Well, there are still a few more chocolates left in the box, after a bit of an onslaught by my husband and I in the last couple of days (see my blog post on freewheeling). It’s got to the point where I am glad they are nearly finished though. I just want to see them gone. They are haunting me. So let’s have another one…
Christmas week was, in a way, pretty quiet in Jamaica. Nothing much changed. As I mentioned in last week’s notes, there is unfinished business, like the turkey leftovers no one wants to eat. But we can’t throw them out. After the holidays are done, we will have to take these distasteful leftovers out. We will have to choke them down.
First of all, though, I have to get something out of the way. One of our two national daily newspapers saw it fit to print, on Christmas Day of all days, an editorial cartoon depicting gay Jamaicans as terrifying freaks apparently intent on doing something evil with our children. A little boy tells his mother he is no longer afraid of Jonkunnu. This is the traditional Jamaican masquerade depicted in the background to this blog; children (and some adults) often run screaming from the Devil, Pitchy Patchy and other costumed characters who pursue them (in fun, of course). No, nowadays the sweet little boy is afraid of…gays. Now, this is not the first time that the Jamaica Observer‘s cartoonist, Clovis, has produced such cartoons. Like many other Jamaicans, he seems obsessed with homosexuality – and he clearly thinks we are going to find these grotesque and cruel depictions of a highly marginalized community which is already persecuted (yes, I would use that word), somehow funny, too. No, it is not the same thing as poking fun at politicians and other public figures. It is targeting a particular group in a display of bigotry that disturbs me deeply…but does not surprise me.
How sad, Jamaica Observer. Is this how you intend to continue into 2013? Well, clearly your owners and editors must be in agreement with it all. So, what more can I say.
This morning, I watched President Barack Obama give a half-hour interview on “Meet the Press.” He started off by explaining what the “fiscal cliff” actually is, in ways viewers could understand, and went on to other pressing topics. How I wish our Prime Minister could sit down for half an hour with one of our TV journalists (we have some very good ones) for such a conversation. Because, we still have our own “fiscal cliff” – whether we are ever going to sign an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and if so…when. We are teetering on the edge – and last week we came to the clear realization that we would not sign any such agreement by December 31, as the Minister of Finance had suggested (in September, I believe). Nor is there any clear indication as to what will be signed, or when. Is there?
Minister Phillips gave an interview to the Sunday Gleaner’s able journalists, Gary Spaulding and Arthur Hall, a day or two ago, and issued an “extensive” press release – which is actually printed in full in the Sunday Observer. The Sunday Gleaner headline, “No reason for panic,” immediately aroused suspicion in me. When people say “Don’t panic!” I generally…panic. That’s me. But anyway, one thing I think Minister Phillips really must avoid is comparing his administration’s handling of the IMF matter to the approach of the previous political administration. Mistake. Whether the Jamaica Labour Party handled it well or not (one suspects probably not very well at all) – that is water under the bridge now, Minister Phillips. It has been a year. And I don’t want to remind you that your leader said emphatically that her administration would have an agreement signed within two weeks of getting into office. But I realize she wasn’t really serious, it was just the excitement of the moment.
The “negotiations” (what does Jamaica have to negotiate with, Minister Phillips?) apparently are still hitting some snags. The Minister mentions the tax waivers and incentives issue and debt reduction, which remain sticking points. Phillips’ Opposition counterpart and former Finance Minister Audley Shaw (the only Opposition spokesman who actually speaks, it seems) believes the IMF agreement is still a few months away. Financial analyst Ralston Hyman thinks not before the end of the first quarter of 2013. Mr. Shaw also mentions the public sector wage bill, which I have mentioned before and which no one is talking about much…yet. Although I am sure the Minister has it on his mind. The nurses and the teachers and others do not sound very amenable to a continued wage freeze. They have been making noises.
Nevertheless, Minister Phillips’ press release at last gives full details of some of the issues that, it seems, are still to be ironed out with the IMF technocrats. (Oh, I used that word! It’s one that Jamaican journalists love…technocrats). He refers, significantly perhaps, to “an instinctive insistence on the part of the IMF that as much as possible should be done up front.” In other words, before any agreement can be finalized, the Jamaican government will have to actually implement some of the key requirements. That doesn’t sound like a short-haul thing to me. Perhaps Mr. Shaw is right.
By the way, be careful with the JIS (the government’s Jamaica Information Service) website. It has malware in it. So says my faithful iMac.
Meanwhile, National Security Minister Peter Bunting’s PR people have been working hard on a long press release, giving details of “significant progress made” in reducing major crimes. Murders down four per cent? Sorry, that doesn’t seem “significant” to me. But perhaps one should be grateful for small mercies. There has been a certain amount of “spin” though, in the way the police report on crime. The parish of Trelawny announced a reduction in murders this year – several days ago, before the end of the year. From eighteen murders down to fifteen. But at least this week there have not been any murders in the parish, so they are OK. Give thanks for the little progress made…three fewer is three fewer.
A reminder: today is exactly one year and one day since the People’s National Party swept the general elections on a wave of euphoria. As a Facebook critic noted, in that year “What has happened?” Many media houses are going through the annual ritual of “grading” the individual government ministers for their overall performance. Many have come up wanting. As at least one media practitioner has noted in recent weeks, the Simpson Miller administration’s main problem seems to be poor communication. Don’t you think? Press releases are OK, up to a point. As a result, ministers are constantly defending themselves against accusations that the Jamaican public don’t know what is going on. This is especially so with regard to the IMF and the economy in general. (By the way, the value of the Jamaican Dollar continues to slide, gently but it inexorably).
Dionne Jackson-Miller’s cutting-edge weekly current affairs program on TVJ “All Angles” recently examined the Cabinet’s performance with a bright and knowledgeable panel, including law student par excellence Maurice Smith. A few years ago, Maurice won the U.S. Embassy’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Competition as a Manchester High School student. He deeply impressed me then, and he still does… He is going to make a positive impact in years to come; I am sure of that. There is a link to the program below. TVJ is looking at promises made by the People’s National Party a year ago, and comparing it to what action has been taken – with a special focus on the leadership debate between Ms. Simpson Miller and then Prime Minister Andrew Holness, when all sorts of grand ideas were trotted out on both sides.
Fast forward to now, and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness appear to have gone off the radar, again. I know it’s Christmas time and all that… But when did we last hear from them? Sorry? When was that?
Ratings for the one-year-old political administration are almost universally low – whether it is informal man/woman-on-the-street sound bytes or in-depth discussions on radio and television. Newspaper columns are even more scathing. We surged on the happy little wave of “Jamaica 50″ and our achievements at the London Olympics for two or three months this year. Now, the wave has broken on the shore, leaving us all high and dry. “Disappointment” is a word much bandied about. Young diaspora leader David Mullings and local columnist Mark Wignall believe we should all find a way to “buy into” Vision 203o – and do things differently. One major hindrance, Wignall asserts (and I agree) is the pervasive and persistent environment of crime and violence, which stymies investment and impedes progress. Talk show host and lecturer Orville Taylor gives the Portia Simpson Miller administration an F, pointing to higher youth unemployment. Oh dear. But least, today, two columnists do give Minister Phillips and Education Minister Ronald Thwaites kudos for their work over the past year. In fact, Sunday Gleaner columnist Ian Boyne (who also works for the Jamaica Information Service) waxes quite lyrical on the latter. He believes that Minister Thwaites has “energy, intellectual breadth and sophistication and a commitment to excellence that is not surpassed by any of his Cabinet colleagues.” Wow.
And so on, and so on. Meanwhile, there were two little flutters of excitement last week. Firstly, the pile-up of garbage in Kingston and other parts of the island became so excessive that the media launched into it at some length. We were treated to a huge photo of piles of garbage on the Observer front page; and much video footage of further mountains of the stuff in every nook and cranny. I averted my eyes, hoping not to see rats. Ms. Jennifer Edwards, who heads the National Solid Waste Management Agency, mentioned that the trucks have mechanical problems; well, this has always been an issue with that agency. Local Government Minister Noel Arscott tried to help her out as she sat there smiling awkwardly by his side in one television interview. Why has it got so bad this time around? I suspect that the funds to fix the trucks were simply not there. Plus there is still raw sewage flowing on two downtown streets. Downtown, the Mayor blamed the holiday influx of vendors for the garbage. As for the flowing sewage…She has talked to the National Water Commission about that. (And?)
Secondly, there was a ridiculous to-do over a tax amnesty for those Jamaicans with outstanding traffic tickets who are seeking to avoid prosecution. The amnesty expires on December 31, but with the usual last-minute mentality everyone left it too late. The tax offices in and around Kingston were besieged. Long lines outside these offices began before five in the morning, according to one television station! The poor civil servants, who had hoped for a nice quiet year-end break perhaps, sprang into action as best they could, but were completely overwhelmed. It then transpired that the various records and systems used by the various government offices were not in sync. In fact, it was a bit of a muddle. The chaos will continue tomorrow, no doubt. What a way to see the New Year in.
A couple of things we didn’t need this week: The Gleaner published at least two full pages of “prophecies” by various evangelists and – er, prophets, for 2013. Does anyone read this superstitious nonsense?
The Observer reprinted pages and pages of its “Lifestyle” section – so many photos of uptown Jamaicans at dozens of social events all through the year that I became quite dizzy. All those grinning faces and mini-skirts and sumptuous meals and wineglasses spun round and round in a perfect frenzy. Who are all these people, and where do they live? And while we are at it, what is the point of the Saturday Observer? Or did I ask that before? It has morphed into a women’s magazine. Although I am supposed to like them, I really dislike women’s magazines as a genre.
OK, enough wingeing now. One thing I do love is Krista Samuels’ long-running feature on TVJ News, “A Ray of Hope.” She always highlights an act of kindness, generosity and community that makes me feel good. After the string of crime reports etc., I guess they have it at the end of the news to lift your spirits, a bit. Last week, Krista highlighted the work of the Mind, Body and Soul Health Ministry, an effort by a Jamaican couple living overseas and partners to restore a community hospital in rural Alexandria, St. Ann. Founded just a year ago, the organization is based in Tampa, Florida. Check out their Facebook page; you will be impressed. (I was so moved by the report of an American doctor, himself an amputee, who fitted local residents with prosthetic legs. The joy and gratitude on the face of one man was touching).
Big ups too, to Javette Nixon, a young man who gave up his regular job to start a new online marketing company, Point Global Marketing (POINT). His start-up firm operates from the University of Technology’s Technology Innovation Centre in Kingston. Javette’s parents did not even go to high school; his mother started business as a higgler, bringing in goods from Panama to sell on Jamaica’s streets. I applaud Javette for his innovation and ambition; plus, he’s such a nice young man. Check out POINT’s lively and regularly updated Facebook page and its beautiful website: http://www.pointglobalmarketing.com.
Congratulations to Ms. Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, winner of the 2012 Aaron Matalon Award. This was presented to her at the 2012 National Biennial today for her contribution to this great artistic exhibit at the National Gallery. Ms. Thomas-Girvan is a sculptor and jewelry-maker. Here is a fascinating piece of hers… Don’t forget to visit the biennial, which features 126 works by 86 artists! It will be on view until March 9, 2013 during the National Gallery’s regular opening hours: Tuesdays-Thursdays: 10 am to 4:30 pm, Fridays: 10 am to 4 pm, Saturdays: 10 am to 3 pm and every last Sunday of the month: 11 am to 4 pm. The Gallery is closed on the other Sundays and on Mondays and Public Holidays. Support, and enjoy, our local art!
And once again, cheers to the community of Camrose, near Montego Bay, which caught the Christmas “spirit” this year. The Tourism Product Development Company (under the Ministry of Tourism) will train community guides next year, in partnership with the Ras Natango Gallery and Gardens located in Camrose. Congratulations to benefactors Mark and Francis Tucci of North Carolina, Tamika and Ian Williams, and the people of Camrose. Good luck, and Happy New Year!
And the same to all of you, dear readers near and far!
Even during Christmas week, the killings continued. I am very sad to see that at least six women were among those whose names I list below. It has been a Christmas of grief and mourning for many Jamaicans. Please let us not forget them.
Ruthlyn Brown, 47, Manchioneal, Portland
Rohan Moore, 33, Kensington, Portland
Andrew Falter, 51, Swift River, Portland
Unidentified man, Shannon Drive, Kingston 11
Private Leachim Whyte, 18, Twickenham Park, St. Catherine (Jamaica Defence Force)
Unidentified woman, Passage Fort/Portmore, St. Catherine
Norman Simpson, Burkesfield, St. Catherine
Shanel Gilfillian, 20, Frankfield, Clarendon
Andrew Watt, 40, Canaan Heights, Clarendon
Reonno O’Sullivan, 30, Racecourse, Clarendon
Dahlia Powell, 46, May Day, Manchester
Wayne Johnson, 47, Kingsvale, Hanover
Jeneiva McKenzie-Lawrence, 48, Thatchfield, St. Ann
Ronald Thomas, 45, Discovery Bay, St. Ann
By the police:
Unidentified man, Top Hill, St. Elizabeth
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/lead/lead1.html (Phillips: no reason for panic: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/What-s-holding-up-the-IMF-deal_13291296 (What’s holding up the IMF deal: Previous Government partly to blame: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/lead/lead4.html (Shaw: IMF deal could be as late as June: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Significant progress made in reducing major crimes – Bunting)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/AllAngles.aspx/Videos/22825 (All Angles: Assessing the Performance of the Cabinet: TVJ)
http://news.cvmtv.com/index.php?id=2431&news=watch (Traffic ticket amnesty: CVM Television)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121226/lead/lead2.html#.UNrARGmunhA.facebook (An ackee Christmas in Camrose: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/When-will-Jamaica-be-good-for-us-_13278595 (When will Jamaica be good for us? Mark Wignall column/Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/focus/focus1.html (2012 Year in Review: Failing grade for PNP: Orville Taylor column/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/After-a-year–PNP-Gov-t-struggling-to-impress-Jamaicans_13246529 (After a year, PNP government struggling to impress Jamaicans: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-year-that-might-have-been_13282558 (The year that might have been: Claude Robinson column/Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/focus/focus5.html (2012 Year in Review: Government must stop playing the blame game: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/2013–here-we-come-_13281518 (2013, here we come! James Moss-Solomon column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Rethink-some-approaches_13281542 (Rethink some approaches: David Mullings column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/A-nasty-dirty-shame- (A nasty dirty shame! (video/report): Observer)
http://repeatingislands.com/2012/12/29/jamaica-paper-publish-anti-gay-hate-cartoon-for-christmas/ (Jamaica paper publishes anti-gay hate cartoon for Christmas: Repeating Islands)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121227/news/news6.html (Protect the rights of all Jamaicans: Karen Carpenter/Gleaner op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/business/business6.html#disqus_thread (Javette Nixon eyes the future of online marketing: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/page2/ (Jamaica Observer’s daily Page Two social page – not the only social pages of course; both newspapers devote at least one page daily to the socialites; more on weekends!)
Sunday Stupor: December 16, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Great “Dig” for Jamaican Bloggers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Tivoli Gardens: On May 24, 2010, The People were “Deading” (petchary.wordpress.com)
The In-Between Blues: Freewheeling down to 2013 (petchary.wordpress.com)