It’s hard to see what is happening to our country, as the first month of the year draws to a close. Who knows what the remaining eleven months will bring?
Last year, I spoke about the two elephants in the room: one called Economy and one called Crime. Now, the former has become so huge that it has had to move out. It is now parked on the verandah, but still very much there – in fact, you can’t get in the house without getting past it. The latter criminal elephant is biding its time in the living room.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) looms like a huge, gathering cloud over the island. It is not a good feeling. Jamaicans not only feel uncertain – they are actually starting to fear the future. The results of a survey revealed last week show a huge drop in consumer and business confidence. The ever-astute researcher Don Anderson commented,“The general feeling of negativity among businesses is because of the protracted delay in arriving at an IMF deal.” The ratings agency Fitch downgraded Jamaica’s credit rating from stable to negative (and the same for National Commercial Bank, too). No doubt the other agencies will follow. This means, of course, higher interest rates on foreign debt. Former government minister and Sunday Gleaner columnist Claude Clarke thinks the economic “bitter medicine” which successive administrations have been afraid to administer should have been swallowed down years ago. It is going to taste even worse now, after we have put it off for so long.
But, thank God for Megamart! The large and popular supermarket has opened a branch in Mandeville, bringing with it 200 jobs! Oh joy. We grab onto good economic news with pathetic gratitude…
Then there is the much-vaunted logistics hub in Kingston, which is supposed to connect with the expansion of the Panama Canal. Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce made another speech about it last week. The Jamaica Stock Exchange is having a conference about it. And the Ministry just had its first planning meeting on January 18/19. Fine. But again, from what I have read of the speech, it seemed devoid of deadlines – or at least the Minister did not share them with the public. Are our government ministers afraid of giving us deadlines? Minister Phillips is certainly shying away from them, these days.
But, Minister Hylton, what is actually being done? Any work under way right now, even if preliminary?
There are two things we are craving for, amongst all this talk: details, and deadlines. Dear Ministers, just send out a few short one-pagers with bullet points. We would be happy with that. When are things going to start happening, and how?
Talking of the logistics hub, one assumes that the Port Authority of Jamaica, a government agency, will be one of the chief implementers. I was therefore taken aback to read a Sunday Gleaner report that seventeen of its senior managers earn more than Cabinet Ministers (the Prime Minister earns just over eight million Jamaican Dollars). Outgoing PAJ boss Noel Hylton received J$21.7 last year. I found all the figures in Arthur Hall’s investigative report hard to swallow. What is this? Are we serious? Meanwhile, Mr. Hall also reports that the Port Authority Management Services, which runs the Half Way Tree Transport Centre in Kingston, is losing J$2 million monthly, while paying its general manager almost as much as the Prime Minister. Oh, help!
My head hurts.
I am so glad to see that the sugar workers of St. Thomas will be getting decent housing, at last. I remember the first time I went through Golden Grove and saw the ancient, horrible conditions in which they lived, I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought I had gone back in time to colonial days, and indeed this housing dates from that time. But in Jamaica today, as in the Jamaica of the colonial era when they were enslaved, sugar workers have remained some of the most downtrodden of the rural poor. And rural poverty runs very deep.
This week, the radio station nationwide News Network is focusing on an issue that seems, at this stage, such a “long shot“ to me that I wonder if it is worth discussing. This is the proposed development of the small town of Papine in St. Andrew as a “University Town.“ I have not heard much of the discussion yet (the radio station is talking about it for the entire week, for some reason) – but my simple question is: Where will the money come from? By the way, Papine is one of the most congested, chaotic spots in upper St. Andrew, full of illegal vendors and a large squatter community. We avoid it as much as possible. Yes, the University of the West Indies‘ largest campus, and the University of Technology are there. But the squatters – with all the attendant filth and noise – have settled down right in front of the University Hospital for many years now. No politician has made a serious attempt to move them all. Sorry, Nationwide, I am not convinced.
Talking of tertiary education…There was another minor bombshell half-way through last week. The Student Loan Bureau is simply not able to accommodate more than fifty per cent of loan applications from prospective students for the next academic year. One trade unionist has called this situation “a crisis for Jamaica’s long-term development.” Of course it is. Add to this the fact that four out of five university graduates migrate to the U.S., UK, Canada and elsewhere. Those who remain are mostly out of work (I know several of these, who have been languishing without work since graduating last year). The jobless ones certainly can’t repay their loans. This is all quite unsustainable, and a no-win scenario for everyone concerned. It could be very bad news in the medium and longer term for the academic institutions involved. And yet we are talking about a “university town”? As a deejay sang some years ago, “The dollars naah run..”
There was also a rather sudden announcement that Digicel (who have just made their move to their new downtown headquarters this week) was hacked. We are not sure of all the details, but the alleged hacker has been arrested. Wouldn’t there be others involved? This is a worrying development, as Digicel is our leading mobile phone provider. I believe new and stronger cybercrime legislation is in the pipeline. Let’s hurry it up!
Do adults take enough care to shield children from crime scenes? I often see children among the curious crowds surrounding a murdered man/woman on TV reports. It just adds to the trauma the children are already going through. But children are exposed to so much stuff that is for adult eyes only, frankly. This is an issue that has hardly been addressed. The lasting (and cumulative) psychological impact on very young minds must be great.
I am worried about Jamaica’s environment. Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell’s comment that he would do “whatever it takes” to create jobs through rare-earth mining (suggesting that environmental concerns should take a back seat) made me uncomfortable. In a recent television interview, Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley said the single most damaging activity, for the environment and what’s left of Jamaica’s forests, is mining. But I like Senator Norman Grant’s suggestion that chain saws should be regulated in some way, even if it’s not practical. Men are going into our forests with these lethal weapons in hand, chopping down trees for charcoal (which, we discovered recently, was actually being exported to Lebanon, of all places?)
And then there is the scrap metal trade. Today is the glorious re-opening of the trade, which was shut down by the previous government. This time around, it is to be tightly regulated, says Minister Anthony Hylton. There are doubts and fears, but let us see how it goes.
As you know, I often praise the media for the work they do – and often single out specific programs, journalists and commentators who I believe “hit the nail on the head.” One of my favorite programs these days is CVM Television’s “Live at Seven” with Simon Crosskill. A must-see. But there are a couple of things that irritate me unbearably, week after week:
Firstly, the sloppy news-reading – especially on radio. Readers stumble over words, make errors and then correct them clumsily:“Make that…” (Where did that phrase come from?) Foreign names, no matter how common, are consistently mis-pronounced, day in, day out. I even heard one well-known news reader pronounce the name of the River Thames wrongly (I thought that might have been well known; the “th” is hard, for goodness’ sake). For the newsreaders’ information, there are dozens of websites where the pronunciation of foreign names (with audio) are detailed. Just look up the word if you are not sure. It’s called “googling”? But maybe the newsrooms just can’t be bothered. Newsreaders can only manage foreign names such as “Putin” with relative ease; although they might find some way to mispronounce the Russian leader’s name, in the future. (While they are at it, newsreaders could look up the proper pronunciation of English words, too – especially intonation and emphasis on the right syllables. Some English words are mangled and almost unrecognizable these days…)
Secondly, I have a major problem with the unbelievably low standard of written English. A headline (yes, front page) in Saturday’s Jamaica Observer referred to a so-called pastor (these are two-a-penny in ultra-religious Jamaica) who was spurned by his flock and thrown out of the church. He returned to “thrash” his church – vandalizing a drum kit, etc. Was this story worthy of a front page? Still, I am told the Saturday Observer, which mainly consists of advertising for hair salons these days, has very low readership.
Yes, you read it right - “thrash” was the word used in the headline and the story. I presume the intended word was “trash” (even that seems to me a rather unsuitable slang word). But no, he thrashed the church. One assumes, therefore, that the said “pastor” got out his bull whip and started beating the church building? Can we go and look up the meaning of this word, Jamaica Observer? And were all the editors out of town, or something?
Again, there are lots of nice online dictionaries right at your fingertips. The click of a mouse. Is it too much trouble?
Noted businessman and thoughtful commentator James Moss-Solomon wrote a column yesterday entitled “Jamaica Farewell.” I am sorry to see that yesterday’s was the last of his marvelous weekly Sunday Observer columns. I always read them because they are unbiased – such a hard thing to find these days. But is he leaving Jamaica altogether, or just the newspaper? I’m not sure… Wherever his next move is, I wish him all the very best. I have admired his balanced, clear-sighted commentary (and his real love for Jamaica) for many years. I will miss his columns greatly.
Talking about columnists, the absolute antithesis to Mr. Moss-Solomon must surely be Mr. Franklin Johnston (who, one notes, is an advisor at the Ministry of Education). Mr. Johnston’s latest effort, “Who is the Anti-Christ?” was, in the words of an online commentator, “gibberish.” Can anyone translate it for me? Oops – sorry, Dr. Johnston. But I am baffled.
Churches in Jamaica can do good, if they can stop for five minutes from “thrashing” each other and their fellow-Jamaican citizens who are homosexuals. The St. Ignatius Church in Boston. Massachusetts teamed up with St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Hannah Town, an impoverished part of Kingston, to provide a lovely play area for the children. I do hope the residents will keep it clean and tidy; we need play areas for children all over this city.
And on another religious note, a team from the United States was here recently conducting research at the old Jewish cemetery on Orange Street in downtown Kingston. Jamaica’s Jewish community is small and dwindling, and the history of the Jews in the Caribbean is not very well-documented. I will be writing more about this in a future blog post. Before our history disappears, please let us try – try – to preserve it. But are foreigners more interested than we are in doing so? “Just askin’..” as we say in the social media…
Despite the press briefings and announcements that flooded the airwaves in the first half of January, the killings continue. At one point last week, the police had killed the same number as civilians. And as National Security Minister Peter Bunting commented to the media, “There will be more shootouts.”
Make that alleged shootouts, Minister Bunting. And by the way, is this is your crime plan? More “shootouts?“ Try to give INDECOM a chance to catch up. Or give the investigatory agency more resources. It looks like it is going to need them. And my deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of all those men, women and children whose names appear below…
Unidentified, Fletcher’s Land, Kingston
Unidentified man, Maverly Road, Kingston 5
Barrington McDowell, 38, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Fitzroy Williams, 49, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Michael Brown, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Oneil Battick, 17, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann
Shoya Porter, 32, Mammee Bay Beach, St. Ann
Olivene Henry, 29, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Keneal Chambers, 26, Hanover
Leroy Myrie, 56, Salt Spring, St. James
Special Constable Troy Foster, Malvern, St. Elizabeth
Killed by the police:
Unidentified man, Portmore, St. Catherine
Tyrone Edmond, Malvern, St. Elizabeth
Unidentified man, Waltham Park, Kingston 11
Jerome Thomas, Chestnut Lane, West Kingston
Unidentified man, Mansfield District/Bath, St. Thomas
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130125/lead/lead1.html Gays wreak havoc: Cops say homosexuals too much to handle in South East St. Andrew: Gleaner
http://anniepaul.net/2013/01/25/the-creation-of-our-collective-homophobia/?replytocom=3277 The creation of our collective homophobia? Annie Paul.net – Jamaican blogger
http://www.og.nr/rbt/11417-gay-man-set-ablaze-in-st-andrew-central-open-lot.html Gay man set ablaze in St. Andrew Central open lot: On The Ground News Reports
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Rowdy-gays-upset-J-FLAG Rowdy gays upset J-FLAG: Sunday Observer
http://capricaribbean.org/research/10-steps-scrap-metal-solution-full-brief Ten steps to a scrap metal solution – full brief: Caribbean Policy Research Institute
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32823 New rules for scrap metal trade: Jamaica Information Service
http://96.1e.364a.static.theplanet.com/news/leads/32832 Port of Kingston expansion on target: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130127/lead/lead5.html Port wages top PM’s pay: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130127/lead/lead5.html Ministries spend millions on Christmas parties: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130123/business/business4.html Business optimism at four-year low: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Jamaica-farewell_13491976 Jamaica Farewell: Op-ed column/James Moss-Solomon, Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130127/cleisure/cleisure2.html Mission must be national, not political: Claude Clarke column, Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130125/letters/letters8.html#.UQKo1uR93NY.facebook Stop traumatizing kids at crime scenes: Letter to Gleaner
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130126/news/news10.html Cops hunt criminals targeting females: Jamaica Star
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/01/25/dennis-chung-business-and-consumer-confidence-in-jamaica/ Dennis Chung: Business and Consumer Confidence in Jamaica: Carib Journal
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Students–Loan-Bureau-unable-to-meet-even-50–of-target-for-2013-14_13478014 Students’ Loan Bureau unable to meet even 50% of target for 2013/14: Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/business/fitch-revises-rating-for-ncb Fitch revises rating for NCB: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/A-debt-downgrade-foretold_13502742 A debt downgrade foretold: Sunday Observer editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Sandals-pleased-with-outcome-of-TCI-probe_13476497 Sandals pleased with outcome of TCI probe: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130125/lead/lead61.html Cybercrimes expert to assist Jamaica review laws: Gleaner
http://96.1e.364a.static.theplanet.com/news/leads/32828 New houses to be built for sugar workers: Jamaica Information Service
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130126/news/news1.html Grateful Hill students plough the field: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130125/cleisure/cleisure2.html Sustained degradation: Peter Espeut/Gleaner column
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/5498/ Two new environmental films by independent filmmaker Esther Figueroa: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JET-wants-public-meeting-on-red-mud-exploration-site_13457593 JET wants public meeting on red mud exploration site: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Work-of-the-devil-Bishop-accused-of-thrashing-church-says-flock-being-influenced-by-Satan Work of the devil: Bishop accused of thrashing (sic) church says flock being influenced by Satan: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Who-is-the-Antichrist-_13489522 Who is the Antichrist? Column by Franklin Johnston: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/lifestyle/Capturing-The-Past Capturing the past: Sunday Observer