Don’t stifle our voices, says citizens’ group to parliamentary committee

Is our democracy being watered down? I am beginning to wonder.

On Thursday, January 19, 2023, the Parliamentary Committee on Infrastructure and Physical Development will meet at Gordon House in Kingston. The committee (which last met in November 2022 after a hiatus of one whole year) will consider the 2017 Provisional Development Order for Kingston and St. Andrew, which the Prime Minister and head of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Peter Knight have declared will be confirmed soon. The committee is chaired by Government (Jamaica Labour Party) Member of Parliament Heroy Clarke. The Standing Orders for the Committee clearly state that concerned parties should be able to make submissions and a verbal presentation. For the second time, one citizens’ group has not been allowed to appear before the committee.

By the way, most of the critical parliamentary committees are now chaired by government members – a practice which was put in place in September, 2020 by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. In 2007, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding had instituted the practice of Opposition members chairing critical committees – so, this was overturned after 13 years. Why?

Now, Citizens Rights to the City (CRC), a grouping of 29 citizens’ associations mostly in Kingston and St. Andrew, wrote an Open Letter in March of last year to Mayor Delroy Williams. On November 9, 2022, the CRC submitted a formal submission expressing their concerns over the dramatic increase in housing densities in many communities and the expected enormous pressure on infrastructure, which you can read here. Back then, Chairman Clarke, surprisingly, when asked by Member of Parliament Julian Robinson, said he did not think it was necessary for CRC representatives to attend the committee meeting and present their case. Why? And why do the respective Members of Parliament for these communities not speak out on their behalf? Why, also, has the Prime Minister not responded to an Open Letter from CRC (last month) calling for consultations on the Provisional Development Order?

In an interview on Nationwide News Network this morning, CRC members Carol Narcisse and Val Carnegie, from Red Hills and from the Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association (GTNA) in the parish of St. Andrew spoke with talk show host Cliff Hughes on the matter (it starts at 2:32 on the recording if you want to listen). The committee chairman declined to appear on the radio for interview. Why?

“We are concerned with climate smart strategies of water harvesting, lessening dependence on fossil fuels and reduced pollution,” Carnegie said during the interview. The issues raised in the CRC submission are “not just about neighbourhood inconvenience and the disruption suffered by people – but the larger impact on the city and ALL of its residents and the need for a larger planning framework.”

By the way, these committee meetings, as well as proceedings in the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, are live streamed by the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) on YouTube – an invaluable and much-appreciated service. So if you want a blow-by-blow, word for word account, you can find it there.

Here is the latest press release from CRC. Don’t try to muzzle the citizens, please, Mr. Clarke. Why would you do that?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 17, 2023

Don’t Stifle Citizens’ Voices – Citizens Group Calls On Parliament’s Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee

Citizens’ Rights to the City (CRC), comprised of Associations and individual residents of 29 communities mainly in Kingston and St. Andrew, is greatly troubled by a decision of the Parliamentary Committee on Infrastructure and Physical Development, to exclude a verbal presentation by the CRC at the Committee’s next meeting on January 19. This decision is curious at best given that the CRC’s written submission is listed as an item on the meeting’s agenda.

The Parliamentary Committee’s decision to exclude a verbal presentation by CRC at its next meeting, is concerning as it could be interpreted as an effort to stifle citizens’ voices and to pay lip service to consideration of the issues raised in CRC’s written submission. Additionally, the decision runs counter to the Committee’s mandate as set out in the Standing Orders of Parliament.

The Standing Orders of the Jamaica Houses of Parliament, Section 75 C; subsection (c), page 47, state the Committee’s duties as:

(c) receiving submissions from citizens and organizing meetings between citizens, community groups, sectoral organizations, Members of Parliament and representatives of government agencies to facilitate exchange of views on the operations of the Government and their effect on communities and groups in the society; and

(d) organizing meetings with relevant organizations in order to seek such information on their activities as the public interest may demand.

A written submission to the Parliamentary Committee was first made in November 2021 by Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association on behalf of the wider group, and was again submitted in November 2022 by Citizens’ Rights to the City as the Committee had failed to meet in the interim.

Among other matters, the written submission brings the Parliamentary Committee’s attention to the wide impacts of the 2017 Provisional Development Order for Kingston and St. Andrew, in particular, the changes in policy related to building heights and densities. These matters have critical implications for the quality of life of citizens across the KMA.

The written submission to the Parliamentary Committee is especially pertinent given that Prime Minister Holness and the Head of the National Environment and Planning Agency, Peter Knight have announced imminent plans to confirm the 2017 Provisional Development Order.

In an Open Letter to PM Holness released by CRC in December 2022, the group issued a call for “No confirmation without consultation” as part of a much-needed evaluation of the five years of implementation of the Provisional Development Order.

The CRC calls on the members of the Parliamentary Committee on Infrastructure and Physical Development to recognise that the Committee’s mandate makes it well placed to be a facilitator of such consultations.

The communities listed in the CRC’s written submission to the Committee are among the most affected by the changes in building heights, densities and the glaring weaknesses in permit granting and enforcement mechanisms.

As such, the CRC calls on committee Chairman, Heroy Clarke, to ensure the voices of citizens are directly heard at the Parliamentary Committee’s meeting on January 19th.

–END—

ABOUT CRC

Citizens Rights to the City is an alliance of twenty-nine (29) citizens associations and individual, concerned citizens from across the Kingston Metropolitan Area and beyond, committed to ensuring the rights of citizens to both the natural and built environments.

Citizens Rights to the City advocates for liveable, sustainable communities and comprehensive urban development planning that takes account of the needs of ALL citizens – their needs for housing, public services (e.g. water, sewage, public transportation), green space and a healthy environment. The alliance calls for an end to unplanned, unregulated building developments which negatively impact the delivery of services and quality of life for all residents.

Citizens Rights to the City includes members of the following citizens groups and communities:

  1. Acadia Citizens Association
  2. Barbican Community
  3. Beverley Hills Community
  4. Blue Castle Citizens Association, Liguanea
  5. Charlemont Drive Neighbourhood Watch and Citizen Association
  6. Cunningham-Herb McKenley-Latham Ave Neighbourhood Watch
  7. Eastwood Park Gardens Community
  8. Edgecombe & Gainsborough Ave Citizens Group
  9. Forest Hills Citizens Association/Citizens Advocacy Group
  10. Freeport, Montego Bay
  11. Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association
  12. Halifax Avenue/kings Drive Community
  13. Havendale/Meadowbrook Citizens Association
  14. Harbour Drive/Harbour View
  15. Irish Town Action Group
  16. Jacks Hill Citizens Assoc.
  17. Leas Flat Citizens Association
  18. Liguanea East Neighbourhood Association
  19. Molynes Gardens Citizens Association Neighbourhood Watch
  20. Mona Heights Citizen Association
  21. New Kingston Citizens Association
  22. Hope Pastures Citizens Association
  23. Paddington Terrace Community
  24. Queensway Citizens Association
  25. Salisbury and Environs Neighbourhood Group
  26. Sandhurst Citizens Association.
  27. Stony Hill Community Group
  28. St. Andrew Park Citizens Group
  29. Widcombe, Hopeview, Newhaven Citizens Association.
A view looking in the general direction of the Golden Triangle and New Kingston areas from the top floor of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in 2018. Since then, high rise buildings have proliferated. (My photo)

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