Former Democratic Labour Party senator Haynesley Benn said he believes his did an excellent job as a member of the Cabinet, but was not able to win the St. Peter seat since the backing he got from his party at the parochial level was deficient.
Speaking to constituents at Mile And A Quarter on Sunday night, Benn highlighted the challenges he faced as he traversed the sprawling constituency in the lead up to the February 21 general elections.
“We, the Democratic Labour Party, did not win the seat because during the past five years very little was done for the residents of the constituency of St. Peter. In 2008, I journeyed throughout St. Peter frowning on the lack of development in the constituency and people joined with me and said, ‘Yes Benn, we have voted for a man for all of these years and he didn’t do this and he didn’t do that’. That was 2008.
“The first area that I canvassed was Boscobelle and its surrounding areas — Mounts 1 and 2, Castle and those areas; all down in the heart of Boscobelle. Let me tell you, the same roads that I left undone in 2008, the people were able to throw back at me and say, ‘Look, you criticised these roads in 2008 and we joined with you and they are the same way in 2013’.
“I countered by saying, ‘But your man ain’t do anything for the last 14 years or 20-something years’. They said: ‘Yes! That’s what we told you last time and we agreed with you. That’s why last time some of us voted for you and increased your numbers substantially over the 2003 count.’ “They said: ‘Benn, your people did nothing’! And I had to agree with them. Down in Boscobelle, the worst roads you could find. In Date Tree Hill, the same alleys we left — where if there was a fire or a sickness, fire truck nor ambulance could get up through there and street lights not placed there. We did nothing.
“Both governments neglected St. Peter over the past years, and that is … the major reason why the DLP candidate did not do as well as he expected. Neglect. Gross neglect. Because in some people’s books St. Peter is insignificant and if people get the understanding that St. Peter can be a force to reckon with we will do a lot better than we did. But I will come to that soon,” Benn told his audience.
In fact, he said that while a number of his ministerial colleagues in the last Government published elaborate “personal” manifestos, if he had so his would have been able to fit on a single page, giving the very limited support he got from the party in the constituency over the last five years.
Among the project that were executed in St. Peter, he said, were: housing development at French Village and Four Hill, repairs to “a few houses” after Tropical Storm Tomas, the widening of the road at Station Hill, and improvement to vendors’ facilities at Six Men’s.
“I saw people — some of the candidates — put out manifestos showing the 15 and 20 roads that they did and I told people; somebody asked me if I was putting out a personal manifesto and I said if I put out one it would hold on one page for the things that were done in St. Peter.
“St. Peter was grossly neglected before 2008 and after 2008. Not a road, as I said, done in Boscobelle…”
I hate to be driving ’bout and begging people for votes and seeing the roads and the surroundings in the worst conditions,” Benn said. “When you compare it to what you see in John Boyce’s constituency, in Ronald Jones’ constituency, in Chris Sinckler’s constituency… We are people too.
“I met up with a situation in the Mount, mind you, the very first day that we went canvassing — what a start we had! I parked my car on the Mount on a road and I stepped out of my car and from the time I stepped up, a man approached me and … to say he lambasted me would be an understatement. The man took me to task.
“You know what the man told me that made me feel very, very bad? Do you know that the first thing the man told me is that tank that services the Mount with water, somebody from BWA came and dismantled part of the tank. He thought that they were repairing it, but they told them that they were taking that part up to a place … in St. Phillip…
“The man was more than blue vex. How could you come into an area where there are farmers and householders, people that got chickens must have water all the time, … pigs, … sheep … and vegetables… While we were leaving the Mount, I saw vehicles and owners of vehicles come back up with water in their vehicles in buckets. You are telling me that St. Peter people ain’t people too? The people in the Mount gotta give away their facilities for development in St. Philip? You see why we ain’t get no votes?”
On the other hand, Benn said he was proud of what he had been able to achieve as a Cabinet minister, pointing in particular to growth that took place while he was Minister of Agriculture, and steps he took to eliminate concerns about price gouging as Minister of Consumer Affairs.
“Let me tell you what I did to get the production of food to a level that we could be proud of. I immediately set about in 2008 to increase food production.
“Cassava: production went from 466,000kg to 690,000kg in the next year. Sweet potato: production went from 884,000 kg to 1.2 million kg in the next year (36% increase). Yam: production increased from 279,000kg to 824,000kg (194.8% increase). Onions: production increased from 523.6 thousand kg to 626,000 kg (47.8% increase). Peanuts: production increased from 27.7 thousand kilograms to 50.4 thousand kilograms (close to 100% increase).
“There were other increases in the area of food crop production. Beans: 167,000kg to 170,000kg. Beets: 29,000kg to 52,000kg. Cucumbers: 811,000kg to 1.19 million kg. Melons: 185,000kg to 243,000kg. Hot peppers: 124,000kg to 178,000kg. Sweet peppers: 220,000kg to 293,000kg….
“But let me give you an idea of the production of livestock. Pork production went up by 4.2 per cent. Beef production went up by 4.5 per cent. Veal production went up by 15.3 per cent. The production of mutton increase by 4.9 per cent. Poultry production, despite the fact that there was an increase in the cost of feed, went up. Table egg production went up and fresh milk production went up from 6.694 thousand kg to 7.013 thousand kg. This minister of agriculture did some tremendous work.” (RRM)