Late again! Sunday, April 13, 2014

My apologies again for this belated “Wh’appen in Jamaica” post! I can’t seem to catch up with myself.

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington: some concerns over his TV interview. (Photo: Gleaner)

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington: some concerns over his TV interview. (Photo: Gleaner)

Really, Mr. Commissioner?  Several things worried me about Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington’s television interview with Dionne Jackson-Miller this past week. The program posed questions from Jamaican men and women on the street; good idea. Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington asserted, right at the end, “Jamaicans are not afraid of the police.” Really, Mr. Ellington? I so wish that were true. He also told us that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) began investigating allegations of extra-judicial killings in the Clarendon police division long before the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) – but said that the division has been “stigmatized” because of INDECOM’s announcement – which he did not seem very happy with. If it was up to him, he seemed to suggest, he would rather have kept things quiet for a while longer?

As for his remark regarding Vybz Kartel’s “gang” being responsible for about 100 murders That puzzles and concerns me, since the appeal will be coming up soon. Can Commissioner Ellington substantiate this allegation? Was the JCF investigating these murders?

The boards: The Opposition’s Dr. Horace Chang has expressed concern that some chairpersons of government agencies are over-stepping their mark and acting like executive chairpersons, “which is in direct contravention of national policy, as stated in the Public Bodies Management Act.” Perhaps this explains recent upheavals in the Housing Association of Jamaica and National Housing Trust. We should keep an eye on this.

Energy World International's Managing Director and Chairman Stewart Elliot points to where the Liquefied Natural Gas storage tank will be located when the company begins construction of its electricity generating project soon. Elliot was on a tour of the Cane River area of East Rural St Andrew yesterday with a group that included (from left) Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Damian Crawford and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell. Energy World was recently granted a licence by the Office of Utilities Regulation for the supply of additional generating capacity to the national grid. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Observer)

Energy World International’s Managing Director and Chairman Stewart Elliot points to where the Liquefied Natural Gas storage tank will be located when the company begins construction of its electricity generating project soon. Elliot was on a tour of the Cane River area of East Rural St Andrew yesterday with a group that included (from left) Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew Damian Crawford and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell. Energy World was recently granted a licence by the Office of Utilities Regulation for the supply of additional generating capacity to the national grid. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Observer)

Powerful stuff: Well, the folks from Energy World International (EWI) have paid us a visit, buoyed by the news that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell will sign the license for them to supply 381 megawatts of power. EWI must provide a performance bond of US$37 million, among other things. It appears the Minister has not yet signed the license, however, and he is going to update us on this, he says. The Minister says he is “quite startled” by a Sunday Gleaner report that the government plans to disband the Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC) as soon as he has signed. The private sector must be relieved to hear this. The most important thing is that oversight is critical; we need the EMC to keep the focus on transparency. There has been precious little of that, so far.

JPS tweeted this graphic a few days ago - "The Real Cost of Energy."

JPS tweeted this graphic a few days ago – “The Real Cost of Energy.”

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), our electricity suppliers, are meanwhile involved in a series of public consultations concerning their request for a 21 per cent (yes!) increase in rates – which are already four or five times electricity rates in the United States, for example. The first meeting this evening in Kingston was reportedly relatively civil, with the expected fireworks not happening. Perhaps we are all too depressed to even complain?

Yes, crime IS a major impediment to investment, says leading businessman Richard Byles. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s latest report shows that Jamaica has the sixth highest murder rate in the world (39.3 per 100,000). It’s interesting that eight out of the top ten countries for homicide rates are in Central/South America and the Caribbean.

Portia Simpson Miller

Portia Simpson Miller holds a boy’s face firmly in place before planting a kiss!

Agonizing over child abuse: Our Prime Minister once again spoke out against child abuse, pleading with Jamaicans not to abuse their children, during a speech about something else. I am sure her concern is genuine, but telling people “Don’t do it!” doesn’t really “cut it.” The PM repeated some of the more unpleasant examples that the Youth Minister regaled us with the other day, while demeaning the students at Alpha Boys’ School. She told family members to take their misbehaving children to a leader, pastor etc – “a person that can demand respect and doesn’t beg respect.” She lost me there.

Report it! The Office of the Children’s Registry and UNICEF recently published findings that only one in ten Jamaicans who are actually aware of child abuse actually report it. This is absolutely tragic and hard to accept. 82 per cent of children aged 10 – 17 years old that they interviewed said they had experienced or witnessed some kind of emotional or physical abuse. People, report it! You can go to the OCR’s website (www.ocr.gov.jm) and click on “Make a Report” and there are several confidential ways that you can do this. You will also find their latest report for January – June 2013 there.

Sunset in Port Royal. (My photo)

Sunset in Port Royal. (My photo)

No longer so sleepy: The small town with a famous (notorious?) past – Port Royal – has been suffering from a crime wave, and blame is being placed on a growing squatter community. We always love driving out to Port Royal for fish. I hope the police can deal with it quickly – it has always been a peaceful place.

I spoke about social media activism a few days ago, with Dennis Brooks (a “tweep” and Liverpool Football Club fan – on a high at the moment) about using social media platforms to advocate for causes. I describe myself as a social media activist. If you want to hear Petchary chirping away with Dennis, the link is on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/nationwide-newsnet/timeline-social-media-activism

Noel Watt, principal of Dunrobin Primary School, along with students Kelsie Spaulding (left) and Kayla Spaulding, didn't get a drop of water from these pipes at the school yesterday. - (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Noel Watt, principal of Dunrobin Primary School, along with students Kelsie Spaulding (left) and Kayla Spaulding, didn’t get a drop of water from these pipes at the school yesterday. – (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Drying out: The water shortage is becoming so dire that some schools in Kingston closed this week because of the lack of what our local media like to call “the precious commodity,” rather quaintly. Jamaicans are finally starting to take the issue of water conservation seriously, and I suppose it’s never too late. Meanwhile, Kingston’s Mona and Hermitage reservoirs are 36 and 20  per cent full, respectively, and getting lower daily. Heavy water restrictions are being put in place.

Special, special thanks and kudos to:

Projects Abroad Jamaica Country Director Dr Bridgette Barrett speaking about the Belle Haven Centre which is to be built in Central Manchester for children and women living with HIV/AIDS at a Rotaract Club meeting at the Northern Caribbean University last Wednesday. (PHOTO: PROJECTS ABROAD)

Projects Abroad Jamaica Country Director Dr Bridgette Barrett speaking about the Belle Haven Centre which is to be built in Central Manchester for children and women living with HIV/AIDS at a Rotaract Club meeting at the Northern Caribbean University last Wednesday. (PHOTO: PROJECTS ABROAD)

  •  Projects Abroad Jamaica and the BrigIT Water Foundation in Australia, who are working to build a home for women and children living with HIV and AIDS in central Manchester. I heard of these plans some years ago, and am so glad the project is about to get off the ground after a long search for a suitable location for the Belle Haven Centre, as it will be called.
The boys at Alpha Boys' School enjoy the donated sports gear. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The boys at Alpha Boys’ School enjoy the donated sports gear. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  •  Usain Bolt (so dear to our hearts), who donated sports gear to Alpha Boys’ School – just in time for their sports day on April 16. This is a much-needed morale-booster for the School, which has really suffered from negative press in the past week or so. Let’s support the boys and the School…
This photo is to prove that I did, in fact, meet Yohan Blake. And what a nice person he is.

This photo is to prove that I did, in fact, meet Yohan Blake. And what a nice person he is.

  • And fellow-sprinter Yohan Blake - whom I met recently and grabbed a photo-op with! – for his continued kindness and generosity through his YB Afraid Foundation, which he founded in 2011. He has brought amazing benefits to the Mount Olivet Home for boys – including a fully-equipped computer lab, improved educational and skills training facilities, wonderful sports facilities, and the list goes on. Mr. Blake (still only 24 years old) also reaches out personally to the boys, chatting with them on Facebook and regularly visiting the home. He is awesome.
Mount Olivet Boys' Home's beautiful computer lab. (Photo: Gleaner)

Mount Olivet Boys’ Home’s beautiful computer lab. (Photo: Gleaner)

In the kitchen at Mockingbird Hill Hotel with the children from School of Hope. (Photo: Facebook)

In the kitchen at Mockingbird Hill Hotel with the children from School of Hope. (Photo: Facebook)

  • Hotel Mockingbird Hill, in beautiful Portland, which has been reaching out to the children with special needs at the local School of Hope. The Hotel is seeking donations of toys, games and other suitable material for the children.

 

My condolences to the grieving families of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered in the past few days. Police Constable Davian Thompson shot his wife dead at their Kingston home; his body was found in a gully the following morning. The police believe he committed suicide.

Latoya Campbell-Thompson, 27, Constant Spring Road, Kingston

Dion Watt, Canaan Heights, Clarendon

Irvin Campbell, 17, Little London, Westmoreland

George Ricketts, Wentworth/Port Maria, St. Mary

Ricardo Barrington, 27, Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay, St. James

Charles Bryan, 38, Montego Bay, St. James

Kirk Millington, 33, Montego Bay, St. James

Killed by police:

Kirk Rose, 37, Alexandria, St. Ann

“Junior,” downtown Kingston

And on the road: A 65-year-old gentleman who was riding his bicycle along the road in Trelawny was hit and killed by a truck, which did not stop. Why have there been so many hit-and-run accidents, and why so many crashes in western Jamaica recently?

A crowd watches from the bridge on Shortwood Road in Kingston as undertakers and police take Constable Davian Thompson’s body from the gully yesterday morning. Police believe the cop committed suicide after killing his wife Saturday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A crowd watches from the bridge on Shortwood Road in Kingston as undertakers and police take Constable Davian Thompson’s body from the gully yesterday morning. Police believe the cop committed suicide after killing his wife Saturday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Mid-Week Mutterings: Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This week has been hot, with a strong, restless wind. The reservoirs are low, and we need a few days of rain to restore us.

Which reminds me: The Meteorological Service has a new website, http://www.jamaicaclimate.net. A lot of work has gone into it and I highly recommend it. It has the regular weather forecast – but much more, lots of maps of drought and rainfall patterns, predicted patterns and long-term forecasts.  The Met Service says it is designed for planners and farmers. It’s well done.

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna (right), makes a point while addressing a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew, where she provided an update on the latest reports on child abuse. Beside the Minister is Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency Mrs. Rosalee Gage-Grey. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Lisa Hanna (right), makes a point while addressing a press briefing at the Ministry, in St. Andrew, where she provided an update on the latest reports on child abuse. Beside the Minister is Chief Executive Officer of the Child Development Agency Mrs. Rosalee Gage-Grey. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna gave a press conference yesterday, which set us all in a pickle. Minister Hanna informed us that the residential part of the famous Alpha Boys’ School, which educates young, abandoned and orphaned boys – would be shut down in June. This is extremely sad news; as I have noted previously, the school (which has been around for 135 years)  is famous for the great Jamaican musicians nurtured under its roof, through its Boys’ Band. But Minister Hanna did not stop at that announcement (which she made apparently on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy, who run the school). She launched into a lurid account of the boys’ behavior – including “the sexual predatory nature of the boys on one another” - citing it as the reason for the closure. Of course, we all gasped in horror, and it made for dramatic media reports later that evening.

JN Foundation volunteers engaging boys at the Alpha Boys School.

JN Foundation volunteers engaging boys at the Alpha Boys School. (Photo: Gleaner)

Alpha has strongly denied that the boys’ misbehavior was the reason, calling it a “rumor.” I published their statement yesterday. Puzzlingly, local media houses (apart from the Gleaner) barely reported this denial. Did they not consider it important, or would they rather take the Minister’s statement at face value? There’s an interesting note in the “Jamaica Observer,” though: “A Jamaica Observer source indicated that the home was being granted less than a quarter of funds that was being given to Government-run orphanages despite repeated pleas by the nuns to be brought on par.” Could this be closer to the truth?

It’s not the first time that the Minister has regaled the Jamaican public with shocking details of child abuse and its consequent effect on children’s behavior. But, as Minister responsible for our youth, what action is being taken to deal with it? She vaguely mentioned some pending “initiatives” at the press briefing, but no details. If this really was going on at Alpha Boys’ School, is closing it down and moving the boys somewhere else truly a solution? How does this sensational speech reflect on the reputation of a revered and much-loved institution – and on the boys themselves and those who work with them?

The Health Minister has conceded that there is a shortage of prescription drugs at public health facilities. Why is that?

Josh Stanley and his brothers up to their ears in ganja on the TV show "American Weed." It's a family business, it seems. I think he's third left. (Photo: Critically Rated blog)

Josh Stanley and his brothers up to their ears in ganja on the TV show “American Weed.” It’s a family business, it seems. I think he’s third left. (Photo: Critically Rated blog)

Talking of drugs, a rather nice-looking fellow from Colorado has been in Jamaica, promoting the many economic benefits of legalizing ganja (marijuana). This is not the first time overseas lobbyists have visited, and one assumes they are eyeing some benefits for themselves, too. “What Jamaica stands to gain right now? Everything,” says Mr. Josh Stanley. Meanwhile, the government remains largely silent on the matter, although it seems likely that decriminalization for small amounts for personal use will happen at some point this year.

Dr. Winston De La Haye. (Photo: Gleaner)

Dr. Winston De La Haye. (Photo: Gleaner)

But psychiatrists disagree: Deputy Chair of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) and the Jamaica Medical Association representative on the board Dr. Winston De La Haye (who has many years’ experience in the field of treating drug addicts) disagrees with NCDA Chair Dr. Wendell Abel, who told the media the board had agreed to “consider looking at decriminalising for private personal use and also for religious purposes.” Not true, says Dr. De La Haye. They didn’t agree!

These men, some of the gunshot victims in the ongoing feud in West Kingston, yesterday join residents of the area to stage a protest, calling for an end to the ongoing violence. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

These men, some of the gunshot victims in the ongoing feud in West Kingston, yesterday join residents of the area to stage a protest, calling for an end to the ongoing violence. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

“Persons of interest”: Nine, including a member of the Coke family, have turned themselves in to the police today, in connection with the recent gang troubles in West Kingston. Meanwhile, the beleaguered Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie struggles with credibility issues among his constituents. It’s sad, and miserable. I feel sorry for Steve McGregor too, the policeman in charge. He means well.

Earl Witter has resigned as Public Defender. His interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre was tabled in Parliament on May 1, 2013. (Photo: digGJamaica)

Earl Witter has resigned as Public Defender. His interim report on the Tivoli Gardens massacre was tabled in Parliament on May 1, 2013. (Photo: digGJamaica)

Public Defender Earl Witter – always a controversial and rather combative figure – has retired after over seven years in the position. He has handed all the files on the Tivoli Garden massacre of 2010 to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Deputy Public Defender Matondo K. Mukulu is the interim Public Defender until the Governor General confirms a new appointment.

Will the DNA bill ever be passed? National Security Peter Bunting says not any time soon. A lot of training, infrastructure etc. would be necessary (of course). It seems he doesn’t have the time, patience or resources for it right now. So don’t expect it to go anywhere near Parliament this year, folks.

Remanded: Four policemen suspected of being part of an alleged “death squad” in the Jamaica Constabulary Force were remanded in custody yesterday.

Sprinter Sherone Simpson has been banned from competition for 18 months. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sprinter Sherone Simpson has been banned from competition for 18 months. (Photo: Getty Images)

On sports: Olympic sprinter Sherone Simpson is suspended for 18 months after testing positive for a banned stimulant called oxilofrine, during last year’s national trials in Jamaica. I understand she will appeal. Olympic discus thrower Allison Randall was banned for two years. Asafa Powell also tested positive and will hear about his fate tomorrow.

Edwin Allen High School's (from left) Christania Williams, Shawnette Lewin and Monique Spencer at the Penn Relays a year ago. (Photo: Gleaner)

Edwin Allen High School’s (from left) Christania Williams, Shawnette Lewin and Monique Spencer at the Penn Relays a year ago. (Photo: Gleaner)

I also agree with Sherine Williams and Renée Dillion, third-year journalism students, who wrote in the Gleaner this week that the amazing female athletes in the recent Boys’ and Girls’ Champs in Kingston did not receive as much attention from local media as the boys. I had noticed this apparent bias myself. Christania Williams ran the second fastest time ever in the 100 metros, for example. Perhaps there is also an “urban bias.” The winning girls’ teams are always “country” schools and the boys’ champions are high-profile “traditional” Kingston high schools.

In the ATM: A touching television report focused on a mentally disturbed man, who had locked himself into a bank ATM cubicle in May Pen. He was in there for an hour before firemen prised open the door. Those gathered outside expressed sympathy; they knew him. He had been a Math teacher at a local school, they said. But a Gleaner report flippantly noted the man was “putting on a show” for curious onlookers, and had to be “forcefully restrained” by the police - adding that something must be done about these people roaming the streets of May Pen. This is yet another example of insensitive reporting on mental health issues.

Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan. (Photo: Walter Rodney Foundation website)

A true “Caribbean man”: Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan passed away today. (Photo: Walter Rodney Foundation website)

Distinguished Jamaican academic Norman Girvan died today, aged 72. He had been very sick after a fall while hiking in Dominica. Professor Girvan was a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies’ Graduate Institute of International Relations in St. Augustine, Trinidad. He wrote and discussed a great deal on Caribbean integration, culture and development, globalization and Caribbean history. But he was also a very active academic; he got involved in helping to solve regional matters. If you would like to browse through some of his work, you can go to his website at http://www.normangirvan.info.

Jamaica jerk conch. (Photo: Stephen Charoo from his Recollections of a Foodie blog)

Jamaica jerk conch. (Photo: Stephen Charoo from his Recollections of a Foodie blog)

Recommended blog! This time, I have found a yummy one, from self-confessed Jamaican “foodie” Stephen Charoo. His latest post includes recipes for non-traditional jerk dishes. The link is stephencharooblogs.wordpress.com.

Congrats and “big ups” to:

Celebrating: Jean Lowrie-Chin (far right) and other founding members of ProComm. (Photo: Twitter)

Celebrating: Jean Lowrie-Chin (far right) and other founding members of ProComm. (Photo: Twitter)

  • ProComm - a great PR company celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Wishing you many more years of success!
Writer and filmmaker Esther Figueroa at the launch of Jamaica's first environmental novel, "Limbo" on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

Writer and filmmaker Esther Figueroa at the launch of Jamaica’s first environmental novel, “Limbo” on Sunday. (Photo: Twitter)

  • Two Jamaican authors: Locally-based filmmaker and environmental activist Esther Figueroa launched her first novel, “Limbo,” over the weekend. Stay tuned for my book review!
Jamaican writer Roger Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

Jamaican writer Roger Williams. (Photo: Gleaner)

U.S.-based Jamaican writer Roger Williams published his first novel last year, but I am only just hearing about it. Interestingly, his novel “Turn Back Blow,” focuses on cruelty to animals and animal rights.

  • Columnist Grace Virtue really is one of my favorites, as you might already know. Her latest Jamaica Observer column is headlined “10 Things We should not be Confused About – Part 1.”  I like her comment: “Christianity and morality are not synonymous.” 
  • Mr. Keiran King has also written a very decent article in the Gleaner - heavily influenced by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson and his current TV program “Cosmos” – he could have given Neil some credit, I think. But a good article on “Your God is too small.” Both he and Ms. Virtue thinking refreshingly outside the box on what makes people “tick.”

My sad condolences to the families and loved ones of these Jamaican citizens, who were murdered in the last two days:

Neil Brown, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine

Ronald Wallace, 32, Innswood Estate, St. Catherine

Cheaveast Hearst, Newlands/Portmore, St. Catherine

George Phillip Myers, Newlands/Portmore, St. Catherine 

Melbourne Smith, 60, Crawle/Riversdale, St. Catherine (mob killing)

Owen Cole (U.S. resident), Waterford, St. Catherine

On the road: Yet another young child – this time a six-year-old boy on his way home from school – was killed on the road. A sugarcane truck, loaded beyond the legal limit, ran over the little boy in Frome, Westmoreland. My condolences to his parents, who appeared dazed and distraught on the television news.

A Lively Week: Sunday, March 30, 2014

What with the UWI Great Debate and other discussions in and out of the media, the week has been more than usually combative and lively. That’s Jamaica for you!

Cynicism abounds: The dismissal of the corruption charges against former Member of Parliament and Junior Minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant last week continues to spark some deeply satirical commentary. Mark Wignall’s column in the Sunday Observer is headlined “Kern Spencer for Prime Minister.” 

Happy Mr. Kern Spencer outside the courthouse after corruption charges against him were dismissed.

Happy Mr. Kern Spencer outside the courthouse after corruption charges against him were dismissed.

Vybz Kartel going into the courthouse last week.

Vybz Kartel going into the courthouse last week.

Jailhouse rock, or equivalent: So now the judge is trying to decide whether dancehall star and convicted murderer Vybz Kartel will be allowed to make recordings while in jail (but not actually earn money from them). Another convict musical star, Jah Cure, who was doing time for rape, did make music while behind bars and the proceeds went towards his rehabilitation. He is out of jail now and apparently rehabilitated.

Protesting too much: I am not convinced by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) concerns that the human rights of the Jamaican people should be of paramount importance in the upcoming enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre of May, 2010. Their administration did not appear unduly concerned at the time about such matters. I think the JLP must be dreading the Enquiry. Meanwhile, the JLP Member of Parliament for the area Desmond McKenzie is supporting the Public Defender’s and Independent Commission of Investigation’s (INDECOM) view that the Enquiry should not go ahead before incomplete ballistics reports are available. The Minister of Justice says the reports are not necessary for the purpose of the Enquiry. The plot is likely to thicken.

The Patriarchy strikes back, again: A (poorly edited) opinion column on the editorial page of the Sunday Gleaner by a “freelance journalist, author and entertainment consultant” named Milton Wray had my head spinning. Under the headline “Are women natural leaders?” I read the most sexist, misogynistic, demeaning and at times truly offensive ramblings. Mr. Wray sees “modern woman” as a “threat” to the family and the society at large. It’s accompanied by an awful photograph of “the female senator” (he does not name her) Imani Duncan-Price, who recently introduced the issue of quotas for women in some areas of public life. The photo makes her look quite frightening (which she isn’t!) What century are we living in, Mr. Wray?

I suppose the Gleaner is seeking to be controversial again, to spark discussion and so on. Meanwhile it is deleting online comments that disagree with the article. I suppose it has the right to do so but what is the aim here – to manipulate the reading public’s opinions? As I have said before, the standard of commentary in the Sunday Gleaner in particular continues its downward slide. And although some believe it’s not worth responding to… One has to register a protest at this.

Don’t panic:  Financial writer and Executive Director of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Dennis Chung says the government must hang in there and not be panicked into imposing new taxes in the upcoming Budget, despite the fact that tax revenues have been below target. But can we stay the course? It needs a cool head, but thankfully Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ approach is much more measured than his predecessor Omar Davies’ predilection for incurring debt.

Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Why do we need a National Cultural and Creative Industries Commission? Well, the Prime Minister wanted one, so she has got it. She and various stakeholders will hold meetings from time to time, and talk a lot. “We need to recognise how important these industries are for both economic growth and national development imperatives,” says the PM. Don’t we already have the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC)? What about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which the rest of the world is forging ahead with? How are we doing with that? Not to say culture does not have its place, but… Quoting from a headline in Mark Wignall’s column today: “Fast runners and slick deejays cannot help Jamaica’s development.” Let’s not fool ourselves.

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (3rd left), signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Also participating are (from left): Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; and Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. In the back row (from left) are: Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Mrs. Lei Liu (left); Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Mrs. Audrey Sewell and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (3rd left), signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Also participating are (from left): Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; and Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. In the back row (from left) are: Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Mrs. Lei Liu (left); Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Mrs. Audrey Sewell and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Dr. Alwin Hayles. (Photo: JIS)

Retirement Dump, Montego Bay on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Retirement Dump, Montego Bay on Friday, March 28, 2014. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Next up…Bog Walk Gorge: So on Friday, quite out of the blue, Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies signed a Memorandum of Understanding with – yes, you’ve guessed it – China Harbour Engineering Company, to dam the Rio Cobre on the picturesque Bog Walk Gorge. Now where did that come from? Were there any other bidders? Was it discussed in Parliament? What are the possible environmental impacts? Will it really produce much in terms of hydro-electric power, and at what cost? What will happen to the historic Flat Bridge, which is over 200 years old and still in use?

Meanwhile, the logistics hub PR machine churns onward, with the appointment of Ms. Tastey Blackman (is that really her name?) to a new position, that of Manager of Logistics and Emerging Markets at JAMPRO, the government’s investment agency. She is taking a delegation to the LATAM Ports and Logistics Summit in Panama next week. We await more government press releases, with bated breath.

Former banker Dunbar McFarlane.

Former banker Dunbar McFarlane.

An interesting development: I felt sad when we passed by the empty Palmyra luxury resort development near Montego Bay recently. Well, a New York-based firm, Philangco Corporation, is reportedly interested in bidding for the condominium towers in Rose Hall. The firm is planning to use a new hydrogen-powered fuel system to provide power called Elhydro. I note the firm’s chief financial officer is former Jamaican banker Dunbar McFarlane. Philangco may partner with the Jamaican Government in developing the energy source, which McFarlane’s partner Phillip Scott has developed and patented in the United States and Jamaica. We shall see.

Kingston College students march along Tom Redcam Avenue to the Boys' and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Kingston College students march along Tom Redcam Avenue to the Boys’ and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

The annual ritual that is “Boys’ Champs” is playing itself out at the National Stadium as I write. The wailing of distant vuvuzelas fills the air (no, the students haven’t given up on those hideous inventions, yet) as the high schools compete for glory. Roads around the Stadium are jammed with traffic. The flags of the major competing high schools flutter from cars on the road. This time there was a “peace march” by some 350 students to start off. I hope that some seriousness was attached to it. And I hope the authorities will consider drug testing for the student athletes. Yes, I think it should be done.

Jamaica time: I participated in no less than three separate activities in different parts of the UWI campus on Thursday. All three started between twenty and thirty minutes late. The other day I was telling someone I thought Jamaicans were becoming more punctual. I may have to reconsider that statement…

Big ups and thanks to:

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second left) participates in the symbolic presentation of a $123-million (US$117,176) grant agreement being provided by the Government of Japan to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for the acquisition of vital medical equipment, following Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the institution. Also participating are the hospital Chief Executive Officer Anthony Wood (left); Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy in Jamaica Koji Tomita (second right); and the South East Regional Health Authority’s acting chairman, Dr Andrei Cooke. (PHOTO: JIS)

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson (second left) participates in the symbolic presentation of a $123-million (US$117,176) grant agreement being provided by the Government of Japan to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for the acquisition of vital medical equipment, following Wednesday’s signing ceremony at the institution. Also participating are the hospital Chief Executive Officer Anthony Wood (left); Chargé d’Affaires at the Japanese Embassy in Jamaica Koji Tomita (second right); and the South East Regional Health Authority’s acting chairman, Dr Andrei Cooke. (PHOTO: JIS)

  • The Government of Japan for its support for important social needs in Jamaica. The Japanese Embassy donated J$123 million to the Bustamante Hospital for Children for urgently needed equipment. Thank you!
Supreme Ventures logo.

Supreme Ventures logo.

  • Supreme Ventures, for their generous, ongoing support for Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that supports teenage and young mothers living with HIV and their children. We are truly grateful for your recent donation and for all your support in the past!
Randy McLaren in performance at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. (My photo)

Randy McLaren in performance at the University of the West Indies last Thursday. (My photo)

  • Randy McLaren (the “Kriativ Aktivis”) who presented an entertaining lunchtime concert at the University of the West Indies (UWI) last week – entertainment with a biting social commentary. Well done, Randy – I can see you are maturing very nicely as an artist.
Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernie Ranglin.

  • It’s hard to believe that the wonderful guitarist Ernie Ranglin is 82 years old. The Gleaner calls him a “ska and reggae guitarist” and indeed Mr. Ranglin has played in many genres. I think he is most famous for his jazz style, these days (and I heard him in concert some ten years ago, a marvel!) He has mostly played overseas, and his latest album is called “Bless Up,”  with international musicians Inx Herman, Jonathan Korty, and Yossi Fine. Good to hear he’s still going strong!
A friend's Earth Hour "selfie" - truly lights out!

Where are you? A friend’s Earth Hour “selfie” – truly lights out!

  • All those involved in the organization of the Earth Hour Acoustic Concert last night, which by all accounts was a great success. Special kudos to Rootz Underground’s Stephen Newland, who is often at the forefront of environmental awareness programs. It was good to see so many young people enjoying the music and understanding the message too!
Calabar High School’s Class Three sprint king Tyreke Wilson poses beside the display board showing his impressive new record achieved in the 200m. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Calabar High School’s Class Three sprint king Tyreke Wilson poses beside the display board showing his impressive new record achieved in the 200m. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  • Calabar High School (boys) and Edwin Allen High School (girls) athletes, who came out on top in the ISSA GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships, which ended yesterday at the National Stadium. As usual, the competition was fierce, and many records were broken.
Edwin Allen High's Marleena Eubanks salutes her supporters as she crosses the line to win the Class One 800m final in 2:06.51 at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. - Photo by Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner

Edwin Allen High’s Marleena Eubanks salutes her supporters as she crosses the line to win the Class One 800m final in 2:06.51 at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium yesterday. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Flyer for Edna Manley School of Dance 18th Season of Performances.

Flyer for Edna Manley School of Dance 18th Season of Performances.

  • And if you enjoy dance, come out next week and support the students of the Edna Manley College School of Dance in Kingston for their 18th Season of Dance. There will be several performances throughout the week, culminating in their Gala Night on Sunday, April 6.

My condolences to the families and friends of the following Jamaicans who lost their lives violently over the past four days.

Kirk Palmer, 42, Cornwall Courts/Montego Bay, St. James

Bryan Martin, Orange Street/Montego Bay, St. James

Shanice Williams, 27, Hopewell, Hanover

Peta Rose, 64, Lumsden, St. Ann

Rushawn Myers, 20, Port Antonio, Portland

Lebert Balasal, 61, Little London, Westmoreland

Killed by police:

Paul O’Gilvie, 20, Alexandria, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Alexandria, St. Ann

On the road: 24-year-old Police Constable Christopher Foster appeared to have been speeding when he crashed into a stationary truck on Thursday morning in Manchester, and died. The car was virtually flattened. Over the weekend, three people were killed in two car crashes on the north coast, both apparently caused by speeding.

Police Constable Christopher Foster died in a tragic car crash.

Police Constable Christopher Foster died in a tragic car crash.

Earth Hour in Jamaica and the Caribbean

It was a warm night in Kingston, Jamaica. Down at the National Stadium, the annual high school athletics championships were drawing to an end, in a resounding climax of noise, vuvuzelas ringing (yes, we still have vuvuzelas in Jamaica, a throwback from the last football World Cup). For the sports fans and supporters of their respective schools (including those watching the live broadcast at home), there was no way that they were going to shut down for an hour.

Earth Hour at home in Kingston. Backdrop: Neighbors' loud party music!

Earth Hour at home in Kingston. Backdrop: Neighbors’ loud party music!

This was a pity, because from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time (everywhere, globally) millions celebrated Earth Hour by simply switching off. This was an easy thing for the two of us to do at home, since we had no interest in “Champs” anyway. We turned out all our lights and appliances at 8:30 p.m., lit candles and our oil lamp, and sat quietly in the dark, sipping wine and chatting. However, even then our reflective mood was completely spoiled by a close neighbor, who was having a party. Now, Jamaican parties are loud. They are non-negotiable. The music takes over. So we endured a great deal of distorted hip hop and dancehall music from our neighbor’s loudspeakers – before, during and after Earth Hour.

This tweet was sent with a photo of the acoustic concert: "Lanterns making their way to the sky in recognition of #EarthHourJA while #Nature brings "world peace" #greatmoment "

This tweet was sent with a photo of the acoustic concert: Lanterns making their way to the sky in recognition of #EarthHourJA while #Nature brings “world peace” #greatmoment 

Representatives of the telecoms firm Flow, together with Rootz Underground singer Stephen Newland (hidden, in the middle) release a lantern at the end of the Earth Hour acoustic concert in Kingston.

Representatives of the telecoms firm Flow, together with Rootz Underground singer Stephen Newland (hidden, in the middle) release a lantern at the end of the Earth Hour acoustic concert in Kingston.

This, too, was unfortunate – especially since our neighbors rarely indulge in parties these days, but chose this particular night to do so. Not too far away, though, a special Earth Hour acoustic concert was taking place at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre. The concert was free and open to the public; several local firms were sponsors, with some of them holding special Twitter events and photo competitions. It was really good to see the private sector on board; and to read the many comments from appreciative participants.  Lanterns were released into the night sky. There were glow sticks and bangles, and sparklers (what Jamaicans call “starlights”). There were “good vibes.”

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, other countries held their own celebrations – small, private or public, it mattered not. The important thing was to recognize and honor our Planet. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got.

Please see below some more photos of Earth Hour in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean… I don’t have live photos of all the events, however, although I gleaned as many as possible from Facebook pages.

Earth Hour Barbados.

Earth Hour Barbados.

Earth Hour 2015 in the Caribbean will be even bigger and better!

Earth Hour 2015 in the Caribbean will be even bigger and better!

Earth Hour at the University of Belize.

Earth Hour at the University of Belize.

Earth Hour Curacao.

Earth Hour Curacao.

 

Hora Del Planeta in Dominican Republic.

Hora Del Planeta in Dominican Republic.

Students from Bishop Anstey Trinity College East Sixth Form celebrating Earth Hour in Trinidad and Tobago.

Students from Bishop Anstey Trinity College East Sixth Form celebrating Earth Hour in Trinidad and Tobago.

Spiderman was out in support at the Trinidad Hilton.

Spiderman was out in support at the Trinidad Hilton.

Earth Strong TT and Trinidad Carnival Diary prepared solar-powered lanterns for Earth Hour.

Earth Strong TT and Trinidad Carnival Diary prepared solar-powered lanterns for Earth Hour.

Members of the Aruba Community Group get to work on some beautiful art for Earth Hour.

Members of the Aruba Community Group get to work on some beautiful art for Earth Hour.

Earth Hour at Fort Zoutman, Aruba. (Photo: Facebook)

Earth Hour at Fort Zoutman, Aruba. (Photo: Facebook)

The concert glowed...

The concert in Kingston just glowed…

Sparklers!

Sparklers! In Kingston

Flow's staff joined an Earth Hour promotion on Facebook.

Flow’s staff joined an Earth Hour promotion on Facebook.

Jamaica Yellow Pages' Earth Hour flyer.

Jamaica Yellow Pages’ Earth Hour flyer.

Sigma Sunday, February 16, 2014

This morning, the 16th annual Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run 2014 took place in the city of Kingston. Organizers say 22,368 people took part and that it raised J$20 million. It’s certainly the biggest charity run in the city; these events have become very popular in recent years. Sigma is so big that I understand it’s a major social event, for those who aren’t so interested in exerting themselves: I saw reports of runners wearing “red Chanel lipstick” and marriage proposals, en route…

Eager uptowners jostle to start the Sagicor Sigma 5K race in Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Eager uptowners jostle to start the Sagicor Sigma 5K race in Kingston (last year). (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Here is the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) team at this morning's Sagicor Sigma Run in Kingston, showing their Save Goat Islands credentials! (Photo: JET)

Here is the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) team at this morning’s Sagicor Sigma Run in Kingston, showing their Save Goat Islands credentials! (Photo: JET)

The Government completely dropped the ball on the Jamaican bobsled team. Yes, I know I am biased but since they first qualified for the Sochi Winter Olympics I have been so excited about them!  As I noted in earlier blogs, this was a tailor-made marketing opportunity for the Jamaica Tourist Board etc to use our tax dollars for a good purpose. The bobsled team basically marketed themselves – and Jamaica - regardless, with a great deal of help from the media. The New York Times, LA Times and many other traditional and online media have written glowing reports. Volunteers have been begging photo-ops with the team and enthusiastic tweets from all over the world have been pouring in. What a missed opportunity. Oh, you don’t remember “Cool Runnings”?

The lads prepare their speed wagon at Sochi. (Photo: Twitter)

The lads prepare their speed wagon at Sochi. (Photo: Twitter)

Nuff said!

Nuff said!

The Contractor General has got his way and will now have meeting notes of the Constituency Development Fund committee for perusal. This despite the protests of MP Everald Warmington, who once famously said, “The contractor general’s office is a creature of Parliament. Parliament is not a creature of the contractor general.” He protested again, in vain this time. I wonder why politicians on both sides of the House of Representatives have such a niggling distrust of the Contractor General?

Junior Transport and Works Minister Richard Azan. (Photo: Gleaner)

Junior Transport and Works Minister Richard Azan. (Photo: Gleaner)

And yes, Minister Azan, bureaucracy is a real pain. But it cannot be used as an excuse to bypass the rules and regulations – isn’t that called corruption? The “re-energized” Junior Transport Minister, who returned to his job recently, assures us: “Whatever I am doing now, especially as it relates to the Government, everything has to be in writing.” That’s good to know, Minister Azan. Good to have things in writing. Wow.

Talking of corruption: What has happened to the Trafigura investigation by Dutch authorities? Weren’t government ministers subpoena’ed to testify in court, or did I imagine it? I see Trafigura made a hefty profit last year, and that questions are being raised about their dealings in Zambia.

Is this democracy? We have a Local Government Minister, but it doesn’t seem to have helped the situation in the Municipality of Portmore. The former Mayor, George Lee (the only Mayor in Jamaica to be directly elected) passed away last September. No council meetings took place for the rest of the year. Not sure if Opposition Local Government spokesman Desmond McKenzie has tabled questions on this in Parliament. It just doesn’t seem right, with no mayoral election in sight after five months.

The “frequent flyer” debate has taken on such a partisan political flavor that the key point – that of our Prime Minister’s accountability to taxpayers – has been submerged. Representatives of the Two Tribes did a lot of point-scoring on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven” last week. The Prime Minister continues to refer to the issue in every single speech she makes at various events round the island (she has been reading out more speeches, lately). It’s all too much.

The “too many kids” debate also drags on. You might want to consider youth commentator Jaevion Nelson’s response. He joins the chorus of critics of Senator Ruel Reid’s suggestion that there should be a limit on Jamaica’s fertility:  http://jaevion.blogspot.com/2014/02/abort-that-idea-heres-some-info-you.html Mr. Nelson says Senator Reid based his comments on erroneous information and has shown his ignorance of sexual and reproductive health issues in Jamaica.  Perhaps we should not be distracted from the fact that we have a growing aging population, and worry about that instead. But no one is discussing that, it seems.

Huge kudos to…

A Jonkunnu character and fan at "Fi Wi Sinting" in Portland. (Photo: Twitter)

A Jonkunnu character and fan at “Fi Wi Sinting” in Portland. (Photo: Twitter)

Jamaican writers and creative people in general, who attended the “Talking Trees” Literary Festival, as well as “Arts in the Park” - both in Kingston. We city-dwellers are lucky – I hope the rest of the island enjoys some live cultural events. I know “Fi Wi Sinting,” a fantastic annual celebration of our African heritage in Portland, which takes place in Black History Month. It has suffered from some rain today, I understand.

Billy Elm, Jamaican children's writer.

Billy Elm, Jamaican children’s writer.

Helen Williams (pen-name Billy Elm) lives in Montego Bay, and she’s a children’s writer. She does a lot of readings in local schools. Here is her account of one on her blog: http://marogkingdom.blogspot.com/2014/02/reading-delroy-in-marog-kingdom-at.html Keep the book flag flying, Billy Elm! And special kudos to her daughter Clara Brydson, furniture designer and entrepreneur, whose VintEdge Swank is worth investigating! For more details contact Clara at www.facebook.com/vintedgeswank, email: info@vintedgeswank.com, or call (876)-771-7881.

Ms. Yolandie Bailey (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Ms. Yolandie Bailey (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Yolandie Bailey, a young mother in Islington, St. Mary, just because she is obviously a very kind woman. You can read her story here: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Young-Islington-mother-gives-back-to-community_16068680

One of Clara Brydson's funky VintEdge Swank designs. (Photo: Gleaner)

An example of Clara Brydson’s funky VintEdge Swank designs. (Photo: Gleaner)

Since yesterday, my Twitter timeline has been filled with commentary on a murder trial in Florida (the infamous “stand your ground” law, which has got to go!) I am, quite frankly, much more concerned about the flood of horrors right here in Jamaica in the past few days, including:

A mentally ill man cut the throat of another mentally ill inmate in the Dickensian (yes, it is) Tower Street Correctional Facility in downtown Kingston. Both the alleged murderer and his victim had already been charged with murder but were deemed “unfit to plea.” Then what were they doing in prison? They should have been in a mental institution. This is tragic and possibly the tip of the iceberg. How many mentally challenged inmates languish in our prisons? Does the government have a policy on this?

On Thursday evening, armed men invaded a Valentine’s Day party on Banana Street in Kingston’s McIntyre Villa (called “Dunkirk”) and killed a man and an infant. A short distance away and a short time after, armed men from Banana Street, seeking revenge, shot and seriously injured a couple who were trying to protect their two-month-old child from a “revenge infanticide.”

A  woman was chopped and beheaded allegedly by a former partner in the Mountain View area of Kingston late last night. Since last year, there have been increasing numbers of women murdered by abusive partners or jealous former partners in Jamaica. Often the families are aware of the abuse but do not report it.

I think that’s enough, but I could go on. My condolences to the grieving families, who are left to suffer and mourn. The following names are of those Jamaicans who have been killed in the past four days:

“Damar,” McIntyre Villa, Kingston

Trejaun Harvey, 17 months, McIntyre Villa, Kingston

Unidentified man, Tower Street Correctional Facility, Kingston

Karen Rainford, 34, Backbush/Mountain View Avenue, Kingston

Damion Hemmings, 25, Southborough/Portmore, St. Catherine

Jimony Powell, 17, Bendon District, Clarendon

Roderick Murray, 27, Hopewell, Hanover

Cindy Campbell, 40, Hopewell, Hanover

Killed by the police:

Jason Williams, 22, Browns Gully/Morant Bay, St. Thomas

Jerome Williams, 20, Browns Gully/Morant Bay, St. Thomas

On the road: Retired Police Inspector Arnold Steer was a passenger in a car that went off the road in Philadelphia, St. Ann. He died from his injuries. A teenager Malcolm Whyte, a student of St. Andrew College, was reportedly hit off his motorbike by a police car and killed during a chase in Kingston.

Karen Rainford's former partner chopped and beheaded her in "Backbush" off Mountain View Avenue at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning. (Photo: Gleaner)

Karen Rainford’s former partner chopped and beheaded her in “Backbush” off Mountain View Avenue at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning. (Photo: Gleaner)

The car in which passenger Arnold Steer sustained injuries and died after it crashed in St. Ann. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The car in which passenger Arnold Steer sustained injuries and died after it crashed in St. Ann. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

It’s been a Warm Sunday, February 9, 2014

At least, it is in Kingston, and not a drop of rain in sight.

Corruption, anti-corruption: I am simply going to quote former Contractor General Greg Christie on this: “Jamaican MPs and Cabinet members who are against aggressive anti-corruption reforms must not be allowed to hold the country to ransom.” Who are these people, I wonder? Meanwhile, Justice Minister Mark Golding says work towards creating a single anti-corruption agency is proceeding apace. Of course, one hopes that it will be a functioning, efficient and effective agency, when it finally appears.

A picture of Leonard Howell, from the Occupy Pinnacle Facebook page.

A picture of Leonard Howell, from the Occupy Pinnacle Facebook page.

“Occupy Pinnacle”: A robust discussion continues in social media over the fate of Pinnacle, the hilltop homesite of Rastafari founder Leonard P. Howell. Reverend Garnett Roper (who is now a public servant as well as heading the Jamaica Theological Seminary) has come up with what I believe is a workable solution: to create a theme park-style attraction focusing on Rastafari, which has played a key role in promoting “Brand Jamaica” through reggae music (who doesn’t recognize the red, gold and green?). It could be a private-public sector project promoted to attract visitors from near and far. Rev. Roper thinks this would be a remarkable opportunity to right some historical wrongs.” Yes, in the past there has been much injustice. Anyway, I think this could work out well for all concerned. Compromise is definitely a possibility. But of course whatever is created must retain its authentic cultural integrity.

Proud flag bearer brakeman Marvin Dixon before stepping out at #Sochi2014 opening ceremony. (Photo: Twitter)

Proud flag bearer brakeman Marvin Dixon before stepping out at #Sochi2014 opening ceremony. (Photo: Twitter)

Talking of “Brand Jamaica”: The Jamaican bobsled team is once again a huge hit. The Government has done very little to support them officially (apart from a short press release congratulating them on qualifying for the Winter Olympics in Sochi) but hey – the New York Times, Miami Herald, ESPN, NBC, ABC, BBC and more have been writing great stories about them and following their every move. The bobsledders raised the funds for their trip to Sochi in just a couple of days via crowd-funding (showing the strength of their global support) and have had to ask people to stop sending money, as they have more than enough! Why the Government’s lukewarm interest? This is tailor-made stuff. Remember “Cool Runnings,” Mr. Tourism Minister, JAMPRO et al? The 1993 Disney movie made well over US$150 million and the soundtrack was a major hit. Nuff said. (Follow the team on Twitter @Jambobsled for great photos and updates!)

INDECOM-logo

INDECOM (the Independent Commission of Investigations) is operating at only 60 % of the staff that it needs to deal with hundreds of cases of police abuses (including extra-judicial killings, which were up last year). Why can’t they be given the needed resources? This is much less than what the Bureau of Special Investigations received (that was INDECOM’s ineffective predecessor). INDECOM has achieved some modest results during its short term of existence, but against the odds. I wish them all the best and hope they will get the support they deserve.

Signing our future away: Finance and Planning Minister, Dr. the Hon. Peter Phillips (left), and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Country Representative in Jamaica, Therese Turner-Jones sign copies of two loan agreements for the IDB’s provision of just over $15 billion (US$140 million) in budgetary support to the government to undertake the country’s Fiscal Structural Programme for Economic Growth, and Competitiveness Enhancement Programme (III). The signing took place on February 6. Overseeing the proceedings is the Ministry’s Communications and Public Relations Director, Cheryl Smith. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Signing our future away: Finance and Planning Minister, Peter Phillips (left), and Inter-American Development Bank Country Representative in Jamaica, Therese Turner-Jones sign copies of two loan agreements for the IDB’s provision of just over $15 billion (US$140 million) in budgetary support to the government to undertake the country’s Fiscal Structural Programme for Economic Growth, and Competitiveness Enhancement Programme (III). The signing took place on February 6. Overseeing the proceedings is the Ministry’s Communications and Public Relations Director, Cheryl Smith. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

More huge loans: Forgive me for asking, but is the way out of our debt problem to continue borrowing vast sums of money? The Government have signed two big ‘uns lately: US$140 million from the Inter-American Development Bank for enhancing fiscal administration of the economy” ; and an even larger loan from the Chinese Government, our new best friends. I guess the IMF is cool with all this, right Minister Phillips?

He's back! Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Omar Davies addresses members of the Diplomatic Corps on February 5 where he provided details on major infrastructural projects being undertaken. (Photo: JIS)

He’s back! Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Omar Davies addresses members of the Diplomatic Corps on February 5 where he provided details on major infrastructural projects being undertaken. (Photo: JIS)

Last week was Diplomatic Week, which means that representatives of fifty-odd countries that have diplomatic relations with Jamaica get together for a heavy dose of Jamaican Government presentations and cocktails. Transport Minister Omar Davies (yes, he has reappeared, finally) told the diplomats about plans for a network of roads and the logistics hub. The Minister said the “bits of the puzzle are coming together.” Yes, it’s a puzzle, all right!

Bahij Mansour (Photo: Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer)

Israel’s non-resident Ambassador to Jamaica Bahij Mansour (Photo: Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer)

Solar solutions? The non-resident Israeli Ambassador to Jamaica Bahij Mansour has expressed interest in assisting with the logistics hub. What I would really like to see is Israeli assistance with solar power and water conservation projects; they are world-leading experts in these fields, and God knows the responsible ministers are doing virtually nothing in these areas of any significance.

Kingston cruise ships? Minister Davies also mentioned the possibility of Kingston becoming a cruise ship port. Is this the reason why the Kingston port is being expanded? I think not. Well, a hell of a lot of work will have to be done on downtown Kingston before this could be at all feasible.

NFPB chair Dr Sandra Knight (centre) makes a point during Thursday’s Observer Press Club at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters. Her colleagues Sania Sutherland (right), executive director and Marion Scott, acting director of outreach and prevention, flank her. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

NFPB chair Dr Sandra Knight (centre) makes a point during Thursday’s Observer Press Club at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters. Her colleagues Sania Sutherland (right), executive director and Marion Scott, acting director of outreach and prevention, flank her. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Teens in trouble: Several articles in today’s papers are enough to make you break out in a cold sweat. Chair of the National Family Planning Board Dr. Sandra Knight (a terrific and knowledgeable lady) tells us that “transactional sex” (for benefit/gifts) is on the rise; more young people have multiple sex partners and most are not bothering to use condoms; abstinence programs aren’t working; and more and more teens are becoming addicted to porn, with home-made sex videos circulating on mobile phones. And of course, with all this happening, the abuse of children aged 11 to 15 years is increasing. A total nightmare.

At last! A female (guest) columnist in the Sunday Gleaner, Suzanne Leslie-Bailey, and she does a good job of telling the middle-class to “get off their verandas and get involved in the political process, raise their voices on the issues, and demand that politicians be true servants of the people!” Thank you.

“Dem can gwan run up dem mouth…” So said our Prime Minister on video regarding those who have been criticizing her many overseas trips. For those who don’t understand Jamaican patois… Oh, it’s not worth the bother of translating, actually.

Major kudos to: 

G2K President Floyd Green is the new Deputy Spokesman on Labour and Social Security with the Jamaica Labour Party.

G2K President Floyd Green is the new Deputy Spokesman on Labour and Social Security with the Jamaica Labour Party.

Suzanne Leslie-Bailey and Floyd Green, two young people who have been appointed Deputy Spokespersons for Tourism and Labour/Social Security, respectively.  Go out and make a difference!

Suzanne Leslie Bailey is the new Deputy Spokeswoman on Tourism.

Suzanne Leslie Bailey is the new Deputy Spokeswoman on Tourism.

Palace Amusement Company (again) for bringing us the wonderful Live at the Met HD Series from the Metropolitan Opera of New York. It is a joy to go down to the Carib cinema and immerse ourselves with other happy opera lovers. I have reviewed a couple of them – including Dvorak’s “Rusalka” - which will be encored at the Palace Multiplex, Montego Bay and the Cineplex in Kingston on February 16 at 11:30 a.m. Next up is “Prince Igor” on March 1. Can’t wait!

Yup! Pharrell Williams is happy, and it's infectious!

Yup! Pharrell Williams is happy, and it’s infectious!

The makers of the “Jamaica Happy” video, using Pharrell’s funky, catchy tune: This is a gem of a short video (wish it was a bit longer!) – beautifully produced, with real Jamaicans in real locations. The boys who dive at Kingston’s waterfront, the cool uptown girls, a motor mechanic among his cars, a young man on his cell phone in New Kingston… Lovely! It will bring a smile to your face. This is Jamaica, minus the fake Jamaica Tourist Board hype. Watch and share widely: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFugJzhrsUM

Shaking a leg in the mechanic's yard - a still from the awesome "Jamaica Happy" video with Pharrell's song.

Shaking a leg in the mechanic’s yard – a still from the awesome “Jamaica Happy” video with Pharrell’s song.

Wyatt Gallery in Kingston's Jewish Cemetery at Orange Street. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Wyatt Gallery in Kingston’s Jewish Cemetery at Orange Street. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

New York-based photographer and philanthropist Wyatt Gallery (who has Jamaican connections), who gave us a preview of his exquisitely beautiful book, “Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean,” in Kingston last week. Collector’s packages are available. For more information, go to Wyatt’s website at: http://www.wyattgallery.com.

Dr. Marcia Forbes is the author of two books on social media and its impact on Jamaican youth. She also heads a dynamic team at Phase Three Productions, a 25-year-old Jamaican company offering TV, film and multimedia services. (Photo: jamediapro.wordpress.com)

Dr. Marcia Forbes is the author of two books on social media and its impact on Jamaican youth. She also heads a dynamic team at Phase Three Productions, a 25-year-old Jamaican company offering TV, film and multimedia services. (Photo: jamediapro.wordpress.com)

Businesswoman and communicator extraordinaire Marcia Forbes, whose two-part series on the logistics hub is enlightening. She keeps it clear and simple, minus the hype of the Jamaican Government’s PR on the planned mega-development. Here are Ms. Forbes’ cogent comments on the proposed transshipment port at Goat Islands: Jamaicans are concerned that in addition to environmental degradation, with possible flooding of surrounding land mass and losses to fisher-folks and their families as a result of situating a Logistics Park within the Portland Bight, there will be no meaningful job creation. They fear that the Chinese will bring many of their nationals, not only those with ‘special expertise’ and that the jobs of which Professor Shirley speaks may never really materialize.” Read more at the Caribbean Journal website:  http://www.caribjournal.com/2014/02/07/marcia-forbes-understanding-jamaica’s-logistics-hub-part-2/

The Jamaican Government could perhaps bear this in mind… Thank you!

The Jamaican Government could perhaps bear this in mind… Thank you!

The number of deaths in incidents involving the police seems to be steadily growing. I am not sure what is going on here. How can National Security Minister Peter Bunting be preaching “unity” and “working together to fight the monster of crime,” in the full knowledge that every such killing further erodes the level of trust between the police and citizens? The Police Commissioner’s response to the latest killing – the death of a woman in downtown Kingston while the police and gunmen were allegedly involved in a gunfight – was inept and hypocritical, to say the least. He said, well this is what happens when gunmen fire at police and they must stop doing that. Hmmm.  My deepest sympathies to those who are mourning; Ms. Stone leaves behind five children.

Dekalda McKenzie, 25, Ziaidie Gardens, Kingston

Oneill Washington, 30, Portmore, St. Catherine

Rema Arthurs, 67, Greenvale/Mandeville, Manchester

Duane Powell, 33, Salt Spring, St. James

Brandon Gordon, 23, Norwood, St. James

Killed by the police:

Kevin Davis, 19, Regent Street, Kingston

Jacqueline Stone, 44, Oxford Road, Kingston

Adrian Knight, Bethel Town, Westmoreland

On the roads:  26 Jamaicans have died on our roads this year, already. Now, how do eight people fit into a Nissan Sunny? Two people died when this car crashed in Petersfield, Westmoreland: 37-year-old Nichola Graham and 20-year-old Lavern Gordon. The car must have been unstable and going too fast – no other vehicle was involved. And the media have just caught onto the fact that a talented young man, Jason Cruickshank, 28, was killed while crossing the road a whole week ago along the Jacks Hill Road in Kingston. The truck that hit him did not stop. Another car that followed also hit him, and did not stop.

Alicia Dixon, with photos of her 19-year-old brother Tevin Davis, who was allegedly shot and killed by the police in Denham Town, Kingston, on Thursday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Alicia Dixon, with photos of her 19-year-old brother Kevin Davis, who was allegedly shot and killed by the police in Denham Town, Kingston, on Thursday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

A Fairytale World at the Carib

What’s the difference between a wood sprite and a water nymph?

Rusalka, the tree and the moon.

Rusalka, the tree and the moon.

In the Metropolitan Opera of New York’s production of “Rusalka,”  an opera by AntonÍn Dvorák, there are three wood sprites (in green filmy dresses) and one water nymph – Rusalka herself, in shades of watery blue. The wood sprites do a lot of fluttery dancing and running around on tiptoe, laugh a lot and show a lot of leg at times, in their gossamer green dresses. Rusalka… Well, she is not a happy wood nymph, most of the time. By the way, we enjoyed this opera at Kingston’s Carib cinema as part of an incredible “The Met: Live in HD” series, courtesy of Palace Amusement Company. We are confirmed addicts.

Dolora Zajick (right) as Jezibaba and Renee Fleming in the title role of "Rusalka."

Dolora Zajick (right) as Jezibaba and Renee Fleming in the title role of “Rusalka.”

This beautiful lyrical opera took me back to my childhood, when I devoured books of fairy tales. My favorites were twelve collections of fairy tales, myths and legends from around the world, each one a different color. There was the Green Fairy Book, the Orange Fairy Book, the Violet Fairy Book, and so on. They were compiled by a nineteenth-century Scotsman, Andrew Lang. There were wood nymphs in some of these pages, which were also crowded with Native American warriors, fearsome Scandinavian monsters, Chinese emperors and of course, beautiful princesses and handsome princes. The story of “Rusalka” is an adaptation of a Slavic myth.

Rusalka with her Dad, the Water Gnome (John Relyea).

Rusalka with her Dad, the Water Gnome (John Relyea).

Back to the opera. Rusalka (sung by Renée Fleming) has fallen in love with a human – a prince, who lives in a castle in the forest. She lives in a glittering lake in the forest with her father, the Water Gnome (who is painted in shiny aqua colors and has a splendid fake torso, complete with an impressive “six-pack”). An ugly witch (well, they are always ugly aren’t they) called Jezibaba mixes up some potions for her, and Rusalka becomes mortal, so that the prince can actually see her. This is where her problems start. If you know the heartbreaking story “The Little Mermaid” (and no, I am not talking about the Disney film here) – this is the Czech version.

Renée Fleming and Piotr Beczala in "Rusalka." (Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)

Renée Fleming and Piotr Beczala in “Rusalka.” (Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)

Rusalka is one of Ms. Fleming’s signature roles. It is a challenging one with a wide range; it’s also emotionally tricky to act. She spends some of the time unable to speak (the witch’s spell did that). During most of one act, she is the losing-out one third of a love triangle between herself, the Prince and a passionate Foreign Princess in a heavy red costume (sung powerfully by Emily Magee). She spends a lot of time weeping and yearning for the impossible; Ms. Fleming portrays her with an other-worldly cool. Rusalka is, of course, completely lost in the world of humans. In the first scene, she spends most of the time sitting in the top of a tree, where she sings the “Song to the Moon,” the most well-known piece of music in the opera. It is beautiful, unearthly.

Růžena Maturová as the first Rusalka (Prague, 1901).

Růžena Maturová as the first Rusalka (Prague, 1901). Rusalka and her sisters loved to play among the water lilies – until things got complicated with humans.

Let me tell you about the Prince. He is played by the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. Mr. Beczala’s voice flows with passion, tons of it. He sang the part of Lenski in the Met’s “Eugene Onegin” – possibly still my favorite in the 2013/14 season, so far. Mr. Beczala – he of the piercing blue eyes – is pretty irresistible, and it was wonderful to see and hear him in an equally romantic and tragic role.

Piotr Beczala as The Prince.

Piotr Beczala as The Prince.

The "Rusalka" production helmed by Montreal-born maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin is seen around the world via the "Live at the Met" series, made possible by a generous grant from its founding sponsor The Neubauer Family Foundation. (Photo: Metropolitan Opera)

The “Rusalka” production is helmed by Montreal-born maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is an up-and-coming star conductor at the Met. The orchestration was rich and energetic. (Photo: Metropolitan Opera)

Suffice it to say that there is no happy ending. But then, fairytales are often stories of longing and sadness. Unlike today’s predictable romantic comedies, the hero and heroine don’t always ride off into the sunset.

Which makes this fairytale perhaps more believable – even more edgy – than you might expect.

P.S. If you are an American football fan, you may recall that Renée Fleming sang the national anthem at the Superbowl last weekend. She confessed in an interview that she felt more nervous beforehand than she ever did singing opera – but the audience loved her performance. Oh, and by the way, Ms. Fleming has four Grammys.

For more on the “Live at the Met” series, which is broadcast to   countries around the world, visit: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx  

My review of Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Met is here: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/classy-stuff-at-the-carib/

Renee Fleming singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Superbowl last Sunday, February 2. (Photo: AP)

Renee Fleming singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Superbowl last Sunday, February 2. (Photo: AP)

Whirling Wednesday, February 5, 2014

 It’s midweek already and there are lots of stories and discussions whirling and swirling around. Never a dull moment!

The beauty of Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area, now threatened by a Chinese-built transshipment port. (Photo: Max Earle)

The beauty of Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area, now threatened by a Chinese-built transshipment port. (Photo: Max Earle)

Land grabs: I have to quote a Jamaican tweet: “So we are building townhouses on 10 acres of King’s House lawns, selling Goat Islands and bulldozing Pinnacle.” So much for our government’s respect for historical, natural and cultural heritage, which belongs to us – Jamaicans. Thanks to all concerned, on behalf of current and future generations of Jamaicans, for continuing to pillage our heritage. (Oh, that was sarcasm).

Why does PetroCaribe need a new, larger office in New Kingston, costing close to J$1 million per month? Please ask Dr. Wesley Hughes, who is taking on more staff. Is this in accordance with a government commitment to reduce public sector spending? Or isn’t there such a commitment?

The Pinnacle settlement overlooks other communities in St Catherine. (Photo: Michael Gordon)

The Pinnacle settlement overlooks other communities in St Catherine. It is the site of the home of Leonard Howell, the founder of Rastafari.  (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

The issue of Pinnacle seems to be opening a Pandora’s Box of issues, including claims of conflict of interest on the part of the Jamaican Government. “Live at Seven,” hosted by the dogged and determined Simon Crosskill, took another crack at it the other night. I think that if the Rastafarian community who have lived there for decades had paid their taxes they might have been able to claim ownership of the property – a windswept hilltop with a beautiful view of St. Catherine. And it all depends on who has the title. But apart from the legalities, there are many other issues woven in. This story is by no means over.

The relationship between taxi drivers and law enforcement officials has often been uneasy. Now cab drivers in Mandeville are angry after witnessing the alleged beating and pepper spraying of one of their colleagues by the police, after he refused to accept a summons they were serving. Police say the man behaved aggressively; but they really need to get a grip on this concept of “community policing.”

So the People’s National Party Youth Organization (PNPYO) likes the idea of “political clubs” in high schools. Recently, a student of St Jago High School used the school’s PA system to invite students to a PNPYO meeting. Thankfully, the Education Minister has scotched the idea. Economics clubs, human rights clubs, etc… Fine. But not partisan political clubs. No need to brainwash our young people that early.

Mr. King derides his fellow Jamaicans who love watching those awful American reality shows. We'd better not catch him watching one… (Photo: Gleaner)

Mr. King derides his fellow Jamaicans who love watching those awful American reality shows. We’d better not catch him watching one… (Photo: Gleaner)

The snide Mr. King: Keiran King (“playwright and actor”) wrote a guest column in the Gleaner today. It has caused a stir. Mr. King says Jamaicans were a total embarrassment in their excited response to Tessanne Chin’s win in “The Voice.”  We settle for so little, but then, we are used to being “irrelevant.” Really? Taking side-swipes at American TV shows (clearly he is far too intellectual for such stuff, but hey, many enjoy them!) he went on to denigrate those enthusiastic Jamaicans supporting Tessanne as “hyperactive schoolgirls.”  He omits to mention many positive spin-offs from Tessanne’s win: the inspiration and hope she gave to many; the successful uniting of the Jamaican diaspora during the contest; and her own role in supporting Shaggy’s fund-raising efforts. And some of us just aren’t able to “lift ourselves up.” Some of us actually do need help, hope and inspiration. We can’t all “grow where we’re planted.” Unless, of course, we’re planted in privilege.

It’s a man’s world: Mr. King is the latest in a series of smart middle-class young men that the Gleaner deems suitable for airplay because they are smart, privileged, young and… well, men. You are hardly likely to see a woman in their opinion pages, although women can actually write very well indeed. Several names spring to mind. But then, the newspaper only just dropped its “Man of the Year” award, so now lucky women can get awards! (Oh. Eleven men and three women won prizes this year from the dear old Gleaner. Well, that’s progress).

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Another nauseating column (in a different way) was Desmond Allen’s lengthy, fawning biographical piece on our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in the Jamaica Observer. He tells us that our leader is “possessed of endless charisma, an enchanting personality and a bewitching aura…” Well, that’s just lovely, isn’t it.  And talking of  our Prime Minister (who is, in case you didn’t know, in charge of Women’s Affairs) – it would be so nice for her to issue a statement on the continued abuse and murder of Jamaican women and girls, often by their partner or former partner. But I won’t hold my breath on that one.

Jamaican bobsledders Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon haven't been able to practice after their luggage -- which included their clothes and equipment -- was lost on the way to Sochi Winter Olympics. AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

Jamaican bobsledders Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon haven’t been able to practice after their luggage — which included their clothes and equipment — was lost on the way to Sochi Winter Olympics. Here Mr. Watts is wondering where on earth their bags have gone… AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

Frustration for our athletes: Having successfully raised enough money to get to the Sochi Winter Olympics, Jamaica’s bobsled team arrived minus their delayed luggage, which prevented them from practicing. I gather they are now reunited with it. What a struggle! Meanwhile, sprinter Sherone Simpson’s drugs hearing in front of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) was postponed today until February 25. Apparently lab reports were delayed and the JADCO people cannot interpret the “highly technical” documents. Meanwhile, eight months after Ms. Simpson’s adverse test finding, her life and career are still on hold.

Sherone Simpson arrives for her hearing in Kingston, which began last month.

Sherone Simpson arrives for her hearing in Kingston, which began last month.

Bunny Rugs in his younger days, wearing his trademark beret.

Bunny Rugs in his younger days, wearing his trademark beret.

A unique voice: Last Sunday William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke passed away. Bunny was the lead singer of Third World, a great band with a classic seventies reggae sound, a cool rock guitar and Bunny’s soulful voice. If you don’t know them, try “96 Degrees in the Shade” and “Journey to Addis.” Rest in peace, Bunny.

Kudos to SSP Steve McGregor: I like his idea of a “child curfew” in West Kingston. I know he is quite tough (he always gets assigned the toughest police divisions too) but I think he is a community-minded person, who tries really hard.

Senior Superintendent of Police Steve McGregor (left) listens to residents yesterday as they protest the death of a detainee in the Darling Street Police lock-up in West Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Senior Superintendent of Police Steve McGregor (left) listens to residents yesterday as they protest the death of a detainee in the Darling Street Police lock-up in West Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Selena Edmund, 8, Top Hill, St.Thomas

Amoy Patterson, 18, Jew Hill/Lucea, Hanover

Unidentified man, Springvale/Bog Walk, St. Catherine

Christopher McFarlane, St. John’s Road, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Judith Anderson, 43, Carey Park/Duncans, Trelawny

On the road: A female student of the William Knibb Memorial High School was hospitalized in stable condition following a motor vehicle collision along the Daniel Town main road in Trelawny on Monday morning. Reports are that a passenger bus was heading towards Falmouth at 7:45 am, when it collided with a truck travelling in the opposite direction. Other students escaped unhurt.

Nineteen-year-old Tamara Channer was killed when her car overturned in Greenvale, Manchester on Tuesday night. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Nineteen-year-old Tamara Channer was killed when her car overturned in Greenvale, Manchester on Tuesday night. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Eight-year-old Selena Edmond, a student of Whitehall Primary School, was raped and murdered.

Eight-year-old Selena Edmond, a student of Whitehall Primary School in St. Thomas, was raped and murdered.

A mob burned down the house of the alleged killer of eight-year-old Selena Edmond on Tuesday. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A mob burned down the house of the alleged killer of eight-year-old Selena Edmond on Tuesday. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A crush of mourners in rural Thornton, St. Elizabeth, when two 15-year-old boys, Desrick Williams and Ashnell Coke, were laid to rest on the weekend. The boys were chopped to death on January 8 while tending their fish pots at a nearby river. (Photo: Gregory Bennett/Jamaica Observer)

A crush of mourners in rural Thornton, St. Elizabeth, when two 15-year-old boys, Desrick Williams and Ashnell Coke, were laid to rest on the weekend. The boys were chopped to death on January 8 while tending their fish pots at a nearby river. (Photo: Gregory Bennett/Jamaica Observer)

Disgruntled taxi operators in Mandeville shortly after a beating incident involving their colleague. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Disgruntled taxi operators in Mandeville shortly after a beating incident involving their colleague. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Sunday Focus: February 2, 2014

It’s World Wetlands Day, if there are any Jamaican wetlands left by the time I finish writing this blog post. They’re disappearing fast (only two per cent of our land space). So hardly anything to celebrate.

A part of the extensive mangroves that surround Goat Islands, inside one of the fish sanctuaries. Beautiful and endangered wetlands. (My photo)

A part of the extensive mangroves that surround Goat Islands, inside one of the fish sanctuaries. Beautiful and endangered wetlands. (My photo)

Transparency? NOT: The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has decided to keep the Jamaican people in the dark on details of their assessment of Energy World International (EWI). If you recall, the somewhat mysterious EWI rather crept in the back door as the preferred bidder for the 350 megawatt power plant; construction is due to start this year. National Integrity Action, the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and the Opposition are not pleased. The Energy Monitoring Committee says it has outstanding concerns to discuss with the OUR, including “focusing on the financial capability of the Preferred Bidder.” Hmm. Rather important! Need more information on EWI? Their website is here: http://www.energyworldcorp.com/index.html.

Dr. Mark Nicely, President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, is Principal of William Knibb High School in Trelawny. (Photo: Jamaica Teachers' Association)

Dr. Mark Nicely, President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, is Principal of William Knibb High School in Trelawny. (Photo: Jamaica Teachers’ Association)

The “Association of No”?  The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) seem to have a default “no” mode whenever the Ministry of Education puts forward a proposal to them. This time it’s the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill, which would regulate and license teachers. However, JTA head Dr. Mark Nicely has said the teachers are open to dialogue, and has put forward some suggestions. I think the Minister needs a break…

Former tourism minister Ed Bartlett is back now as Opposition Spokesman. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Former tourism minister Ed Bartlett is back now as Opposition Spokesman. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Another back in the fold: Mr. Ed Bartlett has returned as Opposition Spokesman on Tourism. He is needed, as there are several issues in that sector. I wonder what Mr. Bartlett did about the jet skis when he was minister? And what about the craft vendors, their stalls piled high with (hugely similar) wood carvings and T shirts, who look so lonely with no customers?

You will find Wealth Magazine on all the social media and at http://www.wealthmagja.com

You will find Wealth Magazine on all the social media and at http://www.wealthmagja.com

Popping up all over the place: I went to a Corporate Mingle sponsored by Wealth Magazine on Friday night. Terrific energy and connections made, and kudos again to the wonderful CUSO International and JN Foundation – two of my favorite organizations. For me it was somewhat spoilt by the appearance of the Minister of Youth, Lisa Hanna. After being told how beautiful she was, she then enlightened us on how many thousands of young people are being trained by the National Youth Service (something her predecessors have been telling us for many years now). Then at today’s “Grounation” at Liberty Hall as Reggae Month begins, we have Transport & Works Minister Omar Davies giving a lecture (sermon?). Pity we haven’t had a peep out of him on the transshipment port proposed for Goat Islands – or any other issue, since he went on sick leave last year. I’d like to have a break from politicians at any and every social/cultural event, really.

What's your favorite Dennis Brown song? He died young (age 42) but was incredibly prolific.

What’s your favorite Dennis Brown song? The Kingstonian died young (age 42) but was incredibly prolific. “What About the Half” might possibly be my favorite. Or…

It’s nice to celebrate Bob Marley but really, do we need a Reggae Month? Every month is Reggae Month in Jamaica (although I confess it was nice to hear some Dennis Brown playing somewhere nearby, this afternoon…) I’ve got nothing against it but feel it is sort of unnecessary.

The “microphone in face” syndrome: Our Prime Minister still seems to be suffering from the trauma of having a microphone “pushed in her face.” She told the Jamaica Observer that the media is trying to “trap” her (I suppose that’s why she has that startled look when journalists approach). Why can’t the media treat her like they treat President Obama, she asks querulously? Just not fair. Perhaps it’s because local media are often desperate for information, feedback…any kind of communication that is not a prepared speech or photo-op.The journalists are doing their job, Ma’am. That is, trying to get information without “spin.”

And why does our Prime Minister take every little criticism so personally? Politicians usually develop a thick skin. Not everyone will love you, but that’s the way it is in public life, isn’t it?

Ballooning debt: Opposition Spokesman Audley Shaw is not wasting any time on addressing the issues, including the growing debt that is exacerbated by the continuously sliding exchange rate (now at around J$108=US$1). Financial secretary Devon Rowe says the public debt increases by 0.5 per cent with every one per cent slide in the dollar; and that it is expected to end the financial year (March 31) at J$1.9 trillion or 129.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product – a small improvement over the 2013/13 fiscal year.

Former Prime Minister Golding, I see nothing sensational or “populist” about protesting the crippling bank charges, which the three big banks say is now providing them with more income than interest. But I wonder if certain overseas-based banks would enjoy such a wide spread in interest rates and such huge charges back home? The National Commercial Bank’s Patrick Hylton considers the complaints “much ado about nothing.” Meanwhile, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC Jamaica) has sold out to Sagicor Group. Humph.

HAVANA, Cuba — Leaders meet for the second day of the CELAC Summit in Havana on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. Leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean signed a resolution declaring the region a “zone of peace”, pledging to resolve their disputes as respectful neighbours without the use of arms. (Photo: AP)

HAVANA, Cuba — Leaders meet for the second day of the CELAC Summit in Havana on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. Leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean signed a resolution declaring the region a “zone of peace”, pledging to resolve their disputes as respectful neighbours without the use of arms. (Photo: AP)

“A zone of peace”: So Latin American and Caribbean leaders, in yet another new grouping called CELAC, have declared the region to be a “zone of peace.” They sound a bit like a bunch of old hippies, but somewhat ironic considering that the highest crime rates are in our hemisphere. The Cuban Government rounded up a bunch of malcontents and journalists and threw them in jail just before the meeting in Havana, as is their tradition, but our leaders did not seem to mind much. The United States and Canada are not members of the group, which is intended to be an alternative to the Organization of American States. Did they miss much? I don’t know, but I hope the CELAC folks all had a jolly good time. Peace and love, man.

The Year of the Horse:  Happy New Year to Chinese friends and readers! It’s the Year of the Horse, and according to an ad from China Harbour Engineering Company, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company, it’s a year for “self improvement and swift victories!” So, galloping on…

There are Taino carvings on the walls of Two Sisters Caves in Hellshire, St. Catherine, which the Urban Development Corporation has decided to effectively close to members of the public. (Photo: UDC website)

There are Taino carvings on the walls of Two Sisters Caves in Hellshire, St. Catherine, which the Urban Development Corporation has decided to effectively close to members of the public. (Photo: UDC website)

What’s the UDC up to? First the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) closed Little Dunn’s River, a popular bathing/relaxing spot for Jamaicans (yes, Jamaicans!) on the north coast (it’s now reopened due to media/public pressure). Now it has closed the Two Sisters Cave in Hellshire, St. Catherine to the public for “efficiency” reasons, and will only be open by appointment to groups of “at least fifty people.” Are they serious?

Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill.

Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill.

The jet skis: It seems clear that TPDCo (Tourism Product Development Company), the Ministry of Tourism and the police dropped the ball. They were not enforcing or monitoring the enforcement of regulations supposedly governing the activities of jet ski operators, when a tourist was hit and killed by a jet ski driver in Negril last week. I understand that the police took a long time to arrive; and that they stood around watching while vacationers and others tried to revive the man. An ambulance never came. The hospital is about an hour’s drive away, and I am told the tourist was dead before he reached there. I thought our tourist industry was so precious? Why are emergency services in the town almost non-existent  (for locals and visitors?)

I am still waiting to read a decent newspaper editorial that will make me sit up and think. It’s been weeks now…

“Big ups” to a group of wonderful Jamaican women:

Congratulations to Commissioner Tracy Robinson. (Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

Congratulations to Commissioner Tracy Robinson. (Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

Commissioner Tracy Robinson, who has just been appointed as the Thematic and Country Rapporteur for Bahamas, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname; Rapporteur on the Rights of Women; and Rapporteur on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual Bisexual and Intersex Persons at the Inter American Council on Human Rights (IACHR). Ms. Robinson is a Lecturer in Gender and the Law, Constitutional Law and Commonwealth Caribbean Human Rights at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica and First Vice-President of the IACHR.

Georgina Sergeon atop Good Life, her first ride after returning from a two-year absence due to injuries received from a fall. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

Georgina Sergeon atop Good Life, her first ride after returning from a two-year absence due to injuries received from a fall. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

Jamaica’s only female jockey Georgina Sergeon, who is back in the saddle this weekend after suffering serious injuries in a fall from her horse two years ago. Good luck, brave girl!

Erica Wynter has been elected President of the Young Entrepreneurs Association. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Erica Wynter has been elected President of the Young Entrepreneurs Association. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

The new President of the Young Entrepreneurs Association is Ms.  Erica Wynter, Chief Executive Officer of C & E Innovational Services Limited. Wishing you all the best!

Valerie Viera of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation.

Valerie Viera of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation.

Valerie Viera heads the Jamaica Business Development Corporation, a government agency that supports and mentors micro-businesses and entrepreneurs (it was at JBDC that I met Nakia Jackson, the cook shop operator who was killed by the police last week). 29-year-old Rachel Anderson, who operates Myrtle Farm Industries in St. James, says she would have given up without Ms. Viera’s encouragement. She rears and plans to export ornamental fish.

Rachel Anderson at her farm in St. James. (Photo: Janet Silvera/Gleaner)

Rachel Anderson at her farm in St. James. (Photo: Janet Silvera/Gleaner)

22 civilians have already been killed this year in incidents involving the police. If we continue at this rate, we will surpass last year’s figure of 258 Jamaicans killed in 2013. And teachers at Kingston’s Dunrobin Primary School are grieving over the murder of their colleague Janice Atkinson-Reid, who was found murdered in her Portmore home on Wednesday. As always, I offer my deepest sympathies to all who mourn.

Gevin James, 29, Montego Bay, St. James

Killed by the police

Ryan Gibbs, 25, Crescent Road, Kingston

Gilbert Gillings, 28, Crescent Road, Kingston

Rayon Spence, 30, Bethel Town, Westmoreland

Bridget Brooks-White (foreground) and Cheryl Taylor-Turgott, teachers at the Dunrobin Primary School, are in tears during a counselling session yesterday, as the school family mourns the death of Janice Atkinson-Reid, who was a teacher at the school.

Bridget Brooks-White (foreground) and Cheryl Taylor-Turgott, teachers at the Dunrobin Primary School, are in tears during a counselling session yesterday, as the school family mourns the death of Janice Atkinson-Reid, who was a teacher at the school.

Looking for Good News: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Starting with bad news. I’m sorry, but will have to tell it like it is…

It seems that the jet ski is as dangerous machine as a motor car in Jamaica. (Photo: Gleaner)

It seems that the jet ski is as dangerous a machine as a motor car in Jamaica – but largely unregulated. (Photo: Gleaner)

Deaths, injuries, talk, no action: On Tuesday, a jet ski rider hit an American tourist in the head and did not stop.  Tomas Torres Castillo of Las Vegas, Nevada, who was vacationing at Travellers Beach Hotel in Negril, died later in hospital. Hoteliers said there was no ambulance and the police took a long time to arrive. Other tourists tried to perform CPR on the beach. The police held someone for questioning but had to release him, and are still searching for the jet ski operator; someone must be hiding him. I have written about this issue several times in this blog. My favorite television current affairs program, “Live at Seven” discussed it at length. This was about six months ago, after the death of a seven-year-old Jamaican girl, who was killed by a tourist operating a jet ski in St. Ann last summer. There have been many other serious incidents over the years. Stakeholders have been discussing this for twenty-five years! Promises were made to ban the importation of jet skis and regulate the (mostly illegal) operators last year. What was done? There are so many issues here, but it appears that lawlessness has won the day. The Minister of Tourism and Member of Parliament for the area Dr. Wykeham McNeill has a lot of questions to answer. Why hasn’t he visited Negril yet to meet with stakeholders? The town is in shock. Does he ever walk along the beach and see what is happening there? It’s chaos.

What is left of Negril's once-famous beach. I am not sure whether NEPA's efforts will help to redress the damage done over the years. (Photo: Gleaner)

What is left of Negril’s once-famous beach. I am not sure whether NEPA’s efforts will help to redress the damage done over the years. (Photo: Gleaner)

And in Negril, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) will be “clamping down” on poor environmental practices in what I consider to be a seriously degraded tourist resort, with a once-famous, now-eroded, no-longer-seven-mile beach. Once again, better late than never – but too little, too late.

One more question on this: How can this tourist town (or any other town of this size) not have an ambulance? Can anyone who lives there confirm that this is true? Again, this has been discussed ad nauseam in the past…

Are we looking into the issue of dangerous pit bulls, which are becoming increasingly popular in Jamaica?

Are we looking into the issue of dangerous pit bulls, which are becoming increasingly popular in Jamaica?

Same thing… Pit bulls have reportedly injured several Jamaicans (mostly children) in recent years. Is this another disaster waiting to happen? They are not regulated and are allegedly being illegally smuggled into Jamaica. Veterinarian St. Aubyn Bartlett has raised concerns and CVM Television’s Kerlyn Brown ran a series of reports. Nothing doing? I guess we are waiting for a death. Grace Virtue notes in her Jamaica Observer column (her pieces are always an excellent read): “The Ministry of Agriculture, which has direct responsibility for animal control, is moving with the speed of a century-old turtle as far as addressing the issue is concerned, or the broader reality of the outdated laws governing animal importation in Jamaica in general.”

Lapsing into the third person (as is a habit of hers) in a short video on the Jamaica Observer website, our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller re-emphasized her love for “the poor.” She added, “It suit us to live loving and good.” She reiterated the “Out of Many One People” motto. She also pointed out that history cannot be reversed. How true. We’d better believe it.

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (right), addresses the first plenary session of the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in Havana, Cuba, on January 28. (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (right), addresses the first plenary session of the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in Havana, Cuba, on January 28. (Photo: JIS)

And, while dozens of dissidents were arrested before the Summit in Havana, Cuba, our PM made a nice speech over there. Here is the text of it: http://jis.gov.jm/prime-ministers-message-2nd-celac-summit/

Andrew Holness (left) and former senator Christopher Tufton - the latter has now withdrawn from active politics. (Photo: Gleaner)

Andrew Holness (left) and former senator Christopher Tufton – the latter has now withdrawn from active politics. (Photo: Gleaner)

The eloquent former Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton has bowed out of representational politics (at least for now) but will remain a member of the Jamaica Labour Party. Dr. Tufton has had his ups and downs (mainly downs) in the last couple of years. I think it’s a pity – he is an intelligent and clear-sighted individual – but he was badly bruised by the recent leadership contest (and perhaps, he could have handled things better). But he is relatively young and may return. Maybe.

SHAW... initially refused to take up the position of opposition spokesperson on finance following his unsucessful challenge for leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

SHAW… initially refused to take up the position of opposition spokesperson on finance following his unsucessful challenge for leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

And former leadership contender Mr. Audley Shaw has moved straight back into his former position as Opposition Spokesman on Finance. Phew! Glad to see him back, I must say. He has asked questions in the Lower House about the current state of finances at the National Housing Trust; and is on the warpath about the exorbitant charges that Jamaican banks torment their customers with – which is an absolute disgrace.

Presenting large and sweet-smelling bouquets to:

The awesome Digicel Foundation, which is currently handing out cheques to the various institutions that support Jamaicans with special needs, from the proceeds of last year’s downtown walk/run. Today, they presented a cheque to the STEP Centre. Read more about this wonderful school, which offers therapy, education and parenting for children with multiple disabilities, here: http://www.thestepcentre.com.

Kingston City Run!

Kingston City Run!

There’s another run coming up… The Kingston City Run – half marathon and 5K – find them on Facebook! This will take place on March 9. The Alpha Boys’ Home will be one of the charities to benefit. Sign up now at http://www.kingstoncityrun.com

Tessanne Chin (left) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are joint winners of the Gleaner's Person of the Year Award. Two wonderful Jamaican women! (Photo: Gleaner)

Tessanne Chin (left) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are joint winners of the Gleaner’s Person of the Year Award. Two wonderful Jamaican women! (Photo: Gleaner)

The Gleaner Company, who have finally – finally! – ditched their “Man of the Year Award” and replaced it with a “Person of the Year.” The joint winners this year are singer Tessanne Chin and sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Congratulations to these two fabulous ladies and thanks to the Gleaner for doing the right thing!

Digital Jam 3.0 Caribbean Edition.

Digital Jam 3.0 Caribbean Edition.

Digital Jam 3.0 is an exciting youth/IT partnership among the the Government of Jamaica, The World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the OECS Secretariat, Microsoft, other partners from the Caribbean private sector and the  international development community. Read more on their Facebook page.  The program includes includes apps competitions, awareness workshops on micro-work and e-lancing opportunities and a final Caribbean that will include key notes from Inspirational Speakers, Networking opportunities and the final phase of the Apps Competition. I listened to the mentors’ inspiring (and down to earth) presentations yesterday and spoke with some of the young competitors. More to follow! Final event is March 1 – 2.

The National Forum on Youth-Violence Prevention took place in downtown Kingston today. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The National Forum on Youth-Violence Prevention took place in downtown Kingston today. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

As a major youth/crime conference takes place in downtown Kingston today, the death toll continues to rise. A father of seven was shot dead in his car outside Tarrant Primary School in Kingston, while doing his school run. Thankfully two of his children in the car were unhurt. 

Rohan Newman, 36, Molynes Road, Kingston

“Rantis,” Jones Town, Kingston

Janice Atkinson-Reid, 32, Portsmouth, St. Catherine

Robert Piliner, 46, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Rosemarie Wilson, 34, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Kevin Coombs, 41, Tucker/Irwin, St. James

Killed by the police:

Shaquielle Stephens, 18, Grants Pen, Kingston

Crime scene investigators look at the motorcar in which Rohan Newman was shot and killed at Molynes Road yesterday. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

Crime scene investigators look at the motorcar in which Rohan Newman was shot and killed at Molynes Road yesterday. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

The blood-stained floor of the ransacked house where 18-year-old Shaquielle Stephens was fatally shot by police yesterday. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

The blood-stained floor of the ransacked house where 18-year-old Shaquielle Stephens was fatally shot by police yesterday. He was the son of reputed “don” in Kingston’s Grant Pen “Andrew Phang,” (Andrew Stephens), who was killed by the police in 2001. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)