Housing Ministry’s decision to take over Duhaney Park centre income irks residents

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After years of running a vibrant community centre, members of the Duhaney Park Community Development Committee (CDC) are lamenting that they have not been able to maintain the facility because of an “underhanded” move by the Ministry of Housing to sequester funds paid to the CDC by Digicel for a cellular site on the property.

During a tour of the facility by the Jamaica Observer last week, CDC President Earl Jones, along with Vice-President Godfrey Williams and public relations officer Roberta Wilson, showed where a computer lab, usually filled with schoolchildren, is now dormant because they were in arrears on their Internet bill.

The electricity too will be gone soon, Jones explained, while also showing the community football field, once green but now dotted with patches of grass, where students from Duhaney Park Primary School were engaged in physical activities.

To the left of the recreational facility towers the cell site that was once a source of income for the CDC, after they negotiated a 10-year contract with Digicel in 2003 to host the cell station on the property.

However, Jones told the Sunday Observer that source of income vanished in 2014 when the Ministry of Housing, now operating under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, presented itself as the true owner of the land and therefore the rightful recipient of a yearly payment of $500,000 from Digicel, paid every six months.

The money, Jones explained, was being used to maintain the facilities as well as offset other community activities.

“The money was being used to assist the netball, football teams and other activities that we have here. And to even expound on that, because of that structure that we had established, we were able to even assist the clinic with washing machine, fans, microwave, and intercom system. We have given the schools 40 plus computers over the years.

“But other than that, it’s a community centre and bills need to be paid. We have a cyber centre where the children come to use the computers; we have grounds people to pay, you name it. But because they have kidnapped the process, we have not been able to pay our bills.”

Since losing their primary source of income, Jones said that the maintenance of the recreational space has gone downhill.

“This cyber centre that we are sitting in right now is not active. The grounds used to be well kept but the beautification is not there anymore. The field is another example — the grass is actually eating out and the fence is tearing down. If we had that money, we could maintain the facility.”

Instead, Wilson explained that the executive members have been covering the expenses of the centre from their pockets.

“Right now it’s a out of pocket thing, and we try to put together to pay staff. We also have persons who used to be paid to maintain the property who are still doing it without incentives. We have two staff but we have to improvise a way to pay them because all of that comes out of pocket,” said Wilson

At the same time, Jones reiterated that over the years the CDC has managed to successfully operate the centre while offering a variety of community activities through their own initiatives.

“Since the birth of Duhaney Park, we the citizens have been very active in terms of trying to get things done for the community. Most of what we have here, including the centre and the clinic, was negotiated by citizens, namely the CDC, for the citizens of Duhaney Park.

“We as an organisation went into negotiations with Digicel to establish a cell site on the property for which they gave us roughly $500,000 a year. But in 2014 the Ministry of Housing came into play when they got wind of the fact that we did the negotiation, and they are claiming that they are the property owner of the entire facility and that they have the title,” Jones said.

Jones further noted that the Matalon family owned ICD Group were the developers of the Duhaney Park community, arguing that green spaces were given to the community for recreational use.

“The community got these green spaces legally. We have no knowledge of how the Ministry of Housing came to have deeds for this particular location because it is obviously the location where we have recreational activities.

“And we all know that whenever you are doing any property development you must have green spaces or property that is set aside for recreational activities. And that is also a part of your buying into the community as an individual, because you are not going to buy a house in a community where there are no facilities for your children to play.”

Being one of the most densely populated communities in the Corporate Area, with upward of 17,000 people, Jones argued that the community centre has been a hub for the CDC and other community groups to foster positive community engagement and to keep the peace in the once-troubled neighbourhood.

“We have had a peace process for the last 19 years which has been uninterrupted. We are the only community in Jamaica that has had a continuous reign of peace, where a peace process was initiated and it has never been broken. We have a PMI (Peace Management Initiative) award for the community with the longest reign of peace, and won a community award for the community with most peace and development. We also got an award from the SDC for the most self-reliant community because we do a lot of activities and most of the things, we do them on our own. And that is one of the reasons why most of the entities out there say Duhaney Park doesn’t need anything, because we have been at peace.”

As such, Jones questioned why the ministry would “kidnap” a process that was benefiting the community.

“They are claiming that because they were not contacted when the negotiation took place, they sequestered the process. We have made representation on numerous occasions because what has happened since they kidnapped the process is that we have these problems now where we cannot cover our expenses. We have the centre here and we have to maintain the facility.

“Our issue is not with Digicel, but now that Housing [Ministry] has taken over the process, we have these problems now where we cannot cover our expenses. We have our cyber centre where the children from the basic school usually come in every week to use the computers. All of that has ceased as a result of their intervention, which has handicapped the process.

“Even if they have more authority seeing that they have deeds for the land, how they went about it — because remember we were the ones who negotiated with Digicel, so I would imagine that they would have called us in — but instead what they did was squeeze us out.”

Although the CDC has been seeking answers from the ministry, Jones said their plight has been ignored.

When the Sunday Observer contacted the ministry for a comment on the matter, valuation officer Michael Hylton, who has been in touch with the CDC, commented tersely that he could not speak on the matter. He also requested that the Sunday Observer email the concern to him, which was done, but a response was not forthcoming close to press time.

However, according to Williams, the ministry, after intercepting moneys for the cell site, should have allotted funds for the maintenance of the community centre.

“My contention is, if you have a space like this and it is a vibrant space, there must be some money that is allotted for the maintenance of that space — and we need the assistance. We have all kind of development ideas and we can’t see them through because of the lack of funds.

“Every six months we usually get about $250,000. But since ,Digicel advised us that they would no longer be dealing directly with us because the Ministry of Housing owns the property — so we started dealing with housing (ministry).

Before they signed that half-million-per-year contract with Digicel, Williams explained that the CDC maintained the facility without any intervention or help from the ministry.

“We found ways to maintain the facility on our own. The ministry did not come and assist with the maintenance of the property since you have a centre on our property.

“But this parcel of land is here for the community. Even since I was a boy, this piece of land was here for the community to use; this was where I learned to play football. And we as the CDC, we have new ideas as to the economic viability of this place, but we need help. We have a VIP area that we want to construct; we have a kiddies village that we want to set up. We have several economic ventures that we want to do but we need the help. We need the Nestl, and the Grace Kennedy, all those companies that are in our constituency, to help,” said Williams.

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