Friday, October 30, 2009

Forum on Saving PRIDE

O. Dave Allen, in an e-mailed letter to BlackJamaica, has brought to our attention the threat of destruction of an important People Sector institution – the Provident Societies providing democratic ownership and management of PRIDE schemes – and of the Government’s policy of deliberate “garrisonisation” of these communities, which has resulted in a marked increase in politically motivated crime and violence, including murders, in these informal-settler communities.

We invite our readers to take a stand to prevent this further emasculation of the Third Sector within the Jamaican political-economy by joining the forum in this blog and raising your voices in the other sections of the national media, in your respective political parties and People Sector organisations, especially your community organisations. Where legal action can be taken to protect the rights of organised settlers, we invite progressive lawyers and altruistic citizens to assist these Provident Societies to protect the rights and properties of their members.

Click “comments” at the bottom of this post to join the debate and view comments made by others on what action, if any, needs to be taken. Mr. Allen’s (edited) communication to us is reproduced below:

Government “Garrisonising” PRIDE Communities

By O. Dave Allen

In a meeting with Minister Baugh and Dr. Horace Chang, Minister of Water and Housing, on Thursday, October 15, Dr. Chang reaffirms his decision not to work with Provident Societies as the legal entities representing community development agencies. While it is the prerogative of the Minister to revamp or abandon the Operation PRIDE framework as Government policy to address informal settlement issues, it cannot be the right of the Minister to dictate the legal form and structure of community organizations.

The action of the Minister amounts to victimization and a crude attempt to polarize communities and is an ominous forewarning of government policy to develop garrisons, as exemplified by the barefaced attempt to relocate urban residents of Kingston to St. Thomas. Meanwhile, the National Housing Agency of Jamaica, successor to the NHDC, is busily forming parallel community structures competing with existing community organizations to carry out the same function, tribalizing once peaceful communities into warring fractions and heightening tension within several communities

If the political garrison is a causal factor in the increased levels of crime and violence, we cannot allow the government to move unchallenged to carry out community formation without a governance structure that is non-partisan, democratic and transparent to monitor and to temper the excesses and exuberance of the state to perpetuate their own existence. Left unchecked, the 900,000 squatters and the more that 700 marginalized communities are prime targets to be garrisonized

This is taking place while the Opposition is sleeping on the job and civil society and former proponents of degarrisonization of communities are silent.

Quarry Hill, St. Catherine

In respect to recent events at Quarry Hill, it is clear that with the Ministry broke they are forced to find money by selling out high-value “greenfield” land on the open market even at the expense of displacing people who have occupied those premises, while curry-favouring with those they allow to remain on the “brownfield” settlements with infrastructure development without recourse to any resettlement policy that is prepared to resettle displaced people.

O. Dave Allen
Community Organizations for Management and Sustainable Development (COMAND)

Editorial Comment

If my memory serves me right the acronym PRIDE means: Project for Renewal, Industrial Development and Empowerment. This sums up the admirable original concept of Operation PRIDE – to transform informal (mainly squatter) settlements by a process of integrated development into a source of pride by their residents. The concept called for the self-organisation of settlers to develop their property in a self-reliant manner to pool their capital to purchase these properties, provide infrastructure such as roads and sewage, and industrial parks and green areas for employment, recreation and sustainable development. The self-reliant community development model was proposed in light of the fact of the sparsity of government resources to fund the orderly development of these numerous informal settlements.

The original concept was corrupted when the Patterson administration sought to court the political support of the PRIDE beneficiaries by supposedly “loaning” the Provident Societies organized to manage the respective schemes resources to jump-start infrastructure development works that could not be brought to a state of completion. In the process, they corruptly provided infrastructure contracts to favoured political funders as well as “sold” house-spots to beneficiaries under the table. They further encouraged a state of dependency on government patronage by legitimizing the status of squatters without requiring them to fulfill their commitment to pay for the properties through the Provident Societies.

This strategy paid rich political dividends for the PNP in the 1997 and 2003 General Elections, but effectively turned the settlements into government housing schemes and undermined the authority of the Provident Societies of disciplined, organized residents.

Having allowed the sowing of the wind of political corruption, we are now reaping the whirlwind of reverse political ethnic cleansing and garrisonisation – including the use of state terrorism. Now it is time to re-establish the sovereignty of the People.

Mr. Dave Allen has managed to organize a number of these Provident Societies in the western region of the island within an umbrella organization – COMAND. He has been fighting a lonely battle to preserve the integrity and authority of these Provident Societies against land-capture by a predatory state and political clientilist control. (Note that the Almanac of Jamaica OF 1849 lists properties with a total of 356,431 acres which were abandoned between 1832 and 1849, with the loss of slave labour. This amounts to nearly a quarter of all land in farms, according to the Agricultural Census of 1968. This means that a quarter of farm-land is capture-land held by Government or other landlords.)

Two Consultations were held in April with representatives of these organizations for community empowerment – one at the Jamaica Grandiosa Hotel for Western societies and one at the University of Technology, under the auspices of its Urban Planning Department, for Eastern societies. The consensus of these Consultations was that an umbrella organization be established to represent all the Provident Societies in the island. This is an obvious area crying out for involvement and concerted action by all social activists who consider themselves progressives committed to the empowerment of the People Sector.

At the same time, it is the statutory responsibility of the Registrar and Department of Cooperatives and Friendly Societies to regulate the operations of these Provident Societies and protect their authority and their property against all predators. The current Registrar would do well to restore the independence and integrity of his office that was lost when a predecessor bowed to political pressure from his Minister to disband the sugar workers’ cooperatives to satisfy a campaign promise by the victorious party in the 1980 Elections.

The Stimulus Package agreed by both Consultations for government action is deserving of our active support:
1. Releasing the 17,000 titles that are currently in the vault of the Housing Agency of Jamaica so that the Provident Societies can leverage these titles for infrastructure development through individual mortgages.
2. Wave the transfer tax for parent tiles to the individual splinter titles. This would reduce the cost of the lot.
3. Set aside 20% of the annual budget of the NHT as a dedicated mortgage fund to Provident Societies whose members are qualified contributors to the NHT.
4. Differ payment on the government-owned lands so that funds available will be used for infrastructure development.
5. Transfer all open spaces and green areas on sites where the land is owned by government to Provident Societies so that they can leverage these lands for grant funding from local and international donor agencies to develop parks and recreational areas.

While exerting social pressure on Government to support and facilitate the community institutions, however, we should be aware that the system of political clientilism which characterises our politics militates against these demands being accepted voluntarily. We should therefore put our greater effort into organising the people from the bottom up to exert their potential power of control over the assets that they currently occupy through legal and any other means necessary.

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