I am sorry. The flu got me. I have just emerged from it with a somewhat painful cough. Hence the hiatus on my blog.
Bus fare problems: Last Friday, we heard (briefly) that the Jamaica Urban Transit Company’s (JUTC) fare hikes had been “put on hold” after discussions among the Government and trades unions. This was after a rising tide of protests from various groups – notably, from those representing our seniors under stress. Then something went wrong. The Government confirmed that there had been a slight adjustment – seniors’ bus fares would be doubling instead of tripling – but the other fare increases, including for students and the disabled, would remain. The increases took effect on Sunday.
Minister of Transport, Works and Housing (and former Finance Minister) Omar Davies, M.P. (Photo: Ministry of Transport & Works)
The Jamaica Civil Service Association (JACISERA) thought the meeting had gone differently. It is embarrassed and feeling “dissed” that Transport Minister Omar Davies had in fact scarcely backed down. JACISERA now says it does not trust the Minister, noting there was no consultation before the decision to increase fares, either. They are upset that the Heads of Agreement signed last year for a Social Partnership – which was supposed to help government, unions and civil society share the burden of Jamaica’s embattled economy – seems to mean little more than the paper it was written on to those in power. There are rumblings, and the rumblings might grow louder. I wouldn’t rule out industrial action.
A JUTC bus.
Many questions: Questions are rattling around about the JUTC’s management, in particular its staggering financial losses. Former Contractor General Greg Christie and others are calling for a full and proper audit (the Auditor General pointed to many failings in her last report). The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) – after a rather ineffective protest on a rainy Monday morning – is calling for Messrs Campbell and Roper to resign. And of course, let’s bear in mind that those in rural areas (not served by the JUTC) pay much higher fares than their urban counterparts.
Reverend Garnett Roper, Chairman of the JUTC.
A miserable affair: I listened with a sinking heart to a radio interview during which two young journalists attempted to discuss issues relating to the JUTC’s operations with its Chairman, Reverend Garnett Roper – who, like its Managing Director Colin Campbell, is a high-profile supporter of the ruling People’s National Party (Mr. Campbell is a former General Secretary of the party, but also a former State Minister in the Transport Ministry). The interview ended with Rev. Roper hanging up on the journalists after they asked him a simple question: “Do you have any expertise in running a transport company?” The tone was most unpleasant, and I would say disrespectful and patronizing. Journalists are just trying to do their job!
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller takes every criticism personally. Please, Madam.
Another rant: I don’t know where to start on our Prime Minister’s latest outburst. It is getting embarrassing, now. Portia Simpson Miller was responding to comments by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ remarks about “empty barrels.” He didn’t mention her by name, but our Prime Minister happily took the bait and went into another rant to People’s National Party (PNP) supporters over the weekend. Amidst a sea of orange, with a strange sneer on her face, she called Mr. Holness “rude and crude,” shouting, “How dare you!” I thought Mr. Holness’ remarks were quite mild. The response was disproportionate, ill-considered and as one talk show host put it, “unbecoming” of a Prime Minister.
Does she have any advisors? The Prime Minister does have a public relations team, I am sure of it. What do they do? I suspect they may all be “yes men” or “yes women” – otherwise, surely, they would advise her against this string of intemperate remarks? Especially at this time, when many Jamaicans are “fed up.”
Protesters placards at Monday morning’s protest organized by the Jamaica Labour Party, which some commentators say “fizzled.” (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Andrew Holness is surely only doing his job: The Leader of the Opposition is a constitutional office. In opposing the current administration, Mr. Holness is simply doing his job by criticizing. “How dare he?” He should, in fact, keep up the pressure and try to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to serious issues affecting Jamaica. The economy? Human rights? Public health issues? Can you start talking about things that Jamaicans care/worry about? No more tracing matches, please!
“We will be your worst nightmare”: Portia Simpson Miller, then Opposition Leader, at the PNP Annual Conference in September, 2007. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)
Flashback: On September 16, 2007, at the PNP’s Annual Conference soon after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was voted into power, then Opposition Portia Simpson Miller shouted: “I am going to let them have sleepless nights … We are going to be their worst nightmare!” (Yes, she did shout; I remember it well. The JLP tossed and turned, no doubt!)
So sick and tired of it, but praedial larceny (the theft of agricultural crops and animals) is still out of control. Well, the police did catch a man recently, who had stolen some goats from an elderly woman. He got a six month sentence, which the magistrate seemed to think was a “strong message.” No, I don’t think so. The other night I watched a farmer openly weeping on television after his goats were stolen, saying he would not be able to help his child pursue further education. People suffer, and our Agriculture Ministry is missing in action. So far as I know, the Minister is still in a Florida hospital.
Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump, two American human rights lawyers who are taking an interest in Mario Deane’s case.
Mike Brown and Mario Deane: It is odd the way things work out sometimes, and I like to think social media may have had a small part to play – but two tragedies were playing out in two very different (but close) countries, Jamaica and the United States at the same time. One was the shooting death of Mike Brown by the police in Ferguson, Missouri; the other the beating and death of Mario Deane in a police lockup in Montego Bay. Now, the same pathologist who performed the autopsy on Mr. Brown, Dr. Michael Baden, will conduct an autopsy on Mr. Deane’s body next Tuesday, September 2. Meanwhile, a U.S. attorney who is representing Mr. Brown’s family, Jasmine Rand, has taken an interest in Mr. Deane’s case and will arrive in Jamaica this weekend. A lawyer who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin in Florida last year, Benjamin Crump, has also expressed sympathy and support. It’s not exactly clear what role they will play, but I believe this will be in an advisory capacity.
Ambassador Carlton Masters is Jamaica’s first envoy to the African Union. He presented his credentials on March 21, 2013. (Photo: The Habari Network)
Jamaica has its first representative at the African Union. His name is Carlton A. Masters and he is co-founder, chair and CEO of Goodworks International, a PR/lobbying/consulting firm working to strengthen relations between the U.S. and Africa (in particular, Nigeria). He is now an Ambassador and the appointment was actually effective February 4, 2013. Former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson is a Senior Advisor at Goodworks. Mr. Masters’ appointment as Special Envoy of the Prime Minister appears to have sparked some controversy recently. I will leave it at that.
Wannabe Commissioners: The Police Services Commission has not included a Jamaican-born FBI official in its six-person shortlist for the post of Police Commissioner. Representatives of the diaspora in the United States are pretty angry that Wilfred Rattigan will not be interviewed for this very sensitive post. However, bearing in mind the sensitivity of the position, one would expect thorough background checks to be made on each candidate. No doubt they were done.
Pit latrines in schools will be a thing of the past… by the end of next year, says Education Minister Ronald Thwaites. Meanwhile, 270 schools are identified as having water problems. Will their thousands of students have to bring in their own water then? Do they have water at home? School starts on Monday, September 1.
Dear Jamaica Observer, this is not a “heron” and her chicks. It’s a Brown Pelican! But a great article on Refuge Cay in the Palisadoes mangrove forest, which we sarcastically renamed “Refuse Cay.” (Photo: Kimone Thompson)
Terrific reporting: Journalists were galvanized by last week’s thought-provoking trip round Kingston Harbour, where we viewed acres of garbage (see my recent post and the latest article I did for gleanerblogs.com). Excellent reporting – including a punchy piece in the Sunday Gleaner by Chris Serju, and a good in-depth look at the issue on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven.” A correction is needed, though, on the caption to this Jamaica Observer photo! Live at Seven’s Simon Crosskill also made sharply apposite remarks on the matter this evening – pointing out that Jamaicans need to take personal responsibility for the garbage menace and “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Now.
The bridge in Retreat, St. Mary. Surely this wouldn’t cost so much to fix? (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
A dangerous crossing: Residents of Retreat, St. Mary are furious that a footbridge on which they greatly depend is broken and quite dangerous. After dark I would be especially nervous about crossing it (there are no street lights in the country). Residents have protested by blocking the main road for three consecutive days.
Daily protests: But this is just one of the protests that take place in places across the country on a daily basis. There was also one in Manchester over a police killing; and another by a group of mostly middle-aged women. They had adapted the words of a folksong to fit their message about the need for a fire engine in their area, which has been prone to bush fires in recent months. They actually sang rather well. If I were to list the protests, there would probably be about twenty separate ones per week – mostly about lack of water, poor roads and other infrastructural issues; or some act of perceived or actual injustice. “We Want Justice!” is the common refrain.
Drug hauls: There have been several quite large drug seizures at the Kingston Container Terminal lately. This week, police found 267 pounds of cocaine in a shipment of lumber from Suriname, bound for China. Extraordinary!
Please read: My post on the Clean Coasts Project in my “Social Impact” series for the Gleaner Online: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/ I’d be grateful if you could leave comments on the page! Thank you… (This is a weekly feature – check it out every Tuesday!)
- To Peace and Love in Society (PALS) - it was once called Peace and Love in Schools. They celebrate twenty years this year, and are now looking to rebuild their volunteer base. If you’d like to help, or for more information on their programs, visit their website at http://www.palsjamaica.org
Quite an intense discussion at Bookophilia this evening with ECCO Magazine and business leaders on “going green.” (Photo: ECCO)
- To ECCO Magazine for its highly successful discussion at Bookophilia this evening on “The Business of Going Green.” Several business leaders and a number of young entrepreneurs filled the bookstore. It was most gratifying to see a growing interest in sustainable business practices. Do also take a read of ECCO’s August “GreenYourBiz” newsletter, hot off the press, here: http://issuu.com/eccomagazine/docs/august_gyb_newsletter_final/c/sldhs6z# (Yours truly is a contributor!)
Maria Gullotta works hard for the rehabilitation of prisoners in Jamaica.
- To Stand Up for Jamaica, a small NGO headed by Maria Gullotta, which works quite quietly in the prisons, helping to rehabilitate prisoners. Quite a few at the Tower Street and Fort Augusta Correctional Facilities sat CXC examinations in Mathematics and English in a program funded by the European Union, and many did well, especially in Mathematics. Ms. Gullotta is rightly proud, and congratulations to all those who studied and passed their exams. (By the way, if you have not seen the documentary film “Songs of Redemption” released last year – it’s really time you did…)
In the past week, many Jamaicans have lost their lives to violent crime. My deepest sympathies are with the families and friends who are mourning these tragic deaths. When will it end? By the way, there was a reported 8.2% drop in murders from January to June this year compared to the first six months of 2013. But this list seems rather long for just one week, since my last blog post.
Christopher Tracy, 39, Arnett Gardens, Kingston
Willie Picton, 37, Arnett Gardens, Kingston
Wayne Gaynor, 41, Duke Street, Kingston
Shanel Rowe, 34, Old Braeton, St. Catherine
Kevin Lawrence, 25, Store Hill/Kitson Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Bendon District, St. Catherine
Norman Blake, Guanaboa Vale, St. Catherine
Horace Reid, 26, New Harbour Village Housing Scheme/Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Shana-Kay Simpson, 21, Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine
Garfield Simpson, 35, Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine
Ricodel Jackson, 25,Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine
Dean Pratt, 43,Middleton Meadows, Linstead, St. Catherine
Brenton Drummond, 25, Orange, St. James
Odarie Sinclair, 24, Orange, St. James
Jayheim Cooper, 2, Lewis District, St. Ann
Lascelles Hyatt, Gayle, St. Mary
Glenton Logan, 33, Yallahs, St. Thomas
Christopher Thompson, 41, Burford Hill, Westmoreland
Relatives in shock after the murder of four residents in Middleton Meadows, Linstead. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)