Me an’ Phillip Powell
August 4, 2008
So, di one Mr. Powell from Duncans read mi letter di odda day an’ decide fi come trace me. I was gwáin tell im two wud, but I settled for several. ‘Ear im nuh:
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
One of the worst curses that human beings have had to endure is jealousy, which our ancestors aptly termed “red eye”. It is a curse that afflicts us here in Jamaica almost as if it were made for us. The clearest example yet of this terrible affliction is a letter in your competitor, The Gleaner, “Sand in our faces” published on July 19.
“Regarding the (illegal) sand mining in Coral Springs, Trelawny, old-time people say ‘tief from tief, God laugh’,” the letter by “Long Bench” says. Maybe I hang out too much with lawyers, but my legal experience tells me that it is libellous to suggest that the investors who lost their sand are thieves, as much as those who stole the sand.
Because The Gleaner is more interested in playing personality politics than in promoting the bigger picture or encouraging national development, it allowed itself to publish this libel against a group of people whose only crime “Long Bench” can pinpoint is their success. The question can be asked, “When has success become a crime?” For crying out loud, we teach our children to strive for success! Should we stop now?
Again The Gleaner allows itself to be used to breach one of the most important journalistic canons – poor taste – when it publishes the letter writer’s bald envy: “Alas, Felicitas Ltd is feeling anything but happy right now. I feel a tremendous sense of loss, but not for these actors.”
That “Long Bench” did not have the courage of his conviction to sign his name to the letter makes it cowardly. The Gleaner makes itself a part of this cowardice and charade, and not for the first time. It scarcely touched the big scandal involving the RIU Hotel when the resort chain illegally built four floors in the direct flight path of the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, putting Jamaican and other passengers at risk.
Maybe The Gleaner isn’t playing God at all. Maybe it’s protecting its directors, if any are involved or taking sides against people it does not like. Maybe its staff doesn’t know news when they see it, or maybe its editors are ineffective and don’t know libel when they see it. Whatever it is, The Gleaner has lost its way.
Perhaps the worst thing about the letter is that it has no sympathy for the people of Trelawny who stand to benefit from one of the most spectacular developments of our time. Thirty-six six-star villas get my vote any day. I am willing to bet that the unemployed people in Trelawny agree.
“Long Bench” is long on diatribe and envy but short on solutions. Perhaps it is the sand in his face that is causing his ‘red eye’.
But, ah just bite mi tongue, swallah mi spit, an’ used my best henglish fi dress im dung:
August 4, 208
As I watch the sand mining of Coral Spring being treated in the press as the mother of all environmental thefts, I am also reminded of Phillip Powell’s response (July 22, “Sand in the face also causes ‘red eye’) to my letter “Sand in our faces” originally published in the July 19 issue of the Gleaner. There, in response to my critique of the complicity of governmental bodies and lack of attention given to private developers’ exploitation of the physical environment, Mr. Powell resorted to some now-familiar personal attacks. The threat of the lawsuit (for libel, no less!) and name-calling (grudgeful, red-eye, no ambition, coward, unsympathetic, et al.) alone led to me think that I had been caught in a cussing match in the street, but over what, it’s not clear.
If I am “grudgeful” of anything as Mr. Powell accuses me of being, it is the ability of the Felicitas investors to have such affluence and influence and to use it only for their personal gain. Already, the cast of characters that have been drawn into the “find the sand” mystery rivals any stage production of the national pantomime. But the one thing that is made patently clear, and which Mr. Powell actively ignores, is that not all Jamaican persons are entitled to this level of “response.” We know this, because at the same time that Coral Spring is getting the royal treatment, there are many other cases of sandmining and illegal quarrying that have never been investigated sufficiently, or at all. Apparently, Jamaican citizens cannot learn the lesson enough: being “successful” ie. having too much money and unfettered access to the halls of power, is the key to being listened to around here. And in this scenario, those of us who dare to demand equitable treatment when balancing the needs of developers and citizens, and who ask for greater accountability on the part of the developers are treated as the problem, not part of the solution. It is no wonder that persons like Mr. Powell become so confused when presented with more than one point of view on this issue; daring to point out the misuses of power or to ask questions is treated as being “out of order” and motivated by ill-will. The only other response that we are expected to have is silence. Here Mr. Powell misses an important point; it is our responsibility as citizens to point out when and where unequal treatment is meted out by our institutions, and to ensure that our institutions are responsive to our collective needs, rather than tailor their accountability based on the colour of our skin, the size of our bank accounts or the content of our social networks. Were we consistent in our demands for accountability, fairness and just protection of public goods, then the sandmining at Coral Spring might not have happened at all!
Siding with the elite’s consumption and accumulation practices is a time-honoured, well-honed practice in self-deception in Jamaica. We, the ordinary citizens, are simply supposed to sit and look from the sidelines, clap politely, and then run to offer our assistance at the lowest possible value, and even free of charge. That, of course, is Phillip Powell’s purview; like many others, I choose not to participate in such self-destructive delusions. Neither should the people of Trelawny who he believes are the “victims” in this regard.
I do not now, nor will I ever, choose to side with developers who do not have the interests of Jamaicans – in Trelawny or elsewhere – at the center of their plans. Tellingly, I have not heard of any discussion about the place, Duncans; all the chatter has all been about the sand and what money the developers thought they could make off marketing it as some of the whitest, prettiest sand in the world. For this group of investors, they have demonstrated no commitment to the place. There is not a mention of what they plan to bring to the people of Duncans, Trelawny although numerous opportunities have emerged for them to do so. Instead, we are the ones who speculate about “jobs”; those words did not come from the would-be developers. The place Duncans, might as well not exist. Unless, of course, people start speaking up.
The unemployment issues in Trelawny – complex as they are – will not be resolved by any development in Coral Spring. I daresay, whatever happens there will have a negligible effect on the area. In the Gleaner’s July 23 report, Andrew Desnoes was clear about the priorities of the group: “the beach was the essence of the project.” No beach, no project. I don’t know how their intentions could be made more clear. Trelawny residents have no promise or guarantee that they will get the jobs that might materialize. Nor do they have any guarantees that their quality of life will improve significantly over time. And the one thing people are desperate for now is a guarantee of something better. Sadly, if this project followed the models established by other similar schemes since the 1980s – and there’s no reason to suggest that it won’t – we already have a mountain of evidence that shows how this project will, at the end of the day, use the struggling people of Trelawny as fodder for its ultimate goal: more accumulation of capital.
The questions we choose not to ask about this and other projects are also glaring, as the investigation unfolds. And yet, Mr. Powell has nothing to say about these. For instance, the proposed project is adjacent to a protected area, but only with the sand mining do we hear the first murmurs about the environmental impact of anything being done there. Rather, we hear about the problem of the sand mining, but not the problem of the construction, buildings and long-term use of this particular piece of land. I certainly don’t hear that the investors have any consciousness of how their use was going to create any environmental issues that needed to be addressed prior to any development project. Nor, do I hear of any efforts to partner with any nearby school or community organization and provide resources to develop a strong curriculum on managing and making the best use of what’s left of the physical environment. The citizens of Duncans and Jamaica should be able to access all plans that have been approved, be able to voice their concerns in a public setting, and expect to be listened to with respect by both governmental agencies and developers. However, given the general secrecy with which this and other development schemes are treated, in this instance I see my duty as a citizen to point to the ways in which the sand mining is just a tip of the problem; it is the lack of appropriate governmental oversight to private development schemes which have contributed to the destruction of the physical and social infrastructure. The hunger for more sand is just one manifestation of the problem.
Contrary to the news reports and chatter, the well-heeleed ones aren’t the only persons who lost something; however, their “something” has been given a meaning that we think we understand: millions of dollars. What the people of Duncans have lost is much larger in scope. And yet, if they see fit, the investors will take their money and run, as usual to wherever their fancy takes them. These oversights, if I may call them that, are simply amazing for what they suggest about how the investors value the people and the land on which they are building their fortunes.
I would hope that when we get around to having an informed conversation about the meaning of “success” we are able to make some important distinctions. That is, perpetuating the idea that having a lot of money and power is equivalent to success in Jamaica certainly accounts for why so many of our activities and interactions – from schoolroom to parliament – are informed by corrupt practices. The ethic of “success” that we seem to salute is what produces the various types of don-manship we encounter everyday – whether via Felicitas or in Southside: it is a play-the-system, lie-cheat-and-manipulate-your-way-to-what-you-want, don’t-let-the-little-people-stand-in-your-way ethic of amorality. I hope that Mr. Powell, and most of us readers, are able to distinguish these sources of “success” from those achievements that are gained through ethical practices that include honesty, integrity, a genuine good regard for those with whom one comes into contact along the way, a sense of humility about what one has accomplished and what remains undone, and a sense of accountability to those whose lives will be touched by whatever has been done. I certainly hope that Felicitas comes out on the right side. However, given how difficult it is to get our government officials to see the interests of ordinary Jamaicans as equivalent in importance to the elites who support them, I won’t be surprised if they choose to maintain the status quo. For that reason, I advise Mr. Powell to put on some goggles, as he will need them. The sand is starting to blow hard!