In a recent discussion with Dionne Jackson Miller on Beyond the Headlines on RJR (January 24, 2023), Dr Barbara Carby made some comments that have stayed with me. Dr Carby is a disaster mitigation and sustainable development expert and a former head of Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM). Ms Jackson Miller was discussing the problem of substandard building blocks, which had been highlighted in a Gleaner article by Jovan Johnson published on December 25, 2022 – Poor-quality building blocks: High percentage of substandard products on the market a “public safety” concern.
About the substandard building blocks, Dr Carby had this to say:
“I view this matter very seriously and I’ll tell you perhaps my major concern. We’re talking about building blocks, right? We are not properly regulating the sector. We’re not doing appropriate monitoring and enforcement. So that’s one element of the whole building and construction. But here is the issue. We are failing at other spots along the continuum as well. So we don’t enforce and monitor where people put what kind of building. Hence we have buildings on steep slopes, faulted areas, gully banks and all of that. So we’re not doing that. Then certainly for the informal sector, as we call it, we don’t actually monitor the quality of the construction. So the person could be using substandard blocks; they could be using a substandard concrete mix to fill the blocks. They could be putting steel in all the wrong places and at the wrong intervals to then confer some sort of earthquake resistance on the building. So you see it’s a series of things going on which, at the end, all could add up to a major disaster if we had an earthquake.”Dr Barbara Carby in interview with Dionne Jackson Miller, Beyond the Headlines, RJR, January 24, 2023
Dr Carby went on from there to make a broader point about systemic negligence on the part of the Jamaican State:
“I call it the compounding of negligence by the State, because the State is supposed to be monitoring and regulating all of that. And, Dionne, for me it’s part of a larger systemic issue, right? It is the obligation of the State to protect its citizens and it seems to me that in Jamaica the State has totally abdicated that responsibility.
“We have seen it in environment, right? People have to take the State to court. We see it in the development sector. Citizens Associations have to be begging state agencies to enforce laws. We see it in the transport sector, which is chaos. And the most now recent and most high profile example of course is the financial sector. We have to get our governance going properly. The State cannot continue to have this, what I call a very cavalier attitude towards the enforcement of its own laws, updating of laws and bringing them into the twenty – which century are we in?….the twenty-first century, Dionne. We cannot continue like this! We’re over sixty years old!”As above
Dr Carby mentioned a number of situations in which the Jamaican State has failed and continues to fail in its duty to protect its citizens. There are others.
Having spoken a bit about the need for accountability in the current issue regarding the report on substandard building blocks, Dr Carby commented on the importance of public education, something that is relevant to many other aspects of state responsibility:
“One area which is sadly lacking, I think as well, is public education. We need to let the public know the situation and what they can use what types of blocks for. If you are building a house, ask for the Bureau of Standards stamp, approval for that operation, you know? So a lot of it is an aware public that can help the enforcement, the monitoring, the identification and so on; use the public.”As above
We need to keep looking at the systemic patterns, at the ways in which negligence by the State already affects people and the ways in which it could affect people in the future. We need to look at why these patterns exist. We need to keep connecting the dots.
- The issue of substandard building blocks is not a new one. For example, in 2015, there was this article in the Gleaner: Poor quality building blocks a major concern – BSJ. And here we are 7 years later…
- The concerns about the consequences we could face in the event of an earthquake have particular resonance at the moment with the news of the terrible destruction and loss of life that has occured because of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria this week. The pain and suffering being experienced now is hard to contemplate. I hope that help needed now and in the longer term will be forthcoming.