The New Year is a funny time, isn’t it? We all feel we should be doing something bright and new, starting a fresh chapter in our lives. And many of us do.
Well, governments are no different. So early last week, the Jamaican Government started the New Year with a bang. The Minister of National Security Peter Bunting announced a “significant” reduction in major crimes in 2012 compared to the previous year (as noted in last week’s blog post – including a four per cent reduction in murders). He praised the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) for this achievement; and the JCF deserves praise, indeed. Half-way through last year, murders were up by seven per cent – so the second half of 2012 saw much improvement. In mid-2011 the JCF noted, however, that major crimes had fallen to an eight-year low. Of course, the police want to tout their successes; it’s morale-building, and even if some Jamaicans are not particularly encouraged by these figures, it shows a slow but steady progress in the right direction. I have added Minister Bunting’s Sunday Gleaner article below (in case you missed it last week) in which he sets out the many challenges. However, as the Gleaner noted last week, a far more drastic reduction will have to take place for Mr. Bunting to achieve his goal of twelve murders per 100,000 by 2016. We are currently at around 40 murders per 100,000 – a good reduction from a few years back, but still pretty much up there in terms of global statistics. Last year, our murder rate was still the third highest in the world. So yes, it’s good – but no room for complacency.
So for three consecutive nights last week, the television stations played excerpts of a speech by Minister Bunting, in which he extolled the virtues of the “crime-fighting“ effort. Rather embarrassingly, the crime rate in the area he represents as Member of Parliament (Central Manchester, including the once-sleepy town of Mandeville) has risen. The new police chief in the area is Derrick Knight. The media insist on including his nickname, “Cowboy,” in his name, which I find unfortunate. Do we really want to foster a “Wild West” culture in our police force? Let’s drop it.
Then the figures for the number of police killings were released. Unfortunately, this created confusion. I haven’t quite sorted it out in my own head, yet. It appears though that figures released by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) showing a slight increase in extra-judicial killings were based on records provided by the JCF (who noted a very small decrease in the number). INDECOM is now getting good support from the British Government over the next three years, which is excellent. This agency did not actually come into being until April 2011, so had to depend on the JCF for the figures for a while. But from now on, says INDECOM, they will keep their own records. Suffice it to say: Every year for the past ten years or more, agents of the state have killed at least 200 Jamaican citizens annually. Last year was no exception. March 2012 was the worst month, when the police killed 35. And it’s still much, much too high. (By the way, The worst year this century has been 2007 – an election year – with 272 civilians killed).
INDECOM is, however, severely limited not only by human and other resources, but also by the fact that it is endlessly waiting for medical and ballistics reports. Huge delays are the order of the day.
And over seventy Jamaicans died in Tivoli Gardens in May, 2010 during the so-called “incursion” by security forces – police and the Jamaica Defence Force. These weren’t included in that year’s figures. This reminds me: What is happening at the Public Defender‘s office? Last I heard, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Michael Peart told everyone the interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre (my word for it) would be ready in two weeks. It just needed to be collated and printed (what about email, I wonder?) Those were his words on December 5, 2012. Therefore, if I can count correctly, the report should have been made available on December 19, 2012. Can we have some news, please? Or are we going to wait until the third anniversary?
When we talk about crime, let us not just think of murders; let us think about law and order. This is still a huge issue and it encompasses many different situations that Jamaicans find themselves in, day to day. In her inaugural speech exactly one year ago, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said:“On my watch, I pledge that the rule of law will be paramount.” This is something the police have to wrestle with – as well as many Jamaicans, who should know better but can’t somehow resist leaning in the wrong direction. You know what I mean. Let’s do better. Let’s not jump the line. Let’s just be cool.
And talking about crime… I had never heard the expression “praedial larceny“ before I lived in Jamaica. It means theft, in the agricultural context. It is an absolute plague for farmers; it nearly breaks my heart when I see a farmer on television weeping over the loss of his/her goats or other animals – which are sometimes dismembered on the spot by the thieves before they pack the meat into the back of a car. Truly, this does sound like the cattle rustlers of the Wild West. These criminals are depriving people of their entire livelihood (which sometimes only depends on a few animals), leaving them destitute and desperate. Recently, thieves stole 32 heads of cattle from a farm in St. James. And almost every week warnings go out about large vegetable crops that have been stolen when they have just been sprayed with pesticide and are therefore harmful to eat. Now in the Sunday Gleaner, the excellent reporter on rural issues and agriculture, Christopher Serju, says a senior police officer told him that the police do not consider this a serious crime. There are few records kept of this constant thieving, week in, week out. It is a disgrace. What does the Agriculture Minister have to say about it? For years, we have heard about new “plans” to deal with praedial larceny. Much hand-wringing, speechifying and big headlines – something must be done. But guess what? Nothing is done. Read Chris’ article, below. He has seen it for himself, for years.
“Politricks” news of the week: The Office of the Contractor General has recommended the entire Cabinet for prosecution – yes, the entire Cabinet. Acting Contractor General Craig Beresford (who took over after the high-profile Greg Christie stepped down) issued a press statement on January 2 saying his office has referred the Cabinet “for its collective failure to comply with several lawful requisitions of a contractor general.” The Cabinet apparently did not submit certain reports on time, says Mr. Beresford, despite reminders. The ever-cool and deliberate Director of Public Prosecutions, Paula Llewellyn, says she will be taking her time over this one. Meanwhile, I get the feeling that over the past year the relationship between Mr. Beresford’s office and the Simpson Miller administration has been far from comfortable. This is despite the fact that, in the last televised leadership debate in December 2011, Ms. Simpson Miller pledged to “strengthen” the Contractor General’s office. Actions by the Government so far seem to indicate the opposite… Or am I missing something?
News hangover of the week: The issue of the tax amnesty for those who have outstanding traffic tickets has progressed from the ridiculous to the “I just can’t take it any more” stage. It has now emerged that there are major discrepancies in the database. Many Jamaicans who have paid their tickets are coming up as not having paid, for example. As a result, there was growing frustration among Jamaicans, who continued to run up and down from one government office to another in the hot sun, with scraps of paper in their hand. What puzzles me is how so many Jamaicans can receive traffic tickets from the police for various traffic offenses and not pay them? One taxi driver has hundreds outstanding, amounting to millions of dollars in fines! Having said that, I still have a great liking for the no-nonsense head of the Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis – who has a great turn of phrase, too. I wish I could give you a couple of his best sound-bytes. Anyway, he has given everyone two more weeks – I think that is until the end of next week. Another panic will then ensue. It really is a lesson in not only incompetence (the database is clearly corrupted, or something) – but more importantly, a lesson in how Jamaicans behave in such situations. Can’t we curb this “last-minute” mentality?
A quiver of doubt about… A comment made by Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites, who seems to have got into a bit of conflict with some sports administrators over an issue involving the transfer of student athletes from one high school to another. It appears that Minister Thwaites does not approve of this. His philosophy is: “You must grow where you are planted” (his words). I don’t know anything about the complexities of school sports, but found this comment rather perturbing. This comes from a man from one of Jamaica’s most privileged families (not just middle class – I would say, upper class) and a Rhodes Scholar. Of course he could happily stay where he was planted but…he must surely understand the value of young people seizing their educational opportunities. Did I read this wrong?
That’s enough of that. I’m handing out more bouquets this week, including some to the media!
The Gleaner newspaper has started a new feature on its website called The Gleaner Minute - a mini-synopsis of the week’s news narrated by Power 106 FM’s Damion Mitchell (one of my favorite radio voices). Take a look at the link below; it’s a nice innovation.
CVM Television’s Andrew Cannon did a very good job with a series aired in place of the excellent “Live at Seven” last week, including thoughtful interviews. The series was called “Schooling for a Nation.” Balanced and thought-provoking.
And I have to give diGJamaica another plug! At http://www.digjamaica.com you will have all kinds of information on Jamaica at your fingertips. I applaud Ms. Deika Morrison, the brains behind this venture. It’s an invaluable resource for researchers, students, journalists and anyone interested in our fair island. Check it out!
I also have to rather belatedly give two of our leading athletes a pat on the back. Warren Weir (whom few of us had heard of before he won a bronze medal in the 100 meters at the London Olympics) proposed to his sweetheart with a beautiful cake inscribed: “Will You Marry Me?” OK, I get a bit sentimental sometimes; but this was so sweet. Good luck to them both.
And Mr. Bolt: Big hugs to you for giving back to the small rural community where you grew up. I am sure the men, women and children of Sherwood Content really enjoyed the treat you offered. Keep up the good work, and never forget where you came from, oh Famous One!
There has been “nuff excitement” in the past week or so. If you think Jamaica has finished its seasonal partying, no – they aren’t done yet. Hundreds of uptown Kingstonians squeezed onto a small scrap of sand known as Maiden Cay, just outside Kingston Harbour, for the annual party. Most preferred to arrive in one of the many yachts lined up near the cay; and many had to stand up to their waists in water due to the lack of dry land. With global warming and sea levels rising faster than expected, who knows? Next year they might be partying up to their necks. But so long as they can hold a bottle or a can of something alcoholic, they probably won’t be bothered. (The Observer website has suddenly got issues, otherwise I would be posting here photos of all the lightly-clad bodies standing up in the water, and the row of gleaming white yachts).
And then, to everyone’s surprise, the erstwhile king of hip-hop (whom I always call Puff Daddy, but I know he isn’t) landed in Kingston on Saturday night with a former world boxing champion Lennox Lewis. He took the Limelight Club in Half Way Tree by storm, where a deejay “clash” was in progress (for those of you who don’t know what a clash is, see a link to my recent article below on Jamaica’s seasonal entertainment scene).
My applause is long overdue, too, for U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater, who opened her home again to around one hundred children from marginalized communities for a Christmas treat, aided and abetted by U.S. Embassy volunteers and the Ambassador’s lovely staff. She also again visited the Glenhope Place of Safety, which has been really spruced up since the distressing fire of 2011, together with the Embassy’s U.S. Marine representatives, bearing toys for these abandoned and needy children under their annual “Toys for Tots” toy drive.
Now (last but by no means least), a highly-anticipated broadcast address to the nation by our Prime Minister was aired last night. You can find the video link and transcript below. The initial reaction was one of disappointment. Members of the public interviewed on Television Jamaica news last night were hoping to hear more about what the government plans to do about crime, the economy, and “The IMF! The IMF!” They were, perhaps, looking for reassurance, for a clear path to pursue, for a way forward, for action taken or to be taken very soon. Were their expectations unreasonable? Did they want too much? And did this address actually do more harm than good – that is, reinforce a perception among many Jamaicans that the Prime Minister is distant and not addressing the concerns of the man/woman on the street? The verdict is still out.
Finally, and perhaps in the context of the people’s disappointment with the address, my quote of the week from Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (and Sunday Observer columnist) Howard Gregory: “The potential for alienation of a people from their own society is indeed great, and is indeed happening.”
These Jamaicans lost their lives at the hands of their fellow-Jamaicans during the week. My deepest condolences to family, friends and loved ones.
Melvin Chung, 52, East Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Olympic Way, Kingston
Omar Bennett, 32, Lacovia, St. Elizabeth
Renford Williams, 66, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Kevar Watson, 25, Bartons, St. Catherine
Dave Rowe, 36, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Norman Simpson, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Killed by the police:
Ricardo Allen, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121230/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Significant progress made in reducing major crimes: op-ed by Peter Bunting, Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Well-known-Kingston-businessman-gunned-down–robbed_13322410 (Well-known businessman gunned down, robbed: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130103/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Does Mr. Bunting still hold to his target? Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Greater-effort-needed–but-well-done–JCF_13281549 (Greater effort needed, but well done JCF: Observer editorial)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/iachr-concerned-about-alarming-level-of-violence (IACHR concerned about “alarming level of violence”: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-I-want-to-see-Jamaica-nicer-_13318653 ”I want to see Jamaica nicer”: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42105 (INDECOM blames JCF for faulty figures on police killings: Gleaner)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/tivoli-gardens-on-may-24-2010-the-people-were-deading/ (Tivoli Gardens: On May 24, 2010 The People were “Deading”)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121206/lead/lead4.html (Tivoli report in two weeks: Gleaner, December 6, 2012)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100808/lead/lead5.html (Trigger-happy cops? More than 2,000 civilians killed in alleged gun battles with the police between 1999 and 2009: Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130106/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Farm theft low priority for government: Christopher Serju op-ed: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120126/lead/lead9.html (Clarke urges cops to fight praedial larceny: Gleaner, January 26, 2012)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/jfj-questions-appointment-of-sadie-keating-to-youth-ministry (JFJ questions appointment of Sadie Keating to Youth Ministry: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42134 (The Gleaner Minute: video)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/tourism-ministry-explores-creation-of-entertainment-zones (Tourism Ministry explores creation of entertainment zones: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/specific-laws-needed-to-target-discrimination-golding (Specific laws needed to target discrimination – Golding: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130106/focus/focus3.html (No justice for homosexuals: Rev. Clinton Chisholm column: Sunday Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/trafficking-in-persons-unit-cites-severe-limitations-in-prosecutions (Local Trafficking in Persons Unit cites severe limitations in prosecutions: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/shake-up-at-nswma-backlog-to-be-cleared-in-two-weeks (Shake-up at NSWMA, backlog to be cleared in two weeks: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/jcsa-wants-early-resumption-of-wage-talks (JCSA wants early resumption of wage talks: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/nwu-president-requests-meeting-with-finance-minister-re-imf (NWU president requests meeting with finance minister re: IMF: RJR News)
http://digjamaica.com/blog/2013/01/06/chart-of-the-week-december-31-2012-january-6-2013/ (Chart of the Week: Up, up and away – Jamaica’s sliding dollar: DiGJamaica.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42115 (Chavez’ ill health makes Petro-Caribe pact uncertain: Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Waiting-to-exhale_13314022 (Waiting to exhale: Archbishop Howard Gregory column: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130106/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Cabinet should stay in retreat until it gets over cowardice: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130106/focus/focus1.html (Corruption watchdog growls at Cabinet: Martin Henry column: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-more-things–don-t–change—_13314028 (The more things (don’t) change: Claude Robinson column: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Let-s-end-our-relationship–PNP_13299043 (Let’s end our relationship, PNP: Letter to the Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32665 (JEEP School Feeding Program starts this month: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130105/lead/lead4.html (The Next 50 Years: Moving Towards Greater Road Safety)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/westernnews/Bolt-gives-back_13308257 (Bolt gives back: Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130103/news/news2.html (Warren pops the question; Natalya says “yes”: Gleaner)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/the-in-between-blues-freewheeling-down-to-2013/ (The In-Between Blues: Freewheeling down to 2013: petchary.wordpress.com)