Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Editorial | The shame of Port Royal

Published:Tuesday | January 9, 2018 | 6:34 AM

 

You have to admire Robert Stephens' persistence. For a quarter-century or more, he has been peddling his vision for the redevelopment of Port Royal US$500 million to transform the 17th-century British naval base into a cruise ship and heritage attraction. Port Royal has the added historical benefit of being the rambunctious pirate city where Henry Morgan held court, until some of it sank during an earthquake in 1692.

"The full potential of this treasure," according to Mr Stephens, the principal of a team that has been promoting the project, would translate to $230 million in annual earnings.

This newspaper wishes Mr Stephens and his partners the best in breaking the bureaucratic logjam and in convincing the Government that the project can happen entirely with private capital, without taxpayers being called upon for any major contribution. In the meantime, we believe that far more can be made of Port Royal with little.

Parts of Port Royal, such as where the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coastguard maintains a base and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JHT) runs a museum and keeps some the buildings in reasonable repair, are in passable shape.

The romanticised visions of the town make Jamaicans want to go there mainly for the seafood and rustic charm.

But, largely, the town is an unkempt and often rubbish-strewn dump, of which successive governments and its long-standing parliamentary representative, Phillip Paulwell, should be utterly ashamed.

And its transformation into a decent environment doesn't require anything near the US$500 million contemplated for Mr Stephens' project: just a few gallons of paint, a handful of competent carpenters and masons, and a mobilised and motivated citizenry. The latter requires leadership, which is what, on this score, Mr Paulwell has palpably failed to provide.

Mr Paulwell will probably remind us of the 1952 law that created the Brotherhood of Port Royal, a body corporate into which lands within the designated area are vested and given responsibility, at Section 11, "to undertake and encourage the reconstruction and development of Port Royal".

There is little to suggest that the Brotherhood of Port Royal has been effective and that the successive boards of the organisation have existed other than in a state of perpetual somnolence. But their turpitude is no exculpation of Mr Paulwell, the MP for more than two decades. In fact, it places greater responsibility on Mr Paulwell to help his constituents to live in a habitable environment to better extract value from an important asset.

 

Creating a welcoming environment

 

In this regard, merely having a clean Port Royal would do that, by making a place that is far more welcoming to visitors. Mr Paulwell should, first, be tapping into the community's most immediate asset, the people who live there, mobilising them to put sweat equity into the venture.

They should be organised, working with the requisite state agencies, to daily clear garbage from the streets and open lots, cleaning drains, and trimming verges.

At the same time, if Mr Paulwell, the Brotherhood of Port Royal, the Jamaican Government, and private interests want to have a better sense of Port Royal's possibilities, we invite them to have take a look at Nelson's Dockyard at English Harbour. Like Port Royal, it is a British naval base where Horatio Nelson served between 1784 and 1787, three years after his tour of duty as a young officer at Port Royal. The year before the passage of the Brotherhood of Port Royal Act, a private group, the Society of Friends of English Harbour, started redevelopment of the naval base. Today, it is one of the world's premier yachting centres and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.