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COLUMNS BY JOHN MAXWELL :
TRANSPARENCY AND HOPE

 

Transparency and Hope
By John Maxwell

Not such a bright idea
Hope for hope
(a bulleted list overview)
Overnight Summons


To judge by the headlines in the news me
dia, printed and electronic, Jamaica is an unrelieved landscape of gloom and doom. Some practitioners seem to salivate at the prospect of yet anther negative, at a fall in the stock market, the moaning of the tourist industry, the news of another shooting. It is sometimes hard to believe that there is another side to Jamaica, in fact, several other sides.

But the Press, fixated on its own importance and its own agenda, does its damnedest to make sure that we focus on the small picture, that we forget that we are a part of a larger world and that the world is not black and white. The Gleaner informs us, for instance, that the “Senate keeps Press Waiting” – a headline which I thought at first was a joke, and then realised was meant to be taken seriously.

The Senate obviously does not know its place in the scheme of things. How dare they keep the Press waiting! What a piece of impertinence. How could this little bunch of hurry-come-ups keep the sovereign press twiddling its thumbs while the President, or some other jack-in-office and her fellow jackanapes indulged in unseemly frivolity or worse, while the mighty press languished, waiting for its historic opportunity to be the first group to hold an illegal demonstration in the chamber?

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NOT SUCH A BRIGHT IDEA

“Media heads don dust masks, to symbolise the muzzling of the press …” the caption stated, and I was sorry to see some of my good friends conned into joining by the nonsensical campaign to smear the government as an enemy of press freedom. The Anti-Corruption bill is a flawed piece of legislation, but this government, above all others since independence, cannot be accused of attempting to muzzle the press. If anything, it has been guilty of allowing the electronic media to get away with the wholesale slandering of Jamaica and its government in the name of freedom of the press. It is not that the government should have taken action to shut down criticism, but that, in the protection of all our freedoms and rights to privacy and a good name, and our economic integrity, for instance, the government has a duty to defend the rights of individuals and groups and of the nation itself, on whom the prosecutors general of the press have declared open season.

It cannot be in the public interest for the government to tolerate its description as thieves, for politicians to be routinely described as associates of gunmen, as robbers and pickpockets, or for returning Jamaicans to be warned to stay away from Jamaica because the government will steal their savings. Mashing down Jamaica in order to mas up the government is an idea already proved to be insane.

Since the press seems incapable of disciplining itself the government has a duty, as a more or less responsible adult, to call at least the worst offenders to order. Of course the press will say that this is censorship, as it did when it claimed the right to tell lies on the occasion of the Act to reform the Stock Exchange rules. In the present instance, the press should move for total transparency in the conduct of public business. Shareholders and taxpayers are both entitled to know how their money is spent, and just as we are entitled to know what the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica is paid we are entitled to know what the CEO of Grace Kennedy or the Mechala group are paid. Its Our Money!

Incidentally, we must demand of all of our newspapers and radio and television stations a declaration hat they do not have lists of people and organisations, stories about whom must – before publication – be referred to non-editorial decision makers. Those who talk transparency must practice it or stop questioning the credibility of others.

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HOPE FOR HOPE

While the all important matter of penalties for journalists is being discussed, the fight to save Hope Gardens continues quietly. Last Thursday evening many of those who object to the Hope Country Club “housing scheme” met at the JTURDC in Hope Pastures to coordinate their positions. In attendance were the representatives from at least half a dozen citizens’ associations who understand how important Hope is to the sanity of their city. Among other things, they heard Dr. Lloyd Barnett announce that the Independent Council for Human Rights (ICHR) will be providing legal aid for the objectors to the Hope Gardens housing scheme.

Dr. Barnett is of course, the country’s leading constitutional authority as well as President of the Bar Association and Chairman of the ICHR.

It seems to me that the debate over the past weeks has more or less settled several disputed issues. First, it is clear that the Hope Country Club is meant to be sited within Hope Gardens.
Other points are:
• Mr Cartade, the so-called ‘developer’ does not have the approvals he needs for the scheme, contrary to what the Minister of Housing (the real developer under the law) told parliament.
• The Town Planning Department opposes the scheme.
• The Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke, unequivocally, opposes the scheme as do, probably, a majority of the Cabinet.
• The Ministry of Agriculture opposes the scheme.
• The Superintendent of Public Gardens opposes the scheme.
• The Curator of the Zoo, opposes the scheme
• The land is required for the development of Hope Gardens.
• The Government, since October 1, 1991, has banned the commercial development of Hope Gardens and of lands “in juxtaposition” to it.
• The area is covered by a Development Order which defines it as public open space. Even the Environmental Impact Assessment contains a map which demonstrates this, but the EIA does not takes this fact into account.
• The Environment Impact Assessment is so deficient that it is useless.
• That Hope Gardens has a great future as a leisure resource, as a tourist attraction, as a botanical centre, as a training and learning institution, and as a centre for ethnobotany and sustainable development. Hope Gardens needs more space, not less.
• The NRCA Act binds the Crown specifically in Section which was reportedly inserted at the insistence of Mr Patterson himself, when he was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Planning.
• The invocation of the Housing Act is a stratagem devised by the Joint Venture section of the Ministry of Housing to get away from its responsibilities under the NRCA ACT, and has already been used to justify the commercial conversion of public open space in Portmore, Mona Heights and elsewhere..
• That the Commissioner of Lands, the Town Planning Department and the Ministry of the Environment including the NRCA, require an immediate divorce from the developer-oriented Ministry of Housing to protect them against conflicts of interest and the risk of contamination by vested interests.

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OVERNIGHT SUMMONS
I have been informed (Friday evening) that the Housing Minister’s advisory committee is to hold its first meeting tomorrow morning at the Terra Nova Hotel. This intelligence was reportedly conveyed in an invitation to to the Hope Pastures Citizens Association on Friday. This overnight summons, of course, gives them no time to properly prepare their case, since they have no idea of the terms of reference of the Committee nor of its procedures. The developers have had seven years to prepare theirs.

As far as I can gather, no other objector has been informed of this meeting and most certainly, neither the Hon. Vivian Blake, QC., nor I, who are joint objectors, has been informed.

One further point:
It is clear from all reports that apart from one real estate conveyancer and some of the beneficiaries of the proposed scheme, the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans oppose the scheme.

Copyright © 1999 by John Maxwell

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LINKS
Photo of Proposed Site (800x600) |
1966 Survey Map | Objection sent to the Minister of Housing and Development | Rebuttal of Estech's EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) | Objection made to NRCA (Natural Resources Conservation Authority) | Common Sense: Where will the children play? | Common Sense: The battle of Hope Gardens | Common Sense: An offer they couldn't refuse | Common Sense: No mek dem tek it! | Common Sense: Hoping against Hope | Common Sense: Transparency and Hope | News: The Struggle Continues | Press Release from Birdlife of Jamaica | Memo from Mona Heights Citizens' Association | Letter from Stuart Lacy of WildLife Jamaica | Letter from Gloria Escoffery | Letter from Daphne & Peter Abrahams | Satire by 'Cher' | An Opposing Viewpoint from The Gleaner | Protest Letters | The Principals | Add your $0.02