The squalls of last night are over. I lay in bed with continuous thunder, lightning and sheets of rain falling, assaulting my senses and rendering me sleepless. A cup of strong Blue Mountain coffee is helping to revive me. Thanks for just brushing by us, Tropical Storm Isaac. It could have been a lot worse. Nine silly people traveling through the notorious Bog Walk Gorge (basically, a main road running between a river and a sheer rock face) had to be rescued from the roofs of their cars last night. Now, Sunday morning in Kingston has been bright and breezy; and the lawn has grown by several inches overnight.
So, on to the week that was. It was the usual odd mix of melodrama and “nutten nah gwaan” (for non-Jamaicans, this means “nothing happening”).
First, the drama. The big “C” reared its ugly head (corruption, not cancer – although you could say that one is the other). The case (brought by a police sergeant who should be highly commended and supported) involves a Businessman (or “big man” as we call these powerful men in SUVs), a high-profile Police Senior Superintendent, and an Opposition Politician. I think it is fair to say that these three categories of Jamaicans – businessmen, politicians and the police force – are regarded with the greatest suspicion by the average man/woman on the street. There is always that little corruption? question mark. Trust, or the lack of it, is a terrible thing.
In this case, the Businessman was stopped by the Sergeant for speeding in said SUV, and allegedly offered him a bribe. According to media reports, in a complicated web of negotiations described as “mediation,” the Sergeant was told to discuss the matter with a Senior Policeman, who, it is alleged, “took care of things.” The Politician also intervened, as the Businessman is a great friend of his; he is charged with breaching Section 14(2) of the Corruption Prevention Act while Senior Policeman and Businessman are charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. The case came to court last week; there were many cynical comments, some shock and some puzzlement that a Businessman should go to such lengths to avoid a mere traffic ticket. Is this how “big men” arrange their lives? There was much excitement outside the courthouse last week when the three accused, accompanied by various family members and supporters, arrived. The Senior Policeman had a very pained and sad look, head bowed, clutching his wife’s hand; the Businessman and his Wife looked cool and well-dressed, in matching designer shades; the Politician appeared happy for the attention and, as usual, talked too much. “I always say, ‘Who God bless, no man curse,’” he cheerfully told an eager television reporter. OK, then.
Now, I felt that the eviction of around sixty people in downtown Kingston a week ago – mostly women and children – was treated rather carelessly by aspects of the media. The focus seemed to be wrong. Since then, commentators have got to grips with the issue to some extent. But listen, folks, this is serious. It’s fine for us to say, “Well, they shouldn’t have so many children…They expect us to support them…I don’t feel sorry for them…They want everything for free,” etc. But why aren’t we addressing the core issue? Does no one want to talk about it? And that issue is poverty. Yes, the p-word. Jamaica Observer columnist Mark Wignall wrote an insightful piece on the matter today – the link is below. He describes the situation of squatting as a “tragedy.” Of course it is. If one-third of your population live in “informal settlements,” - at the mercy of the environment, in unhealthy conditions, preyed on by criminals, and used by politicians as a vote-getting group at election time – what else can you call it?
It is a tragedy. But these are poor people. Somehow it’s all their fault, they shouldn’t be poor. But all is not lost; the politicians “love” them (i.e. love their votes). As Wignall’s colleague columnist James Moss-Solomon notes, “The so-called ‘love of the poor’ is not expressed as a hatred of poverty and a need to eliminate that scourge, but is reminiscent of sharing the suffering of Jesus without wanting to remove the nails if we are able.” Mr. Moss-Solomon was writing in general about that elusive concept of unity - which a number of leading Jamaicans were waxing lyrical about on the Gleaner front page in the weeks before Independence. Unity – and division. See more division below.
In the Nutten Nah Gwaan section: Well, after not much more than a year, the commuter railway revived by the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration ran its last trip through the parish of St. Catherine. Yes, we know the economic reasons for its closure. But this was most disheartening. It was not as if Jamaicans were not using it – they loved it. A CVM Television series focused on reactions to the closure, and the commuters suggested it could have made much more money if it had run to Kingston, or even Montego Bay. In our fiftieth year of Independence, this was somehow not morale-boosting.
Are we in recession? asked an article in the Business Observer last week. Well, the head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica seem confused, but it’s fair to say, I think, that “nutten nah gwaan” in the Jamaican economy. The PIOJ tried desperately to put some kind of positive spin on what appeared at first report (via the Statistical Institute of Jamaica) to have been negative growth in the first quarter of 2012. Isn’t that a recession, then? It ended up predicting between minus 0.5 per cent and plus 0.5 per cent growth for the September quarter. The looks on their faces said it all. They were not
Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke says she is “working behind the scenes” after coming under fire from the Gleaner in an editorial last week. Like all the others, Ms. Brown Burke made a wonderful speech at her swearing-in in April. We have not heard much from her since… But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s only been a few months. But it seems we are all impatient…
Meanwhile, our Prime Minister allows her ministers to get on with their portfolios, and does not interfere – so she told a television reporter this week when asked to comment on an issue. Is this the hands-off, autopilot approach to leadership?
“I see a nation that is drifting,” intoned radio talk show host on Nationwide News Network Ronald Mason last week. “There has been eight months of inertia.” I can just hear another famed talk show host, the late Wilmot Perkins, agreeing with him. Mr Perkins would have added, “Things fall apart…The center cannot hold.” Back to Mr. Mason: “I see no motivation, no reassurance from our political leaders.” These comments got the listeners and callers all revved up for a few hours of gloom and doom, last week, I can tell you.
Something is going on at Caymanas Park, where our horse racing takes place. Here are some pieces of information, and you can make out of it what you will. Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance Derrick Kellier announced recently that the Government plans to sell Caymanas, but wants good money for it. Last week, among the many murders (see list of names below) a racehorse trainer was shot in the head by two gunmen who seemed to be waiting for him as he drove into the Park. There is poor security there, it appears – Caymanas is “bruck.” Then, just last night, gunmen broke into the office at Caymanas, held up some staff and stole more than seven million Jamaican Dollars cash. Well, I don’t know. Some things we can never get to the bottom of…
Why am I not impressed?
…By the lovely 2012 Mercedes Benz driven by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Donovan Stanberry. Mr. Stanberry went into a convoluted argument in the Sunday Gleaner, explaining why this was a good deal for the Jamaican taxpayer, rather than the usual SUVs that our public servants swish around in. Only J$6.3 million, less duty concessions and other allowances which would lower the cost. Very economical, yes. Perhaps some of that could have gone towards the rebuilding of the Glenhope Place of Safety, a state home for unwanted small children and girls, which was partly destroyed by fire nine months ago. Work there has not even started. The Government is “bruck.” But what am I saying? These are only poor people’s abandoned kids. Like the squatters. They are not priority are they? (Please forgive me – I get too carried away with the sarcasm sometimes!)
…By Member of Parliament for South St. James Derrick Kellier, who did not see what the fuss was all about (his words) when he reportedly recommended that a firm owned by his brother be granted road-works contracts in his constituency, through the often-contentious Constituency Development Fund. The indefatigable Office of the Contractor General is, thankfully, investigating.
…By the dithering over the lifting of a ban on the scrap metal trade. So many hints have been dropped in the media that the ban is to be lifted that the scavengers have pricked up their ears, and got to work. They are being proactive. So far, the scrap metal thieves have targeted the Jamaica Public Service Company, Highway 2000 and telecoms firm LIME; the latter, in particular has recently suffered millions of dollars in losses. What is really happening? I thought that the Minister in charge, Hon. Anthony Hylton, was to make a statement on Friday? Meanwhile, legitimate (one hopes) scrap dealers have been protesting. In May a local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), issued a ten-step solution to the scrap metal conundrum. I hope the Minister has had a look at it. A link to the full brief is below…
…By Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill‘s announcement this week that its publicity campaign for Jamaica at the London Olympics was a roaring success. Most of us lesser mortal were not privileged to be in London; so we would have to take his word for it. But I hear that “Jamaica House” in London was a fun place to hang out for a drink in the evenings… And also, the one million pounds spent during the campaign was “well spent,” the good Minister told us. What actually came out of it in terms of dollars and cents, business opportunities, partnerships etc? Not sure of the details. Are you? But Information Minister Sandrea Falconer, who chaired the Minister’s press conference, gently chided Jamaicans/the media for “quibbling” over small matters, as questions were asked. Take their word for it. It was money well spent. Perhaps the “small matter” was the unfortunate tweet by Minister McNeill’s junior minister Damion Crawford, who informed us all that he and some Jamaican musicians were having a great time at a London club. Or perhaps it was the people who were part of the delegation to London. I am still not clear why Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke went, but I am sure he had a nice time, too… Meanwhile, visitor arrivals over the Independence period reportedly grew by six per cent, we are told. Frankly, I would have thought we could have attracted more visitors for Jamaica 50.
…And I have to agree with Observer columnist Jean Lowrie-Chin, who staunchly defends Jamaica’s “Out of Many, One People” motto. This multi-racial concept has come under attack recently from noted academic at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Dr. Carolyn Cooper – who loves to ruffle feathers, and appears to have seized the opportunity to do so as we try to celebrate “unity” on our fiftieth anniversary. Please, Carolyn, can we smooth those feathers down a bit?
Now, Ms. Lowrie-Chin is eternally positive, optimistic and far less cynical than I am – and I love her for it. But she spoke in an unusually strong tone in her column last week: “Will the UWI Mona folks who refuse to accept non-blacks as Jamaicans forgo their salaries and professorial chairs, since they are so heavily subsidised by non-black business owners who contribute significantly to our national coffers?” Now, it seems, UWI’s enfant terrible has taken set on the very small Jewish community in Jamaica, claiming that the history of the Jews’ role in Jamaica’s plantation society and slavery has not been properly aired. (Well, surely everyone in those days was involved in slavery in some way or other, weren’t they?) She is taking the head of the Jamaican Jewish community to task for seeking to defend his people in a letter to the Gleaner editor, accusing him of a personal attack on her. I don’t know where all this is going, and it seems both unnecessary and insensitive; but Dr. Cooper wants us all to face facts about the “out of many” scenario – or at least, her version of the facts. Perhaps she just wants to be controversial… How, I wonder, does this mesh with Dr. Cooper’s recent spirited defense of a certain deejay – now in jail on murder charges – whose claim to fame was the “bleaching” of his dark skin to an unhealthy off-white color? And perhaps she might recall that most, if not all of the Jews who arrived in Jamaica were themselves fleeing persecution in Europe.
Dear, dear. And they say race isn’t an issue in Jamaica!
…Then there are the teachers. Folks, let us just remember that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association is a trade union. Therefore, its mandate is to call for improved wages and conditions for its members – every year, at this time. The fact that – as I keep pointing out – government is “bruck” is neither here nor there to the JTA, it seems. They have rejected a wage offer, and they want their pension arrangements to remain in place. The fact is that pension reform is one of the three issues which the International Monetary Fund wants the Jamaican Government to address as a precursor (or condition?) of negotiations – those negotiations which are scheduled to start in September. Any word from the Finance Minister? Not much. Any word from the Education Minister? Plenty of words, all of which I agree with.
But still, there are some bouquets to hand out this week, I think:
Firstly, to the University of the West Indies‘ Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social & Economic Studies (SALISES) for their week-long reflections on where on earth Jamaica is heading after fifty years, “Fifty-Fifty: Critical Reflections in a time of Uncertainty.” This was the result of a huge amount of research by numerous clusters of academics on a wide range of topics. I plan to write more about this during the week in a separate blog post, but I do applaud SALISES for this ambitious conference – and particularly, for inviting the public to participate free of charge. When I went down there one afternoon this week, the Jamaica Pegasus was throbbing with life, and filled with Jamaicans who wanted to contribute to one debate or the other. I was very pleased to see this. Now I look forward to seeing some action plans coming out of the discussions. As Lee Kwan-Yew once caustically observed, Jamaicans are very eloquent and very good at talking. Now let’s translate this all into meaningful action that will propel us forward…
Secondly, I am proud of the two youth-led groups Help Ja Children and the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network, who have taken on the issue of Jamaica’s homeless and marginalized (see “squatting” above) with a new online campaign. I would urge you to go to http://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-eviction-and-displacement-of-homeless-jamaicans, read it carefully and if you agree, please do sign their petition and shared it widely.
I heard about the Harris Family Vision Foundation for the first time this week, and have to give them warm hugs on behalf of our children. The amazing part of the Foundation is that it is co-founded by a seventeen-year-old (who has a growth disability) Nekhidia and her fourteen-year-old sister Kimberly. Their parents, Michael and Dasline, have been volunteering in Jamaica for the past twenty years. Among many other activities and donations, the Foundation donated a clinic in Madras, St. Ann on Marcus Garvey’s birthday this year. When asked about her amazing confidence, Nekhidia quoted Garvey himself: “If you do not have confidence in yourself you are twice defeated in the race of life.” What an inspiring family – and, by the way, they live in New York. Thank you.
And last but not least: the wonderful Yohan Blake is now officially the second fastest man in the world ever, after a fantastic 9.69 second run in Lausanne, Switzerland. Do join our Facebook group, The Unofficial Yohan Blake Appreciation Society. It seems there are more female members than males, but we are seeking to address the gender imbalance!
Kudos on the media front: Television Jamaica has greatly improved its website. I never used to visit it, but realize it is now slick, attractive and has easily accessible clips from their highly popular morning magazine program “Smile Jamaica” as well as news, etc. Good going. (A nice interview with Jamaica’s first Tae Kwon Do Olympian Kenneth Edwards is linked below). They have uploaded nearly 600 video clips – something there for everyone.
No one seems to put in a good word for On the Ground News Reports, so I will. They started off as a Facebook page and now have an excellent website at http://www.og.nr/keywords/local-news. If you want news from the street – every detail, including roads closed, car crashes, house fires, sports, security issues (murders) – you name it – this will keep you up to date. It is interactive, so anyone can contribute if they can confirm a story or add further information. You can send them photos from your phone. It’s a unique idea and it deserves to be better supported by us, the Jamaican public out there. If you see or hear of something going on, let them know! They are also on Twitter (@onthegroundjm). Their slogan: “You are the news.”
I like the Observer’s TeenAge weekly, edited and written by teens. It is nicely put together and a good mix of the usual teen stuff – pop music, fashion etc – and more uplifting information relevant to teens. I liked this week’s article on the young journalists’ visit to the Youth Science Forum in Trinidad recently.
Finally, “big ups” to the Jamaican diaspora media, out there. In Florida, there are a few radio stations focusing on Jamaican issues. For example, my Facebook friend Desmond Brown will be discussing whether Jamaicans overseas should be allowed to vote in Jamaican elections (always a tricky topic!) this afternoon on Island Riddim Radio in Central Florida. They do live streaming at www.islandriddimradio.com. Then there is the young Kingstonian Lawman Lynch, now operating out of New York with a newsletter, who is also active in the broadcast media. Greetings to all!
Once again, and on my usual sad note, I offer my deepest condolences to the grieving families and friends of the following Jamaicans, who were killed in the past week. It concerns me that this list appears to be growing a little longer each week – and no one seems to be commenting on this very much.
Killed by police:
Three unidentified men, Norwood, Montego Bay, St. James
Karl Nation, 18, Maxfield Park, Kingston
Nigel Thompson, 18, Maxfield Park, Kingston
Rohan Lewis, 28, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann
Joseph Wedderburn, Sine Irwin, St. James
Ralbert Wilmot, 48, Retreat, St. James
Karl Atkinson, 56, Balaclava, St. Elizabeth
Anthony Kirlew, 50, Caymanas Park, St. Catherine
Michael Raymond, 51, Palmers Cross, Clarendon
Bucassa McIntosh, 35, Portsmouth, St. Catherine
Don Riggs, 35, Green Pond, St. James
Donovan Anderson, 37, Green Pond, St. James
Jermaine Gordon, 23, Green Pond, St. James
Melbourne Lowe, 57, Eleven Miles, St. Thomas
Matthew McAnuff, 25, Kingston
Unidentified man, Lincoln Avenue, Kingston 13
Peter Nembhard, Central Village, St. Catherine
Clayton Smith, 39, Bluefields, Westmoreland
Devon Thompson, 41, Islington, St. Mary
Veronica Wizard, 75, Torrington Park, Kingston
Kemar Beckford, 21, Retreat, St. James (mob killing)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Vaz-steps-aside_12331030 (Vaz steps aside – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Poor–pregnant-and-homeless_12346438 (Poor, pregnant and homeless – Mark Wignall op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead2.html (Birthing poverty: Is two still better than too many? – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Help-coming-for-evicted-squatters_12322447 (Help coming for evicted squatters – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120823/lead/lead7.html (Squatter squabble – Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/A-nation-divided-against-itself-must-fall_12340147 (A nation divided against itself must fall – James Moss-Solomon op-ed)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t-will-sell-Caymanas-Park-but-not-cheaply–says-Dalley (Government will sell Caymanas Park but not cheaply, says Dalley – Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead9.html (Kirlew marked for death? – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Stopover-arrivals-up-6—-Minister-McNeil (Stopover arrivals up six per cent – Minister McNeill – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/31580 (One Million Pounds on promotional activities in London well spent – Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead4.html (Eyebrows raised over Stanberry’s Benz – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120820/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Derrick Kellier defends the trough – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/focus/focus3.html (Fifty years in dependence – Ian Boyne op-ed – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/focus/focus1.html (Government squandering mandate – Chris Tufton op-ed – Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/lead/lead91.html (Glenhope yet to rise from ashes – Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.capricaribbean.org/research/10-steps-scrap-metal-solution-full-brief (Ten Steps to a Scrap Metal Solution- CaPRI)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Are-we-in-recession_12326791 (Are we in recession? – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/31582 (Jamaica House in London a succes – McNeill – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/31569 (36,000 additional airlift seats secured from UK – Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/20346 (Jamaica’s first taekwondo champion – TVJ interview)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Tribalism-in-Jamaican-politics_12340116 (Tribalism in Jamaican politics – Diane Abbott op-ed)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Fifty-Fifty–Critical-Reflections-in-a-Time-of-Uncertainty–1-_12343567 (50-50: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty – Claude Robinson op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120826/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Persistent Perversity on Jews and Slavery – Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jamaica—still-ahead-of-the-race-curve (Jamaica – Still Ahead of the Race Curve – Jean Lowrie-Chin op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120823/lead/lead5.html (Phillips firm on IMF wrap-up – Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/teenage/TEENage-visits-Youth-Science-Forum_12312347 (TeenAge visits Youth Science Forum)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Charity-begins-at-home-_12268953 (Charity begins at home – Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/sport/-Beast–unleashed_12338646 (Beast unleashed! – Jamaica Observer Sports)
50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sighs: August 19, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
UN agency calls for full probe into Jamaica murder (seattletimes.nwsource.com)