It’s hard to know where to start, on this humid weekend in Kingston town. Heavy rains are forecast this week. I will be up in the Blue Mountains and was hoping for fine weather, with the hurricane season now, and thankfully, in decline… But the light is low, and the air heavy – reflecting, perhaps, the sense of gloom and discouragement in this week’s media.
So let’s deal with that. “Jamaica on the Brink!” is the headline for an opinion piece by Jamaican sociologist Don Robotham, who departed these shores for New York University some ten years ago or more. It is often a little wearying to read and hear Jamaicans living overseas prescribe the solutions for Jamaica’s socio-economic problems from afar. But there is at least one important point in this piece: “We are truly on our own, economically and politically.” The rest of the world has problems of its own. It is not concerned with our predicament, much of it of our own making. I also get a little tired of the much-declared “We little, but we tallawah” (we are small, but strong/tough). Have we really proved how “tallawah” we are – economically, socially? (Putting aside sportsmen/women, etc). Are we tough enough to face up to reality? Or are we more interested in getting our picture on page two of the Jamaica Observer - the social page? I wrote a blog post on social cohesion and unity - “The Power of ‘we’” - last week. Have we released that power – and if so, is it real or is it just fluff and rhetoric?
It’s probably related to this, but there has also been ongoing commentary in the print media on the perceived lack of direction of the current political administration. Is this a fair criticism, I wonder? Admittedly, since I returned from my travels ten days ago I have not seen or heard our Minister of Finance in the media at all. Perhaps he is away. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller seems to be as much the target of criticism now as in early September, when I went away for several weeks. Not much seems to have changed in that respect. To be fair, the Prime Minister did hold the first of her parish forums (fora?) a few days ago, in the troubled city of Spanish Town (always troubled, it seems, and riven by gang warfare and sheer poverty). It’s a pity that the audience (which looked fairly large on television) had to wait two hours before the Prime Minister actually spoke to them. I watched some of it on the Jamaica Information Service’s live stream. It was basically a written speech, making announcements and promises of jobs and development for the town. I am not sure how much dialogue there was with the audience afterwards. A forum must include Q&A, one supposes. It might have helped if the Prime Minister had herself arrived on time; she was late. And one has not heard much feedback from the citizens of Spanish Town. Perhaps they just came to hear promises.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Gleaner today (among other commentators) is still claiming that the Prime Minister has “gone AWOL” and that her ministers are off on their own projects, left to their own devices. Jamaica needs a firm hand at the wheel, the critics suggest. Jamaica cannot drift along on the tides of global fortune (and misfortune). It seems to me that the Opposition pipes up about crime and the economy every now and then; but there is no real indication that they would have any stronger leadership to offer to the poor, confused people of Jamaica. Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck is by far the most vocal.
This week, the Prime Minister will pay an official visit to Canada this week to discuss matters of interest to both Jamaica and Canada. Of course, there is quite a large Jamaican diaspora in Canada, whom I assume she will also meet during the five days she will be there. That’s basically the whole week, right?
The Ministry of Finance has, this evening, broken its silence on the International Monetary Fund issue. It will not be able to finalize an agreement by the end of this year, it noted in a press release Sunday evening; but it remains confident that the negotiation will go forward. We had already guessed that. The IMF team visited Jamaica in September. When I hear Minister Phillips’ voice, though (and yes, we did hear from him this evening), he sounds tired. I feel tired, too (and somewhat anxious). One of the IMF’s conditions is that the Government should cut the public sector wage bill. The Government says it intends to do so, but was pretty vague about it recently. Oh… I do recall that the Prime Minister promised, on the campaign trail at the end of last year, that her administration would “renegotiate” the IMF agreement within a couple of weeks of taking up office. No comment needed. The local financial analysts remain “cautiously optimistic,” to coin a phrase – with emphasis on the “cautious.”
But before we all sink into the slough of despair…Some people have been celebrating this week. It was National Honors time again (and how quickly these occasions seem to come round!) and 124 smiling Jamaicans proudly received their honors in a long ceremony which was not apparently open to the public. Like the Gleaner editorial, I wonder if there are just too many of these awards. It is not that the awardees aren’t deserving – although it does seem that if you are a reggae musician of a certain age, you do have a very good chance of getting one. But we are a small country. The Gleaner also pointed out that only a handful of those 124 were members of the business community – many of whom do get involved in supporting their communities and make a contribution to society, while also making a profit (and nothing wrong with making a profit of course). I don’t know. I do think, though, that a man who carried a guitar shaped like an M-16; spewed “bad words” continuously at the public and at his long-suffering audiences; and smoked so much weed that he set off smoke alarms in hotels; meanwhile fathering many children with several women, may not qualify for a posthumous Order of Merit (his former fellow band member, Bob Marley, has one, but his “image” was more savory than that of Mr. Peter Tosh). But it appears that some members of the current administration have a huge admiration for Tosh, and so it happened. Not that I don’t love his music, and enjoyed his rebelliousness. But an O.M.? No.
Not to sound churlish, however… Many congratulations to all those who received awards this week.
There will be more pomp and speechifying soon, as the House of Representatives will pay tribute to former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. The House already spent hours lauding another former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga. Now P.J.’s turn. Forgive me for asking, but isn’t the purpose of the Lower House to conduct the people’s business? What is the purpose of these tributes, these endless speeches, thumping on desks, etc.? Regardless of one’s political persuasion, what is the actual purpose of this? Is it something to do with Jamaica 50?
And isn’t the debate and motion calling for the lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba a huge waste of time, too? For heaven’s sake, aren’t there more urgent and pressing Jamaican issues to attend to? I know I sound somewhat insular, but I believe this comes up every year, and the same platitudes are trotted out. It is a feel-good issue on which politicians on both sides can agree and present a united front, I suppose. They can summon up a good bit of righteous indignation, and hot air. And the Cuban Ambassador must be happy for the support.
Moving on… to the Jamaica Public Service Company, everyone’s favorite whipping boy. Having endured a six-and-a-half hour power cut last weekend (to be told after two hours of darkness that the company had not yet dispatched anyone to deal with it) I found it ironic that the recent census concluded that a mere 200,000 Jamaicans are actually consuming electricity without being JPS customers. How does that work? Could we try it, I wonder? The article below on JPS’ customer service (or lack of it) exactly reflects our situation. On the telephone, JPS refers you to bill payment as the first option… emergency comes second on the list. My, oh my.
As for the census, there were numerous media reports this week, which led me to the conclusion that a) taking the census had been a tremendous struggle and a challenge for the poor people visiting door to door, many of whom got a hostile reception; b) the results of the census were therefore incomplete and inaccurate; and c) most Jamaicans who are Christian are Seventh Day Adventist. I needed to know that last fact, although I don’t see the relevance to Jamaica’s development. The Sunday Gleaner really went overboard dissecting the figures on religious beliefs. It failed to explain why Rastafarianism had become quite popular among men, for example, but is embraced by far fewer women. And is this such an important aspect of the census that it merited several pages and yards of column space? But hey, maybe it is all of enormous importance; one letter-writer this week was very concerned about Buddha statues in Hope Gardens. So much for religious tolerance.
Well, I think I will hand out some Petchary Awards, now. They are not worth much, I’m afraid; I don’t have any ribbons or medals to hand out. But top of my list this week must be Digicel, who pulled off a fantastic event last night – a 5K Walk and 5K Run in support of several charities supporting Jamaican children and adults with special needs. The Gleaner, JPS, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and all the other partners and private sector sponsors are to be congratulated. The theme, “Take Back the Night,” sounds familiar as I feel it has been used before in a different context. But the purpose was to put downtown Kingston back on the map – to show that it is a real place, with real people. And that it is safe – not scary. Digicel, Jamaica’s largest cellular phone provider, has invested hugely in downtown; its global headquarters is under construction there. So, this is something significant and meaningful. Thousands of people turned out (not the couple of hundred I was expecting), the atmosphere was upbeat and the event extremely well organized – and fun, as well as making a serious point.
Also… let’s hear it for the female entrepreneurs. There is a group of small businesses, all female-owned, in a charming and discreet complex in my Kingston neighborhood. They all support each other, and they are worth supporting in return. Pay them a visit at 8 Hillcrest Avenue, Kingston 6. You will find it most enjoyable, I promise.
One of our National Heroes is Sam Sharpe, who was also called “Daddy.” Sharpe, who was actually a deacon in the Baptist Church although a slave all his life, was born on an estate called Croydon, in Catadupa, near Montego Bay. Congratulations to all those with the vision to create a heritage park – including a monument to “Daddy” Sharpe, who led Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion. The heritage tour will open on December 15; make a note to visit next time you are in western Jamaica.
P.S. I know I have been very upset with the company she heads, but I must say that the relatively new President/CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, Ms. Kelly Tomblin, does seem like an awfully nice woman. She is the daughter of a West Virginia coal miner, and her children are called George and Harrison. My favorite Beatle!
You have noticed that I have not mentioned crime once. But now to the saddest part of my weekly blog, which is the unending stream of murders. I wasn’t able to get the names of several unidentified murder victims, although their names may have been released by now. My sincere condolences to all those who have lost loved ones violently this week; and also I am keeping the family and friends of Tandy Lewis, a Post Office employee who has been missing for some time, in my thoughts. As you may recall, another Post Office employee who went missing recently was found murdered with his girlfriend, last month. Here is the list of names, and it concerns me that the parish of St. Catherine (of which Spanish Town is the capital, of course) seems to have recorded quite a few homicides, this week.
And where did 300 rounds of ammunition, found in Westmoreland this week, come from? All for high-powered rifles. It frightens me terribly.
Two unidentified bodies, Clark’s Town, Trelawny
Ryan Richards, 28, Decoy, St. Mary
Shawn Anthony Thompson, 19, Thompson Pen, St. Catherine
Richard Whyte, 25, Gregory Park, St. Catherine
Steve Dobson, Thompson Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Esquivel, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Red Hills, St. Andrew
Daniel Stone, 18, Montego Bay, St. James
Trevor Wright, Spanish Town Road, Kingston
Morris Williams, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Jermain Lawrence, 34, Angels, St. Catherine
Barrington Robinson, 25, Angels, St. Catherine
Andrew Blair, 27, Silver Spring, Westmoreland
Dwight Lester, 29, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine (mob killing)
Richard Grant, 29, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Salem/Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Nicole Byles, 26, Barbary Hall, St. Elizabeth
George Channer, 63, Claremont, St. Catherine
Jamaica on the brink: Don Robotham column, Sunday Gleaner
Anybody out there? Petchary’s Blog
We are family: Blog Action Day 2012
Holness slams Government on crime plan: Jamaica Observer
Still no leads on Tandy Lewis’ disappearance: Sunday Gleaner
Census: Majority of homes still without computer, Internet access: Jamaica Gleaner
P.J. Patterson to be honored by Parliament: Jamaica Observer
Murdered woman was pregnant: Sunday Gleaner
Trio sentenced in Montego Bay kidnapping case: Jamaica Gleaner
Statement by Prime Minister Simpson Miller following the Cabinet retreat: Jamaica Information Service
Some “missing” girls really hiding from dons, says cop: Jamaica Observer
Develop downtown, create more jobs – economic expert: Jamaica Gleaner
International conference to examine life and culture of Maroons: Jamaica Observer
Un-Konshen-able! Select more tasteful performers for national events: Jamaica Gleaner
Poor governance hampering environmental progress in region: Jamaica Observer
Why so many Buddha statues at Hope Zoo? Jamaica Gleaner
Police net ammo in Westmoreland raid: Jamaica Observer
Mob killings are murder, Commish warns: Jamaica Observer
Where is the Government? Jamaica Gleaner editorial
Awardees express gratitude for national honors, awards: Jamaica Observer
Time to review National Honors? Jamaica Gleaner editorial
Government approaching IMF discussions seriously, says Prime Minister: Jamaica Information Service
”Amusing” speech from PM: Jamaica Gleaner letter to the editor
Chavez gives Petrojam priority: Jamaica Observer
House supports motion for lifting of Cuban embargo: Jamaica Information Service
Census highlights power gap: Consumers outnumber JPS customers base by more than 200,000: Sunday Gleaner
Ten things you didn’t know about Kelly Tomblin: Sunday Gleaner
Professor says Jamaica needs strong planning agency: Jamaica Observer
Where is the Government? Simpson Miller administration AWOL: Sunday Gleaner editorial
JPS’s response to power outages: Jamaica Observer
Sex-offender registry an overreach: Jamaica Gleaner op-ed
INDECOM to establish own crime lab: Jamaica Observer
MORE FM strengthening community energy: Jamaica Observer
Were all our heroes really heroes? Busta, Manley don’t qualify: Jamaica Gleaner op-ed
MoH says over 1,500 premises inspected, 122 communities fogged in Corporate Area
”A new dawn in heritage tourism”: Jamaica Observer
PM promises facelift for Spanish Town: Jamaica Observer
Out of many one people: Jamaica Observer op-ed
A card pack of jokers on Seaga: Jamaica Observer column
Three charged with murder of attorney Clover Graham: Sunday Observer
Jamaica in deep foreign exchange problem: Jamaica Observer column
Kingston’s best-kept retail secret: Jamaica Observer