Oct 12, 2008

Make a 'no heavy-duty vehicle' policy for the Cassava Piece Road

Wignall's World
Mark Wignall

JAMAICA, Jamaica Observer - Kingston, October 12, 2008

The Cassava Piece Road is the perfect example of the type of Third World, haphazard urban planning that is usually dictated more by the vote count of the poor residents than any real need to make their lives safer. With the streets of Jamaica - and especially our urban centres - overflowing with motorised transport, the Cassava Piece Road is a very important conduit in the daily grind of slow-moving traffic, increasingly, outside of what used to be known as 'peak hours'.

About three years ago, two children were crushed by a truck travelling through Clifton Boulevard, that narrow strip of road connecting Mannings Hills Road to Constant Spring Road and known to all as the Cassava Piece Road.

In this publication, I have on three occasions over the past five years, called on 'the authorities' to ban trucks and buses from using the narrow roadway and/or making traffic one-way at specific times of the day.

The road has two institutions of note - the oftentimes infamous Constant Spring Police station and the Constant Spring All-Age school. At a distance of more than 100 metres from the school gate, heading in the direction of Mannings Hill Road, the road narrows even more, at times barely making 13 feet wide. More importantly, along this stretch school children are forced to walk on the pavement because there is, intermittently, only a 13-inch strip of sidewalk in many places, on one side of the road only.

The Cassava Piece Road is the perfect example of the type of Third World, haphazard urban planning that is usually dictated more by the vote count of the poor residents than any real need to make their lives safer. With the streets of Jamaica - and especially our urban centres - overflowing with motorised transport, the Cassava Piece Road is a very important conduit in the daily grind of slow-moving traffic, increasingly, outside of what used to be known as 'peak hours'.

One would have thought that with a school situated on the road, the authorities would have responded to my plea. In the past the KSAC responded promptly on two occasions when I wrote about the terrible state of the road surface. Within days the KSAC did its usual patchwork, thanks to Mayor Desmond McKenzie.

I have a disturbing theory as to why no attention has been paid to banning heavy-duty traffic there. On the fairly wide Constant Spring Road, near to Cassava Piece, is the very well known, highly rated school for girls, the Immaculate Conception High School. It is big among 'brand name' high schools, maintains high standards and it is known that only girls who score very high on their GSat get to attend. It is still seen as an 'Uptown' school.

Indeed, due to the heavy flow of SUVs and other fancy cars dropping off and picking up children in the morning and evenings, Immaculate scored big by securing traffic lights right outside its gate. Let me say that I am a big fan of the school, especially because I have a young daughter attending it. But I have to state my grouse.

Constant Spring All-Age is not considered 'brand name' and takes many of its students from the surrounding ghetto areas.

The vast majority of students who go there take public transportation. In my view, they are not considered that important. I will go further to say that if Immaculate was situated on the Cassava Piece Road, the thoroughfare would either have been widened (very difficult to do now) and the ban on heavy-duty traffic would long have been the norm.

Message: The children attending Constant Spring All-Age school are 'cobba cobba' and not as important as those attending Immaculate, so if every few years idiotic truck drivers who often get stuck trying to go by each other in the narrow pass happen to crush a child from a poor household, well, we will mourn, but it's no big thing.

One day last week, I witnessed one such child coming close to losing a foot as a huge truck mounted the sidewalk (about 5 inches high by 12 inches wide) forcing the child to hug a nearby wall like a lizard. But the child is poor, powerless, and has no voice.

Some readers ask, 'Why do you criticise Portia so'?

There are a few online readers of my column who only become animated whenever I criticise the Leader of the Opposition, Portia Simpson Miller. The skies could be falling and the earth could be boiling and one would never hear a peep from them, but criticise Simpson Miller and they bristle, ready to take up arms in defence of the political love of their lives.

To me, the first duty of leadership is to inspire huge numbers of people towards a vision. An integral part of that goal is to bring that vision into the realm of 'shared vision'.

The assumption here is that the vision is a sound one, specifically geared towards nation-building in the broad sense. In the more specific sense, it must be about empowering people to better education, better health, housing, social awareness, security and building wealth.

Let us understand one thing here. If John Brown or Judy Smith from the 'corners' became prime minister tomorrow, our policemen, nurses, teachers, doctors, garbage-men and the host of others in the civil service would still get paid. The 'system' is set up to ensure that that is so. One assumes that if John Brown, who mostly wants to hang with the boys and smoke a 'spliff', has good people in his cabinet, he can pretty much find the time to have the boys hang with him, maybe at the back of Jamaica House. Break out the chillum, boys!

One of Judy Smith's bright cabinet colleagues might say to her, 'I am going to go see my friend Chavez. Going to carry greetings from you. Going to tell him that we need a 'little something' for a special event. While I am there, me and the boys will seal up that trade deal we were taking about the other day.'

It's a simplistic way of saying that much of what we have become used to as 'government' can be effected even if Jack is stoned on high-grade ganja or if Judy wants to attend endless divinations from her favourite guru. Leadership demands much more.

To me, it is the duty of the leader to be ahead of the pack. He or she must be familiar with the general duties of his or her generals. A leader never seeks 'guidance' from his or her underlings. He or she only seeks 'counsel' in efforts to create the mechanics behind the broader policy scripted by the leader.
Not only must the leader be familiar with the wiles of his or her generals, he or she must be aware of their respective limitations.


I am saying that Portia Simpson Miller has always promised much - implicitly. She is the last person we expected to be just another leader holding a throne, loving it and forgetting what was expected of her. In terms of the 'brightness' which we all desire in a leader, she has never indicated that she has anything more than that common touch which every good leader needs.

In fact, to my way of thinking, the only leader who can afford to have the 'common touch' is one who is bright and in touch with the heartbeat of the nation and global events.

A leader like Simpson Miller cannot just come to the table with her 'common touch', 'lovey-dovey' qualities and nothing else. And she cannot claim any slate of policies which are simply in the vein of some of those leaders who went before. Judy Smith could have done that. Ask Jack too.

I criticise her because much of the political bad taste from her formative years in politics has begun to surface. Increasingly, I see 'despot' rising to prominence on her résumé. To be truthful, some of us could do with a little 'tough love' like the kind practised by the 'benevolent dictator' Lee Kwan Yew in the period following the 1960s. But Lee was a thinker and he surrounded himself with those who could deliver on 'doing'.

I have sensed nothing in Simpson Miller which tells me that she is interested in anything more that just the re-attainment of raw power for the main sake of what holding it implies. If I missed the dream, it could be because I was myself dreaming too of honest leaders who would apply that first virtue of self-assessment rather than wallowing in and elevating delusions to the realm of attributes.

To my way of thinking, Simpson Miller has latched on to the general ignorance in the society, played the class and gender cards and, facing no one who could appeal to a people long served the short end of the stick, she walked once again into the hearts of the people.

People all over tend to vote for what they expect the party to deliver for them in the very short term. The theory here is that if what is delivered short term can be classified as sound policy, then the summation of many of these policies will be equal to good government. But in Jamaica, the politics has been mostly about feeding the politicians first with a trickle to the people. And because it tends to exclude those supporting the party out of power, supporters become very tribal in their need to see their party win.


"Mr Wignall," the man said, not hiding his PNP sympathies, "If a man get a job an nuh hustling nuh inna it, him nuh want di job." He was of course right. On that basis, the PNP, in its post-Michael dispensation has never pretended that it was going all out to change the Jamaican society. It saw what we were, turned away from the moral high road and simply fell in lockstep with the baser side of our nation's behaviour.

The PNP learned only how to win elections, never to build this nation. I have seen no evidence that Portia Simpson Miller is anything outside the mould of PJ Patterson, the only difference being Patterson's claim to some educational and class pedigree.

Portia Simpson Miller has no awareness of the failed agenda of PJ Patterson. Where Patterson's political pedigree gave him godlike status in the PNP, he, who claimed 'blackness' as a banner on his chest, never saw it fit to bring about a revolution in the change of the very black people whose prince he was.

Simpson Miller has no sense of history, no sense that she herself may be caught up in another wave to lead this nation.

Her behaviour has indicated that she has no further knowledge beyond restarting an old bus and hoping that it can be steered over streets lined with something other than tar.

What did she do for women?

I have not seen Portia Simpson Miller take a firm stand on women's issues. Not a piecemeal attachment to an extant policy. Something grand to make us stand up, pay attention and get involved.

One reader wrote: "Portia Simpson Miller was prime minister for a number of months after the demise of the LONG SHADOW CAST BY THE BLACK PRINCE. What did she do for women, or for women and children? Did she pass or suggest any laws that dealt with the assaults, abuses and discrimination that women suffer from in Jamaica (unequal pay for equal work?) Should not this be a watermark by which this woman who seeks to lead again be tested?"

I fully agree with this reader even as he goes on to state that a country gets the leadership it deserves. Too many Jamaicans want nothing more than a weekend session and a long stay in a fancy hotel. We call the session election campaigning and the hotel stay the election win.

As I said in a previous column, voters in Jamaica are very aware of their place in the scheme of things. They know they are being used as washrags to clean up the way, to empower the politicians. They know that they will be shafted and forgotten, so in between those five years they scrounge out whatever hustling the system affords them.


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