Why are we sighing? Because it seems that, after all the jubilation and celebration, Jamaica is returning to reality. And reality doesn’t look too good right now.
For a start, the police recently announced a decrease in major crimes, and even a sixteen per cent drop in murders. Coming on the heels of our celebrations, this felt rather good. OK, Jamaica is regrouping. But. If you look at the list of names at the end of this post – it has been a very bad week. As the police doggedly pursue the scavengers and vampires otherwise known as the “lotto scammers” (eight more were arrested in the Montego Bay area) three people were murdered in one small area of the city yesterday; one does not know, of course, if the two activities were connected. And this morning came news that an attorney-at-law and lecturer at the Norman Manley Law School and University of Technology in Kingston, Clover Graham. The bare, cruel facts are that her body was found this morning in Caymanas, St. Catherine, near the Polo Club – a lush, green and relatively undeveloped area off the highway between Kingston and Spanish Town. Nearly four years ago, Ms. Graham’s son Taiwo McKenzie and his girlfriend Janelle Whyte were murdered in what came to be known as the “good samaritan” murders. The couple were involved in an motor vehicle accident in Kingston in which two men were injured. They took the men to hospital and the next day went to help them, taking with them medicine, crutches etc – and were never seen again. Two men were convicted of their murders in June.
So another intelligent, caring Jamaican who had already given – and still had so much to give – to Jamaican society has been cruelly killed. It is hard to make any sense out of all this. The old, familiar feeling of loss hits you. When a middle-class member of society is murdered, the shock lasts for a few days in uptown Kingston, and then we get back to our lives. There is a big funeral, eulogies, tears. And then on, until another “high profile” murder occurs.
For me, all such sad and violent deaths are high profile – whether uptown or downtown. All are stories of a life abruptly severed. That is why I include a list of all those Jamaican citizens, young or old, rich or poor or in-between, who have left us. I grieve for their families, their friends and colleagues. We see them nightly on the television news, unable to find words, a lost and distant look in their eyes; or wailing and throwing themselves to the ground while sympathizers try to hold them up on their feet. People who live outside Jamaica don’t know how it feels to experience this almost on a daily basis. Perhaps we should be numb. I need a heavy anesthetic, the kind where you can sense something happening, but you don’t feel the pain.
It was not my plan to talk about the crime issue today, but to point to a couple of other issues that flared up last week. The two “e”s – Education and the Economy.
Now, I have often teased our Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites in this blog about his many stirring motivational speeches over the past few months. But he brought me up sharp on Thursday morning, during an interview with radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon. The topic was, unsurprisingly, teachers. The disappointing Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination results had already dropped into the lovely calm pool of post-Independence, post-Olympics “good vibes” – creating disturbing ripples. Minister Thwaites bluntly told Ms. Gloudon that during his tour of the island visiting numerous schools, he was “not sanguine” about the quality of English teachers – in fact, he suggested, many of them are not capable of teaching English properly. They must be proficient in English themselves. The thorny issue of patois-speaking teachers teaching standard English – and admonishing the students, as I have often heard, in raw patois – has been with us for a long time and is unresolved. Minister Thwaites declared, “We have to overcome our ambivalence about the English language…This is crazy.” Crazy, indeed. He then dropped a bombshell that reverberated like the fireworks I heard after the Independence Grand Gala, which shook our windows. Only sixteen per cent of teachers, Minister Thwaites pointed out, are actually qualified to teach Math.
I wondered if I had heard right. He must have said sixty per cent. That would have not been very impressive, either. But no – he did say sixteen! I foresee a bit of a battle with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, which is probably overdue anyway. But I do applaud the Minister for telling it like it is. I also feel (as the government has been saying for some time) that much more emphasis must be put in at the primary school level. High school is too late. There is a push towards building early childhood education and literacy; but I know of one newly-qualified early childhood literacy specialist, young and eager to teach, who is still seeking work, with no success. There must be jobs for the teachers if they are encouraged to gain qualifications in these priority areas. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
I agree also with Minister Thwaites that education is not all about “swotting” for exams. Self-expression must be encouraged, imaginations sparked, critical thinking taught. During the same program, Ms. Gloudon spoke with the Ministry’s chief public servant about practical matters related to Back to School (often written with upper case these days I’ve noticed), as we are entering that annual period of nervous anticipation now. When asked about school security, she said that fixing school perimeters with fencing or even walls would cost at least J$50 million and there was simply no money for that. She added, with a somewhat wistful air, that “the community must be a watchdog” in keeping the school secure and preventing the frequent vandalism and robbery that takes place. But it seems to me that the community often preys on the institutions that are there to serve and uplift their children. (New computer lab? Ah, that’s a tempting thought…) I can barely suppress my anger when I see some overwrought school principal on television, bemoaning the loss of some recently-donated computers, while the camera pans to empty electrical sockets and a few dangling wires, and perhaps also a ransacked office where the vampires have been searching for cash. (Yes, vampire is my word of the day, I think!)
Rumblings on the economy, too – like today’s thunderstorms rattling around the hills. In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, our Net International Reserves are declining as, I believe, the Bank of Jamaica continues to support our gently sliding Jamaican Dollar. Because yes, it is sliding. Let’s call it J$90/US$1 now – we are just a few cents below that. CVM Television broadcast two well-edited and hard-hitting reports last week that included interviews with local financial analysts Dennis Chung and Ralston Hyman. Both were sharply pointed in their comments. I would recommend Mr. Chung’s article in Friday’s Jamaica Observer, in which he draws our attention to some uncomfortable facts of life. (By the way, Mr. Chung also believes that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is “on the right track,” and I agree). There is still no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (although we were led to believe that the whole thing would have been “renegotiated” in short order by the current administration, during last year’s election campaign). In fact, we appear to be nowhere near an agreement. There are warnings from ratings agencies, and we all know that markets – and investors – don’t like uncertainty. That’s one thing they hate. But these are very uncertain times.
The Sunday Observer editorial comments on this unnerving state of affairs today, referring to the Caribbean in general. We have taken a “self-inflicted” course – what seemed to be the easy road, one might say. The editorial comments, very cogently, “Common to all governments in the Caribbean is the ability to deny reality. If we do not take life seriously, do not expect anybody to take us seriously.” But we haven’t grown up. We are still fêting, as today’s Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon suggests…
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister was busy talking to People’s National Party followers last weekend about Independence. An interesting report in Thursday’s Gleaner (which I cannot find online – what has happened to your search engine, Gleaner?) by Carl Gilchrist notes Minister Phillips’ comments on the great strides Jamaica has made since August 1, 1962. “Let no one tell you no fairy tale that colonialism was a good thing or better for us; foolishness, absolute nonsense!” he expostulated. I would have hoped that a man of his education and knowledge could have put it a little better – and perhaps indicated how, and why, Independence has been good for us in more detail. Perhaps he did. After all that blustering, he did concede that Jamaica still had to deal with one troublesome little matter: poverty. Humph.
Any word on the economy, Minister Phillips? No? Well, as usual in the eternal conflict, politics trumps the economy, every time. So it guh.
Meanwhile, we are currently hosting an illustrious visitor – Dr. Julius Garvey. Dr. Garvey is the son of Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey, to whom much lip service is paid. And I am pleased to say that the Mayor of Kingston has declared August 17 (his birthday) Marcus Garvey Day. Friday was a special day — Marcus Garvey’s 125th birthday. Please note the background color of my blog – the flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which the revered civil rights activist founded.
As Dr. Garvey marched along Duke Street – heading to or from Liberty Hall, I am not sure – with flag-waving Garveyites in tow, he walked straight into a chaotic scene. Close to sixty squatters had been evicted from a property that many of them had occupied for decades. The media focused on a forty-year-old woman, who has eight children and expecting another. The woman, looking many years older than forty, exclaimed, “We are treated like animals…On the street with a million kids!” The property is privately owned, and with the (albeit slow) development of downtown Kingston the owner probably wants to do something with it. The bailiff, and others officials, say that they had been negotiating with the squatters for some time to get them out, but all deadlines had expired. Meanwhile, their Member of Parliament and former mayor Desmond McKenzie has promised to help.
The reaction of many Jamaicans online has been unsympathetic, rather harsh, even sarcastic. Where are the fathers, they ask? These children are all going to grow up to be gunmen. Why don’t these women get their tubes tied? And so on.
Well, guess what, Dr. Garvey. This is the face of poverty - the issue that, by Dr. Phillips’ own admission, we have not got a handle on yet, after fifty years.
But this is terrible, said Dr. Garvey. Why weren’t arrangements made for the squatters to be relocated, how could they be sitting on the street? Speaking on Television Jamaica, Dr. Garvey pointed out, in a polite and low-key way, that Jamaica must stop blaming others for these problems. He said, in some many words, that we have too much “baggage.” A sensible and thoughtful man. When asked what the solution was for Jamaica, he simply said, “Education, education, education.”
Congratulations are in order..
To the business community of St. Elizabeth, a parish where much activity takes place, especially in the field of agriculture. It has re-established the long-dormant St. Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, now headed by Mr. Howard Hendricks. We look forward to hearing more about their activities.
To the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) which held an open day in Mandeville on Friday to highlight and educate the public about its work. INDECOM investigates all types of abuses by the security forces. I am glad also that Minister of National Security Peter Bunting (who is Member of Parliament for the area) spoke at the event and expressed his support for INDECOM, which has replaced the former Police Public Complaints Authority. The police have not exactly welcomed the government agency with open arms. And Minister Bunting did appear to have a little dig at INDECOM when he said it was important to remain “unbiased” – its head Terrence Williams had participated in a press conference held by human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice some time ago (but aren’t both organizations upholders of human rights?). I am not sure if Minister Bunting’s comment was really necessary, even though it was a sort of aside.
To the Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown Burke, for declaring August 17 Marcus Garvey Day. This is overdue. OK, I know a day is just a day. But special days are symbolic, and they are reminders. The importance of Mr. Garvey’s legacy cannot be overlooked or denied. I am happy that his teachings are to be incorporated into the school curriculum, but wonder whether the teachers themselves can understand or interpret it.
To the Attorney General’s Department for its outreach to the Best Care Children’s Home. They didn’t just hand out sweeties and pat the kids on the head. I was quite moved by the report on their visit; they had sourced gifts that had been personally requested by the residents.
USAID for its annual Camp Summer Plus. The “plus” is that this is not your average summer camp. According to USAID’s press release, the camp’s “two main aims are to provide focused, intensive, data-driven academic programmes through technology and the arts in the critical areas of reading and mathematics; and to provide nutritional, psychological, social and other support which are known to impact student performance.” Serious and well-conceived.
To Jamaica’s female cricketers! They defeated Trinidad & Tobago yesterday in the T-20 finals, and now dominate the English-speaking Caribbean. Kudos to the ladies!
Finally, a big “Get Well Soon” to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is recuperating in Miami from a very serious infection in his back. The infection started after surgery in Jamaica and was not corrected by second surgery, so he went overseas. It seems that the Jackson Memorial Hospital came to his rescue. His recovery is likely to take months. I wish him a full recovery and send best wishes to his loving wife and family.
And last but by no means least, I send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered over the past week. Our land is stained with their blood.
Killed by the police:
Oteno Chambers, 22, St. John’s Road, St. Catherine
Damion Saunders, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Romaine Ferron, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13
Errol Cohen, 48, Spaldings, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston
Kevorn Thompson, 17, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine
Christopher Walters, 44, Dyke Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Old Harbour Villa, St. Catherine
Demus Williams, Westchester, St. Catherine
Bentley Parker, Westchester, St. Catherine
Kevin Butler, 32, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Linton Banton-Dean, 24, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Unidentified man, Allman Hill, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Roaring River, Westmoreland
Shernette Parker, 32, Knoxwood, St. Elizabeth
Peter Cunningham, 34, Retirement, St. James
Keith Maxwell, 65, Granville, St. James
Ramesh Sutherland, 25, Granville, St. James
Simon Munroe, 26, Flanker, St. James
Chase Facey, 24, Westmeade, St. Catherine
Clover Graham, 56, Caymanas, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Attorney-found-dead (Attorney found dead – Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/three-killed-shootings-rock-granville-st-james (Three killed as shootings rock Granville, St. James – Radio Jamaica)
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/losing-that-loving-feeling-jamaica-50/#comment-958 (Losing that loving feeling – Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Unqualified-teachers—Minister-says-only-16–qualified-to-teach-Math_12308827 (Minister says only 16 per cent qualified to teach Math – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CXC-furious–Wants-Jamaican-critics-to-stop-the-blame-game_12307764 (CXC furious, wants Jamaican critics to stop the blame game – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120818/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Assessing CSEC exam results – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/After-Jamaica-50–Olympics-comes-economic-reality_12306785 (After Jamaica 50, Olympics comes economic reality – Dennis Chung/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Our-region-is-feting-when-we-should-be-fretting_12312137 (Our region is fêting when we should be fretting – Sunday Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Why is Marcus Garvey a National Hero? – Carolyn Copper/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/EVICTED–Pregnant-woman-with-eight-children-among-60-thrown-off-Duke-Street-property (Pregnant woman with eight children among 60 thrown off Duke Street property)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/news/news1.html (A cycle of poverty – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/lead/lead92.html (UHWI operating with only one ambulance – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Taking-best-care_12276664 (Taking best care – Attorney General’s Department – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=39238 (Bruce Golding’s recovery to take months)
Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Marcus Garvey in Jamaican schools (caribbean360.com)