I Was Too Catty. Plus the Cuba Competition and What’s Up with Negril: Friday, December 19, 2014

The Christmas traffic in Kingston has now officially reached insanity level. I am not sure what all the frenzied activity is about; downtown at least business is reportedly very slow, worse than last year. But some people still have money in their pockets uptown, and the cost of gasoline has finally dropped (albeit far too slowly) so people can use up more gas by rushing up and down. As for me, I have gone into reclusive mode for the season…

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Firstly, my bad… Well, one of my faithful readers – who is always refreshingly honest with me – feels my comments on the Minister of Youth and Culture’s Instagram bikini photo were – well, “catty.” Yes, it did really look that way, and I humbly apologize for being so harsh. My problem is, I just cannot join the majority of Jamaicans, male and female, who virtually idolize beauty queens (and ex-beauty queens). Yes, they are beautiful; there are many beautiful people in the world. The other point I was trying to get across is that our political leaders need to find a way of carefully separating their personal and professional lives, especially on social media. And that applies to images of oneself, too. They are not handling it well, in general. Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing more about the achievements of the Minister in her work – and in particular the youth side of her portfolio.

No more impunity: Two pieces of news this week. Firstly, a former policeman and his sister were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder (and beheading) of a taxi driver, who had reported the policeman for corruption. Secondly, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is leaving no stone unturned in its investigation of an alleged police “death squad” in Clarendon and has exhumed the body of Seydane Nelson, who was said to have been killed by a criminal but perhaps may not have been. Twelve Clarendon police officers are now before the courts in connection with eight murders. The rate of police killings has dropped drastically (by over fifty per cent) this year. Not a coincidence.

12-09-2014-ViolenceReport

“Third most murderous”: Jamaicans are perturbed about the country’s portrayal as third in the world for homicides. This comes from a new (first of its kind) World Health Organization report on Violence Prevention (not just murders, but things like child abuse/protection, gender-based violence and so on). The figures seem to reflect a pattern (I think, having read the introduction) covering 2000 – 20012, while acknowledging a decline in murders in Jamaica since 2009. It is well worth looking at, as it is far more than homicide stats, depressing as they are: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/en/ And here is the link to Jamaica’s country profile, which clearly shows homicides from 2011 — 2011 in a graph: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/status_report/2014/coutry_profiles/Jamaica_new.pdf?ua=1

“Solving” murders: I was truly perplexed by a press event involving the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). With some fanfare this week, Police Commissioner Carl Williams announced that the murders of four Jamaicans (CHEC employees, who inexplicably were transporting a large amount of cash payroll through the countryside in a private vehicle) were “solved.” Well, not quite surely Mr. Commissioner? The four men charged with murder have yet to see their day in court. The Chinese handed over two vehicles and everyone is happy. I wish we were in such a hurry to “solve” the hundreds, nay thousands of other murder cases over the past several years. But this involves the Chinese, so extra effort and ingratiating smiles are required.

Hacking the GoJ: Sony are not the only ones. It appears at least ten Jamaican Government websites have been hacked, possibly by an entity called “AnonGhost.” The Opposition first mentioned it – not sure why the Government did not admit it earlier. It has requested help from the Organization of American States to deal with it, and hopefully it will soon be fixed. However, one wonders whether all our Government websites are really secure. Of course, there are others that are simply not updated – but that is a separate matter altogether!

One of Cuba's many attractions, the historic town of Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded by the Spanish conqueror Diego Velázquez in 1514.

One of Cuba’s many attractions, the historic town of Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded by the Spanish conqueror Diego Velázquez in 1514. Oh, and Cuba has sun, sea and sand, too…

Cuba, Jamaica and tourism: While Jamaican politicians (especially those who still like to consider themselves socialists) expressed delight at President Obama’s historic announcement of the renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba, there are increasingly loud murmurings about how this will affect Jamaica, especially in the tourism sector. Some say the opening up of Cuba to American travelers will be the death of our tourism industry. I would not go that far, but the impact will be considerable and we will have to work very hard to improve and upgrade our tourism product. Our political leaders will not be waxing so lyrical if (or when) U.S. investment floods into Cuba, at Jamaica’s expense. According to Caribbean Tourism Organization statistics, Cuba already had more stopover visitors up to September this year than Jamaica. Without any Americans. No cruise ship visitors, but they will follow in due course. You can find the stats at http://www.onecaribbean.org/statistics/latest-tourism-statistics-tables/

One of our much-vaunted tourist resorts… Ugh! (Photo: Facebook)

Negril – one of our much-vaunted tourist resorts, with a homeless person going through the garbage. I hope this has since been cleared up! By contrast, we  recently watched television footage of an army of Cubans sweeping every corner of a park in central Havana – a sight I have never seen in Kingston, Jamaica…  (Photo: Facebook)

Speaking of tourism, I wrote earlier this year about the state of the resort town of Negril (our Tourism Minister represents the area, by the way) and the debate over possible solutions to the problem of the famous, but disappearing beach upon which the whole life of the town depends. One small hotel along the beach has been taken over by squatters. A few days ago there were piles of garbage around the town; the photos were posted by concerned businesspeople on Facebook. Harassment is rampant – and not only on the beach. When I was last there, in the space of a few minutes (I was mistaken for a tourist because of my color) people offered me drugs, taxis and another service that I shall not mention, while I was standing on the compound of a hotel – not even on the street. They were hissing at me from the hedges. Don’t tell me it’s “no problem, mon,” please!

Horseback riders have now appeared on Negril beach, creating annoyance and even danger to those enjoying a stretch on the sand. (Photo: Gleaner)

Horseback riders have now appeared on Negril beach, creating annoyance and even danger to those enjoying a stretch on the sand. (Photo: Gleaner)

Meanwhile, the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) –  in the face of opposition from a large and vocal group of local hoteliers and residents – has gone ahead and approved the construction of two breakwaters composed of large boulders, and the dredging of the sea at Negril, to reduce the beach erosion problem. No surprise I am afraid, but they might have had the decency to inform the Negril Chamber of Commerce and other concerned parties before they heard this for the first time in the media. NEPA claims to have made the decision (so they can access the climate change adaptation funding) “after carefully considering all comments from stakeholders in Negril and the wider Jamaica.” I suspect this will not be the end of the matter. And I will be writing more.

My latest post on gleanerblogs.com discusses the Digicel Foundation’s focus on special needs…and the need for “consistent advocacy” on the issue, as expressed by Senator Floyd Morris recently. Read here:http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2404

Need a car wash at your home? Go to mobilewashexpressja.com to make a booking! (Recommended on Twitter).

Big ups to…

Dr. Carla Ellis served as U.S. Peace Corps Country Director in Jamaica for four years. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Dr. Carla Ellis served as U.S. Peace Corps Country Director in Jamaica for four years. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

U.S. Peace Corps Jamaica Director Carla Ellis, who is departing these shores for Ghana. The  Peace Corps quietly does amazing work around the island. Dr. Ellis says, “Jamaica will always be in my heart…”  And a new U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica has been sworn in. Luis Moreno will arrive in Jamaica with his wife and two daughters after Christmas. He has previously served in Iraq, Haiti, Monterrey/Mexico, Tel Aviv and Bogota.

The new U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno will arrive shortly. Like his predecessor Pamela Bridgewater, Mr. Moreno is not a "political" appointee but a career diplomat.

The new U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno will arrive shortly. Like his predecessor Pamela Bridgewater, Mr. Moreno is not a “political” appointee but a career diplomat.

Stand Up for Jamaica, founded 15 years ago and headed by local human rights activist Maria Carla Gullotta of Amnesty International, which has for some time been involved in an important prison rehabilitation program. Ms. Gullotta was showcasing the work of female prisoners, who make lovely jewelry, at a recent women’s networking event sponsored by the European Union. The organization’s documentary film, “Songs of Redemption,” is very powerful. Doing wonderful work!

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And do you listen to Zanj Radio? If you want to hear an exciting mix of African, reggae, jazz and world music spun by Jamaican deejays on weekend evenings/nights, tune in at http://zanj.org.

 

 

When I see the names of those who have been murdered in the past few days, I feel so deeply saddened. I wonder about their lives, their families, and their last days. My deepest condolences to all those who mourn:

Mark Williams, Barbican, Kingston

Kimberley Bennett, 23, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Kitson Town, St. Catherine (killed by police)

June Peng (sic) – Chinese businessman, 26, Hayes, Clarendon

Constable Orville Preddie, Farm, Manchester

Joseph Senior, 40, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Ginger Hill, St. Elizabeth

So sad: Inspector of Police Andrea Johnson, in charge of Sandy Bay Police Station,  was killed when her SUV plunged into a ravine in Hanover. Inspector Johnson was also a terrific athlete and netballer. (Photo: Contributed to  Gleaner)

So sad: Inspector of Police Andrea Johnson, in charge of Sandy Bay Police Station, was killed when her SUV plunged into a ravine in Hanover. Inspector Johnson was also a terrific athlete and netballer. (Photo: Contributed /Gleaner)

 

Constable Orville Preddie is the second policeman to have been murdered in 2014.

Constable Orville Preddie is the second policeman to have been murdered in 2014.

Fun With Books

The welcoming scent of freshly brewing coffee greeted me as I stepped into my friendly neighborhood bookstore, Bookophilia, two evenings ago.

A small but lively group of us clustered round a table in a cozy corner of the shop, and got to know each other. We were there to talk about our favorite books of 2014. What did we enjoy reading, and why? And why do we all love books, anyway?

A booklover and his Dad after a good browse...

A booklover and his Dad ready to go home after a good browse…

Well, we never stopped talking for two solid hours. Why did we love to read? “Escape” was a word that came up more than once; and the need to “immerse” oneself in a different world – a “new world,” said Tashane – with people we do not know and will never meet. Roshane, the bookstore manager, talked of his teenage years reading a combination of thrillers like the “Goosebumps” series and classics such as the Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Margaret, who is a Kindle reader nowadays, went through a phase of reading all the black women writers she could find – Alice Walker and the like.

Roshane (center) is an Anne Rice fanatic.

Roshane (center) is an Anne Rice fanatic.

Roshane then professed his undying love for the works of Anne Rice. He is just starting on her latest vampire excursion, “Prince Lestat.” Ms. Rice is, of course, a huge bestseller and what Roshane loves about her is that “you can see her growth as an author.”  He also enjoys this about her work: “It makes you feel uncomfortable sometimes.” Well, nothing wrong with that. Who wants to be too comfortable? You might fall asleep. Roshane also recommends “Memnoch the Devil.” You can find Ms. Rice at annerice.com. And at Bookophilia.

Rupert (left) mentioned re-reading "1984" by the way. And Shaquani loves her romance and a touch of the inspirational.

Rupert (left) mentioned re-reading “1984” by the way. And Shaquani loves her romance and a touch of the inspirational.

This led us into a discussion on the incredibly popular genre of fantasy in all its shapes and forms – adult, young adult and – well, children have always loved fantasy, haven’t they. Personally, I grew up in the world of fifties, sixties and seventies science fiction – the worlds of Asimov and Heinlein, Simak and Phillip K. Dick (a number of which were turned into movies, inevitably). I sort of skipped the eventual development of fantasy fiction.

"The Silmarillion" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“The Silmarillion” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

 

 

And as a college student, I was obsessed with J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, long before the somewhat overblown film versions came along. I found a Tolkien addict in our group, one of whose favorite books of the year was “The Silmarillion.” This was published posthumously by Tolkien’s son Christopher in 1977 (and may never become a film, by the way as no one has rights to it).

But back to the current world of fantasy. Many of these books seem to come in rather long series. Many appeal to a young adult audience, and then again to an adult audience at another level. One of the series the bookophiles recommended is “The Mortal Instruments,”  a series of six novels written by Cassandra Clare, the last of which was published this year. The first in the series, “City of Bones,” was made into a film last year. Then there is the “Divergent” trilogy by Veronica Roth. So, if you are trying to get your teen to read more (and of course it’s Christmas time) there are quite a few titles to explore in this genre.

Getting to know each other, and our books...

Getting to know each other, and our books…

Ah, one more which one member of our group highly recommended was “Fevre Dream” - yes, that is the right spelling – written by George R.R. Martin (whose “R.R.” must be a nod to Professor Tolkien, the founder of modern fantasy). It’s not a new book – but it’s another vampire story. Yes folks – vampires and werewolves are still “in.” And of course, Mr. Martin is the author of the amazing “Song of Ice and Fire,” which has been turned into the stunningly addictive “Game of Thrones” television series. You can read much more about him and his work at http://www.georgerrmartin.com.

Dorian Gray, the beautiful and corrupt. Here is a picture from one of the horrendous film versions (this one was in 2009).

Dorian Gray, the beautiful and corrupt. Here is a picture from one of the horrendous film versions (this one was in 2009).

Roshane – who has a taste for nineteenth century classics, I sense – introduced “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde. Absolutely beautiful novel, we observed, with at least two perfectly dreadful film versions. Its recent popularity may be connected with the current taste for the wildly gothic. It has been re-published in a series called “Penny Dreadful,” the name of a television series that combines a number of such fictional characters, including Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

And let’s not forget the Harry Potter series, for which there was universal acclaim. We all agreed that these books got young people reading (avidly) and that adults love them, too. The movies also were generally approved of as being faithful to the books – which is important.

We dabbled a little in romance, too. Shaquani recommended a book the title of which I did not note properly – but it involved seduction and chocolate. Yummy.

Margaret with her recommended book, "The Rose of Martinique."

Textile artist Margaret Stanley with her recommended book, “The Rose of Martinique.”

Margaret shared her current favorite, a biography of the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, a Creole who grew up on a sugar plantation in Martinique. The book, “The Rose of Martinique” by Andrea Stuart, brings Josephine to life, Margaret noted. She is thoroughly enjoying it.

And me? Well, books I enjoyed reading in 2014 are:

“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini – a more multi-layered novel than its two predecessors. A host of wonderful characters, a battered old house in Kabul and a destroyed village.

“At Night We Walk in Circles” by Daniel Alarcón, a U.S.-based writer from Peru. I love books about lonely people. The main character, Nelson is a lonely, lost aspiring actor. I loved Mr. Alarcón’s previous novel, “Lost City Radio.”

I love Latin American novels in general, and enjoyed “Maya’s Notebook” by Isabel Allende – a much more commercially successful writer than most. I still prefer her earlier novels but out of loyalty have to keep reading her latest.

"The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt is her first new book in eleven years, but well worth waiting for.

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt is her first new book in eleven years, but well worth waiting for.

I am currently reading Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” and am completely overwhelmed by it. This is her third novel but the first two – “The Secret History” and “The Little Friend” - were equally mesmerizing, rich and with the entrancing element of danger that draws you in. Oh, how I love Ms. Tartt!

I also delved into much poetry, mostly by Caribbean women – my current favorite being “The Way Home” by Millicent Graham.

Well, we could have continued talking books all night. The time flew, and we felt we had hardly got started. Is a formal Book Club in the offing? Yes, we think it is. Interested, perhaps?

If you would like to join us next month, contact Bookophilia and talk to Roshane. Bookophilia is on Facebook, Twitter @Bookophilia and call them at: (876) 978-5248. They are at 92 Hope Road, Kingston 6 (next to The Paint Shop).

The Unelected

“The Unelected.” That sounds like a movie or TV drama title, doesn’t it? “The Unforgiven.” “The Missing.” And so on.

Yesterday lunchtime, I was gathering my belongings and about to leave Gordon House as a parliamentary committee meeting drew to a close. Anti-corruption campaigner, former politician and University of the West Indies professor Trevor Munroe had just made a submission to the parliamentary Joint Select Committee examining draft legislation to establish a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers. I was honored to join a bright young group of volunteers and staff members from National Integrity Action (NIA), a non-profit lobby group focusing on corruption, transparency and accountability issues in government founded by Professor Munroe three years ago. NIA has been advocating for a single anti-corruption agency for some time now. The Committee held its first meeting in October, and has some way to go in its deliberations, I would say.

Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice, chairs the joint select parliamentary committee examining draft anti-corruption legislation.

Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice, chairs the joint select parliamentary committee examining draft anti-corruption legislation.

But I was stopped in my tracks. I stopped shoveling things into my bag, and listened. Government Senator and Committee member Lambert Brown felt compelled to speak just as the Chair, Minister of Justice Mark Golding was wrapping up. Senator Brown, who had been making some noise earlier about what he saw as the illegitimate power of “non-elected people” (he used the word “divine” at one point) decided to underline his complaint, as a kind of parting shot.

Now, Senator Brown is a trade unionist, with strong socialist credentials, who recently spoke out against the removal of provisions in the Sexual Offences Act legalizing marital rape (aren’t Jamaican citizens his brothers and sisters any more?) But he saw fit to launch into a diatribe against the “loose, irresponsible behavior of civil society.” Jamaican civil society groups, he alleged, are “not accountable” and “not elected” and so its members should not be allowed to sit on public bodies such as the Integrity Commission (which also made a submission at the Committee meeting).

Senator Lambert Brown.

Senator Lambert Brown.

Question: Who elected you, Senator Brown? Answer: He was appointed by the Prime Minister (yes, he is also unelected) thanks to his political loyalty. Fact!

Senator Brown is miffed at the decision by two civil society umbrella groups – the 51% Coalition and the environmental sector – to suspend participation in the Partnership for Jamaica, headed by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. In earlier posts I shared the letters presented by these groups, representing a fair-sized chunk of Jamaican civil society. The withdrawal was prompted by concern over the use of National Housing Trust (NHT) contributors’ money to purchase the Outameni tourist attraction – which seems to have been, on reflection, the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Jamaicans seeking greater transparency and accountability in governance. Those are the concerned citizens that represent “irresponsible” civil society (the Senator repeated this word a few times).

So, you could call Senator Brown’s comments a mere political backlash, in defense of his involvement with the NHT and his continued presence on its board. He was one of those who refused to step down, after several others had resigned in embarrassment. Would he like to see the boards of all government entities stuffed with political hacks and sympathizers? It appears so, although he did not explicitly state it.

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

The erudite Professor Munroe responded swiftly and cogently to the Senator’s dismissal of civil society. The United Nations Convention on Corruption, he noted – which Jamaica has signed onto – specifically mandates governments to encourage the active participation of civil society groups and non-governmental organizations in fighting corruption (see Article 13). If you look at the UN websites you will see anti-corruption training materials for civil society, and so on. Article Three of the Inter-American Convention on Corruption, to which Jamaica is also a signatory, also notes the importance of “mechanisms to encourage participation by civil society and nongovernmental organizations in efforts to prevent corruption.”

There was another aspect of Senator Brown’s comments, not fully reported in the media, which disturbed me. The Senator seemed uncomfortable with the idea of “perception” of corruption by public officials (referring to the Transparency International report) and asked whether there are any reports in Jamaica or elsewhere globally that detail actual corruption. Professor Munroe responded that by its very secretive nature, it is very hard to pin down, but pointed to several sources for anti-corruption information. It is a World Bank indicator. The Global Competitiveness Report and the World Economic Forum pay attention to corruption in their annual reports, for example, as well as the U.S. State Department International Narcotics Strategy Report (INCSR). Closer to home, Professor Munroe noted the DaCosta Commission of Enquiry of 1972 into the administration of a large World Bank loan for education in 1966, which was riddled with corruption; and the controversy over the handling of Operation Pride, which led to the resignation of former Housing Minister Karl Blythe in 2002.

Senator Lambert elaborated further. The Integrity Commission, he noted, had not prosecuted one parliamentarian during the course of forty-one years. This shows that corruption among politicians is mere “perception,” was his clear suggestion. He made some further comments about politicians walking around with this cloud of perception unfairly hanging over their heads, “baseless allegations” made against them, and so on.

Justice Paul Harrison, Chair of the Integrity Commission.

Justice Paul Harrison, Chair of the Integrity Commission.

Senator Brown seems to have missed a couple of things. During his submission to the Committee, the Chair of the Integrity Commission – the retired Justice Paul Harrison, who was appointed in December, 2011 – continually emphasized the Commission’s dire lack of resources. Every year, he reported, the Commission requests a financial analyst and an investigator. Its requests have always fallen on deaf ears. The Commission’s current role is not investigative at all; it has been forced to focus on ensuring that government officials comply with the request to file annual declarations of income and assets. Even then, some do not comply or fail to fully comply with the law in this respect. Minister Golding also noted Government’s tendency to “operate in silos.”  Indeed, despite much talk about “joined-up government,” information-sharing among government agencies is poor. This is a major weakness that the amalgamation of three anti-corruption agencies through this legislation seeks to address. The lack of prosecutions must be seen in this light. As we well know, the current anti-corruption framework is weak and full of holes.

A footnote, here. Responding to Senator Brown’s final outburst, Chair Mark Golding observed, perhaps tellingly: “The issue is the transparency of civil society groups.” We would like to know where civil society groups get their funding from, he commented. Just listing “grants” and “donations” in their ledgers is not enough, he added; we, the Government, would like to know the “source of funding” for these groups.

Yes, Professor Munroe noted, civil society groups must be properly established and registered and Parliament can always move to have them removed from the democratic process if they are, indeed, irresponsible. To which he added, wryly, that we (civil society) would like to know where political parties get their funding from! In my view, frankly, the Government has no right to throw stones from this (less than transparent) glass house at this point in time.

Touché, Professor Munroe. Touché! And that’s for another discussion.

 

Members of the parliamentary Committee who were present yesterday:

Senator Mark Golding (Chair); Arnoldo Brown; Senator Lambert Brown; Delroy Chuck; Senator Imani Duncan Price; Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns; Fitz Jackson; Senator Kamina Johnson Smith; Senator K.D. Knight; Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte; Julian Robinson; Derrick Smith; Senator Alexander Williams.

Minister of National Security Peter Bunting participated in the meeting for a short while, and some of the above members arrived late but it seemed to be a healthy turnout.

The Partnership for Jamaica: Letter from the Environmental Sector to the Prime Minister

Please find below a press release posted by the environmental sector, together with the text of the letter sent to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, to be read out at today’s meeting of the Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ).

Environmental sector suspends attendance at Partnership for Jamaica meetings

Following sector-wide consultation and participation in two meetings with the Governance Committee of the Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ), the environmental sector has written to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller suspending their participation in Partnership for Jamaica meetings.

The letter to the PM outlines the sector’s discomfort with the National Housing Trust/Outameni transactions and regards the handling of this matter as a breach of the Partnership Agreement, which emphasizes accountability and transparency.

“We have asked that our letter to the Prime Minister re read at tomorrow’s Council meeting of the PFJ, so it can be part of the record,” said Diana McCaulay, the environmental representative on the PFJ.

The environmental groups have not yet taken a position on what would be needed for them to return to the table, but discussions are ongoing.

A copy of the letter to the Prime Minister is attached.

Contact:
Diana McCaulay
469-1315

 

December 12, 2014

The Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller, ON, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Office of the Prime Minister
1 Devon Road
Kingston 10

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Partnership for Jamaica

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, hereby inform you of the decision of the environmental sector of civil society to suspend our participation in the meetings of the Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ) with immediate effect. Our decision rests on a point of principle and we suspend our participation as an act of protest. The environmental sector was pleased to be asked to contribute to the partnership process, but over the past sixteen months, we have been profoundly disappointed by the lack of progress towards the transformation in public life, which the Agreement explicitly states is necessary.

We have revisited the commitments signed by the partners. Due to the recent events concerning the Outameni/Orange Valley transactions by the National Housing Trust (NHT) as well as other matters summarized below, we assert that these commitments are not being adhered to by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ).

We take as our point of departure, the general commitments by the GOJ outlined in the PFJ Agreement. We restate them below:

The Government, reaffirming that the key principles of  transparency, accountability, integrity, genuine consultation, thoughtful people-centred action, including gender, youth and environmental awareness, focused on long term national goals, rather than short term political imperatives, are required to engender trust and confidence in all national processes, commit to bring these principles to the partnership process.

We do not consider that these principles have been upheld. The Outameni/Orange Valley transactions display a deplorable lack of transparency and accountability and we consider these transactions to be an inappropriate use of contributors’ funds. We would also like to state this particular issue is not the only concern the environmental sector has raised during our time on the PFJ – others have been documented, presented at meetings and been the subject of formal notification of what we consider to be breaches of the PFJ Agreement. These include the destruction of the riparian zones of the Cabarita River in Westmoreland and the Spring Garden/Black River in Clarendon and the egregious lack of transparency that has attended and continues to attend the announcement of a large transshipment port to be built in the Portland Bight Protected Area.

More generally, we have significant concerns about the way public sector boards are appointed – we do not feel there is the required attention paid to the independence and appropriate expertise of members. We are concerned that the oversight of state boards appears to be lacking – demonstrated, in this case, by the lack of knowledge at the Office of the Prime Minister of this controversial transaction.

It is particularly disturbing that despite the public’s clear lack of confidence in the Board of the NHT, the decision of the Cabinet is to retain the Chairman and the members who refused to resign, apparently to conduct business as usual. We find these actions unacceptable.

We all affirm our commitment to development for Jamaica that demonstrates due regard for the island’s natural resources which underpin our economy, our quality of life and our future. We further affirm our belief that openness, transparency, integrity and the rule of law are indeed the foundations for building trust, good governance and a progressive society. We continue to hope that the kind of transformation that is articulated in the Partnership for Jamaica Agreement will occur, but until we see the GOJ taking concrete steps to meet its own commitments, we will not participate.

Yours sincerely,

Signed on behalf of the below organizations and individuals.

Organizations (in alphabetical order)

BirdsCaribbean                                                                           Dr. Ann Sutton

Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation      Ingrid Parchment

Countrystyle Community Tourism Network                   Diana McIntyre-Pike

Jamaica Caves Organization                                                 Jan Pauel

Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust            Dr. Susan Otuokon

Jamaica Environment Trust                                                  Diana McCaulay

Northern Jamaica Conservation Association                 Wendy Lee

Plant Conservation Centre                                                     Andreas Oberli

Portland Environmental Protection Association          Machel Donegan

South Trelawny Environmental Agency                           Hugh Dixon

Windsor Research Centre                                                       Michael Schwartz

Individuals

Rev. Peter Espeut

John Fletcher

Catherine Levy

Karen McDonald Gayle

Stephen Hodges

Dr. Kurt McLaren

Dr. Byron Wilson

 

The Partnership for Jamaica: Letter from the 51% Coalition to the Prime Minister

Please see below a letter to the Prime Minister submitted by 51% Coalition re: the suspension of participation of the Women’s Sector in meetings of the Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ). This was delivered to Jamaica House a little after 2pm yesterday (December 15). The Coalition has requested the Governance Committee to read the letter at today’s PFJ meeting – Tuesday, December 16, 2014, so it will form part of the record.

December 15, 2014

The Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller, ON, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Office of the Prime Minister
1 Devon Road
Kingston 10
RE: Partnership for Jamaica
Dear Madam Prime Minister:

We submit this letter to you as Chair of the Partnership of Jamaica and ask that it be tabled and read for the minutes of the meeting of the Partnership to be held tomorrow, December 16, 2014.

The Representatives of the Women’s Sector are deeply concerned by the several breaches which have occurred since the signing of the Partnership for Jamaica Agreement. These breaches go to the heart of, and profoundly contradict, the commitment to transparency and accountability which was made by the Government. The circumstances related to the purchase of the Orange Grove/Outameni property/buildings by the National Housing Trust (NHT), are the most recent and particularly grievous manifestation.

The Partnership forJamaica (PFJ), signed July 31, 2013, acknowledged that, “levels of trust across the Jamaican society are extremely low” and that “mistrust that exists due to deception, secrecy, inequality, authoritarianism, disrespect and egoism may intensify under conditions of crisis.” Yet, despite this recognition, since the signing of the PFJ actions of different Ministries, departments and agencies of government have broken laws (in the case of environmental breaches by the Ministry of Agriculture), flouted established guidelines (as in the actions of Minister Azan in the Spaulding market matter) and severely undermined trust (for instance the controversies related to the 380 megawatt project and now the NHT matter). We add to the list the poor handling of the sale of Goat Islands Port, and the outbreak of the Chikungunya Virus.

The Government’s stated commitment in the Partnership forJamaica Agreement was to “transparency, accountability, integrity, genuine consultation and thoughtful people centred government focused on long-term national goals rather than short-term political imperatives.” At the signing of the Agreement, the women’s sector stood with pride and a feeling that we were about to see a ‘new day’ in Jamaica. At that time, our distinct feeling was that this Partnership would be the one to begin a process of transformation that would be marked as a defining moment in the history of our country and ourpeople.

Despite the missteps and concerns we have stayed true to the process, we have been candid and committed, honest and sincere in all of our engagements with the Partnership. While we want to stay at the table and we believe that this is perhaps the best opportunity we have to really turn things around for Jamaica, we are concerned that without clear, measurable and resolute change by the government, our remaining at the table would be tantamount to supporting and endorsing a process which lacks sincerity and merely pays ‘lip-service’ to the Agreement.

We, the Women’s Sector, are clear about our right to sit at the table. However, we decided to suspend our attendance at meetings of the Partnership in order to clearly indicate that we want to see tangible signs from our government that there is a firm and unwavering commitment to the principles of good governance.

The NHT matter has severely eroded trust in the stewardship of the Board in general and its Chairman in particular. Adding new members, who remain a minority on the Board did not restore confidence. Several sectors have expressed this publicly.

We believe therefore that the government should demonstrate that it has listened to the several sectors – church, private sector, women, environment and many members of the general public, and turn its attention to a process of trust-building and genuine consultation. We ask therefore that, as a demonstration of good faith with the people, as an act of recommitment to ensuring good stewardship and governance, that:

  • Easton Douglas be removed as Chairman of the National Housing Trust;
  • The current Board be monitored diligently to apply the provisions of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act, and to provide timely and full reports on the operations of the NHT to the people of Jamaica;
  • The composition of the NHT Board be adjusted to increase the number of women to be in line with the commitment to gender equality, as stated in Millennium Development Goal (3), and reflected in the National Policy on Gender Equality;
  • Ensure that the PFJ appoints a Secretariat to manage and monitor the Partnership process using a goal centred approach. Additionally, we are concerned that without thoughtful management the Partnership might become a mere ‘talk-shop’.

This letter will be shared with the other members of the Partnership. We look forward to meaningful dialogue and prompt action on the matter.
Yours Sincerely,

51% Coalition – Association of Women’s Organisations in Jamaica, Carol Narcisse, Dawn Roper, Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Jamaica Household Workers Union, Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers, Jamaica Women’s Political Caucus, Joan Grant Cummings, Joan French, Marcia Forbes, Panos Caribbean, Sistren Theatre Collective, WMW Jamaica, Women Business Owners, Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre and Young Women’s Leadership Initiative.

Social Media and Politicians, Entertaining Dolphins and Recycling: Monday, December 15, 2014

It’s been raining forcefully every afternoon for the past few days. Afternoons are gloomy, and evenings fill with rain. This must be dampening the Christmas season; shopkeepers and vendors are complaining.

The Instagram Minister, redux: Yesterday the Gleaner newspaper revived the issue of Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna’s regular postings of her well-toned body on social media. This already seems an “old” issue, but traditional media has just caught up. I am doubtful about politicians using social media to build their personal fan club in this way. But clearly this is a strategy, and since the Minister is a politician I assume it is a political strategy. Perhaps this is what women leaders in Jamaica feel they have to do to gain credibility and influence people – which is a sad commentary, if so. Very sad.

Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna at the Opening of Parliament. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna at the Opening of Parliament. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

But why are we discussing Ms. Hanna’s “curvaceous thighs”? I am more interested in what she is doing for the youth – in particular, our most at-risk and marginalized children and young people – and her work on behalf of the Jamaican people. But all I hear about is her physical beauty. She is not a beauty queen any more; she is a government official. She should not get the two “persona” mixed up. What about the children’s homes? And how is she representing her St. Ann constituency? Does Minister Hanna really want to be defined by her six-pack?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller…Keeping the party in check on the social media.

Social media and the politicians: An underlying issue is how public figures handle their private lives vs their public ones. They need to handle social media with care. Many Jamaicans seem to see nothing wrong with mixing it all up. Interesting that today’s Gleaner front page stories both deal with social media. The Prime Minister (who celebrated her 79th birthday last week) is apparently uncomfortable with some People’s National Party members who have expressed their views on the Outameni issue on social media (including Julian Robinson; I always read his tweets and think he uses Twitter well and responsibly. But…)

NIS running out of money? Reports have emerged that the National Insurance Fund for state pensions is likely to have run out by 2020 (so soon!) Experts say the NIS is in a “really bad state” and the contribution should be doubled to ten per cent. There are currently 108,000 Jamaicans receiving the (very modest) old age pension. Some of it is actually diverted to the National Health Fund – an excellent scheme providing cheaper drugs that many Jamaicans, including pensioners, benefit from.

jduk_nht

The Outameni issue (and, I believe, the mishandling of the chikungunya outbreak) appears to have put quite a dent in the administration’s popularity – and it’s not just the opinion of the “articulate minority” that comments on social media. Civil society has had its say on Outameni and the Opposition has filed questions in Parliament. Is that it? Can the Simpson Miller administration (and the NHT board) now relax and consider the matter over? According to a poll released today, 87 per cent of Jamaicans have reported that their family has been affected by “chik v” – 38 per cent severely affected. Also alarmingly, 49 per cent said they did not believe the virus was transmitted by mosquitoes, which means that the public education campaign fell down badly.

An upside-down dolphin with young woman in tow. (Photo: Dolphin Cove website)

An upside-down dolphin with young woman in tow. (Photo: Dolphin Cove website)

Dolphins for entertainment: The operators of a tourist attraction called Dolphin Cove (which caters largely to cruise ship passengers) have received the Jamaica Observer’s annual Business Award. They have sharks and stingrays, too. Personally I am not at all comfortable with a business that offers wild animals, held in captivity, for entertainment. Is the term “in their natural environment “ accurate? Can the dolphins really come and go as they please? How were they caught in the first place? The fact that people from Sea World visit and “look after” the dolphins does not bode well. Sea World is under severe pressure because of its alleged despicable treatment of magnificent wild marine mammals. The documentary film “Blackfish” is really shocking. 

The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) captured this photo of a dolphin close to Goat Island. Several more were diving under the boat at the time. (Photo: C-CAM)

The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) captured this photo of a dolphin close to Goat Islands. Several more were diving under the boat at the time. (Photo: C-CAM)

Dolphins actually can be seen in the wild all around the island – for example, around Goat Islands in Old Harbour Bay, and even close to Kingston Harbour. I actually had the company of two dolphins when swimming in San San Bay, Portland a few years ago! I have had unforgettable experiences whale-watching (plenty of dolphins too!) in Monterey, California. That to me is far more exciting and inspiring than a dolphin standing on its head and begging “rewards” for its cute behavior – and would be a tremendous tourist attraction, too. But this government continually looks away from eco-tourism.

Minister of Tourism Dr. Wykeham McNeill. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Tourism Dr. Wykeham McNeill. (Photo: JIS)

But on the topic of tourism – the outlook is rosy as the season begins today – according to the Minister and other players in the industry. Ever upbeat! January through October Jamaica 1.7 million stopover visitors, a 3.1 percent increase over the same period last year. The Minister expects the increase to double.

I am glad to see the Police High Command is taking a firm stance on freedom of the press. After a freelance journalist was arrested recently, the Commissioner’s Office pointed out that media should be allowed to film and record situations involving the police. The Gleaner reports it has followed up with a general reminder to the Jamaica Constabulary Force personnel that “the recording of people, activities or items plainly visible in public spaces is not a violation of Jamaican laws.” But otherwise? There seem to be grey areas that would be worth further investigation.

Perhaps I missed this, but what is the latest on A) the Trafigura court case and B) the 350 megawatt power project? Anybody?

Kudos to all! 

Loshusan Supermarket New Kingston employs three young people with disabilities at checkout. I am told the service is excellent. This is the inclusiveness that Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation Samantha Chantrelle was referring to at the Foundation’s excellent Special Needs Forum last week.

Mayor Angela Brown-Burke, chairman of the KSAC. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Mayor Angela Brown-Burke, chairman of the KSAC. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Mayor Angela Brown Burke and the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) plan to increase AIDS awareness as well as seek to reduce stigma and discrimination. Ms. Brown Burke just returned from a UNAIDS Conference and I hope that the resolution passed by the KSAC will bring about positive results.

The recycling plant in Trinity, St Mary, which was officially launched on December 4. ({Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The recycling plant in Trinity, St Mary, which was officially launched on December 4. ({Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Hurrah! The first recycling collection point has opened in St. Mary on land provided by the local parish council. This is a project of Recycling Partners (a public-private sector program spearheaded by Francois Chalifour of Wisynco and other business people). I wrote about it in ECCO Magazine’s “Green Your Biz” newsletters in August and September. Take a look at the September edition here: http://issuu.com/eccomagazine/docs/sept_gyb_newsletter__1_  August issue, including my interview with Mr. Chalifour, is here: http://issuu.com/eccomagazine/docs/august_gyb_newsletter_final That’s for plastic bottles; I wish we could do something about styrofoam, now.

Award-winning artist Ebony Patterson's "Lilies, Carnations and Rozebuds (from Dead Treez)" installation at Devon House. (Photo: National Gallery of Art Jamaica)

Award-winning artist Ebony Patterson’s “Lilies, Carnations and Rozebuds (from Dead Treez)” installation at Devon House. (Photo: National Gallery of Art Jamaica)

Congrats to the winner of the 2014 Aaron Matalon Award - Ebony G. Patterson; and the co-winners of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Kimani Beckford and Camille Chedda! ‪The winners were announced at the official opening yesterday of JamaicaBiennial 2014‬, which was an exciting event. The Biennial is a must-see!

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and Member of Parliament for East Rural St. Andrew, Hon. Damion Crawford (2nd L), discusses aspects of the mitigation strategies to be implemented in the Bedward Gardens community with Research Analyst at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Christopher Gayle (L), and Councillor for the area Artnel McDonald (R). Occasion was the breaking of ground for the mitigation project on Thursday (Dec.11) in the community.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and Member of Parliament for East Rural St. Andrew Damion Crawford (2nd L), discusses aspects of the mitigation strategies to be implemented in the Bedward Gardens community with Research Analyst at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Christopher Gayle (L), and Councillor for the area Artnel McDonald (R). Occasion was the breaking of ground for the mitigation project on Thursday (Dec.11) in the community.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is implementing a landslide and flood mitigation project in Bedward Gardens, August Town; it is part of a US$2.4 million Landslide Risk Reduction and Mitigation Program. I am not sure who the funder is.

As of Saturday evening, there were 307 fatalities on the road this year, surpassing last year’s total of 291 for the same period. Speeding appears to be a major cause. Interviewed on television, the traffic police said they did indeed conduct speed checks on Hope Road (an area I mentioned recently that is known for its “racing”) and wrote 25 tickets for speeding in two hours. The police also warned parents about allowing their teenage children to go out late at night and return early in the morning – often driven by someone who has had too much to drink. Please be careful people, over the holiday season!

Professor Alvin Wint of the University of the West Indies feels the local media have not been fully reporting on a steady decline in the murder rate – not just this year but over the past two to three years. He may have a point. I think the sense is that with the general crime rate remaining high, and the murder rate still one of the highest in the world, we are not seeing enough of a reduction. In a way, we are not “feeling” it. My sympathies to the families of the following: 

Dale Davis, teen, Tivoli Gardens (killed by security forces – INDECOM)

Sadene Jackson,   (the victim allegedly met her killer on Facebook)

Alphanso Douglas, 55, Beacon Hill, St. Thomas

The name of the gunman who fired at music promoter Corey Todd outside his Montego Bay nightclub last Thursday is 25-year-old Corey Grant of Kingston. Mr. Grant was shot dead at the scene by an off-duty policeman.

Here, There and Everywhere

The past couple of weeks have been a little… well, busy would be an understatement. Here are a few quick highlights of some significant happenings in Kingston, Jamaica – a kind of growing intensity of pre-Christmas madness. This has all been interspersed with daily showers of rain, many heavy and lengthy and soaking in nature – an unusually wet December, so far. It is in a way rather a shame that so many events have been squeezed into a short space of time, with many occurring on the same evening. I am not very good at dashing from one place to another; I am lacking in physical stamina these days, especially since the “chik v” arrived. Well – we will all collapse over Christmas soon enough I suppose, with a glass of sorrel in our hand and platefuls of ham, Christmas cake and other goodies… Enjoy!

Two speakers at the National Volunteer Symposium, Miguel "Steppa" Williams and Kimberley Issa Sherlock chat at the JN Foundation's National Volunteer Symposium on December 5. (My photo)

Two speakers at the National Volunteer Symposium, Miguel “Steppa” Williams and Kimberley Issa Sherlock chat at the JN Foundation’s National Volunteer Symposium on December 5. (My photo)

Pale poinsettias at the Knutsford Court Hotel. (My photo)

Pale poinsettias at the Knutsford Court Hotel. (My photo)

The back of Devon House lit up on December 9. There was the opening of an art exhibition inside and downstairs we were on the verandah at the Resolution Project book launch. (My photo)

The back of Devon House lit up on December 9. There was the opening of an art exhibition inside and downstairs we were on the verandah at the Resolution Project book launch. (My photo)

Jamaica AIDS Support for Life staff members selling the delicious scented candles from Life's Work at the World AIDS Day Breakfast. (Photo: J-FLAG)

Jamaica AIDS Support for Life staff members selling the delicious scented candles from Life’s Work at the World AIDS Day Breakfast. (Photo: J-FLAG)

Senator Floyd Morris joins our group discussion on special needs and education at the Digicel Foundation's Tenth Anniversary Forum on Special Needs: "Towards Disability Inclusion." (My photo)

Senator Floyd Morris joins our group discussion on special needs and education at the Digicel Foundation’s Tenth Anniversary Forum on Special Needs: “Towards Disability Inclusion.” (My photo)

Here I am welcoming guests at J-FLAG's 16th Birthday celebrations and giving them all a clap! (Photo: J-FLAG)

Here I am welcoming guests at J-FLAG’s 16th Birthday celebrations and giving them all a clap! (Photo: J-FLAG)

Respect due! Participants in Respect Jamaica's first panel discussion under the theme 'Inspiring Respect: The Power of the Individual' with panelists: Dr. K'adamawe Kn'Ife, Tanya Stephens, Father Rev. Sean Major Campbell and Cindy Breakspeare. (Photo: Respect Jamaica)

Respect due! Participants in Respect Jamaica’s first panel discussion under the theme ‘Inspiring Respect: The Power of the Individual’ with panelists: Dr. K’adamawe Kn’Ife, Tanya Stephens, Father Rev. Sean Major Campbell and Cindy Breakspeare. (Photo: Respect Jamaica)

Women becoming empowered by social media training at WMW Jamaica with UN Women at WMW offices last week. They are all now tweeting madly! (Photo: Patricia Phillips/WMW Jamaica)

Women becoming empowered by social media training at WMW Jamaica with UN Women at WMW offices last week. They are all now tweeting madly! (Photo: Patricia Phillips/WMW Jamaica)

The tremendously supportive Dr. Denise Chevannes of the National Family Planning Board of Jamaica chats with U.S. Peace Corps' Anthony Hron before J-FLAG's 16th Anniversary celebrations. (My photo)

The tremendously supportive Dr. Denise Chevannes of the National Family Planning Board of Jamaica chats with U.S. Peace Corps’ Anthony Hron before J-FLAG’s 16th Anniversary celebrations. (My photo)

It was a listening and learning experience at the National Volunteer Symposium organized by JN Foundation, Cuso International and CVSS on December 5. (My photo)

It was a listening and learning experience at the National Volunteer Symposium organized by JN Foundation, Cuso International and CVSS on December 5. (My photo)

European Union Ambassador Paola Amadei welcomes guests to the EU's Women's Networking Event at the National Gallery of Jamaica. (My photo)

European Union Ambassador Paola Amadei welcomes guests to the EU’s Women’s Networking Event at the National Gallery of Jamaica. (My photo)

Invitation to J-FLAG's 16th Birthday Celebrations on International Human Rights Day.

Invitation to J-FLAG’s 16th Birthday Celebrations on International Human Rights Day.

Chair of Digicel Foundation Jean Lowrie-Chin (left) in deep discussion with UNAIDS Country Director Kate Spring at the World AIDS Day Breakfast Forum. (Photo: J-FLAG)

Chair of Digicel Foundation Jean Lowrie-Chin (left) in deep discussion with UNAIDS Country Director Kate Spring at the World AIDS Day Breakfast Forum. (Photo: J-FLAG)

Nineteen-year-old Mikhail Henry of Glenmuir High School is one of the featured youth photographers in the amazing book "Take a Look at My World," featuring work from the JN Foundation's Resolution Project. Here he is autographing a page for a group of admiring women. (My photo)

Nineteen-year-old Mikhail Henry of Glenmuir High School is one of the featured youth photographers in the amazing book “Take a Look at My World,” featuring work from the JN Foundation’s Resolution Project. Here he is autographing a page for a group of admiring women. (My photo)

 

Color Pink Group's candlelight vigil on International Human Rights Day  (Photo: Kate Chappell)

Color Pink Group’s candlelight vigil on International Human Rights Day – remembering those who have passed on. (Photo: Kate Chappell)