This week has been interesting so far. There is always something new popping up. And at the same time, the same old dreary issues drag their way along from one end of the week to the next, and the next…
Talking diseases: Yes, it’s Jamaica’s obsession. An audience of Jamaicans in business clothes packed an auditorium in New Kingston after work last night to hear what the Minister of Health and others had to say about A) the rampant chik v (chikungunya), which we are so sick and tired of; and B) Ebola, which we are all anxious about. It was live streaming on the Internet so I watched at home (ironically, suffering from a badly swollen foot and painful knees – thanks, chik v).
The most engaging presentation was from Disease Prevention and Control Advisor at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr. Kam Mung. I learnt a great deal. Dennis Chung of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica was very keen on border controls; perhaps this can work for Jamaica, being a small island, although many countries are not in favor of it, it seems. The Health Minister, still playing catch up and still anxious to redeem himself in the eyes of a cynical public, made a speech and fielded questions. If you look at the Jamaica Information Service website you will see a string of press releases about Jamaica’s Ebola preparedness. Yes, we are on the ball this time it seems – after the chik v fiasco. We are all a little jaded, though. With my swollen foot, I know I am.
But, hooray for the Cubans! Dr. Ferguson spent about half his speech talking about how the Cubans, with their highly superior medical expertise, are coming to our rescue with Ebola preparedness. He was there with a large delegation last week, for four days. Cuban experts are coming over to “train the trainers” in hospitals – and are even coming over to train us in vector control, too! Wow. I thought that perhaps we knew something about vector control, after all these years? Jamaicans always speak of Cuba’s health system in awestruck tones. I don’t see any reason why Jamaica couldn’t (or doesn’t) have the capacity to train our own doctors. And do the Cubans have any more expertise in Ebola than Jamaicans? OK, I know they have just sent a lot of doctors to West Africa. I suppose they are now starting to get the experience they never had before. The Minister said: “Cuba will share information with Jamaica daily on the progress of the Ebola response in West Africa through its Control Center, to keep us updated on the epidemiological situation and other important information required for decision making.” Great, but why can’t we have our own Control Center? And what if someone with Ebola lands on our shores tomorrow? I suppose a few Cubans will have to come dashing over here to help.
So easy to do business! Like the latest hit by Rihanna, Jamaica has zoomed up the charts (from 94 to 58 out of 189 global economies) in the World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business Report. At last, something nice for Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton to talk about. Jamaica has been reducing the many steps needed to start a business and passing legislation, which the Minister concedes was in accordance with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) desires and with technical assistance from them. In the report we did poorly in Paying Taxes and Registering Property, but very well in Starting a Business and Getting Credit. We are actually the easiest country to do business in the Caribbean! So says the report. Next is Trinidad & Tobago at 79th. You can find the summary for Jamaica at http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/jamaica/
I am reminded, though, of the Minimum Business Tax of J$60,000 per annum now required by law, which was noted as “a change making it more difficult to do business.” It came into effect on April 1 this year.
Searching for oil: I hear that there is oil under the seabed somewhere near Pedro Cays. The Minister of Finance mentioned in a speech at the Schomburg Center in New York this evening that an initial seismic analysis has been done and a company has bought rights to drill for oil. A couple of years ago a Canadian company had a license for oil drilling but could not find a partner and didn’t have the funds, so the license was withdrawn.
The Minister’s speech was entitled “Jamaica’s Path to Prosperity” (define “prosperity”) and you can watch it here: http://go-jamaica.com/cinlectureseries/ I understand there was a question from the audience about the proposed Chinese development of a transshipment port on Goat Islands in a protected area, in connection with Jamaican sovereignty etc. The Minister assured him there was nothing to worry about. Well, the Sri Lankans, Kenyans and others are worried about such matters related to the very same Chinese company and its parent company, according to press reports. We should heed these stories. They are instructive.
The NY Stock Exchange is going to give our Finance Minister a little party tomorrow, I understand. A cocktail party on the floor of the Exchange after the bell has rung, and an interview with CNBC. How lovely. (But we don’t have any listings on the NYSE do we? Oh, well). Anyway… Cheers! (Clink).
This is all wonderful, and the IMF adores Jamaica, but… What about the Jamaican man/woman on the street? Are we feeling it? And if not, when will we feel it?
Meanwhile, our ministers (and one junior minister in particular) are racking up huge amounts in telephone bills, paid for by those suckers, the Jamaican taxpayers. More details later…
Witnesses for the Tivoli Gardens Commission of Enquiry, which opens on December 1, are slow in coming forward, I understand. This is extremely important – for our democracy and for the cause of human rights and for the victims’ families to have closure. The Commission says legal aid will be available for those wishing to testify, if they cannot afford a lawyer. If you know anyone who was a witness and would like to testify, please urge them to contact the Commission at 72 Harbour Street, Kingston, Ground Floor (tel: 948-6999; email: email@example.com)
Not too worried: Head of the PetroCaribe program in Jamaica Wesley Hughes didn’t sound too worried about its future when interviewed this week, saying he had been given “assurances at the highest level” that it will continue until at least 2016, when the current IMF program ends. But oil prices are declining and Venezuela’s economy is teetering on the edge of a very high cliff. Dr. Hughes says, though, that PetroCaribe is “flexible” and the debt is payable over the next 25 years. So, cool…
The horrors of garbage: It’s nearly Hallowe’en and there are nasty things stalking the city. Seriously, Jamaicans don’t generally celebrate Hallowe’en. They are superstitious about it and take it far too seriously. Personally I love “things that go bump in the night.” But what has happened to this so-called cleanup to prevent various infectious diseases? The National Solid Waste Management Agency has disappeared again, only coming to collect our garbage every two to three weeks. By this point, one corner of our yard stinks. We pour insecticide into our bin to destroy the assorted maggots etc. (ugh!!) that are breeding there. Our street (which is quite pleasant to look at normally) is strewn with bits of garbage, plastic bottles and so on from top to bottom. A friend on Twitter had the fright of his life last night in Papine, jumping into passing traffic as an army of rats shot out from a large pile of garbage nearby. Please, let’s not pretend there’s a “cleanup” going on!
Why is our bee population declining? I still see plenty in our yard – we have quite a lot of flowering bushes – but I hear honey is in very short supply and beekeepers have declining populations. I know it is a global concern, but I understand the Jamaican issues are pesticides (the horrible stuff they use for mosquito fogging kills bees); the summer-long drought; and I think there was a disease that reduced the numbers, initially. Climate change is, no doubt, a factor too…
Please read my latest article for the Gleaner online (they come out every Tuesday) on the truly selfless, dedicated work of Pat, Joy and the young mothers of Eve for Life: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2294 It’s a tribute, of sorts.
Throwing out bouquets to:
- Barbara Blake Hannah, who was inducted into the Caribbean Hall of Fame last weekend at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. The citation was: “The Caribbean Development for the Arts, Sports & Culture Foundation, in association with the Caribbean Community and UNESCO, is pleased to induct Mrs. Barbara Blake Hannah into the Caribbean Hall of Fame in recognition for her outstanding contribution in the field of film.” Showers of blessings on you, Barbara. Well deserved!
Ending on a gloomy note, I am afraid, with condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who have been murdered in the past three days. I also wish the policeman who was shot and injured in Hatfield, Manchester a speedy recovery. He came to the assistance of a man (a witness in a court case) who was reportedly shot dead outside his home on Monday evening.
Colin Mann, 43, Kensington Crescent, New Kingston
Roderick Brown, 47, Newlands, St. Catherine
Fitzroy Johnson, 40, Rocky Point, Clarendon
Dwight Goodwin, 43, Hatfield, Manchester
Unidentified man, Good Hope, Westmoreland