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Montego Bay Chamber Challenged to defend local businesses

 Commercial activity along St. James Street, in the business district of down town Montego Bay Commercial activity along St. James Street, in the business district of down town Montego Bay
MONTEGO BAY,  April 16, 2019 - There was a time when the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce was the most respected and the most powerful voice of civil society in Western Jamaica. It was a mover and shaker and a force to be reckoned with in influencing public policy.
O dave allen
The author, Mr. O. Dave Allen, is a freelance writer and community development advocate as well as a political commentator.

In those days the Chamber spoke for and on behalf of business, in the interest of business with membership drawn from business the class. The Chamber was respected as an equal partner with the state in setting out and advancing the development agenda of Montego Bay.

Let us suspend our middle class pretenses and the romantic notion that in those days the Chamber spoke for the ordinary Montegonian, the benefits derived by the masses from their undertaking was incidental.

Neither should we be pretentious or hypocritical because they did not speak for or on behalf of the working class nor the micro business sector of Montego Bay.

Nevertheless, through a coalition of the business class led by the Chamber and the political directorate, Montego Bay prospered.

We can well recall the days when the late Dr. Herbert Eldemire was the Member of Parliament for North West St. James, at that time his brother Dr. Arthur Eldemire was President of the Chamber and Tony Hart along with Clifford Delisser were Councillors in the St. James Parish Council. This coalition was able to leverage influence in the halls of power to the extent that the parish was dubbed the Republic of St. James.

The Montego Bay waterfront was developed, Freeport was conceptualized and Cornwall Regional Hospital was built. During those days the first industrial parks were created at Bogue and Lower Bevin Avenue.

The Chamber continued to provide strong leaders under Gordon Marzouca later by Presidents Lee Bailey and later Val Lo Bianca, who championed the lobby to establish the headquarters for the United Nations Sea Bed Authority in Montego Bay. President Ripton McPherson of blessed memory pioneered the Greater Montego Bay Redevelopment Company in a coalition with the Chamber, the Custos and Mayor Arthur Gilchrist they crafted the first participatory, people-centered sustainable development plan for Montego Bay along with urban-planner Arlene Dixon.

Today, the Chamber is neither fish nor fowl, pale and insignificant like characters in search of an author, a glorified service club, weak and ineffective, a poor and spurious replica of its former self. Reduced to a sycophant and a mouth piece to assuage and stroke the ego of the ruling party.

The Montego Bay business elite no longer needs the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce as a platform to advance their agenda, for while they maintain membership through their surrogates and proxies, they wield power from the boardroom through their well-paid stooges in Parliament and their local intermediaries. The new Chinese business community with their wrecking ball have little or no interest in civil society yet a growing powerhouse group that dominates and controls the commercial activities in the urban centre.

It could be fortuitous that the current leadership of the Chamber is dominated by the sons and daughters of the working class. They have the power and opportunity to act in the interest of their class or betray it. They have the option to repurpose the Chamber of Commerce by addressing the long held inequities and to protect native industry and the emerging breed of new entrepreneurs.

In light of the invasion of Chinese commercial interest that has decimated the local commercial activities and poses a serious threat to the survival of what is left of locally owned businesses along with the marauding gang of carpetbaggers who are presiding over the last subdivision of Montego Bay. The new Chamber of Commerce could inherit a powerful platform that could be used to advance a decent work agenda and to give support to the nascent manufacturing sector, particularly the artisans and the furniture a the manufacturing sector along with the small and micro enterprises.

For if Crichton Brothers, once the dominant player in the Hardware business is shuttered, can Discount Lumber be far behind? The auto parts businesses located on Jarrett, Tate, McCatty and Thompson Street cannot be comfortable with the ever-expanding Asian tsunami as it spreads its imperious tentacle with insidious intent engulfing local enterprises. Now more than ever Montego Bay needs strong and uncompromising leadership in the Chamber to protect and defend the interest of local businesses.

Former Chamber President Gloria Henry in 2015 was the first casualty for confronting the 80-pound gorilla in the room, when she called for a boycott of Chinese businesses for not contributing to the social development of Montego Bay. She was viciously attacked by the then Opposition Member of Parliament Dr. Horace Chang for targeting an ethnic group.

That took place in September, by April the following year she was unceremoniously removed from office.

Of interest, there is an advertisement published in the local newspaper announcing the Annual General Meeting of the Montego Bay Chamber, scheduled to take place on April 25, 2019 on the said page contiguous to the advertisement is a notice by the St. James Municipal Corporation with a veiled threat to 26 occupants of Bogue lands for them to pay over 71 million dollars for back rent for the property they have occupied since 1998.  

This is an issue of serious concern that a progressive Chamber of Commerce should use its considerable leverage to protect the interest of these small and medium sized operators who are doing what they ought to be doing; providing goods and services, creating jobs and paying their taxes.

This is an urgent undertaking that the Chamber needs to address to justify their existence as                

a legitimate organization committed to the advancement of commerce and industry. The Chamber needs to demand an affirmative action on the part of government, for the local businesses are not operating on a level playing field.    The St. James Municipal Corporation is not a realtor neither are they in the rent collecting business.

Their task in the neo-liberal capitalist system is to transfer economic factors under their control to the private sector. Their role is regulatory and the provision of municipal services to create an environment that is conducive for businesses to grow and flourish.

The underlying issue at Bogue lands is a political vendetta, an old score that the Council wishes to settle. We must never allow ourselves to be blinded by our partisan political allegiance that cause us to be traitors to our race and class

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