Fri | Jul 3, 2020

Editorial | Welcoming the gully-cleaning initiative

Published:Friday | March 27, 2020 | 12:22 AM

AGAINST THE economic uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable that one of Finance Minister Nigel Clarke’s more important pronouncements in his Budget speech last week received almost no notice. He has put aside money for a major gully-cleaning programme in the capital.

Our hope is that Dr Clarke will recruit Delroy Williams, the chairman of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), the capital’s local government, to the enterprise and that he has the skill to engineer into the mayor a passion for the project. Maybe Minister Clarke can also muster the patience to ensure the KSAMC boss stays with the programme all the way through. For Mr Williams presides over a grimy and ramshackle city, of which, except for his occasional bursts of wakeful cognition, he seems blissfully unaware.

Although, to be fair to Mayor Williams, the threat of the coronavirus, and some prodding from central government authorities, may have shocked him out of his managerial catalepsy. The Coronation Market in downtown Kingston last week had a rare cleaning, and municipal and/or National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) workers have been observed power-washing streets elsewhere in the capital.

Such initiatives are deeply welcomed by this newspaper. Indeed, we have long and often lamented Jamaica’s inability, or unwillingness, to pursue the small things and get them right. Or, when they are attempted, there seems to be a presumption that they have to be expensive and subject to corruption and political patronage.

Cleaning communities, and sustaining their cleanliness, by removing garbage, washing drains and trimming verges, are among the small and relatively inexpensive things that inheres social value, which, ultimately, redounds to national development, via less crime and greater economic growth.

Even in poverty, a clean environment helps people to feel better about their communities and themselves, contributing to a lessening of social dysfunction, and, thereby, less crime. Crime is a deterrent to economic activity, which hinders growth.

Which is why we welcome the announcement by Dr Clarke – noticeably not the local government minister, who supposedly has responsibility for solid waste management – of a J$320-million allocation to clean the gullies in Kingston. The scheme includes the permanent employment of workers, with carts to remove garbage from hard-to-traverse gully-bank communities to central areas for collection by garbage trucks. A similar project is to be piloted in May Pen, Clarendon.

NOTORIOUS PROJECTS

This good idea – community-based cleaning schemes have been tried before – must not be allowed to descend into the usual partisan allocation of jobs to low-wage labourers, especially during the coming election season. Neither should it be another endeavour from which so-called community ‘dons’ and politically aligned middlemen cream their share from the top. Gully-related projects, of all types, are, in the population;s perception, notorious for graft and kickbacks.

Therefore, Dr Clarke, as well as Audley Gordon, the executive director of the NSWMA, which will have operational management for the project, must be aware that they won’t escape the scrutiny of this newspaper. We would have hoped we could count on the diligence of Mr Williams, who in the past has talked about transforming Kingston into a smart, digital city and becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Caribbean. We, for a start, would be happy with just having a clean town for which the spending is properly accounted.

Nigel Clarke’s initiative is coinciding with a separate NSWMA programme for Jamaicans not to litter or dump solid waste where they will. Mr Gordon, of the NSWMA, proposes to have special clean-up days in communities. He, however, has the embryo of an idea. Everything, unfortunately, is reduced to a project. What he and his staff should be doing, really, is to get on with their jobs and sustain the effort. That’s the developed idea.