Easy Business, Talking on the Phone and Thanks to the Cubans: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This week has been interesting so far. There is always something new popping up. And at the same time, the same old dreary issues drag their way along from one end of the week to the next, and the next…

A member of staff of the Cornwall Regional Hospital displays one of several Hazmat suits, which the hospital has acquired, as it prepares for the threat of the Ebola virus. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

A member of staff of the Cornwall Regional Hospital displays one of several Hazmat suits, which the hospital has acquired, as it prepares for the threat of the Ebola virus. (How often can these suits be used?) (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Talking diseases: Yes, it’s Jamaica’s obsession. An audience of Jamaicans in business clothes packed an auditorium in New Kingston after work last night to hear what the Minister of Health and others had to say about A) the rampant chik v (chikungunya), which we are so sick and tired of; and B) Ebola, which we are all anxious about. It was live streaming on the Internet so I watched at home (ironically, suffering from a badly swollen foot and painful knees – thanks, chik v).

Dr. Fenton Ferguson, Minister of Health.

Dr. Fenton Ferguson, Minister of Health.

The most engaging presentation was from Disease Prevention and Control Advisor at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr. Kam Mung. I learnt a great deal. Dennis Chung of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica was very keen on border controls; perhaps this can work for Jamaica, being a small island, although many countries are not in favor of it, it seems. The Health Minister, still playing catch up and still anxious to redeem himself in the eyes of a cynical public, made a speech and fielded questions. If you look at the Jamaica Information Service website you will see a string of press releases about Jamaica’s Ebola preparedness. Yes, we are on the ball this time it seems – after the chik v fiasco. We are all a little jaded, though. With my swollen foot, I know I am.

The first batch of Cuban doctors arrived in Conakry, Guinea this week. (Photo: Voice of America)

The first batch of Cuban doctors arrived in Conakry, Guinea this week. In this photo, doctors wait for a press briefing in Havana on October 21. (Photo: Voice of America)

But, hooray for the Cubans! Dr. Ferguson spent about half his speech talking about how the Cubans, with their highly superior medical expertise, are coming to our rescue with Ebola preparedness. He was there with a large delegation last week, for four days. Cuban experts are coming over to “train the trainers” in hospitals – and are even coming over to train us in vector control, too! Wow. I thought that perhaps we knew something about vector control, after all these years? Jamaicans always speak of Cuba’s health system in awestruck tones. I don’t see any reason why Jamaica couldn’t (or doesn’t) have the capacity to train our own doctors. And do the Cubans have any more expertise in Ebola than Jamaicans? OK, I know they have just sent a lot of doctors to West Africa. I suppose they are now starting to get the experience they never had before. The Minister said: “Cuba will share information with Jamaica daily on the progress of the Ebola response in West Africa through its Control Center, to keep us updated on the epidemiological situation and other important information required for decision making.” Great, but why can’t we have our own Control Center? And what if someone with Ebola lands on our shores tomorrow? I suppose a few Cubans will have to come dashing over here to help.

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So easy to do business!  Like the latest hit by Rihanna, Jamaica has zoomed up the charts (from 94 to 58 out of 189 global economies) in the World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business Report. At last, something nice for Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton to talk about. Jamaica has been reducing the many steps needed to start a business and passing legislation, which the Minister concedes was in accordance with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) desires and with technical assistance from them. In the report we did poorly in Paying Taxes and Registering Property, but very well in Starting a Business and Getting Credit. We are actually the easiest country to do business in the Caribbean! So says the report. Next is Trinidad & Tobago at 79th. You can find the summary for Jamaica at http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/jamaica/

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

I am reminded, though, of the Minimum Business Tax of J$60,000 per annum now required by law, which was noted as “a change making it more difficult to do business.” It came into effect on April 1 this year.

An offshore drilling rig. The Canadian firm that started drilling near Pedro Cays in 2012, Sagres, moved on to greener pastures in Colombia.

An offshore drilling rig. The Canadian firm that started drilling near Pedro Cays in 2012, Sagres, moved on to greener pastures in Colombia.

Searching for oil: I hear that there is oil under the seabed somewhere near Pedro Cays. The Minister of Finance mentioned in a speech at the Schomburg Center in New York this evening that an initial seismic analysis has been done and a company has bought rights to drill for oil. A couple of years ago a Canadian company had a license for oil drilling but could not find a partner and didn’t have the funds, so the license was withdrawn.

The Minister’s speech was entitled “Jamaica’s Path to Prosperity” (define “prosperity”) and you can watch it here: http://go-jamaica.com/cinlectureseries/  I understand there was a question from the audience about the proposed Chinese development of a transshipment port on Goat Islands in a protected area, in connection with Jamaican sovereignty etc. The Minister assured him there was nothing to worry about. Well, the Sri Lankans, Kenyans and others are worried about such matters related to the very same Chinese company and its parent company, according to press reports. We should heed these stories. They are instructive.

Cocktails at the New York Stock Exchange? Why not! (Photo: infobarrel.com)

Cocktails at the New York Stock Exchange? Why not! (Photo: infobarrel.com)

The NY Stock Exchange is going to give our Finance Minister a little party tomorrow, I understand. A cocktail party on the floor of the Exchange after the bell has rung, and an interview with CNBC. How lovely. (But we don’t have any listings on the NYSE do we? Oh, well). Anyway… Cheers! (Clink).

This is all wonderful, and the IMF adores Jamaica, but What about the Jamaican man/woman on the street? Are we feeling it? And if not, when will we feel it?

Meanwhile, our ministers (and one junior minister in particular) are racking up huge amounts in telephone bills, paid for by those suckers, the Jamaican taxpayers. More details later…

Witnesses for the Tivoli Gardens Commission of Enquiry, which opens on December 1, are slow in coming forward, I understand. This is extremely important – for our democracy and for the cause of human rights and for the victims’ families to have closure. 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)

Former Financial Secretary and Chair of the PetroCaribe Development Fund Dr. Wesley Hughes (Photo: Gleaner)

Former Financial Secretary and Chair of the PetroCaribe Development Fund Dr. Wesley Hughes (Photo: Gleaner)

Not too worried: Head of the PetroCaribe program in Jamaica Wesley Hughes didn’t sound too worried about its future when interviewed this week, saying he had been given “assurances at the highest level” that it will continue until at least 2016, when the current IMF program ends. But oil prices are declining and Venezuela’s economy is teetering on the edge of a very high cliff. Dr. Hughes says, though, that PetroCaribe is flexible” and the debt is payable over the next 25 years. So, cool…

Garbage scattered at a section of the Lucea Municipal Bus Park at the edge of the Lucea harbor a few months ago. The town has had a serious garbage-management problem for many years. - (Photo: Christopher Bodden)

Garbage scattered at a section of the Lucea Municipal Bus Park at the edge of the Lucea harbor a few months ago. The town has had a serious garbage-management problem for many years. Just one example. Has it been cleared up yet? (Photo: Christopher Bodden)

The horrors of garbage: It’s nearly Hallowe’en and there are nasty things stalking the city. Seriously, Jamaicans don’t generally celebrate Hallowe’en. They are superstitious about it and take it far too seriously. Personally I love “things that go bump in the night.” But what has happened to this so-called cleanup to prevent various infectious diseases? The National Solid Waste Management Agency has disappeared again, only coming to collect our garbage every two to three weeks. By this point, one corner of our yard stinks. We pour insecticide into our bin to destroy the assorted maggots etc. (ugh!!) that are breeding there. Our street (which is quite pleasant to look at normally) is strewn with bits of garbage, plastic bottles and so on from top to bottom. A friend on Twitter had the fright of his life last night in Papine, jumping into passing traffic as an army of rats shot out from a large pile of garbage nearby. Please, let’s not pretend there’s a “cleanup” going on!

Why is our bee population declining? I still see plenty in our yard – we have quite a lot of flowering bushes – but I hear honey is in very short supply and beekeepers have declining populations. I know it is a global concern, but I understand the Jamaican issues are pesticides (the horrible stuff they use for mosquito fogging kills bees); the summer-long drought; and I think there was a disease that reduced the numbers, initially. Climate change is, no doubt, a factor too…

Please read my latest article for the Gleaner online (they come out every Tuesday) on the truly selfless, dedicated work of Pat, Joy and the young mothers of Eve for Life: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2294  It’s a tribute, of sorts.

Throwing out bouquets to:

Barbara Blake Hannah receives her Caribbean Hall of Fame Award on October 25 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. (Photo: Facebook)

Barbara Blake Hannah received her Caribbean Hall of Fame Award on October 25 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. (Photo: Facebook)

  • Barbara Blake Hannah, who was inducted into the Caribbean Hall of Fame last weekend at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. The citation was: “The Caribbean Development for the Arts, Sports & Culture Foundation, in association with the Caribbean Community and UNESCO, is pleased to induct Mrs. Barbara Blake Hannah into the Caribbean Hall of Fame in recognition for her outstanding contribution in the field of film.” Showers of blessings on you, Barbara. Well deserved!  

Ending on a gloomy note, I am afraid, with condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who have been murdered in the past three days. I also wish the policeman who was shot and injured in Hatfield, Manchester a speedy recovery. He came to the assistance of a man (a witness in a court case) who was reportedly shot dead outside his home on Monday evening.

Colin Mann, 43, Kensington Crescent, New Kingston

Roderick Brown, 47, Newlands, St. Catherine

Fitzroy Johnson, 40, Rocky Point, Clarendon

Dwight Goodwin, 43, Hatfield, Manchester

Unidentified man, Good Hope, Westmoreland

Trashing Court Cases, Land Grabbing and Hubbing: Sunday, October 26, 2014

It really has been a strange week. Moreover, Kingston has reverted to drought mode, which is not good. Thunder – yes; rain – no…

In quieter times: A rainy day in Rockfort, where I attended a meeting of the business community with Youth Opportunities Unlimited. (My photo)

In quieter times: A rainy day in Rockfort, where I attended a meeting of the business community with Youth Opportunities Unlimited. (My photo)

In the wake of the wave of murders, the people of Rockfort are not co-operating with the police. It’s a case of “See no evil, hear no evil…” If they don’t give any information to the police… Well, they will find it much harder to catch the bad guys and nothing…nothing will change in that community. In a few weeks’ time, the gang activity will get going again, and again they will say nothing, and so on and so on. There were a good few eye-witnesses to last week’s shootings, but not a word (they say it was too dark). But this is not a large community; they must know something. Meanwhile, three of their neighbors are dead and six still in hospital. It could be them next time. The silent ones.

Minister of Justice Mark Golding

Minister of Justice Mark Golding

Throwing out cases: I am a little worried about comments made by Justice Minister Mark Golding in the Upper House on Friday. He said he was considering the possibility of legislation to allow cases that have not been tried in the Resident Magistrate Courts for more than two years to be thrown out. Am I unnecessarily concerned? Minister Golding said the idea was to start with the “less serious” cases, but that if it worked, “we will move up from there.” Move up and throw out more serious cases? I am not very good at legal matters, so perhaps I am missing something. If the trial hasn’t even started, I guess… But I am afraid this might be open to abuse, especially considering the shambolic state of our justice system. The backlog is already ballooning. Perhaps someone can enlighten me on this.

Young Jamaica gets fired up… looking really serious in this tweeted photo!

Young Jamaica gets fired up… looking really serious in this tweeted photo!

The young ones: It seems the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is seeking to energize its young people. Young Jamaica (its grassroots youth arm, which has been rather dormant in recent years) had a meeting this evening and tweeted a bunch of photos (here’s one). Both JLP leader Andrew Holness and Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw made rousing speeches, I hear.

Former Financial Secretary and Chair of the PetroCaribe Development Fund Dr. Wesley Hughes (Photo: Gleaner)

Former Financial Secretary and Chair of the PetroCaribe Development Fund Dr. Wesley Hughes. He has often said he expects the arrangement to continue. No problem?  (Photo: Gleaner)

PetroCaribe looking wobbly: How is Jamaica going to “cushion” the impact of the possible demise of the PetroCaribe oil deal with Venezuela (to use the Gleaner’s expression)? OK, we know Jamaica now has an arrangement to repay part of its debt to Venezuela “in kind” (in clinker) and Jamaica continues to benefit from the oil export arrangement to the tune of some US$500 million annually. Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw recently questioned the way in which the PetroCaribe Development Fund is being used – for example, to pay J$2.89 billion from the Consolidated Fund into PetroCaribe to facilitate the divestment of the Wallenford Coffee Company! I noted in June that a consultant hired to do a risk assessment on the project had been fired for various reasons; was someone else hired? I also noted in March that the PetroCaribe office, headed by Dr. Wesley Hughes, had just moved into larger, more expensive offices in New Kingston and even taken on new staff. You can find good background on the history and development of PetroCaribe on the excellent diGJamaica website here: http://digjamaica.com/petrocaribe Is Jamaica really prepared for the economic fallout?

Former chair of the Urban Development Corporation, Dr Vincent Lawrence chairs the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET).

Former chair of the Urban Development Corporation, Dr Vincent Lawrence chairs the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET).

Those elusive megawatts: While other countries in the Caribbean and around the world are forging ahead with various power projects – including a push to renewables – I feel we are shilly-shallying about on the vexed issue of the planned major expansion. Why did the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET)  push back the procurement to the first quarter of next year? Am I missing something? Also, why has the amended Electricity Act been similarly delayed?

The global Chinese (secret) land grab: Meanwhile, the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka has been reporting on the controlling stake obtained by Chinese state-owned companies (including the parent company of our China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) China Communication Construction Company (CCCC)) in Colombo’s new Hambatota Port. Sri Lankans have been surprised to learn that an agreement was signed back in 2010, but there were no tenders or prior announcements. Transparency? Nah, not much. The newspaper has not been able to obtain copies of relevant agreements. It also reports CCCC will receive 108 hectares of the Colombo Port City to cover its investment costs.” It also points to “still unanswered questions on how this project which proposes to give ownership of newly constructed [reclaimed] land to a foreign company would affect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom and rights of the citizens and as to whether the judicial structure of the country would apply to the newly constructed area.” Any of this sound familiar? 

Francis "Paco" Kennedy, President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, died in Florida Sunday aged  74. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Francis “Paco” Kennedy, President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, died in Florida Sunday aged 74. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

And how is the logistics hub going? Apart from the threatened transshipment port on Goat Islands of course, which is separate and under the purview of our wily Transport Minister Omar Davies, I am not hearing much about it. I believe Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton is the point man, and he seems rather quiet. One person who was a very keen promoter of the hub was the President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Francis Kennedy, who sadly passed away in a Florida hospital early today. My condolences to his family.

There has been much interesting and useful discussion on the parliamentary review of the Sexual Offences Act. Marital rape has been a particularly vexed issue. As Dionne Jackson-Miller notes in her excellent piece (you can find it on “Opinions,” a page that RJR News is trying to ramp up on its website): “A married woman in Jamaica can only complain that she has been raped by her husband in very limited circumstances.” There is much work to be done here.

The DIGICEL/JFF Grassroots programme continued with the staging of a festival at Sabina Park on Saturday, September 27th. (Photo: Jamaica Football Federation)

Football on a cricket pitch: the DIGICEL/JFF Grassroots programme continued with the staging of a festival at Sabina Park on Saturday, September 27th. (Photo: Jamaica Football Federation/JFF)

And on a sporting note: The West Indies cricket team – once touted as a lovely example of “Caribbean unity,” at least in the former English colonies – imploded recently in India. What a mess, and what were the players thinking? I am not a cricket fan, but was a little surprised to hear that a few days ago there was a football competition sponsored by LIME going on at the hallowed ground of Sabina Park in Kingston, and this isn’t the first time. Cricketers are always so fussy about their grounds – how can kicking a football around help? Or is this a sign of the times? (On the other hand, I understand that the National Stadium, where football is normally played, is in very bad condition. I guess there’s no money for that).

Thank you and “big ups” to:

Left to right: Owen James, Wyvolyn Gager and Franklin McKnight.

Left to right: Owen James, Wyvolyn Gager and Franklin McKnight.

  • The astute and intelligent “veteran” journalist Franklin McKnight, a Fulbright Scholar and former head of the Press Association of Jamaica, who now heads the Irie FM newsroom as well as other journalistic ventures (I wish he was in Kingston though – I rarely see him!) Along with two other terrific journalists, Franklin was awarded the Order of Distinction in last week’s National Honors. The other two are the Gleaner’s first (and so far, only) woman Editor-in-Chief Wyvolyn Gager and Owen James, journalism pioneer, who currently produces and hosts business programs on CVM Television.  All three fantastic Jamaicans.
Richard Byles (third right), president and CEO of Sagicor, and Wayne Brown (second left), also of Sagicor, present a cheque to National Security Minister Peter Bunting (left); Jennifer McDonald, CEO of the Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency; Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second right); and Dr Kevin Harvey, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health. The funds, handed over during a ceremony at Sagicor's New Kingston head office, are to be used to purchase a fever-scan machine for installation at the Sangster International Airport. (Photo: Gleaner)

Richard Byles (third right), president and CEO of Sagicor, and Wayne Brown (second left), also of Sagicor, present a cheque to National Security Minister Peter Bunting (left); Jennifer McDonald, CEO of the Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency; Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second right); and Dr Kevin Harvey, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health. The funds, handed over during a ceremony at Sagicor’s New Kingston head office, are to be used to purchase a fever-scan machine for installation at the Sangster International Airport. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • Supreme Ventures Limited and Sagicor for their generous donations to the Government’s Ebola preparedness efforts. Supreme Ventures will make their cash donation tomorrow to purchase more temperature sensors and other items for use at the island’s airports. Sagicor donated funds for a walk-through fever scanner, to be installed at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport, last Tuesday. Thank you SO much for stepping up to the plate! The Gleaner also donated J$1 million to the University Hospital of the West Indies recently – the proceeds of its 180th anniversary walk/run in September. Cool!
  • The western bay at Little Goat Island is rich with seagrass. I have seen this for myself. (Photo: Kirsty Swinnerton)

    The western bay at Little Goat Island is rich with seagrass. I have seen this for myself. (Photo: Kirsty Swinnerton)

    Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) for winning the first round of a legal bid to get more information on the proposed transshipment port at Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area. The judge agreed this week that the Minister of Finance had no authority to issue Certificates of Exemption blocking JET from obtaining documents it requested under the Access to Information Act. It also said the Government should pay half JET’s legal costs. But the Port Authority of Jamaica is the other defendant in the case. It has a whole set of additional arguments. So this part of the proceedings will take place on June 3 and 4, 2015. Yes, I kid you not!

My condolences to those who are mourning the violent deaths of their loved ones:

Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston

Jerome Bryan, 25, Twickenham Park, St. Catherine

Christopher Swaby, 47, Alligator Pond, Manchester

Kevin Vidal, 32, New Hall, Manchester

Keno Brown, 29, Lilliput, St. James

Awash with Murders, Miraculous Jamaica…and that Darned Plane! Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oh, a lot has been happening on this modest-sized island of ours. It’s not been an easy week, and it’s National Heroes Week. Please read my thoughts on heroes, at home and abroad, on my weekly Gleaner blog page, Social Impact. Comments on the page are more than welcome! http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2278A

In fact, a very bloody week:  The police announced that there has been a 17 per cent drop in murders up to October 22: 799, compared to 966 in the same period in 2013. That is good news, but no sooner were the words out of their mouth than an avalanche of multiple killings descended on us. It started on National Heroes Day and has not let up since. You can see the list below. By my count, there have been eighteen murders since Sunday. That is an average of more than four per day.

Residents look on as the police process the crime scene where three men were gunned down, yesterday. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)

That yellow tape again…Residents look on as the police process the crime scene where three men were gunned down, yesterday. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)

Targeting CHEC: This wave of murders included a series of alarming killings and armed robberies targeting employees of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). The police need to get a handle on this, and quickly. After four men were killed and robbed of J$2 million in cash they were transporting on a Sunday afternoon to pay CHEC workers (a pretty strange arrangement, seems to me) three more were shot dead yesterday in Bog Walk, St. Catherine and two others shot later in the day in the same area (one reportedly a CHEC employee). CHEC reports there have been numerous robberies in and around its worksites – three on Monday, alone.

Crime and terrorism are two different things, but comparisons are being made, in light of the above-mentioned mayhem. We have our own terrorists, people say. Some Jamaicans seem a little casual about the threat of terrorism; but then, they have never experienced it on their doorstep. Once you have, your attitude changes overnight, as the Canadians have sadly discovered. Having worked in the City of London during the 1980s, when there were repeated attacks by the IRA (and yes, people were blown up) I am acutely aware of the threat. It can happen anywhere. So, some think Mr. Bakr seems like a cool guy; he was just here to visit his daughter who is a doctor here (although he originally said he was also a guest of Louis Farrakhan, who coincidentally was in Kingston). Is he really such a bad guy that the Jamaican Government was in a hurry to send him straight back to Trinidad? We will never know all the details, but I am prepared to give Minister of National Security Peter Bunting the benefit of the doubt in making the decision to return him.

I’m not impressed, though, by Minister Bunting’s explanation of the whole affair in Parliament on Tuesday. He went about it all the wrong way, and tried to be a little too clever. And accusing the Opposition of “politicizing” the matter is a lame response. I am so tired of that word “politicizing,” aren’t you? This has been rumbling on for a week or so now. If you are interested in more background information, a browse through Trinidadian news sites is quite instructive.

The Imam returns to Trinidad on his private jet… The Jamaica Observer editorial carton this week.

The Imam returns to Trinidad on his private jet… The Jamaica Observer editorial carton this week.

But the four million dollars? That could have bought some anti-Ebola equipment or much-needed hospital supplies – or cleaned at least a couple of mosquito-infested gullies. Could we not have kept the man in custody for a day or two until the next commercial flight was available? There are still discontented rumblings. But at least his son had a nice stay in Jamaica, and one of his wives came too I believe. It’s a pity that one of the son’s friends has posted an ISIS meme on his Facebook page, however. I hope he does not endorse those sentiments.

Masked men: I would like to ask our Commissioner of Police why policemen were wearing masks when they descended on a house in Greenwich Town, Kingston earlier this week, turned the place upside down and eventually arrested a man. They said they seized a gun or guns, but the television reporters did not see them. They also told one TV reporter that they were wearing masks because they were on an “intelligence” mission. Really now.

The IMF's Deputy Managing Director Min Zhu. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The IMF’s Deputy Managing Director Min Zhu. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Miraculous Jamaica: The International Monetary Fund’s Deputy Managing Director was in Jamaica today, at a special conference on “Unlocking Growth in the Caribbean” in Montego Bay.  He called Jamaica’s performance nothing short of a miracle. Jamaica seems to be the IMF’s little pet, these days. Blue-eyed boys and girls – especially, of course, Minister Phillips, who is of course doing a herculean task. He has achieved a lot. But is it in Jamaica’s best interests to be #1 in the IMF’s Top Ten? Or should bask in the praise, sit back and wait for the benefits to trickle down to us regular Jamaicans? As for unlocking growth, has Jamaica found the key yet?

Health Minister Fenton Ferguson. (Photo: Gleaner)

Health Minister Fenton Ferguson. (Photo: Gleaner)

I would really, really, really, really like a full update on the state of Jamaica’s Ebola preparedness. The Health Minister needs to call a press conference and answer all the questions (without getting defensive). Just so we know where we are, now. When will we be getting more of the temperature scanners for both our international airports? Have all medical staff across the island now been trained? Are all the isolation locations set up (we understand they will not be in all public hospitals)? How many are there? Have all staff at the airports got the training they need, including immigration? As I write, I believe Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is in Cuba, asking them for help with training. As we know, Cuba has sent a large number of doctors to West Africa (they always have a surplus) – but are they really the experts? Be that as it may, it’s not a bad idea to get help but isn’t it a bit late anyway? Can’t we conduct our own training (and get on with it) based on WHO or CDC protocols?

Dr Bob Banjo displays his passport to show that he returned to Jamaica well outside of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola. Banjo also displays a Ghanaian/Nigerian health certificate confirming that he did not have the Ebola virus when he left the region. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Dr Bob Banjo displays his passport to show that he returned to Jamaica well outside of the 21-day incubation period for Ebola. Banjo also displays a Ghanaian/Nigerian health certificate confirming that he did not have the Ebola virus when he left the region. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Meanwhile the Nigerian man (with the awesome name Dr. Bob Banjo) who lives in Jamaica has been talking about how badly he was treated at Mandeville Hospital last week (it turned out he had food poisoning, but he caused an “ebola panic” among staff). He had to wait nine hours before someone attended to him. From this terrible experience, he has inevitably concluded that Jamaica is not prepared for the possible arrival of Ebola on its shores. I would add that being ignored by medical staff is apparently par for the course in some public hospitals these days.

I couldn't resist this Jamaica Observer cartoon, focusing on the panic at Mandeville Hospital recently...

I couldn’t resist sharing this Jamaica Observer cartoon, focusing on the panic at Mandeville Hospital recently…

As “chik v” (the chikungunya virus) drags its weary way across the island, I have to ask: Did the national cleanup happen already? I paid some entrepreneurs, who stopped by with a truck, to take our overflowing garbage bin the other day. I could not stand to wait for the National Solid Waste Management Agency to collect it after more than two weeks (this is the tropics, where things fester and breed…) But that’s only half the problem. People continue to trash the place. Almost every day I pick up garbage that has been thrown by passers-by under some pretty trees that our neighbors planted over the road. I suspect the government’s publicized “cleanups” have been just plain PR/photo-ops. We need something thorough and comprehensive, town and country.

Also, can we get a handle on the number of chik v-related deaths? There have apparently been several, although most of the victims had already existing health conditions. But there is some obfuscation, it seems.

Major kudos going out to…

Keith Bardowell, O.D. was just 16 years old when he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. (Photo: Gleaner)

Keith Bardowell, O.D. was just 16 years old when he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • Cliff Hughes, who is doing a terrific job on his morning talk show on Power 106 FM, raising all the issues that need to be raised in a thoughtful and balanced way. I especially appreciated Cliff’s little tribute to Jamaican World War II veterans, including Keith Bardowell, who passed away recently (many condolences to his widow, Merline). These Jamaicans – whom I think are not always sufficiently recognized for the sacrifices they made – helped to save the world from the horrors of fascism (what would the world have been like if they had won?). Like my own father, who joined the Army at age 19. Please let us acknowledge and honor them more!
Retired librarian Patricia Cuff has worked for 43 years for the Jamaica Library Service. A wonderful Jamaican woman. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Retired librarian Patricia Cuff has worked for 43 years for the Jamaica Library Service. A wonderful Jamaican woman, the upholder of many aspects of Jamaican tradition and culture. Congratulations, Patricia! (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

  • One great Jamaican, Ms. Patricia Cuff, who received a National Honor on Monday. Ms. Cuff has spent her entire working life with the Jamaica Library Service, starting in 1965. She has not only dedicated her life to books and reading, but also to many aspects of Jamaican culture. I remember her performing at an event as a great storyteller in the true Jamaican tradition; I have never forgotten it. Congrats to Ms. Cuff, who received the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service.
Gender and development specialist par excellence, Judith Wedderburn (right), makes a point at a 51% Coalition meeting. Nadeen Spence is at left. (My photo)

Gender and development specialist par excellence, Judith Wedderburn (right), makes a point at a 51% Coalition meeting earlier this year.  Nadeen Spence is at left. Judith received an Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) in this week’s National Honors. Well deserved! (My photo)

  • Another Jamaican woman whom I admire greatly received a National Honor. Judith Wedderburn is a stalwart (and I don’t mean that in a boring way!) – a defender of women’s rights and democracy and a tireless campaigner for Jamaica’s development. Judith is also a board member of WMW Jamaica among others, and founding member of the 51% Coalition (Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment) – check out their Facebook page. Judith is a powerhouse!
This fantastic group of Jamaican human rights activists representing several lobby groups attended Parliament last week. (Photo: Taitu Heron's Facebook page)

This fantastic group of Jamaican human rights activists representing several lobby groups attended Parliament last week. (Photo: Taitu Heron’s Facebook page)

  • Big ups also to the intrepid group of civil society representatives who attended Parliament last week. I quote from activist Taitu Heron’s Facebook page: “Civil Society representatives presented to the Joint Select Committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act on Wednesday October 15, 2014. Present were reps from: Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, Woman Inc, WMW Jamaica, JFLAG, Caribbean Development Activists & Women’s Network – Caribbean DAWN, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, Institute for Caribbean Children and Families, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, UN Women, UNDP, and child advocate, Rose Robinson Hall; all recommending progressive amendments – expansion of the definition of rape and sexual intercourse, close in age defence, removal of marital rape exemptions, removal of criminalising sex between minors, wider protection for the elderly, persons with disabilities and children from sexual violence; among others. Other presentations came from Sistren Theatre Collective, recommending progressive amendments; and the church groups, primarily Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society and the Love March Movement supporting the retention of marital rape, current definition of rape and sexual intercourse, criminalisation of sex between minors among others.” WMW Jamaica’s Tenesha Myrie also sat on a panel with Minister of Justice Mark Golding and Senator Williams to discuss the submissions for changes to the Sexual Offences Act, with Dionne Jackson Miller on television last night. I haven’t watched it yet but it should be on Television Jamaica’s website very soon.
"Carousel" by Phillip Thomas (central panel of triptych) - National Gallery of Jamaica.

“Carousel” by Phillip Thomas (central panel of triptych) – National Gallery of Jamaica.

  • To three Jamaican artists who received Musgrave Medals this week: Petrona Morrison (Gold), Jasmine Thomas-Girvan (Silver) and Phillip Thomas (Bronze).

As mentioned above, this week’s toll of murder victims has been frightening and depressing. I cannot imagine the waves of grief in all these different communities. My heart goes out to all the families and loved ones who are mourning the passing of…

Loxley Brown, 32, Rockfort, East Kingston

Terrence Dixon, 31, Rockfort, East Kingston

Aboyonei Strachan, 23, Rockfort, East Kingston

Eric Brown, 44, Barbican Road, Kingston 8/St. Andrew

Unidentified man, Barbican Road, Kingston 8/St. Andrew

Steven Reid, Leas Flat/Red Hills, St. Andrew

Tanya Simpson, Leas Flat/Red Hills, St. Andrew

Matty Taylor, 70, Pineapple Lane/Bog Walk, St. Catherine 

Patrick Cummings, 51, Pineapple Lane/Bog Walk, St. Catherine

Alva McKenzie, Pineapple Lane/Bog Walk, St. Catherine 

Kaydon (Prince) Smith, 29, Portmore Mall, St. Catherine

Sheldon Robinson, 24, Edgewater/Portmore, St. Catherine

Karl Fletcher, Tower Hill, St. James

Rohan Wilson, 30,Windsor Lodge/Somerton, St. James

Samantha Gillings, 24, Windsor Lodge/Somerton, St. James

Nesline Young, 67, Upper King Street, Canterbury, St. James

Everald Leslie, 24, Upper King Street, Canterbury, St. James

Heron Foster, 38, Upper King Street, Canterbury, St. James

It is just over a year since Mario Daley, 25  (left) and Curtis Martin, 27, were abducted at gunpoint from their St. Andrew home. Three men are on gun charges, but these young men have never been found.

It is just over a year since Mario Daley, 25 (left) and Curtis Martin, 27, were abducted at gunpoint from their St. Andrew home. Three men are on gun charges, but these young men have never been found.

Tanya Simpson was stabbed to death in a house in upper St Andrew with Steven Reid. The children present witnessed their murders. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Tanya Simpson was stabbed to death in a house in upper St Andrew with Steven Reid. The children present witnessed their murders. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Jamaican Government Concedes Certificates of Exemption Wrongly Issued in Goat Islands Case

Here’s a quick update on the court case challenging Government’s denial of information to the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) regarding a possible transshipment port in Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area. I believe the judicial review continues tomorrow. Here is JET’s press release.

The Supreme Court of Jamaica today heard submissions from the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) concerning the issuance of Certificates of Exemption under the Access to Information Act with regard to documents requested for the proposed Goat Islands port facility in the Portland Bight Protected Area.

The Certificates of Exemption had been issued in January and May 2014 by the Minister of Finance and Planning, the Hon. Peter Phillips. JET’s legal team, led by Hugh Small, QC, supported by JET environmental staff attorneys Danielle Andrade and Lisa Russell, successfully argued before the Hon. Mrs Justice Sharon George that the Certificates of Exemption were incorrectly issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning.

Carlene Larmond representing the Attorney General and the Ministry of Finance and Planning conceded the Minister had no authority to issue the Certificates.

“We are happy to settle this first point concerning the proper jurisdiction for issuing Certificates of Exemption,” said Danielle Andrade, JET’s Legal Director. “We are anxious for the Court to rule on the other procedural and substantive issues in our case.”

The issue of costs in relation to the case against the Minister of Finance and Planning is to be decided tomorrow morning and the case in relation to the Port Authority’s refusal to provide information will be heard on June 3rd and 4th, 2015.

The Certificates of Exemption issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning sought to declare the documents requested by JET exempt from disclosure under the provisions of the Access to Information (ATI) Act.

For more information please contact:
Diana McCaulay – 469-1315 or Danielle Andrade – 392-7341

Diana McCaulay

Chief Executive Officer
Jamaica Environment Trust
Earth House, 11 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10, Jamaica, W.I.
t| +1876 960 3693
w| http://www.jamentrust.org
e| jamentrust@cwjamaica.com

Donate to JET online: http://www.jamentrust.org/how-you-can-help.html

Paulette Coley holds up an aloe plant, abundant on Goat Islands. (Photo: Robin Moore)

Paulette Coley holds up an aloe plant, abundant on Goat Islands. (Photo: Robin Moore)

A Double Whammy for Justice, The Unwanted Ones and A Private Plane: Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Sunday check-in, and plenty going on it seems. The Jamaican obsession with health issues continues unabated.

Robert Hill (Kentucky Kid) was murdered in December, 2009.

Robert Hill (Kentucky Kid) was murdered in December, 2009.

A double whammy: Last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in her wisdom dropped two long-running, highly publicized cases involving the deaths of civilians and the police. One was the murder of an entertainer called Robert Hill (“Kentucky Kid”), who was shot dead in 2009 at his Kingston home. The DPP decided to drop the case against three police officers and two civilians because of lack of evidence – although the Coroner’s Court ruled finally in August that they should be charged for his murder. Now, Mr. Hill had posted videos on YouTube, talked to the media and human rights groups, told everyone he was being threatened by the police after a disagreement with them over a motor accident. The DPP said she had to go along with the police claim of a “shootout.” It would be “unethical” for her to pursue it further, she said. Unethical.

Secondly, a case of major concern – the alleged abduction and murder of two young men in Kingston (ten years ago) by two policemen – simply outraged me. The DPP decided to drop this one because, having consulted with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice on the budget – it was too expensive to continue. Earlier this year, when there was a hung jury in the case, the judge ordered a retrial. But no, can’t afford it, sorry. Now, if Parliament had done the regulations attached to legislation (passed nearly two years ago) on video evidence being provided by witnesses in court, it might have happened (a room has already been set aside for this, but no – regulations not done yet). The Gleaner responded with an excellent editorial: “Justice kicked in the gut.”  Twice.

The DPP came on radio with a long monologue with her legalese. But the fact is, Madam… When was a policeman successfully prosecuted for murder? Between 2000 and 2010 there were 2,220 Jamaicans killed by the police. Two policemen were convicted (none since 2006). Then again, what is the clear-up rate for murders in Jamaica? (And I don’t mean killing a wanted man in a “shootout” either – that is not a “clear-up.”) I think it is not much more than five per cent of murders are solved annually. Jamaica’s justice system is a disaster. And yet there are people clamoring for the death penalty?

“There’s no justice in JA. None, none.” So said the mother of one of the young men abducted on the Washington Boulevard, Kemar Walters. Who can say otherwise?

Not wanted: The song and dance about Jamaicans being turned away at Trinidad’s airport, allegedly ill-treated and disrespected, has started up again. The Trinidadians now claim there are 19,000 Jamaicans living illegally in their country, without work or fixed abode. Since Trinidad’s economy consistently performs better than Jamaica’s, and there are likely more opportunities, it is not surprising that Jamaicans want to try their luck there. And there is supposed to be something called freedom of movement among countries in the Caribbean Community.  There have been some rather tactless comments on both sides, and many Jamaicans feel the Trinidadians are “dissing” them again. Still, now the two countries are supposed to be having “immigration talks” (didn’t that happen a few months ago?)

Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen in Trinidad.

Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen in Trinidad. A very costly deportee.

And definitely not wanted: So then detained Trinidadian Muslim leader Yasin Abu Bakr at Kingston’s international airport as he was coming in for a shindig with the creepy Louis Farrakhan which took place today at the National Arena. Mr. Abu Bakr was not amused and apparently became “boisterous” when they tried to send him back on a commercial flight, “in the interest of public safety.” So the man was put in detention and deported on Friday via private plane at a cost to taxpayers of J$4 million. The National Security Ministry explained: “Under the circumstances, it is the country (in this case Jamaica) which refuses to land a passenger that is required to pay for the return flight.” Why Louis Farrakhan would want to hold his “Million Man March” in Jamaica anyway is beyond me. I am not sure what benefit it will bring Jamaica; incidentally, the Nation of Islam has a local HQ in Portmore, St. Catherine.  (Reminder: Abu Bakr and others attempted to overthrow the Trinidadian government in 1990, taking some parliamentarians hostage. 24 people were killed). Oh, enough already… I wonder though if the Farrakhan visit caused any more cost to us taxpayers, apart from (indirectly) the four million?

Jamaicans seem to have a love affair with Minister Farrakhan. He received an official welcome at the airport…Nation of Islam Spiritual Leader, Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan, delivers a brief statement during a welcoming ceremony hosted for him by the Government of Jamaica in the VIP lounge of the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, on Wednesday (October 15), following his arrival from the United States for a five-day visit. Mr. Farrakhan is in the island to mark the 19th anniversary of the Million Man March, staged in the United States capital, Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995, which he was instrumental in organizing.

Jamaicans seem to have a love affair with Nation of Islam Spiritual Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan. He received an official welcome at the airport and here “delivers a brief statement during a welcoming ceremony hosted for him by the Government of Jamaica in the VIP lounge of the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, on Wednesday (October 15), following his arrival from the United States for a five-day visit. Mr. Farrakhan is in the island to mark the 19th anniversary of the Million Man March, staged in the United States capital, Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995, which he was instrumental in organizing.” (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Other unwanted ones: Anyone from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. Jamaica followed some other Caribbean countries (St. Lucia and St. Vincent/Grenadines and others) and imposed a travel ban on travelers from these three countries on Thursday. This coincided with a major “scare” (yes, there had to be one) the day before, when a U.S. citizen traveling from Liberia was allowed to go to his hotel in Montego Bay after being cleared through the airport (he had no symptoms). Oh, and back to the Muslims: A Guyanese Muslim leader, Gerald Perreira, who heads the Black Consciousness Movement Guyana, was taken off a flight in Antigua en route to Jamaica. He is planning legal action!

Guyanese Muslim leader Gerald Perreira.

Guyanese Muslim leader Gerald Perreira was prevented from traveling to Jamaica for the Farrakhan meeting here.

Panicking professionals: Meanwhile, at Mandeville’s public hospital, a Nigerian man who turned out to have food poisoning vomited in the waiting room, causing hysteria. According to Gleaner sources, some of the medical staff locked themselves in a room when they heard his nationality and refused to treat him. I really hope this is untrue. Yes, it is true that the promised training for medical staff has not yet taken place (see below); and presumably they do not have the protective gear either. But they should have also been trained to support and help the patient, first and foremost; so put whatever gear you have on, isolate him and calm people down. Don’t panic! But then, recently a man died after many hours on a waiting room floor in a public hospital, so it seems helping patients may not always be a top priority. Something needs to be done about all of this!

Taking the lead: The Prime Minister held a meeting, and read out a statement about Jamaica’s Ebola preparedness – or, at least, plans to prepare. The text of her statement is here: http://jis.gov.jm/statement-prime-minister-action-relating-health-emergency/ It is simply marvelous that our PM has finally sat up and paid attention to the growing concerns over the chikungunya virus, which got carried over into a near-panic over Ebola. We will wait and see what actually happens. For some reason the so-called Information Minister, Sandrea Falconer, is “monitoring” the too-little-too-late cleanup operations across the island, to remove mosquito breeding sites. J$500 million has been allocated for this purpose, apparently. Commentator Gordon Robinson gives some interesting historical background in his latest blog post, here: http://theterribletout.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/ready-for-the-big-one/ – asserting, for example: “Almost every modern outbreak of dengue can be traced to Jamaica’s abysmal public health practices (1963/64 when the first 1500 cases were confirmed here; 1968/69 and 1977).”

Can we all calm down and get a little perspective on Ebola, please? I know the government’s (non)performance on chikungunya does not exactly fill one with confidence, but in many ways I am more concerned about its ongoing, lackadaisical approach to public health in general. The Ministry of Education has finally roused itself and decided to use the upcoming half-term break to clean up the compounds of 300 schools (why not all schools?) No rush, take your time… Meanwhile two teachers and a student have died at Vere Technical High School due to the virus – they all had existing medical conditions, but I think we need to pay attention.

A television set rests among the trash at the Airports Authority of Jamaica's land next to the airport. (My photo)

A television set rests among the trash on the Airports Authority of Jamaica’s land next to the airport. Toxic garbage is also burned there.  (My photo)

200 communities fogged? So we are told, but certainly our community (and nowhere near it, that I know of) was not on the list. Not that spraying chemicals around the place is the most effective way of fighting mosquito infestation. There needs to have been – over decades – attention paid to public and environmental health. Which was not done. I recently noted the horrific state of lands close to the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston – a smoking garbage dump (illegal), piles of waste along the seashore and clear attempts to burn toxic material (aerosols etc). And yes, I took photos. The problem is far deeper than a few quick clean-ups organized by politicians and supporters.

Garbage washed down from gullies and clogging Kingston Harbour. (My photo)

Garbage washed down from gullies and clogging Kingston Harbour. (My photo)

Also, how many (residential) communities have raw sewage flowing in the street? Yes, raw sewage. How does this balance out with our new-found zeal for “cleaning up”? I have seen several television reports in the past few weeks. Riverton Meadows (how inappropriately named) is one such community, represented by Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton, where raw sewage has been flowing through the residents’ yards for months. Has this been addressed, or will it be?

As for the local opinion polls… One People’s National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament told me that polls are only a “snapshot.” This is true, but the recent Gleaner polls are pretty scary snapshots for the PNP, I would think. The “Comrades” must be concerned at the lack of trust and confidence in their government – in particular the apparent slump in their talisman Portia Simpson Miller’s popularity. 80 per cent of those polled, according to today’s results, say the Government has not kept its promises and is lacking in accountability and transparency. Ugh! But are our polls really reliable?

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson (right), hands over two of four hand-held fever temperature machines that the Government has acquired, to Public Health Nurse attached to the Norman Manley International Airport, Beverly Creary (2nd left), today Friday (October 17), while other medical staff and officials at the Airport, look on. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson (right), hands over two of four hand-held fever temperature machines that the Government has acquired, to Public Health Nurse attached to the Norman Manley International Airport, Beverly Creary (2nd left), today Friday (October 17), while other medical staff and officials at the Airport, look on. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Thank you to the husband of our Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, for donating four thermal sensors (to detect high temperatures) for ebola screening at the airport. They are all in Kingston, though; I think we need them in Montego Bay as soon as possible, so hope they will “soon come.”

I heard that there was a double murder just up the road from our house in Kingston last night. However, the local media don’t seem to have reported it yet. After all, it’s a holiday weekend. In any event, I extend my condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who have lost their loved ones:

Shamar Salmon, 33, Allman Town, Kingston (killed by police)

Natoya Sloley, 29, Montego Bay, St. James

Karl Fletcher, Tower Hill, St. James

Tyrone Cunningham, 38, Over River, St. James

Latoya Birch, 23, Culloden, Westmoreland

Peter Faley, 29, Seaforth, St. Thomas

Focus on Democracy Issues: Professor Trevor Munroe Speaks on Justice, Transparency and Corruption

There are many issues in our society, often interlocking, that we should be paying attention to in Jamaica. A lot of the noise and day-to-day drama in the media tends to get in the way. But one Jamaican is very good at making us sit down quietly for a moment to think about the way in which our democracy is heading. He is one of those special watchdogs, and his name is Professor Trevor Munroe, Executive Director of National Integrity Action (NIA), who is also Honorary Visiting Professor at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

I heard some of Professor Munroe’s comments on local television and they sparked my interest. I am therefore sharing with you his presentation to the St. Andrew Justices of the Peace Magistrates Association Quarterly Meeting in Kingston on September 27, 2014. I am grateful to Professor Munroe for allowing me to reproduce his remarks, below…

May I first of all thank Custos Marigold Harding for the kind invitation to be your guest speaker this morning, at this quarterly meeting of the St. Andrew Justices of the Peace and Lay Magistrates Association.

I am thankful not least of all because it provides me with an opportunity to express gratitude, too often not forthcoming, on behalf of the public for the services you perform as Justices of the Peace and as Lay Magistrates. Many of these services are simple but essential to the community and to members of the community – certifying a passport photograph, providing a reference to open a bank account, or authenticating a document. You really don’t know how important these are, until, for example, you need a photograph to be urgently certified and a JP cannot be located. And, by the way, should there not be an easier way to find out who is the JP nearest you? When we do find you, and you sign the passport photograph, we often don’t say thanks. Today, I would like to make up for that bad behaviour.

More importantly, I want to share with you some thoughts on the critical role of the JP and the lay magistrate in strengthening Jamaica’s Justice System.

May I begin with this observation: there is an insufficient appreciation amongst our people and perhaps amongst some JPs themselves that you are not only a servant of the community, important as that is, you are technically, a “judicial public officer”, albeit a voluntary one; our citizens often do not realise and new to be made aware that all JPs undergo qualifying training and many specialised training and that the JP is an officer that “is significant in the system of administration of justice in Jamaica”, in children’s courts for example, and in the drug courts. As such, the rules and regulations appointing you require the Governor General to be satisfied that each of you “is of unquestionable integrity… commands the respect and confidence of [your] community, has given good service to the community and the wider Jamaica and demonstrates the potential for continuing to so serve” (Jamaica Gazette Supplement, Dec. 14, 2006). I urge each and every one of you, JPs and Lay Magistrates of St Andrew, to live up to these special qualities and to uphold these high standards.

However, as is too often the case in almost every calling, there will be a few bad eggs and in such circumstances, the reputation of the good will invariably suffer for the bad. May I therefore urge you to identify any bad eggs amongst you and separate them from your ranks. Please recall your oath “to do right to all manner of people”, not just to some, maybe friends and company, and leave out others; to fulfil your responsibilities without fear or favour neither with timidity nor trepidation; most of all, recall your obligation to avoid behaviour that may “bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”

Custos, I am confident that when a complaint comes to you that suggests violation of these requirements, you shall institute the necessary inquiry and as the rules indicate, recommend revocation when the facts so justify.

Decisive action in this regard is one important contribution to maintaining peoples’ confidence in our justice system, which – with all its flaws – is trusted more than many other key institutions of governance in Jamaica: more than the parliament, more than the police, more than the political parties. [LAPOP 2012, pg. 129; GCB 2013 page 36]. You must do everything, as JP’s and as Lay Magistrates, to contribute to this trust, to sustain and to enhance this confidence in the system as a whole. By the way, this is not just an achievement in terms of the confidence in the Justice system amongst Jamaican institutions. Outside of Jamaica, in global terms, you and our people should know that Jamaica’s Justice System, in particular the independence of the judiciary, is ranked in the top one-third (1/3) of 144 countries worldwide [GCR 2014-2015]. This is no cause for complacency, nor for self-congratulation, but simply to give due respect and recognition in the midst of too much negativism, to acknowledge that all is not bad and that in fact we rank very highly on some indicators, including – may I say in passing – such as freedom of the press and on social wellbeing, where, believe it or not, we are ahead of the United States (Social Progress Index 2014).

Having said this, of course there is much room for a great deal of improvement and in that improvement you the JP here in St Andrew and across the Island, each has a critical role to play. Take one question, recently and justifiably very much in the news – the question of lockups. In this regard, you know better than I what your responsibilities are but many of our citizens do not. So allow me to remind and to indicate what the official guidelines ( Appendix A to Force Orders 3237 dated 2009-06-18) stipulate: Visiting Committees of Justices of the Peace are “authorised to enter any police station in the parish in which they are appointed to… interview any prisoner alone or in the presence of a member of the force… to record any complaints… to inspect lockups… and report on their suitability in respect of i) comfort, ii) hygiene, iii) general conditions… observe and assess the state of the building housing the lockups and bring to the notice of the divisional officer, the Custos, the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National Security, any repairs, alterations, additions, etc. which may appear necessary.” I remind you that each of the nation’s seventy (70) “lockups should be visited at least once each week… prearranged with the police, or if considered necessary, without notice.”

In light of recent events concerning the brutal, gratuitous death of Mario Deane and heightened public concerns regarding the state of our lockups, this responsibility assumes even greater importance. Moreover Jamaica s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms states that Any person deprived of his liberty shall be treated humanely and with respect for the inherent dignity of the person ( 14)(5). Visits to lock-ups by our JPs not only are therefore of importance not only in responding to public outcry but, potentially, play a critical role in upholding a fundamental constitutional right of the citizen. In   enhancing your contribution to strengthening Jamaica’s justice system, I urge you as members of Visiting Committees to accord this responsibility number 1 priority.   And ensure that your reports set out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the state of the lock-up and those detained therein.

Of course, I am aware that the guidelines state that reports “should remain confidential and should not be released to the public under any condition.” Those guidelines were established in 1993; the Access to Information Act, acknowledging that transparency and accountability are essential to Jamaica’s democratic governance, was passed in 2002. I suggest that in today’s circumstances, freedom of information must supersede confidentiality in a matter such as this. The public needs to know, from your duly authorised reports, what is going on; the light of day must shine into these dark cells of detention in which Jamaicans, not convicted of any crime, are being held.

Of course, even when you perform your duty, according to oath, without fear or favour, other elements in the system must also be called on to play their part in order to better uphold justice .

  • For one, successive Governments, often with the tacit support of successive electorates, habitually under-resource the justice system. Take the 2013-2014 budget; I will give any of you a prize if you can guess the percentage of the budget allocated to the Ministry of Justice. It was 0.9%, and that was almost 300 million more than the allocation for the previous period (ESSJ 2013, Chapter 24.1)
  • Next, take successive reviews of our performance under the IMF programme. It is good that we are passing these tests, but transparency requires that we need to know more – at what expense? at what cost? Each review which we pass is accompanied by revenue shortfall, requiring expenditure to be cut in order to meet agreed targets. Between April and July 2014, for example, $7.7 Billion was – for this reason – cut from budgeted expenditure. The public needs to know, cut from which specific programmes and from what capital items were these cuts made? The public s watchdog, the co-chairman of the EPOC, needs to report on this– from what budgeted line items are expenditure reductions being made when he gives his regular review. And, we have to insist that those cuts do not touch the miniscule budget of the Ministry of Justice , some critical tiny, but essential, allocations in the Ministry of National Security (and of course, with the dreaded chick-v flying around, relevant allocations to elements of the Health Ministry) _ these should not be cut. I’ll give you an example; the 2013-2014 the revised estimates of expenditure tell us that $214.2 Million was spent on the administration of 70 lockups in Jamaica and the Jury process in Kingston and St. Andrew. The estimates for 2014-2015 are $151.3 Million. Can we justify further cuts in a line item such as this, especially when of the $151.3 Million allocated; $135.2 Million is for compensation of employees and expect our lock-ups to be properly maintained and our jury system to function adequately?
  • Then there is the work many of you do in the courts as Lay Magistrates. This is important work, fully appreciated seven (7) years ago in the report of the Justice Reform Task Force, chaired by the late Professor Barry Chevannes and including representatives of all elements in the Justice System, the Private Sector and Civil Society. That report referred to your function as Lay Magistrates as playing “an important and singular role within the Jamaican legal system” (page 208). In this context, it referred to your role in the Petty Sessions Courts. But there is absolutely nothing petty about these courts, your role in these courts- nor indeed there anything petty about any aspect of the justice system. Hence the Task Force recommended that the term ‘Petty Sessions’ be abolished and the court be re-designated the ‘Lay Magistrates’ Court’. Such a re-designation costs little or no money – The time has come, indeed has long passed, for this to be done. I would hate to believe that the IMF has to demand it as a structural benchmark before we implement it and make a change good for all of us!! So let s get it done!

There is one other matter I wish to share with you on this occasion. Jamaica’s New National Security Policy – Towards a Secure and Prosperous Nation was laid in Parliament in April 2014 by the Hon. Prime Minister .That policy identified “high-probability, high impact, Tier-1 clear and present dangers” to the nation’s security. Amongst these are: “Corruption of elected and public officials; public works contracts awarded to criminals; and corruption in the institutions of state” including in the Justice System. I suggest that each and every citizen – and you more so, as an important part of that Justice System – has a critical role in defeating this danger, a defeat of that is requiring enhanced investigative capacity, such as is contemplated in the ‘new MOCA’, modernised judicial arrangements, such as is contemplated in the Criminal Case Management System, sentencing guidelines, a judicial code of conduct, a strengthened Justice Training Institute and very importantly, legislation to plug loopholes in our current anti-corruption arrangements. In that regard, I bring to your attention and encourage your advocacy and support, alongside NIA, of three pieces of legislation, long-pending and now imminent.

  • Amendments to the Representation of the Peoples Act to provide for the registration, regulation and funding of political parties. Political parties, however imperfect, are now indispensable, vital institutions to democratic governance, in Jamaica and elsewhere,. They can no longer have the legal status of a private club; but, since the party, as government, exercise public power, they must become statute-based, regulated and accountable to public regulation as happens in democracies all across the world.
  • A Single Anti-Corruption Agency now designated the Integrity Commission. Amongst other things, this bill provides for a Director of Corruption Prosecutions with power to prosecute the corrupt-accused, thereby relieving the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of this responsibility given their onerous workload.
  • Campaign Finance Reform. The imminent bill arising from the recommendation of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, proposes measures to limit the extent to which the voter s equal power to vote is subverted by the very unequal power of money to subvert the vote and unduly influence elections and public policy outcomes in favour of private interests. Caps on how much a party can spend or receive in an election campaign; banning of contributions from unregulated financial organisations; prohibitions of donations from foreign entities are but a few of the necessary arrangements to modernise and regularise campaign financing in Jamaica.

None of these proposed pieces of legislation are perfect but they are a good beginning .These three proposed laws are, let me repeat, critical components in Jamaica’s endeavor to defeat the clear and present danger of continued corruption, to remove impediments to our advance towards becoming “a secure and prosperous nation”. I urge you in your personal capacities as citizens to support, and perhaps even as an association to make private submissions to the Authorities to delay no further in the quick debate and expeditious passage of this legislative package.

May I conclude by once more expressing sincere appreciation for the extraordinary voluntary service that each of you gives to the citizens of St Andrew, for your contribution to strengthening Jamaica s justice system and to urge on you constant striving to live up to that high standard of “unquestionable integrity.”

You may contact NIA here: https://niajamaica.org/contact-us/ It also has a toll-free anti-corruption hotline.

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Envisioning the Pedro Bank’s Future

The Pedro Bank is a special place. Far from the island’s shores, it became a part of Jamaica in 1882. It is well known to many Jamaican fishers, but not to other Jamaicans. Now The Nature Conservancy is working with the Jamaican Government and other partners to develop a plan to ensure the Bank’s sustainability and protection. This press release from the Jamaica Environment Trust explains more:

Project Manager Kim Baldwin takes notes during stakeholder workshop in Kingston, September 29, 2014.

Project Manager Kim Baldwin takes notes during stakeholder workshop in Kingston, September 29, 2014.

Fifty years from now what do you hope to see on the Pedro Bank? This was one of many questions posed to fishers on the Pedro Cays and from South Coast fishing villages, government officials, academics, community-based organizations and other marine stakeholders over the past five months as part of a visioning and data collection exercise to plan for the future of the Pedro Bank.

Map of the Pedro Bank used in consultations with stakeholders, 2014.

Map of the Pedro Bank used in consultations with stakeholders, 2014.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is leading the first ever sea space use discussions on the unique Pedro Bank and Cays. These consultations and the resulting plan will plot out the uses of the sea space by the numerous users and determine how both its protection for both sustainable fishing resources and unique marine biodiversity can be achieved.

“It is definitely needed for the Pedro Bank. As fishermen we often feel neglected, as if nobody cares, but it is good to see all these people from the different agencies come together to protect the environment and our livelihoods. I am glad to be part of this,” said Pedro fisher, Tassady Mowatt.

Located approximately 80 kilometers southwest of Jamaica, the Pedro Bank is roughly 8,000 km2 and contains the country’s most important fishing grounds. The Pedro Cays provide critical habitat for a number of seabirds as well as a base for fishers. The Bank itself was declared a National underwater monument due to a large number of 16-19th century shipwrecks and more recently, has been the site of oil exploration. Due to its biological and economic importance to the fishing industry, in 2012 a Fish Sanctuary was declared around Southwest Cay and the wider Pedro Bank was declared an Ecological or Biological Significant Marine Area (EBSA) under the United Nation’s Convention of Biological Diversity. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) are currently developing a framework for a marine multi-use zoning plan for the Pedro Bank to increase the network of protected areas and manage activities occurring on the Pedro Bank and Cays.

Consultation with fishermen on Top Cay, Pedro Bank, July 2014.

Consultation with fishermen on Top Cay, Pedro Bank, July 2014.

Two sets of planning workshops were held, along with visits to the Pedro Cays and to South Coast fishing communities. The first workshops were held (June 26th and 27th) and participants included representatives from Government agencies, the Jamaica Fishermen’s Coop Union, Birds Caribbean, the University of the West Indies, the Jamaica Fish Sanctuary Network, Jamaica Environment Trust, CaribSave, The Nature Conservancy, as well as commercial and artisanal fishers. The second workshop took place on September 29th and 30th.

“During the first workshop, the participants identified conservation of biodiversity, regulated fisheries, safe transportation, research for awareness, and the development of future uses of the Bank as guiding visions”, said Mr. Llewelyn Meggs, Conservation Director at the Jamaica Environment Trust. “These visions will be used to identify goals for a marine multi-use space-use plan for the Pedro Bank.”

This project is made possible through support from the Protected Areas Project being implemented by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) with funding from Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Jamaica (GOJ).

Consultation with fishermen on Middle Cay, Pedro Bank, July 2014.

Consultation with fishermen on Middle Cay, Pedro Bank, July 2014.

Contact:

Llewelyn Meggs
Conservation Director, Jamaica Environment Trust
579-8219

Ngozi Christian
Project Manager, Protected Areas Project, NEPA
754-7540, ext 2315

Donna Blake
The Nature Conservancy
577-9001