GraceKennedy Continues to Invest in Management Studies and the Environment Through the GraceKennedy Foundation and Its UWI Chairs

Here is a press release and photographs from the GraceKennedy Foundation, which is doing good and very focused work. Please support its efforts!

Company pledges J$1M to the UWI Plastic Bottle Separation Project

Kingston, Jamaica, November 20 – The tremendous work being done by holders of GraceKennedy Chairs – Professors Ian Boxill and Dale Webber – was highlighted on Tuesday, November 18 at a press conference hosted by the GraceKennedy Foundation and the Office of the Vice Chancellor entitled “Partnerships for Research, Innovation and Development.” The event was held at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Regional Headquarters.

L-R: GKF Chairs Professors Ian Boxill (Carlton Alexander Chair in Management) and Dale Webber (James Moss-Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management) in deep discussion during the GKF/UWI Chair Press Conference on November 18, 2014 at the Council Room, UWI Regional Headquarters. (Photo: GraceKennedy Foundation)

L-R: GKF Chairs Professors Ian Boxill (Carlton Alexander Chair in Management) and Dale Webber (James Moss-Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management) in deep discussion during the GKF/UWI Chair Press Conference on November 18, 2014 at the Council Room, UWI Regional Headquarters. (Photo: GraceKennedy Foundation)

In commending the work done by both gentlemen, GraceKennedy Group CEO Don Wehby said, “These two gentlemen are doing different projects in different areas. But what both projects have in common is that each benefits Jamaica. And that’s good enough for us to continue pledging our support through the GraceKennedy Foundation for the ground-breaking work they continue to do.”

L-R GKF Chairs Professors Dale Webber (James Moss-Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management) and Ian Boxill (Carlton Alexander Chair in Management) being congratulated by GK Group CEO Don Wehby during the GKF/UWI Chair Press Conference on November 18, 2014 at the Council Room, UWI Regional Headquarters.

L-R GKF Chairs Professors Dale Webber (James Moss-Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management) and Ian Boxill (Carlton Alexander Chair in Management) being congratulated by GK Group CEO Don Wehby during the GKF/UWI Chair Press Conference on November 18, 2014 at the Council Room, UWI Regional Headquarters.

In updating those present, Professor Boxill, who is the holder of the S. Carlton Alexander Chair in Management Studies, spoke to the growth of the Centre for Tourism and Policy Research (CTPR). He highlighted the community film project, which started in August Town in 2012. The program began with 20 students two years ago, and to date has trained over 100 young people across the island in film. The Group CEO referred to the CTPR’s project as “a great prototype for the community film industry in Jamaica, which can be the catalyst for a vibrant model for the Jamaican film product within the next few years.”

Professor Webber, the James Moss Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management, was lauded for his work with the UWI Plastic Bottle Separation Project. He was also commended for his work with the Recycle Jamaica Initiative, a partnership between the government and seven private sector companies, whose mandate is to establish a plastic bottle recycling programme island-wide over the next three years. Mr Wehby reinforced the company’s support for the UWI Plastic Bottle Separation Project, by announcing a donation of J$1M to the furtherance of the programme. Six hundred thousand of that amount was donated by the Foundation, with the remainder coming from GraceKennedy Limited.

The GraceKennedy Foundation started in 1982, with the aim to have a positive impact on people’s lives in the areas of education and the environment. The Chairs are funded by the GraceKennedy Foundation to the tune of J$10M annually.

“Congratulations again on all you have achieved,” said Mr Wehby to Professors Boxill and Webber . He continued “Know that you have the support and partnership of GraceKennedy and the GraceKennedy Foundation, as you continue to research, innovate and develop for Jamaica’s benefit.”

###

Contact: Simone Clarke-Cooper
Group Chief Corporate Communication Manager
809-1122 (cell)
932-3174 (straight line)

L-R: Professor Ian Boxill, (Carlton Alexander Chair in Management), Don Wehby (GK Ltd Group CEO), Professor Dale Webber (James Moss-Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management) and Professor E. Nigel Harris glance through the textbook ‘Revista de Biologia Tropical’, edited by Prof. Dale Webber during the GKF/UWI Chair Press Conference on November 18, 2014 at the Council Room, UWI Regional Headquarters. (Photo: GraceKennedy Foundation)

L-R: Professor Ian Boxill, (Carlton Alexander Chair in Management), Don Wehby (GK Ltd Group CEO), Professor Dale Webber (James Moss-Solomon Snr Chair in Environmental Management) and Professor E. Nigel Harris glance through the textbook ‘Revista de Biologia Tropical’, edited by Prof. Dale Webber during the GKF/UWI Chair Press Conference on November 18, 2014 at the Council Room, UWI Regional Headquarters. (Photo: GraceKennedy Foundation)

Senator Nicholson’s Apology in the Upper House Today

Here is the text of Senator The Hon. A.J. Nicholson’s apology for his comment in Parliament three weeks ago, made in the Upper House this afternoon (Friday, November 21), as supplied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

Mr. President:

On Friday, October 31, whilst Senator Malahoo-Forte was making her presentation in the debate on the Flexible Working Arrangements Bill in this chamber, I muttered some fateful words from my seat.

My initial failure promptly to withdraw that awkward and insensitive remark has been greatly frowned upon. A three paragraph apology issued by me the next day seems to have been rejected by the wider society. My conduct has provoked considerable controversy. The view has been taken that my eventual withdrawal and apology lacked sincerity.

In the result, I wish today and for the record, first to restate my apology for allowing those most unfortunate words to fall from my lips; second for my hesitancy in recanting and last, for issuing what, I now agree was not a sufficiently full apology.

It is my devout hope that before I sit, I will have been able to convince my peers as well as the country, especially our women, that I am truly sorry on all three accounts. For despite my raiments, I am covered in sackcloth and ashes. I seek forgiveness even as I pray that the controversy will be put to peaceable rest.

Now Mr. President rape is certainly no joke. It provides no occasion for amusement or thoughtless banter. It is a grievous crime with which Jamaica and indeed the entire civilized world have grappled from the earliest times.

In fact the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has recognized that rape and all forms of violence against women generally, are so pervasive and reprehensible that it adopted Resolution 1994/45 of that year affirming its abhorrence of those atrocities, by the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.

Mr. President: I rendered the longest direct service in our history as Attorney General of Jamaica for 12 plus years. It was with a clear understanding and appreciation of the gravity of the matter of women’s rights that in the capacity of Attorney General, I chaired the Joint Select Committees established by Parliament to tender proposals for enhancing the protection of women and the advancement of women’s rights. The Family Property (Rights of Spouses) Act, the Sexual Offences Act, now being re-examined, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were all crafted with the benefit of input from those Committees.

Mr. President, like your good self, I was socialized to be especially respectful and protective of women and girls; to place them on a pedestal and give them pride of tender place. We were all brought up to recognize and acknowledge that rape is a most horrific act of violence   – a dreadfully demeaning and absolutely intolerable experience.

Thus, our criminal law has long reserved a very harsh regime of condign punishment for perpetrators convicted of the offence of rape. Moreover, it is within living memory that that regime at one time included whipping at the beginning and at the end of related terms of imprisonment. That particular incident was popularly called “lash in” and “lash out”!

Do permit me to say Mr. President that it was therefore uncharacteristic of me, fortunately a happily married family man, to make fun or light of what is clearly a very, very serious matter. Although I intended no disrespect, I was plainly and terribly wrong in what I said and thoughtlessly. I repeat: I displayed lamentable insensitivity. For this painful error I beg that all concerned persons will be good enough to accept the profound and unqualified apology which I tender today.

By way of partial amends, I intend to demonstrate and thereby underscore the extent of my remorse by participating in whatever way that I can, and otherwise to associate myself, with the activities related to this year’s celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, next Tuesday November 25.

Mr. President, in addition to my broad apology to our womenfolk at home and abroad, I wish to seize this opportunity, by your leave and through you, to make reference in an especial way to Senator Malahoo Forte. I reaffirm that by my clumsy attempt at humour I meant not the slightest affront, to her or to anyone else.

Secondly, to you Mr. President and, both sides of this honourable Senate, I proffer my unreserved apology for my unbecoming behaviour. Ours is the highest limb of the Legislature and our conduct in here should be exemplary in all respects. When therefore, an error of judgment such as I made is pointed out, the proper thing to do is to recant and make amends.

The record shows that initially I put myself in a quandary and resisted suggestions that I should withdraw the remark. For this also and with utmost sincerity, I say that I am sorry. This Chamber deserved better, has received better from me, and will witness no such repetition by me.

Thirdly, please do permit me to extend this apology Sir, to the Prime Minister who sits in the other place, and to the political party which I proudly represent. My remark and behavior, particularly as the Leader of Government Business in this place, brought me into direct conflict with the tenets, principles and practices of the People’s National Party. I assure all the world that I shall not err in this unguarded way ever again – not even under the breath, let alone sotto voce.

Finally Mr. President, I embrace my dear wife and family in these sentiments. I have come to share the ordeal they have had to undergo by reason of my churlish conduct.

Consonant with these apologies, I recommit myself to continue striving for the perpetual elevation of the women of Jamaica and the world to their rightfully high and respected station, not only at the workplace, but at all levels of civilized society.

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

 

 

The Poet Laureate Presents: Two Women Poets in the City

On a slightly chilly and damp evening – no moon tonight, we noted – my neighborhood bookstore Bookophilia hosted the second in a miniseries of three, organized by our beloved Poet Laureate, Professor Mervyn Morris. The first was in Port Antonio, and the third will be in Mandeville (Thursday, November 27, 5:30 – 7:30 pm, Cecil Charlton Auditorium, Mandeville – with Earl McKenzie and Jean Goulbourne).

Yes, Professor Morris is determined to take poetry “out of town” and across the island. In measured tones, he introduced two Jamaican women poets, Ann-Margaret Lim and Millicent Graham.

For such events, we sit outside, with the whirr and occasional roar of the main road for accompaniment. Somehow, though, the sound recedes into the background. We enjoy city poetry as the traffic rolls by.

Noted poet Professor Edward Baugh with Ann-Margaret Lim on International Literacy Day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this year. (My photo)

Noted poet Professor Edward Baugh with Ann-Margaret Lim on International Literacy Day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this year. (My photo)

Ann-Margaret Lim is a passionate reader. She told several stories of her multi-cultural family, lingering over the ends of words. A poem about her mother, called “Blue You,”  was especially poignant; she said she was “not sure if it was complete.” The line, “I tripped this morning on a piece of you” - yes, I have done that with my own parents. A sad nostalgia hung over her reading; Lim referred to the death of a schoolmate, too.

Lim always acknowledges her influences. Introducing her angry commentary on the current, destructive wave of the chikungunya virus in Jamaica, she referred to the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, whose “Los Nueve Monstruous” (The Nine Monsters) describes the growing pain in the world (it even includes the line: Mr. Minister of Health: what to do? ) She also paid tribute to the Poet Laureate, drawing his students into a “pool of Caribbean poetry” in a classroom; and to another Jamaican poet, Professor Edward Baugh, who greatly influenced her. A poem about Christmas was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “River” from her album “Blue” (“I wish I had a river/I could skate away on.”)

Jamaican poet Millicent Graham reads at Bookophilia. (My photo)

Jamaican poet and founder of The Drawing Room Project Millicent Graham reads at Bookophilia. (My photo)

Millicent Graham had a Christmas poem too, from her second and very recent book of poetry, “The Way Home” (home has always been, for her, Kingston’s Cassia Park. She’s a city girl). In a sense Graham’s reading nurtured a nostalgia, too, for homely things and family. She does it differently from the poet who preceded her  - not so much a sense of loss and longing. Interspersing her readings with deep sighs, Graham spun her childhood memories. I loved her poem about the distress she shared with her siblings during power cuts after dark, with a “daddy long legs” hiding in the corner, and a flickering candle creating more fearful shadows“Please let the morning find us here,” was the children’s prayer.

During the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer Graham was involved in the Empire Café project, which explored the connections between Scotland and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It was clearly a rich experience for her, resulting in a vibrant anthology of Caribbean poets. During her research into that special commodity called sugar, Graham discovered the technical term “ratoon” (a rather beautiful word). In her poem Graham observes soberly, “We know what we have buried here.”

Professor Mervyn Morris is Jamaica's Poet Laureate. (Photo: Southern World Arts News)

Professor Mervyn Morris is Jamaica’s Poet Laureate. (Photo: Southern World Arts News)

By the way, Professor Morris would like to receive invitations from schools for poetry readings – not large groups, but if a class is interested in having a reading and discussion, they should contact him. He would really like to spread the love and appreciation of poetry. And who knows how many young poets-in-waiting are out there, waiting to blossom out.

The “Poet Laureate Presents” program is co-sponsored by the National Library of Jamaica and the Ministry of Tourism. Kudos to the Ministry, which also supported the Drawing Room Project’s Poetry Workshop in Highgate, St. Mary earlier this year (which I participated in). This is great support for Jamaican culture and creativity. You can read a little more about our Poet Laureate here: http://www.nlj.gov.jm/poetlaureate/current_poet_laureate.htm

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.