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.
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/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: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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)
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.
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 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.