We’ve had dramatic thunderstorms this week so far and are grateful for the rain. Our dog, however, is thoroughly miserable… And some of this week’s news has been troubling, so far. A lot happening, but I will just focus on the major things for now. Lots of little things are bubbling, though, just under the surface.
The great escape: There are so many disturbing aspects to the case of Mario Deane, who was severely beaten in a Montego Bay police lockup and subsequently died on Independence Day, that it is hard to know where to start. Now, a man who is described as a key witness for the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) in the case escaped from custody early on Sunday morning, while he was being transferred for a video identification parade. He was on housebreaking and burglary charges. I heard that he actually went through an (empty) office and out through an unlocked window. How on earth could this happen? Fahdeen Ferguson is now a fugitive, and one suspects his life may be in danger. One of the two men who have been charged with Deane’s murder, Adrian Morgan, has been deemed fit to stand trial, once he stays on medication; his co-accused is also said to have mental challenges.
I am not interested in speeches: The new Commissioner of Police was sworn in with much fanfare on Monday. For some reason, he made a speech, which the media dutifully reported, several times over. Why did he need to make a speech? Why all the pomp and ceremony? I would have preferred that he just sat down at his desk on his first day in office and got on with the job. One of the first things I would like him to address is the above situation regarding the Mario Deane case. What happened? He must keep an eagle eye on this one. I would also like him to address the issue of corruption in the police force, in a meaningful way. Words like “transparency” and “accountability” are just that – words. We want to see action.
So let’s talk corruption – again: The Organization of American States (OAS) has completed a review of Jamaica’s anti-corruption oversight bodies, and is none too positive in its conclusions – noting there has been a failure to prosecute corruption in general. It recommends that anti-corruption bodies must be provided “with the resources necessary for the proper performance of their functions.” You can read the full report here: http://www.oas.org/juridico/PDFs/mesicic4_final_jam_en.pdf Contractor General Greg Christie tweeted yesterday: “The OAS affirms my repeated recommendation to give the Office of the Contractor General the power to halt contracts which exhibit signs of irregularity, impropriety, corruption. Jamaicans should note that no such power has been included in the Draft Integrity Bill which is currently before Jamaica’s Parliament. This substantiates my already stated position that the draft Integrity Bill must be strengthened and should not be passed in its current form.We may not be able to achieve zero corruption, but we can and should insist upon zero tolerance to corruption.”
The “chik v” muddle: It only gets worse. Every time he opens his mouth to speak, the Minister of Health Dr. Fenton Ferguson (he’s a dentist) seems to confuse us more. Of course, not intentionally, but I think he is starting to confuse himself now. If he cannot say anything that is really helpful, perhaps he should speak less. At every opportunity, the Minister trots out ridiculous figures of 24, 35 cases of chikungunya confirmed etc. Please stop doing this, Minister! You know – we all know – that these figures are meaningless and the actual numbers are much higher. There must be 20 people on my Twitter timeline alone who are describing the exact symptoms of the chikungunya virus and are suffering in pain. I don’t think they are imagining it. Now Dr. Ferguson is telling us that dengue fever is much worse, anyway. Oh, please stop! There have been 113 deaths from the virus in the Latin American/Caribbean region to date, says the Pan American Health Organization, by the way.
“Very unusual”: Minister Ferguson said the situation in schools in the eastern parish of St. Thomas – in particular Yallahs Primary School, where 200 students and ten teachers are sick – is unusual. What is usual, Minister? Approximately 697 students and 60 teachers were absent from 25 schools in the parish yesterday, as they were suffering from flu-like symptoms, joint pains and rashes. The Minister still doesn’t want to think they all have chikungunya – maybe it’s… or… Oh, I give up!
Meanwhile, health authorities confirm there are no beds left at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital in Kingston. What’s wrong with the children, I wonder?
Mosquitoes love Opposition politicians: Now, one TV station reports that Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has gone down with chikungunya (has he been tested?) This is already prompting comment that perhaps the mosquitoes are only biting Jamaica Labour Party politicians; and that if PNP politicians are suffering, they are keeping quiet about it. After all, we are trying to keep the numbers down. At least officially!
Yay! Hooray for coal power: Yes, coal power – very disconcerting. Dr. Vin Lawrence, head of the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) appointed by the Prime Minister (which appeared to sideline Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell) has decided to turn to local providers of electricity, after all that performance over Energy World International. ESET has received proposals from Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) and two bauxite companies who want, to build, own and operate plants powered by gas turbine or coal; and has submitted them to Cabinet. There is no way, however, all this will be up and running by the Government’s self-appointed deadline.
No elected representatives: Our government (or rather the ruling People’s National Party – PNP) has decided that local government elections will take place in March 2015. Will this include the Municipality of Portmore, which still has an “Acting Mayor” almost a year after Mayor George Lee died? What about a by-election in Roger Clarke’s constituency of Central Westmoreland? Do the people now have an “Acting Member of Parliament”? Until when? Has a by-election date been fixed, and if not, why not?
Important! Enumerate today: Jamaican people, if you want to get on the next voters’ list, you must get yourself enumerated by September 30! Otherwise, if an early election is called, you will not be able to vote.
Cabinet retreat: The Cabinet had a two-day retreat this week. And…? Oh, the PNP’s Annual Conference starts tomorrow, so we’re in for a noisy weekend.
Inflation inflating: Jamaica’s inflation has risen slightly over 2013. It is 9.8 per cent compared to 9.5 per cent up to August last year. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s now the highest in the Caribbean and one of the highest in the world. This comes as no surprise to those of us who visit the supermarket this week. We’re struggling.
But growth predictions are rosy: Despite all this, Finance Minister Peter Phillips expects our growth rate to be three per cent or more for the 2015/16 period, higher than the cautious projection of 1.5 – 2 per cent. The Planning Institute of Jamaica says the growth will occur in “integrated resort development, port and infrastructure and ICT,” as well as expected improvements for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). I would love more details, but all we get is broad statements. We will have to keep a sharp eye out for developments in these sectors.
More court space: Every week there are depressing stories about our malfunctioning justice system – in particular our law courts, which barely creak along. If you have served as a juror or witness (I have done both) you would see for yourself. But the good news is that three additional courtrooms have been opened up in the Supreme Court. Also,the number of cases listed for trial during the Michaelmas Term (September to December) has decreased by 14.06 per cent, compared to the similar period last year. But it’s still just over 500 cases!
Also glad to hear that the five per cent duty on LED bulbs and solar water heaters has been removed. Also, JPS will be purchasing renewable energy from three local producers. Good.
- Activist, artist, writer, educator and DJ Dr. Afifa Aza, who achieved her goal of going to Macchu PIcchu, Peru, and even climbed up the mountain behind. What an achievement. Afifa will be presenting her thoughts, illustrated by photographs and film, at Di Institute for Social Leadership in Kingston next Wednesday, September 24 at 5:00 p.m. Do go along and learn more about her experiences.
- Climate change activist and blogger Heather Pinnock, who has been selected for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps three-day training with Chairman and Founder, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore on November 4-6 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. See more at: http://climaterealityproject.org/leadership-corps BUT Heather needs financial support to get to Brazil. Please let me know if you are able to assist in any way! It would be wonderful to have a Jamaican women at the forefront of the global climate change strategy, and Heather certainly would be a great representative. Please support!
My condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who have lost their lives violently…
Kevin Brown, 30, Irish Pen, St. Catherine
Karen Mattey, 34, Irish Pen, St. Catherine
Byron Cameron, 52, Montego Bay, St. James