Juliet vies for 2nd term in St Andrew East Rural as Joan eyes comeback

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St Andrew East Rural is one of the country’s largest and most complex constituencies, stretching from Harbour View in the east, encompassing the rough mountain ranges and valleys of Mavis Bank, Gordon Town, and Kintyre, and heading into upper St Andrew.

It is a constituency that could prove daunting for the most seasoned politician, and here, two women will be fearlessly butting heads in the next general election to represent the residents of this diverse constituency, which not only presents tough geographical hurdles but also has its fair share of socio-economic and infrastructural development woes.

Sitting Member of Parliament (MP) Juliet Holness, who beat Imani Duncan-Price of the People’s National Party in the 2016 General Election, will face off with former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament-turned PNP candidate/caretaker Joan Gordon-Webley for another term as the people’s representative.

The swing seat was previously held by the PNP’s Damion Crawford, and was held by the PNP between 1989 and 1997 — a winning streak which was broken by the JLP in 2002 and 2007.

Gordon-Webley switched sides in 2015 to join the then governing PNP, and was presented by the party in September 2018 as its candidate for the St Andrew East Rural constituency. Her last win on a JLP ticket was in the uncontested 1983 General Election.

Holness told the Jamaica Observer that she believes that, with political will, Jamaica’s politics can change. The MP said she has spent her time in the trenches, not politicking but ensuring that constituents are served and that they understand her role as their representative in Parliament.

“Politics needs to evolve, so for me I have spent the time ensuring that my constituents understand that taxpayers’ money, including my own taxes, is neither green nor orange, so as your MP I have to serve in a way that serves all my constituents,” she said in a recent interview.

Holness said every effort is being made to address the long-standing water and road infrastructure problems in St Andrew East Rural — issues which were common among the residents with whom the Observer spoke.

“Just recently, from Guava Ridge to Content got a water system in place. It took us quite a while… They now have a newly paved road after two years of work [and] it is now facilitating the Clivesdale water system, and it will also take water back to Top Road, which is just above Mavis Bank square,” she explained, noting that pipes are also being laid at Dublin Castle to facilitate water systems.

The first-time MP said water issues in other areas will take a longer time to resolve. In the meantime, she said, assistance is being given to farmers with tanks, and with pumping from river systems.

“In the Bull Bay area, most of our water issues have been significantly resolved… Harbour View doesn’t have much, in terms of water problems; Kintyre division’s water problems are along Lyndhurst Gap, in Hall’s Delight; and the problem we are having comes from our Constitution Hill water system,” Holness outlined, explaining that there are significant volumes of water at Constitution Hill, but that individuals have been diverting the supply.

She said the National Water Commission has stepped in to rectify the situation, but that there are still some challenges with the supply schedule for the area.

Her opponent is also seized of the gravity of the water shortage facing the constituency as well as some of the associated problems, such as tampering.

“There are some catchment areas that serve particular areas and what we find is that people are able to tamper and turn the water on and off willy-nilly,” Gordon-Webley noted.

She said water projects must be the way to go to address the issue, and that she is pushing also for people to return to the days of having their own water catchment systems, by using guttering techniques around their homes.

Holness said she has not shied away from being brutally honest with the people of St Andrew East Rural as it relates to managing expectations.

“I’ve had to explain to persons that we have to do two layers of road improvement. The total overlay and rehabilitation of a road is a major expense, so where we get those, good, and where we don’t, let us at least maintain what we have… I try to be very upfront with my constituents and I’ve found that they appreciate it a lot,” she said.

Her opponent, Gordon-Webley, meanwhile told the Observer she wants St Andrew East Rural to be poised as both a farming community and an ecotourism area.

“I am going to develop the constituency into a farming eco-tourism constituency, where we would provide market before we send people to plant blindly. We should be looking at tourism for Bull Bay, develop the surfing industry… there are so many things we can do; they are countless… Some people, though they’re the MP, they have no time to develop anything; they’re busy [with] their own personal upward mobility,” she charged.

But the deteriorating road network must first be significantly rehabilitated, she said.

“East Rural is one of the most beautiful constituencies but… we have one of the worst road networks, ever.”

Gordon-Webley said her plans are also underpinned with strategies for employment and empowerment of the people.

“I am not as much about giving a man a fish as I am about teaching him how to fish, so that he can look after himself and his family in the future,” she said, adding that social assistance programmes have their place, but they are not solutions.

The PNP standard-bearer said land tenure is one of the tools which should be given to individuals to enable them to improve their lives, pointing to acres of idle land in the constituency that she said could be turned over to constituents.

“I have many ideas that have worked in the past, which I know will work in the future. I am ready and able and up to the challenge,” she told the Observer.

Holness, meanwhile, said she continues to work hard to fix the problems in St Andrew Eat Rural, because her decision to contest the seat in 2016 had been inspired by her now constituents.

“When I went to Mavis Bank and down to Bull Bay, the people had three key needs: Water, road was a major issue, and a lot of our farmers indicated how much they needed help [and] a lot has changed in East Rural in those key areas. Persons will tell you that we have roads that need to be fixed, but a constituency like East Rural St Andrew, and one that has been in a significant state of disrepair, I believe from listening to them that they are very happy with how much we have gotten done in the four years,” she said.

Gordon-Webley, however, is confident that she will take the seat for the PNP in the next general election. She ran on the JLP ticket in 1989, losing to the PNP’s EGG Barrett, before taking the seat for the party in an uncontested election in 1983.

“I believe I will be [MP]; the people have known me before. They know that I am a woman to my word; I don’t go out and make blind promises. I am confident that they will see that no one else has come ahead of me and done more than I have done in the past, and I am capable and able to do much more now, having learnt from the past,” she declared.

The sitting MP, in the meantime, is also anticipating that the electors will afford her another term as MP to build on her gains for the constituency, and she believes it is her can-do work ethic that will speak for her when the ballots are counted.

“I had a motto for myself from day one, and that is: The day you win, that is now your campaign to become the representative again. You will not need to campaign when elections are called; you must have completed your campaign in the quality of work that you deliver, and I’ve held to that and I will continue to do so. East Rural will be out there campaigning for me, both sides of the fence. I am looking forward to continue serving my East Rural St Andrew family,” she told the Observer, adding that she hopes to be able to focus less on basic infrastructure needs in the second term, and more on employment opportunities for young people.

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