change. We believe that it is at the level of the community that we will first be able to begin to deal with the possible impact of climate change on our country. So one of the critical actions with which we must begin, is raising the level of awareness of our Local Authorities to climate change issues and how these issues could impact their communities.
In this regard Mr. Speaker, our plan is to achieve at least a 30% increase in the level of knowledge and awareness of our personnel in Local Authorities on the matters of the impact of climate change on our communities.
Mr. Speaker, the Member on that side spoke of legislation as it relates to the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Act. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to inform the honourable House that the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development in collaboration with the ODPEM are moving with alacrity and proactivity in drafting the amendment.
This, Mr. Speaker is receiving active attention from our Legal Unit as we speak. We are preparing further drafting instructions to be submitted to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel in short order. Under this new amendment, we aim to develop a comprehensive National Disaster Plan to include the establishment of ‘no-build zones’ and to provide for the possible mandatory evacuation when necessary.
The problems suffered by residents in Rocky Point and Portland Cottage in Clarendon as a result of the effects of Hurricane Ivan 2004, were the initial disasters that highlighted the deficiencies of the present legislation and the need for institutional and legal changes to the disaster management framework. It also brought into sharp focus the need to have special arrangement for persons living in vulnerable areas.
Mr. Speaker the safety and development of our communities is of major priority and we will move assiduously to have the requisite legislation in place to safe guard them.
Entrenchment of Local Government in the Constitution
And speaking of legislation Mr. Speaker, let me quickly respond to the Member on that side who also alluded to us saying that we would have the local government entrenched in the Constitution by this year. Mr. Speaker, this is certainly not the case. We are only too aware that the legislative process is not as simple as that.
However, let me set the record straight, for the benefit of the member and the Honourable House. We expect, Mr. Speaker that a Bill for the entrenchment of local government in the Constitution will be presented to Parliament within the 50th year of our Independence anniversary. This Mr. Speaker, in effect, gives us until July next year. In other words, Mr. Speaker, the legislative process is definitely on track.
Mr. Speaker, a main feature of community life is the Marketplace. Jamaica currently has some 85 markets across the island, managed by the Local Authorities. Presently, some of these markets are non-operational while a number of them are not viable. They are however all located at strategic points in the urban areas of the respective parishes with easy access to transportation and other support facilities for those accessing the services.
We note that a number of these facilities, while structurally sound, are in need of serious renovations, aesthetic modifications and modernization to make them more appealing to the discerning consumers they serve. Many are in need of proper storage facilities (cold and otherwise), upgraded drainage and sanitary conveniences as well as attractive vending areas.
We believe that viable markets positively impact on the economy of the areas served, particularly the farmers/vendors, women, the majority of whom are head of households, children and rural families. These properly developed markets will certainly enhance farm output and stimulate economic activity within the communities and the parish as they will create more jobs, thereby reducing unemployment and the urban drift.
Market produce Mr. Speaker, are preferred by consumers for the following reasons: the freshness, taste, appearance and nutritive value of the products as well as the reasonableness of the price.
Mr. Speaker, conscious of the real benefits derived from development of proper public markets, we within the local government fraternity have quietly partnered with a number of local organisations and individuals to start the change process within our rural and urban townships by transforming our markets into viable, attractive and energy saving enterprises. Amongst the programmes currently in train are:-
1. The total rehabilitation of the Rocky Point Market in Clarendon, the Musgrave market in Port Antonio, Portland, the Black River Market in St. Elizabeth and the Port Maria Market in St. Mary. These with significant contributions from Jamaica Social Investment Fund (approximately $160M), Tourism Enhancement Fund, Tank Weld and the respective communities’ contribution will soon enable these four markets to be the envy of any people in the Caribbean;
2. The Spaulding’s Market in Clarendon was in a state of disrepair for a number of years, is now near completion of the first phase and will soon enable the vendors to get off the streets of the town and cater to their customers in a much more user- friendly environment;
3. Plans are in train with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to re-locate the Falmouth market and transform it into the facility compatible with the resort town that Falmouth is progressively becoming;
4. Discussions are to be held with the St. James Parish Council and that of St. Mary Parish Council to explore the improvements to the Charles Gordon and the Highgate market respectively.
Mr. Speaker, it would be remiss of me if, on the behalf of the Minister, I did not give commendations to Digicel for partnering with the KSAC to transform the Coronation Market, making it the premier shopping destination in our downtown market district.
We expect to develop markets that work for the communities and the parishes where they are located, through the co-operation of many different individuals and groups. These groups would include Agricultural Extension Officers, Community Economic Development Organizations, Consumer Groups, churches, wchools, and Farmers Organizations.
We will improve the physical infrastructure, provide institutional strengthening for such key stakeholders as the vendors and market staff, utilize alternative sources of energy such as energy-saving bulbs, natural lighting and petrol alternatives and support employment and income for our farmers, rural women and small scale entrepreneurs. Mr. Speaker, this is Local Government working for community transformation.
Jamaica Fire Brigade
Mr. Speaker, it is indisputable that the Fire Service is integral to the community life and its development process. In furtherance of my Minister’s presentation in which he alluded to my expounding on this subject, I use this opportunity not only to do so, but to also respond to the Opposition Member who wanted to hear more on this vital service.
I am happy that he has recognized it as such, and look forward to his support in the plans and programmes we have for the development of the Brigade.
In furtherance of its mandate of “Saving Lives, Protecting Property”, the Jamaica Fire Brigade in fiscal year 2011/2012 responded to a total of 14,793 emergency calls island wide. 11,390 of these calls were genuine fires, 7,337 being brush and wild land fires. 1,545 calls were special service calls which were all responses to other emergencies including road traffic accidents, hazardous material spills, and search and rescue.
Unfortunately there have been deaths resulting from these incidents; 29 persons (16 adults and 13 children) died as a result of fires and over 2,389 persons were made homeless as a result. Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Local Government fraternity, let me express sincere regrets and deep condolences to those families who suffered losses in these tragic incidents.
Mr. Speaker like any other entity we have challenges but Jamaica is blessed with a cadre of brave, committed and dedicated men and women in the Brigade who continue to serve us well. We are continuing to empower our communities and our fire fighters through training. Let me explain:
· 127 new firefighters were recruited and trained to add to the Staff strength;
· Five (5) of our officers were trained in Divisional Command and Operational Command at the Fire Service College in the United Kingdom;
· Ten EMTs were trained as instructors at the UWI;
· Six (6) Oficers went for training at the Fort Lauderdale Fire and Rescue Department; and
· Twenty six (26) members did Fire Safety Inspector Training.
Procurement of Equipment
And while we grapple with financial challenges, our friends in the wider community abroad are assisting us. I make mention Mr. Speaker of the United States Southern Command’s Humanitarian Assistance Programme through which the JFB has received donation of tools and equipment.
These supplies have included structural collapse rescue kits, water rescue kits and vehicular extrication kits for the rescuing of persons from incidents occurring as a result of earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes and accidents in general.
We have also procured to the tune of some $4.2 million dollars, computers – both desktops and Laptops.
A standby generator for the York Park Fire Station valued at $5. 7 million dollars was purchased
The Brigade was also the recipient of a Biodigester Septic Tank valued at $3. 1million dollars, while 275 Bunker Gear valued at approximately $37.7million werepurchased for our firefighters.
And last but by no means the least, Mr. Speaker, it is no secret that this administration has a good record of attending to the needs of the JFB, particularly as it relates to the replenishment of its fleet.
Therefore, when my Opposition colleague sought to bemoan the fact by way of skewed data and ratio analysis of fire units to population, he should be reminded that it was this administration that bought the largest consignment of fleet to the Brigade in 2006 with some 46 fully equipped state-of-the-art firefighting vehicles inclusive of specialized units for rescue operations, firefighting in high-rise buildings , as well as rescue tenders which are equipped to deal with major accidents on our highways.
The units are still in operation today, Mr. Speaker. They came in two tranches. In 2006 we received the first batch of thirty three (33) and the second tranche in 2008. So Mr. Speaker, even though the second tranche was commissioned into service under the JLP administration, after they had them languishing at the Portmore Fire station for many months, let the record be clear that we were the ones who bought and delivered them to Jamaican soil.
The JLP administration has no record of ever purchasing or adding any major or tangible contribution to the operational infrastructure of the JFB.
So, Mr. Speaker, I use this opportunity to inform this honourable house that we have started the procurement process for three (3) new fire trucks based on a budgetary allocation of 96-million dollars. Mr. Speaker, this administration is on a mission to keeping the JFB servicing our communities.
Mr. Speaker, the non-availability of a fireboat is a sore point and admittedly so, especially for players in the tourism sector. It is also a very expensive equipment. A new one is likely to cost in the region of US-2-point-five million dollars. Notwithstanding, having spoken with my Permanent Secretary we will be pursuing avenues for partnership to start the dialogue for funding, after we have assessed the viability of repairing what currently exists or replacing it with a new boat. Mr. Speaker we will be embarking on a mission to give back our community the much needed fire boat.
Like any other essential service Mr. Speaker, the Jamaica Fire Brigade is not without its challenges. These are challenges Mr. Speaker, most of us are aware of. Notwithstanding, I find it prudent to highlight some of these:
The JFB has had to grapple with serious operational setbacks due to inadequate resources both manpower as well as machinery.
Fire Prevention Matters
Like other entities, generating own source revenues is a major area some organisations have to improve upon. And this is not lost on the Brigade as they have earned through the fire prevention division over $17.2M through the collection of fees for fire certificates, Safety Training, permits, inspection and approval of Sub-division and Building Plans.
All is not lost at the Brigade Mr. Speaker, as during the period under review we inspected some 7,436 buildings and certified 1,523. We also conducted some 4,350 lectures and 919 Fire Drills islandwide. Community awareness, Mr. Speaker is key to fire prevention. We are therefore transforming the minds of our citizens through sensitization.
Mr. Speaker the state of our fire stations is nothing to write home about but we are taking one step at a time in acquiring the funding and rehabilitating as we go along. I thank our fire fighters for their patience in this respect Mr. Speaker they have held strain and I want to assure them that every effort is being made to address the situation.In this respect Mr. Speaker, we have started the rehabilitation of the Santa Cruz Station. We are currently fencing and paving of the yard at the Savanna-la-mar Fire Station and conducting repairs to the roof of the Linstead Fire Station. Over in St. Ann, we are currently having a Bio- digester tank constructed at the Station.
Mr. Speaker, I hope the member from the other side is prepared to hear more as he has alluded to the short presentation made on this subject last week.
Mr. Speaker we have had an issue arising as a result of the discovery of asbestos in the roofs and buildings of some of our fire stations, another challenge, Mr. Speaker, that we have to face. Asbestos as we are aware, is a Silicate mineral used commercially in some properties, but prolonged inhalation of the fibres can lead to serious illnesses including malignant cancer.
Mr. Speaker, the issue of asbestos roofing material on the Fire Stations and the Poor Relief Building has been in the media since April 2012, and has gained significant momentum leading to work- to- rule at the Fire Stations.
Mr. Speaker, myself and a technical team from the Ministry along with members of the Fire Brigade, media and other Government agencies, visited the sites that were affected by the asbestos roofing material. These included: the Poor Relief Building at 65 Hanover Street, Kingston and the Trench Town and Port Royal fire stations.
The garage area of the Poor Relief building was found to be covered with asbestos roofing material. It was inspected and a few noticeable holes in the asbestos roof were detected. However, there was no evidence of flaking or deterioration. The finding of asbestos roof material on any building occupied by or surrounded by humans is always a psychological stress of people who are usually fearful of illnesses such as cancer. And this is understandable Mr. Speaker and so, I immediately instructed the technical team to apply the necessary procedures to have the material removed from the roof as soon as possible.
But it is noteworthy Mr. Speaker to inform this honourable house that there are only four (4) certified experts registered by NEPA who are qualified to undertake asbestos removal in Jamaica. As a result, we have had to put the process to tender. It took some time, but I am pleased to advise Mr. Speaker, that a company has been recommended to remove and dispose of the asbestos material at the Poor Relief Department in the sum of Four Hundred & Seventy Four Thousand Four Hundred and Eight Dollars ($474,408.00). Work should commence in another two (2) weeks due to the other procedures to be followed as stipulated by NEPA.
We will take the process further in collaboration with NEPA which will certify the work plan for sensitizing the community as to how the area should be protected in order to ensure non-disruption of the area being worked on. It must be noted that the removal and disposal of asbestos is a tedious and detailed process, hence it is critical that the project be carefully executed. Our community’s safety is our priority Mr. Speaker.
In keeping with the International Labour Organization’s regulations locally, we are seeking to implement policies to eliminate the use of this material in our building systems.
Trench Town Fire Station
Mr. Speaker, in the case of the Trench Town Fire Station, our firemen have been relocated since the detection of asbestos at the Fire Station. The tender process has been completed and a contract has been signed for ($1.1m) one-point-one-million dollars and work should commence within the coming week.
Port Royal Fire Station
Over in Port Royal Mr. Speaker, the firemen at this station have since been relocated following the detection of asbestos at the location. The sequence of events leading up to the tender process is still incomplete and this is the inspection from the Ministry of Labour to assess if the concentration threshold exceeds the limit ratio. Once this is done, within a few weeks or so, then the tender process will commence. Since the situation is one that requires urgent and immediate action, we do not see the process being prolonged.
Mr. Speaker the asbestos roofing material will be replaced by 5 inch thick reinforced concrete slabs.
Mr. Speaker, it’s not all bad with the Fire Brigade. It is my pleasure to hail the men and women of the Jamaica fire Brigade for not only their professional service in firefighting but also their voluntary service to the development of our children in the communities they operate. Through the setting up of homework centres at the Rollington Town and Trench Town fire stations, there is a strong demonstration of sound social and corporate responsibility that is intrinsic in the ethos of the JFB’s operations.
These centres, which started as far back as 2003 Mr. Speaker, accommodate an average of 25 students, each in the afternoons. The students are taught and fed snacks from the JFB’s budget. This, Mr. Speaker, is what we are alluding to when we say we are transforming our communities.
Mr. Speaker I now move to the projections for the Brigade in the fiscal Year 2012/13.
The Brigade intends to have in place a comprehensive development plan for the land at Twickenham Park, which will include design for Training Institution, Divisional Headquarters for St. Catherine and the Vehicle Maintenance Department.
· It is also our intention to further add another 120 fire fighters to the staff strength. There will also be increased use of electronic and print media to present fire safety messages and raise public awareness.
· There will be ongoing in-service training and procurement of protective gear as well as other equipment for firefighters.
• There will be continuation of training in Fort Lauderdale Florida based on the Florida/Jamaica initiative.
• We will initiate training with the Miami Dade Fire Rescue Department and to continue local station-based training targeting some 300 persons.
· It is also our intention to acquire new vehicles, the details of which are being worked out.
· We will seek to continue the strengthening our community outreach efforts Mr. Speaker with the addition of two homework centres at the Waterford and Falmouth fire stations
· We are currently embarking on a new phase of the JFB’s community outreach arm Mr. Speaker, and that is, the development of a special cadet corp that will not only serve as a possible feeder stream for recruitment for the JFB, but also seek to mould the minds of our young men and women towards developing a strong sense of self, fire awareness and prevention and voluntarism. Mr. Speaker the JFB is driven to serve the communities in which it operates.
Mr. Speaker, as I end my presentation with this comprehensive report on the Jamaica Fire Brigade, let me use the opportunity to thank our commissioner and his deputies for leading the charge in doing so much with so little and extinguishing the fires in our communities islandwide.
Mr. Speaker, I intend to lead the charge in lifting the bar to continue in building strong community structures, however, the responsibility to lift the bar must be borne on all side. It is in this regard that our community actors, our community leaders and organizations will need to share evenly in the overall community development process.
As such Mr. Speaker, we shall place primary focus on building the capacity of our Parish Development Committees (PDCs) and other civil society partners to work even more closely with their Local Authorities in fashioning and building a broader collective planning and development mechanism, that utilizes all the diverse natural, professional, cultural and creative resources available to each parish.
Mr. Speaker, Jamaica is blessed with a well-spring of so many talented and dedicated citizens who serve selflessly in the development of their communities in various ways – the unsung heroes who, despite challenges of all types, transform their living spaces into places of pride, and dignity.
If we infuse this talent and dedication within our Local Authorities, we will be well on our way in this revitalization of our communities in transforming them under the new paradigm.
Mr. Speaker, in closing, we will be making even more deliberate strides to deepen the consultative process with all our citizens including the Opposition member and I hope he will participate when he is invited to the table. We will also be engaging in more direct dialogue with the Opposition spokesman on Local Government to harness his valuable input and experience in this process because Mr. Speaker, Local Governance is about the people and not about politics. Let me underscore that without the empowerment of our citizens the revitalization of Local Government will be meaningless.
We are working to ensure that Jamaica is viewed as a shining example in participatory democracy, and what better way to show this than through a revitalized Local Governance system bolstered by strong, focused and vibrant communities where citizens, elected officials and administrators set their goals, objectives and priorities at the local level for the advancement of the entire nation one community at a time, working together for a better Jamaica on a mission for the next 50 years and beyond to transform our communities into places of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
I thank you and God bless us all as we continue on this mission for a better Jamaica land we love.