The Girl

Did you know today (November 20) is Universal Children’s Day? As declared by the United Nations, as far back as 1954. I was not fully aware of it, I must say; I believe many countries have their own Children’s Days and Jamaica has Child Month, so perhaps the special day gets overlooked. It’s quite coincidental, really, that I decided to write this short piece.

I don’t have much close contact with children, these days. We have at least two new babies in our English family to visit on our next trip there. But I haven’t really got to know many children in recent years in Jamaica, apart from fleeting interactions at educational events that I attend. However, I have recently become acquainted with a seven-year-old girl, who shall remain anonymous. I will refer to her as The Girl.

As the mother of a “one son” (in Jamaican parlance) – now grown up and overseas – I am enjoying my conversations with The Girl. We wander up and down the yard together, accompanied by our dog (who also enjoys her company), and she tells me, in little glimpses, about what is happening in her life. I try to move myself backwards several decades to remember what it was like to be a little girl, myself. It’s pretty much a blur, but I try.

Firstly, I hear about her Plans. She always has plans – for her spare time, that is. Most days she is trudging down the driveway with an oversized bag on her back, off to school, her face set in a determined “let’s get this day over with” expression. She was a Monitor at school for a while (they rotate, apparently) and proudly showed us her badge, noting carefully that she now had “responsibility.” She was a little uncertain about how to exert this newfound authority – but then, she is only seven years old. I understand the monitorship went quite well. The Girl discovered that some of her classmates are a pretty indisciplined bunch.

Not sure how old I am in this photo, but here I am nurturing a book (or is it nurturing me?)

Not sure how old I am in this photo, but here I am nurturing a book (or is it nurturing me?)

I learned that if The Girl watches too much television, she gets really, really bored. As a grown-up, I can relate to that. “Well,” I suggest brightly, “Why don’t you read a book?” I get a slight shrug of the shoulder in response. When I was a child, I retreated from the boring company of adults (and my sister – sorry Lizzie, but you know I wasn’t into dolls…) into a whole world of books (we had no television). It was for me, literally, dropping onto another planet. An escape. Not saying this was a good thing. But it had the added benefit of avoiding a grownup ordering me to “go out and play…You’ve been inside all day!” If I kept quiet enough.

This was how I felt about books, as a child. Yes, a "bookworm," I was.

This was how I felt about books, as a child. Yes, a “bookworm,” I was.

But then, I was a deliberately unsociable child, and The Girl is not. She likes to come outside and inspect the yard from top to bottom, to see what’s going on. She seems to seek out slightly unpleasant things, like the droppings of the wild doves that roost in our apple tree – all in one spot, and other unidentifiable and suspect things. Right on cue, she wrinkles her nose: “Eeew!” I tell her it’s “only nature.” But she was delighted to find some tiny mushrooms a few days ago, in damp, cool grass. When I couldn’t see them, she pointed out matter-of-factly, “Well, my eyesight’s better than yours.” Of course. Poor old woman.

So how are The Girl’s Plans coming along? She is, like many children, wishing time would go faster (funny how that mindset reverses itself when you grow up). However, her Plans are always subject to those of the adults. The plans don’t always coincide. So, almost inevitably, by the end of the day The Girl’s Plans are shelved – but can always be revisited another day, I reassure her. Yes, she says. These are flexible plans, you see.

Apart from making aforesaid Plans (very important), the Girl’s time, and her state of mind, is roughly occupied as follows. (And believe me, I have seen her make a swift and seamless switch from one to the other. Kind of like changing gears.)

Boredom – 60%   Anxiety (varying degrees ) – 15%  Interest (feigned or otherwise) – 10%  Anticipation – 10%   Unbridled joy – 5%

Now I do recall that being a child involves, increasingly, waiting for something to happen; hence the mood breakdown above. This state of suspended animation became unbearable when I reached teen hood. Waiting for the weekend/an opportunity to meet a particular boy/the summer holidays/a possible party/my birthday…and oh, so much more. The intervening bursts of energy could, however, may or may not have been harmful to my health. But that’s another story, or two.

Childhood is, perhaps, overrated. We don’t always emerge from it unscathed. Yet we have to fight onwards and upwards, through the horrors of adolescence into adulthood. Many of us will carry scars with us. I hope (and believe) The Girl will not.

A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to children in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to children in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

And, for Universal Children’s Day, I will end with a quote from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Let’s always keep this in mind:

The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard.

P.S. Are you on Pinterest? If so, you might like to see a board I recently started entitled “Children.” It is mostly children at risk around the world… Many of the photographs are moving, sweet and some very sad. I am always adding to the board. Do take a look: http://www.pinterest.com/petchary/children/

A Congolese boy waves to a train carrying hundreds of former refugees home to Angola. (Photo: UNICEF)

A Congolese boy waves to a train carrying hundreds of former refugees home to Angola. (Photo: UNICEF)

Outameni One Confusion, A Sea of Green and A Distinguished Judge: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The political temperature continues to soar, despite cooling showers recently. One particular issue has dominated the news this week. A political “snowball” effect… Or rather, a very murky fog that seems to be enveloping…yes, you’ve guessed it…

Outameni: Inevitably, considering the mess and confusion since the Prime Minister’s “explanation” in Parliament a week ago, lots of stuff has hit the fan over the last few days regarding the National Housing Trust’s (NHT) highly controversial purchase of the Outameni Experience tourist attraction. Oh no – sorry! The Prime Minister told Parliament it wasn’t the attraction – it was the “property” (all of nine acres) that was bought. Don’t we also need to know at what point the PM became aware of the Outameni issue (considering that the NHT

Cecile Watson was dismissed as Managing Director of the NHT in November, 2013 - for an allegedly unauthorized expenditure for the refurbishing of NHT's offices. (Photo: Gleaner)

Cecile Watson was dismissed as Managing Director of the NHT in November, 2013 – for an allegedly unauthorized expenditure for the refurbishing of NHT’s offices. (Photo: Gleaner)

Two NHT board members resigned yesterday: trade unionists Senator Kavan Gayle and Helene Davis Whyte. So the NHT board is shrinking; remember four members resigned earlier this year, following the firing of NHT Managing Director Cecile Watson for allegedly spending too much money on her office furniture (how very ironic that seems in retrospect) just over a year ago. We are still not sure exactly why they resigned.

Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw in full flight at Sunday's Jamaica Labour Party Annual Conference. (Photo: Gleaner)

Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw in full flight at Sunday’s Jamaica Labour Party Annual Conference. (Photo: Gleaner)

Then Outameni’s creator and former operator, Lenbert Little-White - perhaps best known for his television soap operas - has been speaking to the media (perhaps a little too much). He tells us that two Outameni transactions were debt write-offs (some J$76 million I understand), noting there was no controversy over them at the time. The company recorded losses every year of its operation. Mr. Little-White reportedly denied accusations by  Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw that he wrote to the Prime Minister; he said he just threatened to, until the NHT Chair Easton Douglas took him on one side and told him to hold off, for now.

Businessman and former operator of Outameni, Lenbert Little-White.

Businessman and former operator of Outameni, Lenbert Little-White. (Photo: Gleaner)

Mr. Little-White also accused Shaw  - who fulminated on the topic at the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Annual Conference on Sunday – of being motivated by issues of color and class. “People who look like me…” etc etc. Unfortunate. And poor Mr. Little-White became rather angry during a radio interview with interviewer Cliff Hughes, after another confusing interview. Well, confusing to me, anyway. But having said all that, I think the concept of Outameni is rather a good idea. Is it going to be dismantled by the NHT, now? No wonder Mr. Little-White is so disappointed and upset. He is a creative person and I believe still owns the intellectual property. There has not been much discussion about this aspect of the purchase, although the PM mentioned it in Parliament.

Is our leader leading? Journalist Cliff himself asked of Portia Simpson Miller: “When is she going to realize she is Prime Minister?” I already said I was also baffled by certain turns of phrase she used in her comments in Parliament last week. “I am told…and so on. I am sorry, but Prime Ministers don’t normally use this kind of language, do they? It almost sounded like:“Well, I was told to say this…” I think a leader gives instructions, rather than taking them!

Members of G2K at the Jamaica Labour Party Annual Conference on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

Members of G2K at the Jamaica Labour Party Annual Conference on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

A “sea of green”: This is how enthusiastic JLP supporters described their Annual Conference in Kingston on Sunday. Twitter friends gave the G2K leader Floyd Green high marks for an inspiring speech. It was also encouraging to see so many young people there; the party’s youth arm, Young Jamaica, is reinventing itself with a burst of energy. But a high turnout of supporters and inspiring speeches do not an election victory make. JLP leader Andrew Holness was not quite focused enough in his speech.

A vendor protests after her goods are confiscated by the police in downtown Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)

A vendor protests after her goods are confiscated by the police in downtown Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)

I am glad to see the Acting Public Defender has taken up the issue of vendors’  goods being confiscated by police – and apparently they are donated to children’s homes. Apparently, no proper records are kept. There are also health and safety concerns for the children in giving them perishable goods with no record of their origin. And I have always thought it was so unfair to confiscate all the goods the vendors – entrepreneurs – have purchased with their own money. The vendors pay fines for selling on the street or in non-designated areas, but their goods are not returned. Do these struggling entrepreneurs have to start from scratch?

London-based Jamaican writer Kei Miller keeps his finger on the pulse of Jamaican society in his admirable blog. Spurred by a vapid, insensitive video by a former Jamaican beauty queen (who even seemed to find Chik V amusing; not for those Jamaicans who have suffered and even lost family and friends as a result) Mr. Miller has now jumped in and tackled the ever-sensitive, ever-present issue of race (and class) in Jamaica in his blog, here: http://underthesaltireflag.com/2014/11/16/the-brownwhite-jamaican-and-the-right-to-take-offence/ And do read the very interesting and varied responses from Jamaicans of various complexions. These issues won’t go away in post-colonial Jamaica, it seems. Fifty years later…they are still real.

Speaking of blogs, please do read my latest on Gleaner Online, entitled: “Pay Our Mothers, The Producers of Quality Citizens.” You can read it here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2343 Thanks and kudos again to the 51% Coalition and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung for a stimulating and challenging “reality check” from women’s activist Joan French.

Lacey-Ann Bartley has a wonderful selection of gift ideas… Take a look at Bartley's All in Wood Facebook page...

Lacey-Ann Bartley has a wonderful selection of gift ideas… Take a look at Bartley’s All in Wood Facebook page…

Christmas is coming! And why not Buy Jamaican this Christmas? There are lots of great artisans out there – like the creative young entrepreneur Lacey-Ann Bartley, for example, who is Managing Director of Bartley’s All in Wood. The firm manufactures, designs and sells 100% Jamaican, handmade, wooden, traditional and contemporary furniture and jewelry. Lacey-Ann holds a Master of Science Degree in Government from the UWI, Mona and is the recipient of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

And let’s get on with the kudos, now: 

Jamaican writer Marlon James on the front page of "Publisher's Weekly."

Jamaican writer Marlon James on the front page of “Publisher’s Weekly.”

Speaking of young Jamaican writers, many congratulations to U.S.-based Marlon James, whose novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings” continues to receive glowing reviews. The esteemed Publishers Weekly recently listed the novel as one its Top Ten Best Books for 2014, and Mr. James appears on the publication’s front cover for November 3. To read many more reviews of the book go to this link: http://repeatingislands.com/2014/11/16/marlon-james-a-brief-history-of-seven-killings-one-of-pws-10-best-books-of-2014/

Justice Patrick Robinson. (Photo: Gleaner)

Justice Patrick Robinson. (Photo: Gleaner)

Justice Patrick Robinson (the father of my Member of Parliament and State Minister Julian Robinson) was yesterday elected as a Judge in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after a somewhat tough battle. He will serve for a nine-year period beginning in February 2015. Justice Robinson is the first Jamaican and only the second Caribbean national to serve in the ICJ since it was established seventy years ago. It’s a tremendous achievement!

INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams (left) shakes hands with the U.S. Embassy's Charge d'Affaires

INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams (left) shakes hands with the U.S. Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires at the recent donation of a van and equipment. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

Thanks to the U.S. Embassy for funding vans and crime scene equipment for the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and microscopes for the National Forensic Science Lab. And also to the U.S. and Canadians for funding a Polygraph Unit at Twickenham Park Police Academy. This is the kind of practical assistance we need when fighting crime and creating a more secure Jamaica.

Speaking about crime, it is good to see that murders remain much lower this year than in 2013. Long may it continue until the end of the year and beyond! My condolences to Mr. Johnson’s family.

André Johnson, 27, Comfort District, Manchester

 

National Security Minister Peter Bunting (seated) looks at equipment donated by the U.S. and Canadian diplomatic missions to the National Forensic Science

National Security Minister Peter Bunting (seated) looks at equipment donated by the U.S. Embassy to the National Forensic Science Laboratory. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

“Outamoney,” The People’s Commission and a Stolen Crown: Friday, November 14, 2014

It has been a while. I have been pretty “down” with chikungunya (yes, still) and grouchy since Arsenal Football Club’s last dismal performance, but am slowly pulling myself together. I don’t usually do updates on a Friday evening, but this could be a new trend. Who knows.

It has been over a week, but the dominant story really has been another disturbing revelation related to the National Housing Trust (NHT) – an entity, as I noted in my last bulletin, set up in the 1970s to provide houses for poor people. The NHT purchased the failing tourism attraction Outameni (now jokingly called “Outamoney”)  - on just over nine acres of land for J$180 million last year. We followed the live stream of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s “clarification” in Parliament on Tuesday. After reading out written responses to questions posted last week by the Opposition, and as the follow-up questions multiplied, she steadily and gradually lost her way. She even admitted that she had only heard about the sale of Outameni in the media (on October 30, 2014); the sale was finalized in February, 2013. Now, keep in mind that the NHT falls under the portfolio of…The Office of the Prime Minister! The PM appeared out of touch and ill-informed, resorting to phrases like, “I was told…” She contradicted our impression that the actual attraction was bought; it was just the property. She stoutly defended her honesty (no one had really questioned it), descending into her now-familiar, harsh “tracing” tone often used on the campaign platform. Her response was baffling, confusing and actually depressing. We cringed.

Here are a few other points of interest on this matter:

  • During her presentation, the Prime Minister read out figures from the NHT on how many of its contributors had received grants in the past three years, as follows: 2012/13: 362; 2013/14: 258; 2014/15 (so far, I believe, that is up to April?): 104. Why have these numbers of beneficiaries declined?
  • Earlier this year, I noted the Opposition has expressed concern that some chairpersons of government agencies are over-stepping their mark and acting like executive chairs, “which is in direct contravention of national policy, as stated in the Public Bodies Management Act.”  
  • Let’s not forget this, too…I noted in February 2013 in my blog: “The government…proposes to take $11 billion per year for four years from the NHT, to which most working Jamaicans contribute. Now Chairman of the NHT Easton Douglas…told journalists Emily Crooks and Naomi Francis on radio last week that he had not had to twist the arms of his board to comply with the administration’s wishes, but that they had a good ‘discussion’ on the matter and agreed to it some three weeks ago. He added that despite the huge dip into its funds, the NHT will certainly remain ‘viable and sustainable,’ noting that there will be a ‘paradigm shift’ in the government agency towards lower income housing.” Is this happening, Mr. Douglas? Houses for poor people? Note the date of this announcement, and not a word about the Outameni sale then.
  • One of the NHT board members is a representative of the Office of the Prime Minister, which is responsible for the NHT. Doesn’t this person report back to the Prime Minister? Ever? Did not report back to her office in December 2012 or February 2013 on these moves by the Board?
  • Was the decision of the NHT board to purchase Outameni in December 2012 really unanimous? Remember that four members of the Board resigned earlier this year and not all were replaced? Do we know the reasons why they resigned?
  • Opposition Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz (who used the phrase “Outamoney” in Parliament, which had already been coined by a journalist on Twitter!) claims that the Tourism Enhancement Fund had rejected a proposal to buy the property because it was not viable. Is this true?
  • The biggest complaint from visitors to Outameni on TripAdvisor was the high entrance fee: US$36. A bit steep?
  • Government Senator and board member Lambert Brown apologized today (on social media) to TV Jamaica report Andrew Jebbinson for his rudeness during an impromptu interview after the NHT’s special Board Meeting this week.
  • Ironically, it was Easton Douglas who officially declared the Portland Bight (including the now-threatened Goat Islands) a Protected Area on Earth Day, 1999 as Environment and Housing Minister. How bitter are these betrayals.
  • Also ironically, the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation last week voted to name a street in honor of Mr. Douglas. It is in the People’s National Party stronghold of Nannyville (believe me – it is a stronghold; I visited there last election day) and it shall be named Easton Douglas Drive. He was Member of Parliament for the constituency.
Scientists conducting a survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including Goat Islands) recently met up with this endangered Green Sea Turtle near Big Pelican Cay. The survey is sponsored by the Waitt Foundation.

Scientists conducting a survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including Goat Islands) recently met up with this endangered Green Sea Turtle near Big Pelican Cay. The survey is sponsored by the Waitt Foundation.

 

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller accompanies People's National Party candidate for the Central Westmoreland constituency Dwayne Vaz on Nomination Day on Wednesday. (Photo: Irie FM News)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller accompanies People’s National Party candidate for the Central Westmoreland constituency, businessman Dwayne Vaz on Nomination Day on Wednesday. There was a vacancy following the sudden passing of Member of Parliament Roger Clarke.  (Photo: Irie FM News/Twitter)

“This is PNP territory”: I heard the Prime Minister make this divisive remark more than once around Nomination Day this week for the by-election in Central Westmoreland, which will take place on December 1. And then we are going to believe her when she makes a lovely speech about “national unity”?

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness with Jamaica Labour Party candidate and financial consultant Faye Reid-Jacobs on Nomination Day in the Central Westmoreland constituency, which has been "PNP territory" for quite a few years. (Photo: Irie FM News)

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness with Jamaica Labour Party candidate and financial consultant Faye Reid-Jacobs on Nomination Day in the Central Westmoreland constituency, which has been “PNP territory” for quite a few years. (Photo: Irie FM News/Twitter)

Moving swiftly on, I very much liked how Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu described the upcoming Commission of Enquiry into the May 2010 security operations in Tivoli Gardens as “The People’s Commission.” At a recent media training workshop on the Commission of Enquiry Mr. Mukulu stressed the State’s obligation to investigate every death that occurred. He wants to see the full participation of Jamaicans and is urging witnesses to come forward with statements – and over 100 witnesses have done so. I hope it will continue and with the support of a responsible and sensitive media that the Commission of Enquiry will proceed and bring real results and – most important of all - closure for families. 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: aid.legal@moj.gov.jm) 

Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu. (Photo: Gleaner)

Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu. (Photo: Gleaner)

Quoting a tweet from human rights activist Susan Goffe this week, as the debate on marital rape continues (why is it even a debate?): “Sexual abuse outside of marriage: Criminal court. Sexual abuse inside marriage: Family court for divorce. Something wrong with that picture?”

Oops! I nearly forgot to mention: Jamaica passed another IMF test. “Jamaica’s economic transformation program offers a path to vibrant, sustained growth and job creation,” say our new lords and masters. Are we on that path? Well, here is the press release: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2014/pr14519.htm

Last week I attended a media training session for Caribbean journalists and the National Consultation on Climate Change. I wrote a piece in my weekly Gleaner blog “Social Impact” here, which you might enjoy. Please leave a comment on the page if you would like! http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2331

Journalists from Jamaica, Antigua and St. Vincent bonding at the media training workshop on preparing for the upcoming Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Panos Caribbean in Kingston this week. (My photo)

Journalists from Jamaica, Antigua and St. Vincent bonding at the media training workshop on preparing for the upcoming Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Panos Caribbean in Kingston this week. (My photo)

I suppose the crown isn't made of real diamonds, or anything. What on earth is the point of stealing it?

I suppose the crown isn’t made of real diamonds, or anything. What on earth is the point of stealing it?

Meanwhile, someone stole Miss Jamaica 2014 Laurie-Ann Chin’s newly acquired crown from her car in Montego Bay. How preposterous!

So much more to report, but let me move on to give huge thanks to a few people and organizations:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given a US$2 million grant to the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) to improve the quality and quantity of ICT services it provides across the island. The JLS is already the largest provider of free Internet to the Jamaican public; I have seen the lines of people waiting to use it. It’s a wonderful service and well deserves a boost. Internet access should not just be for the elite!

"The Legend of Love" is the first in the series of performances by the Bolshoi Ballet to be screened by the Palace Amusement Company on December 14.

“The Legend of Love” is the first in the series of performances by the Bolshoi Ballet to be screened by the Palace Amusement Company on December 14.

Palace Amusement Company, which continues to bring delight with its HD live transmissions from the Metropolitan Opera of New York at cinemas in Kingston and Montego Bay. Next up is Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” which is highly amusing – November 22 at the Carib. And for dance fans, there will be a series from the Bolshoi Ballet beginning December 14. 

President of BirdsCaribbean Leo Douglas did some bird-watching with students of Bishop Gibson High School in Manchester recently.

President of BirdsCaribbean Dr. Leo Douglas did some bird-watching with students of Bishop Gibson High School in Manchester recently.

BirdsCaribbean, the regional conservation organization, whose Executive Director Lisa Sorenson recently visited Jamaica. She not only met with local environmentalists. She also accompanied BirdsCaribbean President Dr. Leo Douglas (who is Honorary Research Fellow at the
Institute for Sustainable Development and Department of Geography/Geology, University of the West Indies/Mona) on some visits to schools for workshops and field trips in central Jamaica.

On a very sad note, the tragic death of a seven-year-old girl whose body was found floating in the Rio Cobre sparked discussions about parents allowing their children to walk alone to and from school, etc. These situations are far more complex than people think. The sad thing is that a family is in mourning. These Jamaicans also died:

Unidentified man, Tower Street, Kingston

Louis Salmon, 57, Ellesmere Drive, Kingston 19

Dwayne Campbell, Caymanas, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Kedesha Cousins, 7, Rio Cobre, St. Catherine

Yvonne Roofe, 17, St. Catherine

Janice Lamond Wilson, 54, Whitehouse, St. James

Aneka Morgan, 24, Steer Town, St. Ann

Shemar Blackwood, 16, Pisgah/Huntley Castle, St. Elizabeth

Seven-year-old Kadesha Cousins, whose body was found in the Rio Cobre on November 7.

Seven-year-old Kadesha Cousins, whose body was found in the Rio Cobre on November 7.

National Integrity Action Makes Urgent Call for Greater Transparency and Accountability

Here is a press release dated November 3, 2014 from National Integrity Action. It is very relevant in light of Jamaica’s current economic situation and recent developments. Highlights are my own.

National Integrity Action (NIA) Executive Director, Professor Trevor Munroe, makes urgent call for greater transparency and accountability as shortfalls continue in government tax revenue and significant cuts are made in budgeted allocations to public services.

In the light of data published three days ago by the Ministry of Finance, (Central Government Summary Accounts Fiscal Monitoring Table, Ministry of Finance Planning -10/31/2014) the Executive Director of National Integrity Action, Professor Trevor Munroe, is calling for increased transparency and more information concerning serious short falls in expected tax payment by companies and continued, significant government cuts in budgeted expenditure.

The data published by the Ministry indicates that between April and September, 2014 the shortfall in budgeted company taxes paid was 4.7 billion dollars which contributed to an over 7 billion dollar shortfall and which represented an increased additional short-fall of 2.2 billion dollars in the month of September alone. At the same time, the P.A.Y.E tax payers more than met their obligations. Their payments exceeded budgeted targets by over 676 million dollars. The country needs to know which big taxpayers are not meeting their tax obligations at a time when working people, despite the most severe pressure, are carrying more than their fair share of the burden. This information is especially important against the background of the Minister of Finance indicating to Parliament earlier this year that at the end of 2013/2914, 21% of entities with over one billion dollars of sales per annum did not pay any corporate income tax. Former students are being named and shamed for not meeting their student loan obligations. At a minimum these entities should not enjoy anonymity, receive the same public exposure, and where appropriate, undergo investigation and prosecution where the evidence so justifies – as the Private Sector Working Group proposed over 2 years ago.

On the other hand, the October 31 information from the Ministry indicates that total budgeted expenditure for April to September was cut by almost 13 and a half billion; the re-current by 5.6 billion dollars, including over 2 billion dollars from Programmes. In addition, almost 8 billion dollars was cut from budgeted capital expenditure. Some cuts are no doubt necessary to meet the targets in the IMF Programme. However, it is a matter of the greatest public importance for the people to know and to have a say in what programmes and services and being cut in the light of

• Daily demonstrations regarding poor road conditions
• Inadequate water supplies in many areas
• The need to ensure that clinics, hospitals and medical facilities are better equipped to deal with the current Chik-V epidemic and heightened preparedness for the Ebola threat
• The need for police and security forces to have more mobility, enhanced technology and greater equipment in coping with the continued unacceptable high murder rate
• Schools and educational institutions as well as tertiary students to be better funded
• Critical state agencies, such as the Auditor General s Department to receive the funding necessary to recruit the appropriate level of qualified staff to fulfil enhanced responsibility

In these circumstances it is necessary but not enough to know that Jamaica passes IMF tests. In addition, it is essential that the burden of meeting these targets be more evenly shared in a country that now has the second highest income inequality in the Western Hemisphere. It is also critical that we, the citizens, know and help to determine what services are being cut and how much is being cut from government programmes in order to achieve the necessary targets. Greater transparency and accountability is urgently needed from both the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC )and the Ministry of Finance in this critical area of central government fiscal operations.

NIA is a non-profit organization aimed at combating corruption in Jamaica through education, encouraging anti-corruption vigilance and activism, and through lobbying the government to enforce anti-corruption laws.

Government of Jamaica Again Blocks Information on Goat Islands Transshipment Port Project in Protected Area

An aerial view of Goat Islands. If the port development goes ahead, the islands would be dynamited (along with the Taino settlement at the top of Great Goat Island) and pushed into the sea. (Photo: Max Earle)

An aerial view of Goat Islands. If the port development goes ahead, the islands would be dynamited (along with the Taino settlement at the top of Great Goat Island) and pushed into the sea. (Photo: Max Earle)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NOVEMBER 11, 2014
KINGSTON, JAMAICA

GOVERNMENT ISSUES ANOTHER CERTIFICATE OF EXEMPTION TO PREVENT RELEASE OF INFORMATION ON GOAT ISLANDS TRANSSHIPMENT PORT PROJECT

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has learned that the Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, the Hon. Dr. Omar Davies, has issued a new Certificate of Exemption to exempt agreements and proposals on the proposed transshipment port near Goat Islands from public disclosure. The new Certificate, dated October 24, 2014, claims that the information is exempt from disclosure because premature disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to, have a substantial adverse effect on the Jamaican economy, or the Government’s ability to manage the Jamaican economy.

The new Certificate was signed the day after the Supreme Court had ordered, by consent of the parties, that the previous Certificates issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning, the Hon. Dr. Peter Phillips, should be quashed as they had been issued by the wrong Minister.

“We are astonished by the lengths to which the government is going to avoid having to release this information by issuing a new Certificate. The Access to Information Act was passed by the GOJ to promote transparency and public participation in decision-making and this goes against the very objective of the Act,” said Danielle Andrade, Legal Director of the Jamaica Environment Trust.

At the next hearing date on June 3- 4, 2015, the Court will continue hearing the case concerning the Port Authority’s refusal to provide information to JET.

Contact:

Ms. Danielle Andrade
Legal Director
Jamaica Environment Trust
(w) 960-3693
(c) 392-7341

Ms Diana McCaulay
Chief Executive Officer
Jamaica Environment Trust
(w) 960-3693
(c) 469-1315

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If you are in Kingston, please join us THIS EVENING for a discussion on Goat Islands and the continuing struggle to save this beautiful place. There will be short films, fun, a raffle and more. REDBONES BLUES CAFE, 6 – 8 PM. ADMISSION FREE.

Touring Great Goat Island. (My photo)

Touring Great Goat Island. (My photo)

Chikungunya and Dengue Fever: A Public Health Responsibility

I heard a tremendous noise on our street this morning. Looking outside, I saw a man in a mask furiously spraying virtually every leaf on the townhouse complex over the road to destroy mosquitoes. Clouds of insecticide surrounded him. I am sure all their bees are now dead (and perhaps ours, too), and I am glad I am not asthmatic. It was overwhelming – and its effects will only last for about 24 hours anyway. Blogspot does not seem to have a reblog facility, so I have copied and pasted here a post by a fellow blogger in Montego Bay, Helen Williams. I thought it might be very useful for those who are still suffering residual effects of the chikungunya virus (myself included). It seems to have worked its way across the island now and is affecting all parishes. We Kingston dwellers are not talking about it as much, but it is still out there. This is very good and comprehensive information and advice, so I thought I would share it with you. On our Government’s dereliction of duty as far as public education is concerned, I fully concur with the sentiments of Helen’s final paragraph, which I have highlighted below!

By the way, Helen Williams (pen-name: Billy Elm) is a Jamaican children’s author of adventure and fantasy stories, and I highly recommend her blog: http://marogkingdom.blogspot.com

Zapped Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.  The small divisions on the scale are millimeters.

Zapped Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.
The small divisions on the scale are millimeters.

Nobody can tell me that I didn’t have chikungunya, (chickV), although I’m not prepared to pay Ja$14,000.00 to confirm that diagnosis. Tests done on the a few hundred cases when the virus first appeared in Eastern Jamaica confirmed that is was indeed chikungunya. It spread quickly. It has got to the point now when we ask who hasn’t had it, rather than who has had it. Nearly everybody on our street has had it.

When it first arrived, it was made light of. “You’ll have pains for about three days, maybe a rash, then you’ll get better and will be immune to further attacks.” Not so for many, including myself. Those of us over 45 may take 1 to 2 or more months to get over the acute phase. After that there is the possibility of the subacute phase with arthritis and the possibility of disorders of the blood vessels. Then there is the chronic phase, occurring beyond 3 months and persisting for 2 -3 years. The symptoms include prolonged and severe arthritis, fatigue, body weakness, and depression (no wonder, with the prospect of these symptoms for 3 years!) The chronic phase occurs in 13% of people who contract the disease. If 2 million people in Jamaica contract it, that means that about 260,000 will be affected for up to 3 years. More tragically, many people have died. Yes, they had other conditions such as sickle cell, hypertension and diabetes, or were undergoing cancer treatment, but without chickV they would still be alive.

I think it is gross negligence on the part of WHO, PAHO and the Jamaican Ministry of Health, who were aware of this disease 2 years ago, to have done nothing. The least they could have done was to mount a public education campaign in the media, schools, churches and business places. The usual cry is that there is no money, but this outbreak has cost far more than a public education campaign would have. A public education campaign, at minimum could give the following information, which could be presented in simpler or more sophisticated ways depending on the audience.

1. Chikungunya is caused by a virus. What is a virus?
A virus is so small it cannot be seen with a regular (light) microscope, but only with an electron microscope. Viruses range in size from 2 millionths to 30 millionths of a millimetre. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers. We can have 100 trillion viruses in our bodies at the peak of infection.

2. How do viruses make us ill?
Viruses consist of a protein coat surrounding a DNA (or RNA) core. The protein coat attaches to the outside of a cell in our bodies and the core is injected. It takes over the machinery of the cell and makes new viruses (about 10,000). Our cells burst open and lets them out to infect other cells. Each cell that is attacked dies. Different viruses attack different parts of the body.

3. What do our bodies do?
Our immune system manufactures antibodies to disable the virus. It takes about 5 days for the immune system to produce enough antibodies to get rid of all the viruses. After the viruses have been killed, some of the protein coats are still sticking to the outside of cells, so our immune system attacks these too, prolonging the symptoms.

4. How is the chikungunya virus spread?
It is spread by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito. (Males do not bite.) Aedes is a small mosquito which can be recognized by its stripey legs and body. It is around all day, and lurks under tables, beds and other pieces of furniture. It moves quickly, usually flying off before you can swat it. There are over 50 species of mosquito in Jamaica, but Aedes is the only one that can transmit the chikungunya, and also dengue fever. When an Aedes bites a person infected with chickV, she sucks up some of the viruses in the person’s blood. She will then digest the blood meal and find some water in which to lay her eggs. After about a week, she is ready for another blood meal. By that time, the viruses have moved from her stomach to her salivary glands. When she bites the next person, she injects some saliva to stop the blood from clotting while she sucks it up. The viruses are then let loose in that person’s blood. It can take 2 – 7 days of incubation, during which time the viruses are multiplying, before the victim shows any symptoms. The mosquito can live for at least 3 weeks and bite many more persons. It could take only one infected person travelling from the site of the initial outbreak to another part of the country to take it there, without even being aware that they have the disease. Also, an infected person could be bitten by many mosquitoes.

5. How can we stop it?
(i) Get rid of the mosquitoes, or stop them biting us -easier said than done. Adult mosquitoes can be killed by fogging, with malathion mixed with diesel oil, which also kills other insects, including bees, and gives some people asthma. However, it is of limited usefulness, because the day after fogging, more mosquitoes hatch out. Using mosquito coils and vape – mosquitoes are becoming immune to these and they are not good for our health. Swatting them with a zapper – but you can’t catch all of them.
(ii) Spray the skin with insect repellant containing Deet. I know people who have escaped ChickV this way, but surely it can’t be good for you to spray yourself every day for months on end. It is good advice for tourists who are here for a few weeks.
(iii) Prevent Aedes from breeding. This should ultimately be the main form of control. In the limited public education we have had, people have been urged to check the following for mosquito larvae: flower vases, plant-pot holders, animal water containers, drums holding water for domestic use, old tyres, plastic bottles, styrofoam boxes and anything else that can catch water.

Careless garbage disposal leads to mosquito breeding.

Careless garbage disposal leads to mosquito breeding.

Even if every householder followed these instructions, there are still too many places left where mosquitoes can lay their eggs – too many empty, overgrown lots in our towns and cities. There is one across the street from our house, and another one two houses away. Into these lots, people throw garbage which collects water in the rainy season. People living in the surrounding community are the target of mosquitoes which breed there, so it is really up to us to put pressure on the owners, or on Parish Councils to get them cleaned up. Also, we need to be more responsible about garbage disposal. Business places shouldn’t employ coke-heads to take away their garbage, knowing they will dump it on an empty lot or in a gully. We have an anti-litter law in Jamaica. Why is it not being enforced? Potholes in roads also fill with water in the rainy season, providing another suitable place for Aedes to lay their eggs.

“Too late now,” we may say, as we’ve already caught ChickV, but there is the ever present threat of the 4 strains of dengue fever, including the life-threatening hemorrhagic dengue fever.

A better long-term solution is to reduce the Aedes population significantly by releasing sterile males, which mate with females which then lay eggs which are not viable. Research into this by Oxitec has been going on for 10 years, and had now reached the testing stage. The method was successful in the Cayman Islands, just in time to spare them from chikungunya. They are now going on to test larger urban communities in Brazil. Their video is well worth watching.

My final word is to those who work for WHO, PAHO, Ministries of Health in Caribbean countries, and governments who make the final decisions. We pay you. Without our taxes, you would not have the jobs you have. Jamaicans, already suffering under the IMF, now have to endure more pain as a result of chickV, when that pain could have been prevented. Is that fair?

Veerle Poupeye: “I Love to Make Things Happen”

Veerle Poupeye is a busy woman these days. The Executive Director of the National Gallery of Jamaica and her staff are working long hours preparing for the Jamaica Biennial 2014. “It’s our most ambitious yet,” she declares. The exhibition will open with a week of events from December 7 to 14, with key dates as follows: December 9, opening reception at Devon House; December 12: opening reception at National Gallery West; December 14: opening reception. (Jamaicans, you might like to note those dates in your calendars). I catch up with Poupeye as she takes a break in an uptown coffee shop. Her cell phone, however, regularly demands her attention.

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This year’s Biennial is “rebranded.” It has a more international profile; no longer “National” but “Jamaica.” Six overseas-based artists will undertake special projects: the New York-based Renée Cox; Blue Curry (yes, that is his real name!) from the UK/Bahamas; Bermudan photographer James Cooper; Sheena Rose from Barbados, who works in video installations; Trinidad’s Richard Mark Rawlins (“very political and satirical”); and Gilles Elie-Dit-Cosaque from France/Martinique, who works in photography, film and video. There will be a juried section; judges Diana Nawi, Associate Curator at Miami’s Pérez Art Museum and Dominican art historian and curator Sara Hermann (currently a Board Member for the Davidoff Art Initiative) spent two days in Jamaica last month judging submissions. “This is a transitional phase in the Biennial,” says Poupeye. “It will eventually move to a curated exhibition.” 

Poupeye’s enthusiasm is clear. She is looking forward to the event. After all, it has been forty years since the founding of the National Gallery at Kingston’s Devon House. Exciting Jamaican artists such as Ebony Patterson, Laura Facey, Onika Russell and Greg Bailey, among others, will participate. It will be “larger than usual,” says Poupeye, so there will be three distinct parts: at the galleries in Kingston and Montego Bay; at Devon House; and in the street. Yes, the street (but you will have to wait for more details). Right now, the team is working hard on the catalogue, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) – the Biennial’s main supporters with the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) in Montego Bay.

Montego Bay? Yes, in case you did not know, National Gallery West opened at the Cultural Centre in Sam Sharpe Square in July, and so far it has been doing well. “Expectations were high,” said Poupeye, noting enthusiastic support from local businessman Lloyd B. Smith and energetic hotelier Josef Forstmayr, besides the invaluable support of TEF. So far, there has been “much support from schools,” and Poupeye expects more overseas visitors as the tourism season begins next month. “I want National Gallery West to manage itself with a degree of independence from the NGJ in Kingston,” Poupeye adds. She is building and training staff so that it will become more independent.

The National Gallery is a public sector entity, a Division of the Institute of Jamaica, Ministry of Youth and Culture. In these belt-tightening times, how does it manage for funds, I ask Poupeye? “We pinch every penny,” she observes soberly. “We do a lot of things in-house.” They obtain revenue from entrance fees, the gift shop (well worth a visit) and café. It is hard to get funding for art these days (it probably always has been). The CHASE Fund and TEF are always supportive, but she hopes for more corporate sponsorship in the future.

Bush Cockerels, an installation by Ebony Patterson at National Biennial 2012 in the NGJ's Kapo Gallery. (My photo)

Bush Cockerels, an installation by Ebony Patterson at National Biennial 2012 in the NGJ’s Kapo Gallery. (My photo)

Poupeye has been so busy this year that she has hardly had time to reflect on the fact that it is thirty years since she and her husband, Marc Rammelaere, moved to Jamaica from their home town of Brugge in Belgium. Initially this was for two years; Rammelaere, a trained geologist, was a conscientious objector to Belgium’s compulsory nine to twelve months of military service. The alternative was two years of civilian service overseas. He chose Jamaica out of several potential countries where he could serve. Poupeye had just completed her Masters in Art History and had “no expectations, really.” She already loved Jamaican music (Bob Marley’s “Catch A Fire” was her first reggae acquisition), but that was about it.

The two years passed – and somehow, they were still here, in Jamaica.

Veerle Poupeye speaks with artist Everald Brown (Brother Brown) at the National Gallery, circa 1987. Brother Brown passed away in 2003. You can read much more about this mystical, spiritual artist on the NGJ blog: https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/everald-brown-1917-2003/ (Photo supplied by Veerle Poupeye)

Veerle Poupeye speaks with artist Everald Brown (Brother Brown) at the National Gallery, circa 1987. Brother Brown passed away in 2003. You can read much more about this mystical, spiritual artist on the NGJ blog: https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/everald-brown-1917-2003/ (Photo supplied by Veerle Poupeye)

The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) needed someone to teach Art History. Within weeks of arriving, Poupeye started working there (it was then called the Jamaica School of Art) and has been teaching there almost continuously ever since. She also began working at the National Gallery, and in 1987 she became Assistant Curator. In 1993 the couple bought a house – a sign that they were probably going to stay, she laughs – and Poupeye left the National Gallery to work with the newly established MultiCare Foundation, a private sector,  non-profit, youth- and community-based venture in downtown Kingston (the Foundation’s core programs are the performing arts, visual arts, art therapy and sports). 

"Caribbean Art" is published by Thames and Hudson in its magnificent World of Art series.

“Caribbean Art” is published by Thames and Hudson in its magnificent World of Art series.

“I think fondly of that time,” says Poupeye. Multicare’s founder, businessman Aaron Matalon was “very supportive” of her work and that of the artists involved. Meanwhile, she was trekking around the Caribbean, working on her book “Caribbean Art.” Published by Thames and Hudson in 1998 the book was described as “the first book – part historical, part thematic – to present and discuss the diverse, fascinating and highly accomplished work of Caribbean artists, whether indigenous or from the diaspora, whether in popular or ‘high’ culture, rural or urban, politically radical or religious…” 

In 2000, Poupeye went abroad – commuting regularly between the United States and Jamaica. She pursued her doctorate at Emory University’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts in Atlanta, under an eminent scholar whose work she much admired, Ivan Karp – an expert in museum studies, who had worked at the Smithsonian Institution. Poupeye’s studies in Belgium had been “very traditional,” she observes. But with her interdisciplinary studies at Emory,“I wanted a challenge. Although I am seen as a contemporary art curator, with my Art History training, I like to…” she smiles, “…mix it up.”  She also enjoyed a half-year stint as visiting faculty at New York University.

Poupeye returned to Jamaica in 2005, rejoined the EMCVPA as a research fellow and helped develop its Cage Gallery. When an opening for Executive Director of the National Gallery came up in 2009, she applied. And the rest is history, as they say.

Veerle Poupeye with colleague (Senior Curator) O'Neil Lawrence at the NGJ during the 2013 Rex Nettleford Conference. (Photo supplied by Veerle Poupeye)

Veerle Poupeye with colleague (Senior Curator) O’Neil Lawrence at the NGJ during the 2013 Rex Nettleford Conference. (Photo supplied by Veerle Poupeye)

I asked for her thoughts on the current state of Jamaican art…and its future. She is optimistic. “Jamaica will always have its ups and downs…The mid-80s was a vibrant period. Things have been moving up again in the last ten years.” Nowadays “artists are not waiting to be discovered,” she added. “They are doing it for themselves. They are very resourceful. They take their opportunities – there are many overseas too.” She believes the EMCVPA, with Nicholeen DeGrasse Johnson at the helm, has “repositioned itself” and is moving ahead. Petrona Morrison, who recently retired as the School of Visual Arts Director, was instrumental in repositioning the visual arts programs.

And what of her future plans? Poupeye tells me she is a strong believer in succession planning. She is working with younger members of her team:“They know the challenges.” Certainly running a high-profile national gallery is not a job for the faint-hearted. They are a very good team, she stresses: “They form a strong core.” 

Has the team taken on too much with this bigger-than-ever Biennial? Poupeye smiles, “I love to make things happen. I love to overreach. And then I am surprised – happy – when it works!” Meanwhile, she asserts, “You always have to leave an organization better than you found it…But if you think you are indispensable, then you’ve failed.”

On September 22 this year, Poupeye reminisced on her arrival in Jamaica thirty years ago, on Facebook: “One of my strongest first memories driving in from the airport is to see lignum vitae trees surrounded by clouds of white butterflies all over Kingston. Saw the butterflies again while driving to work today.” 

After thirty years, her love for Jamaica is still strong. And the future looks bright.

 

Read the NGJ blog at https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com. You can also find the National Gallery of Jamaica, National Gallery West and Jamaica Biennial 2014 on Facebook (separate pages) and follow the NGJ on Twitter @natgalleryja

Sheena Rose from Barbados is one of the specially invited international artists in the exhibition. You can read more about her project at: http://wp.me/pCc0A-1Az (From Jamaica Biennial 2014 Facebook page)

Sheena Rose from Barbados is one of the specially invited international artists in the exhibition. You can read more about her project at: http://wp.me/pCc0A-1Az (From Jamaica Biennial 2014 Facebook page)