My apologies! Yesterday proved to be such a busy day (including a slight hangover from our delicious trip to St. Elizabeth the day before) that this post eluded me.
This week is beginning with a heightened state of nerves over another national broadcast this evening. This is unusual, in that it will be a joint broadcast by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Finance Minister Peter Phillips. It springs from the visit of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team to Jamaica; the team arrived almost a week ago, and some members have since departed. The remainder will leave on February 15. Meanwhile, the address was recorded yesterday. What does it contain, and why is it a joint address? One talk show host believes the ministers will announce that the administration has abandoned the prospect of an IMF agreement. My concern, too, is that I don’t get the sense that any of the “prior actions” - which Minister Phillips has hinted are problematic – have been achieved, or are likely to be. I did hear that the Minister traveled to Washington, DC on Friday – but nothing more. Did this actually happen? Also, I thought I heard the Prime Minister comment recently, as an aside, that perhaps Jamaica might not sign an IMF agreement, or words to that effect. Did I hear correctly? If not, please let me know, dear readers.
The broadcast will take place on all media at 9:00 p.m. Jamaican time and on CVM Television at 11:00 p.m. The video will be available on the Jamaica Information Service website at http://www.jis.gov.jm. Fingers crossed… But I don’t have a good feeling.
And the financial analysts – such as Ralston Hyman on CVM Television – continue to stress the importance of things like productivity for our economic bottom line. What are we doing about that?
Meanwhile, we heard that last Tuesday, the House of Representatives’ session lasted just 45 minutes. “Guess there is nothing that really needs their attention at this time,” observed one of my online friends with just a hint of sarcasm. And why only 45 minutes? An investigative journalist should take this up and see how many hours the people we elected to represent us have actually spent working on the nation’s business – say, since the Christmas vacation. What about those important pieces of legislation (DNA, lotto scam, libel/slander laws, etc) that are pending? Let alone private members’ motions and so on. It would be fantastic to have a complete breakdown from each ministry of pending legislation and the status thereof, with timelines for completion. Or are our lawmakers just coasting down towards April 1, when the new budget year begins?
I do not understand the inertia. As another online friend tweeted last week: “Why does it take us so long in Ja to DO anything?
#perplexing.” Perhaps this question, which I have often asked, has answered itself. As a former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica commented many years ago, I prefer to applaud achievements, not announcements. Action needed, please!
Meanwhile, I hear at least one government minister is visiting the fair isles of Trinidad and Tobago this week… Yes, Carnival time is here! But then, as we say in Jamaica, their bread is buttered…on both sides.
They also say that empty barrels make the most noise. Certainly, the rumblings over the “Enemy of the State” comment by our Prime Minister subsided last week. Ms. Simpson Miller put her foot down, and strongly (and I mean strongly) rejected any suggestion that she should apologize for her remarks – which suggests that they may well have been scripted. “Apologize for WHAT!” our fearless leader snapped at a broadcast journalist. She also issued a press release suggesting that “leaders should be careful with their statements.” OK. I tell you what… Let’s move on. I commend to you my fellow-blogger Damien Williams’ comments on the topic. See link below.
Another discussion that continued to rattle on last week was the VW ad that aired during Superbowl – remember, the one with the Jamaican accent (not patois)? Two schools of thought emerged. The largest school was that it was all great for us, as it portrayed our culture in a positive light and helped promote “Brand Jamaica” - some discussion too, around what Brand Jamaica really IS. A second school of thought, to which I belong, suggested that the ad perpetuates the “Everyt’ing irie, mon” stereotype of the happy Jamaican sitting under a coconut tree, lazing the day away. Those in the first school accuse those in the second of being miserable, negative and possibly unpatriotic. I have started a third school, called “Enough already!”
University professor Dr. Carolyn Cooper, who writes frequently on cultural issues considers this car ad a “reminder, yet again, that Jamaica is a cultural superpower.” The colonial oppressors are gone, and Jamaica rules the waves with reggae and champion sprinters. And as she says, “it’s all in good fun.” OK then, let’s lighten up a little – but let’s not expect millions of U.S. dollars to flow into the country’s coffers as a result of one TV ad, either. One of Dr. Cooper’s colleagues is not so amused by a British policeman, former Assistant Commissioner of Police Les Green,whose comments in the UK press on the inefficiencies of the Jamaica Constabulary Force continued to reverberate last week. Not good for Jamaica’s image. But those Jamaicans who don’t live in ivory towers seem to fundamentally disagree with Dr. Orville Taylor’s anti-colonial fulminations, accusations of racism etc. They claim Mr. Green is speaking the truth! The truth. Ah, where art thou, truth?
An online commentator noted: “We keep harping on the achievements of or artistes and athletes as a benchmark for performance. Where are the scientists, inventors, innovators?”
So much for the aftershocks. Last Tuesday was a pretty serious day for the residents of Majesty Gardens, a deeply impoverished community which has been represented by the Prime Minister for the past thirty years or so. The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), which is seeking to “regularize” the many thousands of squatters who have never paid an electricity bill, moved into the community that day and disconnected 2,857 illegal connections. TV footage showed light poles festooned with “throw ups” - illegal wiring – like spaghetti. Only three legal connections were found. Three! The residents protested and mumbled and said they were willing to pay something, but… The overriding, undeniable factor in this is, of course, poverty.
Talking about energy, media reports have been so conflicting and confusing that I, for one, would love someone to explain to me what is going on. Where is our energy plan, Minister Paulwell? I am afraid that, at this point, I am rethinking my enthusiastic endorsement. I am disappointed. Something has gone wrong – quite out of sync. I hope that we will hear more – specifics! We need to know where we are going in terms of alternative energy and so on. The prospects of cheaper electricity in the near future look increasingly bleak.
I continue to enjoy the CVM Television program “Live at Seven,” hosted by the very sharp Simon Crosskill. Last week I caught a report and discussion on the state of the Pedro Cays, where, according to the Jamaica Environment Trust, six hundred Jamaicans live! With no sanitation or amenities, these tiny islands have become a mini-slum of zinc and cardboard shacks and piles of garbage. Government officials (who, as usual, haven’t got it quite clear which of several agencies is responsible for this appalling state of affairs) told Mr. Crosskill last week that they have a plan for managing the cays. After twenty years they are just coming up with one. But hey, surprise! there is now no money for implementation of the plan!
One more thing has been bugging me since last week. Twenty-seven Haitian men, women and children arrived on our shores (in the eastern parish of Portland, as usual) in a rickety boat. They obviously intended to flee to the United States but ended up in Jamaica instead. Instead of discussing asylum and other issues, our government speedily “processed” the refugees (a word normally used when young men are rounded up and finger-printed by the police in inner-city communities). Within three days, they were shipped back to Haiti on a Jamaica Defense Force coast guard boat. One understands that the small rural community where they landed had no resources to house or support the refugees, and I know we have enough problems of our own, but… Isn’t Haiti a fellow-member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) where there is supposed to be freedom of movement? In fact, isn’t Haiti the current chair of CARICOM? Don’t the refugees have any rights to a hearing? Would Cuban refugees be treated the same way? The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has expressed concern. And Haitians are also the only CARICOM citizens that have to obtain a visa to visit other CARICOM nations. Is this right?
Throwing some bouquets… To my community of fellow-bloggers in Jamaica. They are becoming stronger, and more outspoken, and just more interesting altogether! Keep up the good work. And please, Jamaicans, do not steal the ideas and language of bloggers and reproduce it as your own original thought! This happened recently with a blogger I know, whose work was shamelessly plagiarized and repackaged into a letter to the editor. The sharing and amplification of ideas is one thing. Theft of another’s creative expression is a different thing entirely.
I am impressed by the work of the Road Safety Unit and the National Road Safety Council. They have been doing quiet work to stem the madness that stalks our highways and byways in the form of speeding vehicles of every description. And they are getting results! Take a look at the Council’s excellent website: http://www.nationalroadsafetycouncil.org.jm. Fatalities on the road were considerably lower than the targeted 300 last year, and are 12 per cent down so far this year. Keep up the good work!
The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) partnered with the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) and others last week for the first in a series of seminars on budgeting for gender equity. Tonight they will meet at the Trench Town Community Centre. Listen in if you can’t make it – Nationwide News Network, which does sterling service in live-broadcasting these democratic forums, will be airing it. I will write more about this worthy effort soon. Congratulations to all concerned, including the 51% Coalition that seeks to empower women and strengthen our democracy through increased participation for all. And it’s not only gender equity, but equity for all Jamaicans, which the JCSC seems now to be focused on. Excellent!
Last week, the U.S. Embassy brought another inspiring African American scientist to Jamaica in recognition of Black History Month. Her name is Mae Jemison and she was the first African American female astronaut in space. She has visited Jamaica before (the last time was in 1998) but this time the aim was for her to inspire students and young people, scientists and educators to promote the importance of science in the country’s development. I had planned to attend – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk at the U.S. Embassy recently was fascinating – but could not make it. However, I understand that Dr. Jemison got people fired up.
And I am so pleased that the University of Technology (UTech) have taken the bull by the horns and instituted a campaign for tolerance on campus. Some students may shrug their shoulders and say it is not needed, but – yes, it is. And what harm can it do to encourage all students to treat their fellow Jamaicans with respect and decency? After last year’s nightmarish experience (the mob attack and beating of an alleged homosexual student on UTech’s campus), the university administration has clearly taken a sober look at things. The aim is not just to rein in homophobic attacks, but it is a broader campaign. A very good move, and an example that the other two main tertiary institutions – the University of the West Indies and Northern Caribbean University – might like to follow. They are by no means immune, as I know that similar “mob rule” behavior has taken place there, too.
And the mindless violence continues. For some, it seems, praying and going to church is the only answer. With so many churches per square mile, it is ironic that we have the third highest murder rate in the world. How is that possible, when we are all so “God-fearing”? I leave you with a comment from Sunday Gleaner columnist Martin Henry, who concludes his weekly column thus: “It is certain that Jamaica will not progress well without a stronger adoption of the virtues of religion.”
Really, Mr. Henry? Really? Shouldn’t we already be virtuous enough? No, more hours in church needed, it seems. Oh. Do read Mr. Hilaire Sobers’ column, below, for clarification.
My deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who were killed in the past week. I feel saddened that the list at the end of each week’s post appears to be getting longer (seventeen by my count, which means two or three murders daily), while the police killed seven Jamaican citizens last week. Minister Bunting, is your policy of “there will be more shootouts” really working? And what happened to “community policing”?
Omar Bailey, Portmore, St. Catherine
Tafari Harvey, 17, Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Oneil Ormsby, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Tyreena Gayle, 24, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Damion, Denham Town, Kingston
Unidentified man, Milk Lane, Central Kingston
Unidentified woman, Milk Lane, Central Kingston
Lloyd Williams, 48, Molynes Road, Kingston 10
André Roberts, 26, Maxfield Avenue, Kingston
Unidentified man, Deanery Road, Kingston 3
Omar Myers, 31, Eastwood Park Road/Half Way Tree, Kingston 10
“Starry,” Standpipe, Kingston 6
Unidentified, Frome, Westmoreland
Alvin Rochester, 43, Greenvale, Manchester
Kevin Haughton, 36, Montego Bay, St. James
Lennox Campbell, 22, Lilliput, St. James
Gladstone Smith, 50, Epsom, St. Mary
“Slaughter,” Caledonia Meadows, Manchester
“Sekou,” Big Lane/Central Village, St. Catherine
Nicholas Mitchell, 27, Norwood, St. James
Unidentified, Norwood, St. James
Unidentified, Norwood, St. James
Unidentified, 27, Alexandria Road, Central Kingston
Jonoye Glaze, 20, Brighton, Westmoreland
Related links (local blog commentary highlighted in maroon)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/lead/lead8.html Prime Minister and Finance Minister to address the nation: Jamaica Information Service
http://repeatingislands.com/2013/02/04/native-tongue-speaking-with-a-caribbean-accent/ Native Tongue: Speaking with a Caribbean accent: repeatingislands.com
http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/superpower-jamaican-accent-for-the-super-bowl/ Superpower Jamaican accent for the Superbowl: carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/that-vw-ad-jamaica-no-problem-offensive-or-good-exposure/#comment-1450 That VW ad – Jamaica No Problem: Offensive or good exposure? newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Our-dual-natures_13583905 Our dual natures: Tamara Scott-Williams column/Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Why-brand-Jamaica-won-t-work-for-us_13563923 Why brand Jamaica won’t work for us: Henley Morgan op-ed/Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Tell-what-you-know-_13535976 Tell what you know: Holness tells residents to expose child killers: Jamaica Observer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4z1d4UnaEU&feature=youtu.be Andrew Holness speech at PSOJ Chairman’s Breakfast Forum: YouTube
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/death-in-paradise-the-real-life-policeman-1571092 From London to Jamaica: The real “Death in Paradise” policeman: Daily Mirror, UK
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/I-am-not-surprised_13559895 ”I am not surprised”: JFJ’s Goffe backs Les Green: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/letters/letters3.html Les Green’s comments on the police racist? Letter to the Gleaner from Colin Campbell
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130210/focus/focus1.html Was it worth it? Orville Taylor column/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/lead/lead3.html Denham Town victim campaigned for peace: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/letters/letters5.html Reach out to at-risk youth: Letter from Boys’ Town to Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Help-me-out-please–Prime-Minister_13536880 Help me out please, Prime Minister: Mark Wignall column/Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/cleisure/cleisure4.html Take offense or take action: Andre Wright column/Gleaner
http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2013/02/who-is-enemy-of-state.html Who is (the) Enemy of the State? dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32900 PM Simpson Miller says leaders should be careful with their statements: Jamaica Information Service
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/parliament-called-upon-again-to-work-harder/ Parliament called upon (again) to work harder: newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130205/news/news1.html Driver shot for not stopping: Jamaica Star
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/of-darkness-and-bears/ Of darkness, and bears: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.og.nr/rbt/11833-man-crushed-to-death-woman-raped-at-kingston-funeral-home.html Man crushed to death, woman raped at Kingston funeral home: On the Ground News Reports
http://www.og.nr/permalink/11730#.URKWUJ3S69w.twitter Lotto scammer sends threatening messages to U.S. woman: On the Ground News Reports
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Let-us-stop-demonising-gays_13545427 Let us stop demonising gays: Javed Jaghai letter to the Jamaica Observer
http://www.og.nr/rbt/11872-jamaican-gay-activist-challenges-buggery-law.html Jamaican gay activist challenges buggery law: On the Ground News Reports
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Buggery-law-review-promise-was-a-political-sham_13584250 Buggery law review promise was a political sham: Mark Wignall column/Sunday Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/utech-launches-project-to-increase-tolerance UTech launches project to increase tolerance: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-facts-about-homosexuality_13581293 The facts about homosexuality: Cynthia Burton op-ed/Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130207/lead/lead6.html Female astronaut encourages scientists to soar above expectations: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/haitians-sent-home_1 Haitians sent home: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/haiti-could-take-caricom-imposed-visa-restrictions-to-ccj Haiti could take CARICOM-imposed visa restrictions to CCJ: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/unhcr-concerned-about-repatriation-of-cubans-and-haitians UNHCR concerned about repatriation of Cubans, Haitians: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Work–work–work—–instead-of-pray–pray–pray_13534246 Work, work, work…instead of pray, pray, pray: Letter/Jamaica Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/dalley-moves-to-support-public-defenders-office Dalley moves to support Public Defender‘s office: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/lead/lead8.html IMF team in Jamaica: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/tough-measures-expected-in-joint-address-to-nation Tough measures expected in joint address to nation: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/computer-hacker-breaks-into-dpps-files Computer hacker breaks into DPP’s files: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130210/business/business1.html Lights out at Palmyra: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JPS-removes-2-857-illegal-connections-in-Majesty-Gardens JPS removes 2,587 illegal connections in Majesty Gardens: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/lead/lead1.html Blame government for high JPS bills – OUR boss says high energy cost is political leaders’ fault: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130204/news/news3.html Renewable energy data now available on PCJ’s website: Gleaner
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-106/32902 Over 1,000 eye surgeries performed under Jamaica/Cuba program: Jamaica Information Service
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/undp-donates-to-dengue-control-programme UNDP donates to dengue control program: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42687 Busy Signal faces more charges over passport fraud: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42690 Olint investors want money back: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130205/cleisure/cleisure3.html Reason and faith are like oil and water: Hilaire Sobers op-ed/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130210/focus/focus5.html Religion and development: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/road-safety-unit-reports-reduction-in-road-fatalities Road Safety Unit reports reduction in traffic fatalities: RJR News
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/pollution-flowing-from-land-to-sea-the-un-caribbean-environment-programme-part-1/ Pollution flowing from land to sea: The UN Caribbean Environment Program, part 1: petchary.wordpress.com
Phew! It’s been quite a week. A mysterious shooting incident at police training, two children murdered, semi-hysteria over a car ad.
Now tell me …Who is Jamaica’s very own Enemy of the State? A home-grown terrorist, perhaps? A traitor who has committed a treasonable act? A particularly bloodthirsty gang leader who is on the rampage? No… None of the above. According to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, it is none other than our Honorable Leader of the Opposition, the somewhat mild-mannered Andrew Holness. Now, it is quite well known that when the Most Honorable Portia Simpson Miller gets on a podium in front of her party supporters, she goes into campaign mode. Her voice is much louder than the carefully modulated one she uses for official speeches. Her tone becomes strident and her body language more forceful. Of course she is not the only politician to behave in this way. But please. Can you remember that you are the Prime Minister; that you won the election over a year ago now; and that no one is actually picking a fight with you right now? Or are you spoiling for another “tracing match” again?
Do we just have to grit our teeth and ignore such outbursts? Does it make some of her colleagues cringe when their leader makes these absurd utterances? Can we try to hold our politicians’ utterances to a higher standard than this? I don’t know.
It’s a little tricky for Mr. Holness, one realizes. One hears a chorus of mutterings in middle-class civil society and – no matter how muted – some discontent among the lady’s die-hard followers about the state of our governance. There is a sense that things are slipping, especially on the economic front. It does not help that the Finance Minister rarely speaks in public. But the Opposition Leader (whom I have criticized for his reticence in the past few months) is obviously cautious about talking at all forcefully about the apparent mess we are in. If he does, he will be accused of being unpatriotic and negative and of spreading bad news about Jamaica.
But Mr. Holness is obliged to offer alternatives to the administration. That is what he is there for. So I would suggest that rather than make speeches (which get chopped up by the TV editors hoping for a juicy sound-byte) he gets interviewed by a few serious current affairs programs on television, and a couple of serious radio talk show hosts. Perhaps he could start a weekly or regular newspaper column. He must offer an alternative vision, and show how it can be reached – but in a non-confrontational manner. He did say on television that he is not there to “just oppose, oppose, oppose” but to put policies on the table. Sounds good. Just do it, nuh. And what are those policies, please?
As for our Prime Minister, perhaps she needs to cool down the temperature. This is not leadership, Madam. It just makes the average Jamaican nervous. And please go and look up what an enemy of the state really is.
Talking about spreading Jamaica’s name abroad, there has been great excitement about a TV commercial for Volkswagen, which is being aired today during the Superbowl in the United States. It is quite charming and funny. In case you don’t know what I am talking about, I have added the YouTube clip below – along with a link to fellow-blogger Corve daCosta’s exclusive interview with the actor, Erik Nicolaisen, which rather endeared me to him. He seems like a lovely fellow. He has a Jamaican brother-in-law, it turns out. And he did a good job with the accent (he doesn’t attempt patois). But like most commercials of this nature, the VW ad deals with stereotypes. Which is one reason why on the whole I ignore almost all commercials and generally press the mute button when they are on! Jamaicans are often portrayed as laid-back, happy-go-lucky people, so there we go. There are British, Australian, Italian, American etc. stereotypes all over the media. So what? Some Americans however found the ad “racist.” I think this is based on the fact that they don’t understand that, hey – Jamaicans are not all black! So this is not a “black accent” - merely a Jamaican accent. Big deal. I do understand where that is coming from, though. I remember the first time I came to Jamaica on holiday I was astonished to hear a Chinese Jamaican speaking patois. It was a complete surprise to me – but then I didn’t know any better.
Whether Jamaicans actually are laid-back, happy-go-lucky people is another matter. But most Jamaicans have warmly embraced the commercial, pointing out that it will bring in “millions of dollars” and enhance Jamaica’s image abroad. How exactly, I am still not sure; I guess they are talking about tourism. I’m going to reserve my judgment on that one. But of course our political leaders are ecstatic about it. Grasping at straws, perhaps.
Politicians are not so thrilled, it seems, about the fact that a crew from a U.S. cable channel, headed by the famed Dan Rather, has been in Jamaica to film a documentary about the “lotto scam.” Minister of National Security Peter Bunting is reportedly concerned. He is upset that Mr. Rather and his team were not interested in visiting nice hotels in Montego Bay; but rather in doing some serious investigative journalism on a huge criminal enterprise, originating in the tourist town, that has robbed his fellow-citizens of millions over the past few years. Mr. Rather is a journalist, not a PR man, Mr. Bunting.
I’m going to get excited about the fact that, according to Reporters Without Borders, Jamaica has the highest level of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere. This is something to be proud of. According to the organization’s Press Freedom Index 2013, Jamaica is thirteenth in the world for press freedom. This despite the fact that Jamaicans are astonished at the freedom afforded the North American press to film in courtrooms, etc. And despite the fact that our archaic and backward libel laws have still not been updated, after Justice Hugh Small’s committee made recommendations back in 2008. This fear of libel lawsuits has a “chilling effect” on journalism, encouraging journalists to “self-censor” and editors to be careful of what their reporters say and write – in case it offends someone with a large bank balance and a team of hotshot lawyers. Plus, of course, there is the influence of media owners on what journalists report, or don’t report. On the whole though, I do believe the explosion in online media (blogging, online television stations and online publications) has certainly boosted press freedom in Jamaica.
And clearly, many countries are a lot worse than Jamaica. The Western Hemisphere looks pretty bad overall on the Index. Argentina for example is way down; Cuba is, not surprisingly, 171st out of 179 countries, rubbing shoulders with Sudan and Iran. Interestingly, the twelve countries above Jamaica in the index are all in Europe, except for New Zealand.
Meanwhile the mindless violence continues. You will see several examples below of incidents that were reported in the media; of course, many are not. A policeman attacked within an inch of his life because he was mistaken for someone who stole an iPad; a gunman who drove onto the grounds of a prominent girls’ high school and threatened a student; and so on. As you can see from the tragic list below, the murders have continued. This week a four-year-old boy was shot dead by a man who had a dispute with his grandmother. A fourteen-year-old schoolgirl was dragged from the bus stop and into a car (no one lifting a finger to help); her body was thrown out on the street a few hours later, wrapped in a sheet. And so on. It is so grim at times that one starts to dread listening to the early morning news.
On that topic, I must commend to you an article by another fellow-blogger, who has made reference to a tendency towards what she calls “John-Crow journalism.” Do read her piece in the link below. For my non-Jamaican readers, a John Crow is a Turkey Vulture – and we all know what a vulture’s habits are. Both television stations are guilty of this brand of sensational journalism. I think it derives from a kind of prurient curiosity about the private lives of the poor, the ghetto-dwellers. This expands into a kind of no-holds-barred. close-up intrusion into private grief and distress. I was disturbed recently by a report during which a woman waiting to hear news of her son’s condition in hospital was told, on camera, that he was dead. Wailing, tears, women falling into the arms of their relatives on hearing of the violent death of their relative. These are everyday images.
Do the television stations give similar treatment to an uptown, middle-class murder? No, they do not. They show the sensitivity and consideration that should be afforded to all Jamaicans under such circumstances. But the poor are different. As Jaevion Nelson noted in a recent column (and poet Tanya Shirley wrote) the masses of the poor are there for our entertainment. We laugh at them, we peer at their grief.
Do we care about corruption these days? Do we even talk about it? Not much, it seems – but it is still embedded in Jamaican society. So I must commend Professor Trevor Munroe, who heads National Integrity Action. Professor Munroe recently hosted an excellent program, “The Cost of Corruption,” which was aired on TVJ recently and was repeated today. It is a very well-produced documentary, with a variety of voices contributing to the discussion. The program also discusses the vexed question of political party financing, an issue that Professor Munroe has been focused on for many years, now. I am trying to find it online, without success so far.
Is anyone listening? I hope so. And as the professor notes, some progress has been made in the legislature. He is hoping for campaign financing legislation to be on the books by March, 2013. And on the same topic, I found the discussion with Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Joseph Kamara on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven” most enlightening. Mr. Kamara visited Jamaica a few days ago.
Recently, a “cass-cass” developed in the education sector. The Jamaica Observer has done a good job of reporting on the situation at Kingston’s Tarrant High School, where teachers have been trying their hardest to oust their principal, Mr. Garfield Higgins. Ingrid Brown’s report from a stormy PTA meeting was instructive. This kind of in-fighting appears to be a regular occurrence in Jamaica’s schools – and in other public institutions, sadly – vindictive, highly personal attacks on figures in authority. It appears that in this case, Mr. Higgins has put his foot down and insisted on teachers actually turning up for classes (one apparently has been absent 89 times). The teachers don’t like it, but it is instructive that the principal appears to have the parents’ support. This is what Jamaicans would call “pure slackness.”
Finally, an astonishing development: during a late-night training session at the Police Academy in Twickenham Park, live rounds were allegedly used instead of blanks. One policeman died and five others were injured. Six instructors are under interdiction, and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is investigating (“Big ups,” as always, to INDECOM). More anon…
Last weekend, we finally visited the National Biennial at the National Gallery of Jamaica. It smacked me between the eyes. There is truly something there for everyone; the more in-your-face, challenging pieces are on the ground floor, and much more good stuff upstairs. The National Gallery opens its doors on the last Sunday of every month, as well as every day of the week except Mondays, and it’s a treat. Last Sunday, there was an airing of Storm Saulter’s much-praised film “Better Mus’ Come.” The Sunday openings are a real pleasure, and the Biennial continues until March 9. Do make time to go and see it! I will be posting an article on the exhibition, soon. And check out the National Gallery blog at http://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com.
February means Black History Month, and I am looking forward to the talk by Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut and the first woman of color in space, at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston on Tuesday morning. Yay! I already had the huge pleasure of hearing Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, another African-American scientist, at the U.S. Embassy. Congratulations to Ambassador Bridgewater and all at the Embassy’s Public Affairs Section for bringing them both over. What inspiration!
And “bon voyage” to nine students from Cambridge High, Green Pond High, Irwin High, Spot Valley High and St. James High Schools in western Jamaica, who are the U.S. Embassy’s Youth Ambassadors this year. They departed for a three-week program in Washington, DC and Denver, Colorado today. I remember when a group from west Kingston departed last year, and the great excitement at their orientation. It was a superb experience for them.
Finally, please spare a thought (and a prayer, if you pray) for the families and friends of those who were murdered in the past week.
Shariefa Saddler, 14, Olympic Gardens, Kingston
Rushaun Burford, 4, Allman Town, Kingston
Brittney Mighty, 22, Port Royal road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Tarrant Drive, Kingston 10
Candice Johnson, Denham Town, Kingston
“Quammie,” Denham Town, Kingston
Fabian Latibeaudiere, Temple Hall, St. Andrew
Special Constable Duan Peart, Portmore, St. Catherine
Delroy Grant, Coolshade District, St. Catherine
Saskia Harris, Sandside District, St. Mary
Everton Wilson, 23, Albion, St. James
Oneil Carr, 32, Salt Spring, St. James
Dwayne Phillips, 33, Alexandria, St. Ann
Glendon May, 23, May Pen, Clarendon
Owen Bruce, 42, Haughton District, St. Elizabeth
Killed by the police:
Wallen Cunningham, 30, Whitehall, Westmoreland
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/14-y-o-girl–constable–businessman-brutally-murdered_13527877 Bloody day: 14-year-old girl, constable, businessman brutally murdered: Jamaica Observer
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23907 PM upset over teen killing: TVJ News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Men-drive-onto-school-ground–threaten-to-kill-student_13543726 Men drive onto school ground, threaten to kill student: Jamaica Observer
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23949 Gunmen cause panic in May Pen: TVJ News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42644 Mistaken identity: Cop stabbed, beaten in mix-up over iPad theft: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42642 INDECOM questions police trainers, collects statements: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130202/news/news2.html Murders plunge in St. James: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130131/cleisure/cleisure3.html A conspiracy of silence/Jaevion Nelson: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/focus/focus8.html The future we really want: Joan Grant Cummings/Judith Wedderburn column: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130131/lead/lead1.html ”Tourism not for us” – William Knibb youths shun sector: Gleaner
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H0xPWAtaa8 Volkswagen Superbowl 2013 commercial: YouTube
http://corvedacosta.com/erik-nicolaisen-from-the-vw-ad-campaign-speaks-with-corve-dacosta/ Erik Nicolaisen from the VW ad campaign speaks with Corve DaCosta: corvedacosta.com
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23942 Prime Minister’s “Enemy of the State” comment: TVJ News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Simpson-Miller-must-rein-in-her-temper-JLP Simpson Miller must rein in her temper – JLP: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Holness-won-t-respond-to-PM-s–ridiculous–enemy-of-the-state-comment_13542060 Holness won’t respond to PM’s “ridiculous” enemy of the state comment: Sunday Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32866 Minister Falconer hails Jamaica’s No. 1 press rating: Jamaica Information Service
http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html Press Freedom Index 2013: Reporters Without Borders
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Libel-law-could-be-amended-next-year Libel law could be amended next year: Jamaica Observer, December 3, 2012
http://negrilstories.com/jamaican-grief-porn-and-john-crow-journalism/ Jamaican grief porn and John-Crow journalism: negrilstories.com (Winner of Best Writing in a Blog/Ja. Blog Awards)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42632 American journalist Dan Rather visits Jamaica for lottery scam documentary: Gleaner
http://niajamaica.org National Integrity Action website
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Tarrant-rift-widens_13521805 Tarrant rift widens: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130130/news/news3.html The JLP must assert itself – Tufton: Gleaner
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23952 UNDP concerned about its donations to Jamaica: TVJ News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/lead/lead5.html Belgian gift to train bus drivers in ruins: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130130/letters/letters1.html Idea drought hits water minister: Gleaner Letter of the Day
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/cleisure/cleisure2.html Education for home or export – policy choice or false debate? Robert Gregory column/Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/focus/focus4.html Fighting corruption: What Jamaica can learn from Sierra Leone: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/court-rules-in-favour-of-ocg-in-davies-application Local court rules in favor of OCG in Davies application: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gay-and-anti-gay-lobbyists-target-Parliament_13545656 Gay and anti-gay lobbyists target Parliament: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/A-wicked-act Laborer suffers near two years in prison on false accusation of buggery: Sunday Observer
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32870 Scrap metal trade not to be blamed for every theft – Minister Hylton: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=705§ion=live7 Live at Seven/CVM Television
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130203/ent/ent1.html Discrimination stance creates split: Promoters’ new rules not welcomed by all: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130202/business/business1.html Bee farmers kept busy trying to establish association: Gleaner
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/star-man/ Star Man: petchary.wordpress.com
Weekly Brief, Sunday 27/Monday 28 January, 2013: The Dawn of the New Scrap Metal Age petchary.wordpress.com
I admire this young man petchary.wordpress.com
Pollution Flowing from Land to Sea: The UN Caribbean Environment Programme, Part 1 petchary.wordpress.com
A Sunday of light (and heavy) showers: January 20, 2013 petchary.wordpress.com
Pain, Politics and Change petchary.wordpress.com
The great thinker and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.
I am afraid to say that our Prime Minister spent quite some time this past week discussing people – namely, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Admittedly, Mr. Holness’ comments were far from inspiring. They may even have included the kind of chicanery that we have come to recognize in the utterances of our political leaders, of whatever stripe. Trying to fool us with words. However, our Prime Minister’s heavy-handed response (delivered in a somewhat raucous tone, including a strange and startling shriek, at one point) seemed like overreaction, to say the least. As one caller to a talk show pointed out, could she perhaps talk about national issues of importance to Jamaicans, instead? Perhaps she could discuss ideas, or even recent events or issues? Those two elephants in our living room, perhaps?
I do feel that we need vision, inspiration, encouragement – and yes, kind words from our Prime Minister, at this time. A leader should be buoying us up, not engaging in a “tracing match” with another politician. She is “Mama P,” who loves us. Just my thoughts.
Our Prime Minister then went away for a few days. Where, or for what reason, was not immediately clear. Rather odd for a head of State, one would think. But it later emerged that she had gone on vacation somewhere and needed rest. Certainly, she has looked very tired recently and rumors have circulated of illness, etc. I am not quite sure if this is of any significance whatsoever; just thought I would mention it.
Meanwhile, the two big news items of the previous week – namely, the sixteen Prados (plus other luxury cars) and the apparent suicide of a teenager in an adult prison, continued to linger like a bad taste in the mouth, for the whole of last week. The Prado issue, in particular, continues to rankle. A caller to Radio Jamaica’s “Hot Line” radio call-in show that “the most important thing in politics is perception.” Whether it is entirely “fair” or not, this is by and large true. The Jamaicans have a saying: “If it nuh go so, it nearly go so” (in other words, if it isn’t exactly so, it’s close enough to it). While some radio talk show hosts have been prevaricating and justifying and talking all round the vehicle issue, the average Jamaica is really angry – and not only those who are so poor that they have no possibility of owning any kind of car. In her Jamaica Observer column and on radio, Barbara Gloudon’s contention is, among other things, that the government did not communicate properly on the issue. That is certainly a part of it; they mishandled it terribly with the press, and have allowed the thing to fester. The Prime Minister’s defiant speech defending the Prados (during which she added, quite gratuitously, that government ministers are entitled to fly first class at all times when traveling) certainly did not help. The ministers now in receipt of the Prados have remained quite silent, so far as I know. The resentment rumbles on. Not only in the media, but in everyday conversations, the Prados are brought up and discussed.
And there is bitterness. The cost of living is soaring; there are no jobs. The pending agreement with the International Monetary Fund is still pending – possibly until early next year. It’s unlikely to be by the end of December, as the Finance Minister had predicted earlier. Even so, it is obviously not going to fix our problems, just like that. And the country’s infrastructure is sinking further into the mire (literally – we have had more rains which have created more problems for rural areas that were already devastated during Hurricane Sandy. Some drains in Port Maria are still blocked, despite the entire town being under water just a few weeks ago. It is pouring with rain in those areas again today…) Mr. Gordon Robinson and Ms. Carol Narcisse in the Sunday Gleaner came out swinging on the topic; links to their columns are below. And the Jamaica Observer’s cartoonist Clovis didn’t pull any punches either...
And even my good friend Jean Lowrie-Chin, who always looks on the bright side in her weekly column, seemed to have lost patience with it all last week, calling the government “uncaring and unresponsive” in the case of sixteen-year-old Vanessa Wint’s alleged suicide at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston on the night of November 21. One paragraph in her column (link below) especially resonates:
“Those of us who have worked hard to reach to a certain level of comfort in life deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labour. But we have duped ourselves into thinking that enjoyment is driving around in locked cars, living behind burglar bars and watching our very shadows. Let us be very aware that the quality of life of each Jamaican affects every Jamaican.”
Yes, as I have said to myself many times – we uptown, middle-class Jamaicans are living in a bubble. When will it burst?
An autopsy on Vanessa should take place this week. Her uncle Javette Nixon says he wants transparency in the process and the family has hired an overseas-based pathologist to oversee the procedure.
Another sad and ironic twist: Vanessa ran away from home in 2009 and was locked up in the Armadale Correctional Centre for girls in St. Ann. She survived the fire there in which seven wards of State died.
Meanwhile, still no public words of condolence or regret from either the Minister for Youth Lisa Hanna or the Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (responsible for Women’s Affairs) on the tragic death of a young Jamaican woman in the care of the State? But there was an offer from the head of Mustard Seed Communities, the marvelous Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon. He has offered to take the twenty girls - girls - in the adult prison and shelter them. Oh, what a good idea, responds Minister Hanna calmly. She is to discuss this possibility with him, this week. Meanwhile so far as I know plans are still going ahead to move the girls from one adult prison to another, the “Gun Court” prison in South Camp Road.
One little question: Are there still any children in police lock-ups? At one point last year, I believe, there were around 100. They were all supposed to have been moved. Any confirmation that there are now no children in these horrible “black holes”?
Another question: What is the status on an enquiry into the Armadale fire? Was anyone held accountable? I must do a little research on this.
I am not generally a huge fan of Jamaica’s church leaders. They often don’t have much to say apart from condemning casino gambling, racing on Sundays and other crucial matters. But another “church man” I do have a lot of time for is the Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Howard Gregory. He has been writing a column in the Sunday Observer for some time, and this time decided to tackle the issue of “preachers on buses” - pointing to an element of intrusiveness, and aggression, in the approach of these so-called Christians. He says he has even seen examples of very sick people being dragged from their hospital beds to be baptized by immersion. Bishop Gregory points to a “spiraling level of invasiveness” by self-appointed preachers in our public hospitals. Then, of course, for some time urban and rural residents have had to endure the amplified bellowing of preachers at all hours of day, often drowning out the screeching of so-called dancehall deejays. There is a time and place for everything! Once and for all, our much-touted religious freedom does not mean screaming and shouting at people, and haranguing fellow-citizens loudly and in public if they do not agree with your beliefs. That is religious tyranny.
OK. Got that one off our chests, I think. I wish all our religious leaders were as compassionate as Father Ramkissoon, and as sensible as Bishop Gregory…
During last week, Mr. Ronald Mason (one of my favorite talk show hosts) raised a very important economic matter: that of the expansion of the Panama Canal and Jamaica’s plans to establish a major transportation and logistics hub in Kingston. We are, after all, perfectly positioned geographically for such a hub. Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton recently returned from a long trip to China and Singapore, where he was seeking investment in this huge $8-9 billion project. I thought he was to give a press briefing on the topic, but I don’t see any word on the Jamaica Information Service website. What was the outcome of those two weeks, Minister Hylton?
James Moss-Solomon spoke to Mr. Mason last week, pointing out that he himself had made a presentation on the opportunities presented by the Panama Canal expansion at a conference in 2002 – a full decade ago. “It has been staring us in the face for the past ten years,” he told Ronald Mason. “I am not accepting the excuse that it has come upon us in a rush.” Some dredging was done, for a different purpose, but “we did know that this was happening,” the respected businessman and former GraceKennedy CEO asserted firmly. And it’s already late. Very late.
Any word, Minister Hylton?
And I am amazed that the government’s information arm has the nerve to publish yet another article entitled “Untapped Opportunities under CBI” (that is, the U.S. government’s Caribbean Basin Initiative). Once again, a U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica has reminded Jamaica of this long-standing trade facility. She has offered the U.S. government’s ongoing support in what she hopes will be “an economic renaissance in Jamaica.” What is stopping the Jamaican government from taking advantage of this, and why has this been a repeated refrain? I know I have seen this headline before – last year, the year before, the year before that…
Meanwhile, the government has launched the “C-Fish Initiative” with funding from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DIFID). This is a sustainable fisheries project, providing funding for several fish sanctuaries. I know that the excellent environmental NGO, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) is in the process of setting up fish sanctuaries in the Portland Bight area of Jamaica’s south coast. This is marvelous. But after an online conversation with a Facebook friend, who is a great lover of the sea and who has been kayaking around Kingston Harbour for many years, I wonder if this is also too late. My friend told me, after diving around the harbor’s outlying cays recently, there are basically no fish left, except for a few very small ones. No reef, but interestingly he did see a turtle. Over-fishing is the main culprit, he says.
Oh, please… Meanwhile, as if we don’t have more pressing topics to address, our charmingly dreadlocked Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford has been talking about “reviewing” the Noise Abatement Act. He seems to be ruling out the idea of “entertainment zones,” - but there may be “test zones.” Kingston residents like me must be hoping and praying that they don’t find themselves within or anywhere near these zones, where all hell will presumably break loose! But as it is, the police rarely respond to complaints from residents besieged with noise – yes, noise - at 3:00 a.m., as it is. So maybe this is all talk, and pandering to the “masses” while trying to reassure those who suffer and don’t “depend” on noise-making events for their income.
Puleeezzz… And then there’s the US$350,000 Patois Bible, which will be launched in Kingston on December 9 by the Bible Society of the West Indies, a UK-based organization that obviously thinks this a vital necessity for the poor people of Jamaica. Very well-meaning, I am sure. But when it was shown to Jamaicans on the street, they struggled to read it. In fact, the comments were very funny; one Jamaican said it gave him a headache. Oh by the way, it’s only the New Testament in patois; the Old Testament would be a complete nightmare, I am sure, and they haven’t decided whether to translate that.
To flog or not to flog? And then up popped the question of beating our children, again; what one caller to a talk show amusingly called “capital punishment in schools.” The Sunday Observer’s front page reported that one leading state-run primary school still gives its children a “slap” every now and then, to enforce “discipline” (oh, how Jamaicans love that word…) We had the usual arguments: “Well, I was beaten as a child, and it didn’t do me any harm” (yes, it did, now you beat your own children – and possibly others). The fact is that corporal punishment in schools is no longer a government policy. Of course, students still fight each other, and teachers; parents hit teachers; parents beat their children; and so on. Violence is the preferred method. It seems to come naturally, does it not?
My favorites of the week…
The Auditor General, Pamela Monroe Ellis. One newspaper describes her rather oddly as a “gentle giant,” but she is actually quite normal in size. I am also not sure if “gentle“ is the right word, either: she is sharp, puts her finger right on the issues. She is highly professional, performing her duties “without fear or favor,” as the saying goes. Her recent report, now being mulled over by parliamentary committees, revealed the Prados. She then moved on to the appalling losses at the National Water Commission (who, in the same breath, requested a rate hike). Ms. Monroe Ellis is puzzled, though. Despite what she considers a strong regulatory environment – the rules are there – there is a strong “culture of non-compliance” in the public sector, she notes. In other words, rules are there to be broken. Or, in an oft-quoted comment attributed to Minister Peter Phillips, “He who plays by the rules gets shafted.” OK, moving on…
The Contractor General, Greg Christie, finally stepped down on November 30, much to the dismay of many Jamaicans. Although his methods were at times a little harsh and his tone occasionally a little shrill, Mr. Christie has been held up (and rightly so) as a champion of integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. Because combating corruption was of course the name of his game. Not universally loved by politicians and other public servants, Mr. Christie doggedly pursued his goals, and once he had the bit between his teeth it was hard to shake him off. He is a very hard act to follow, too… Good luck to his successor.
The 51% Coalition, a growing partnership of women and organizations focused on amplifying women’s voices in society – especially on public and private sector boards – celebrated its first birthday last week. Please see my blog post here for more on the Coalition’s achievements in just one year.
Jamaican bloggers - what an awesome crowd! Almost all considerably younger than myself, this dynamic crowd met up recently at Kingston’s Knutsford Court Hotel, ahead of the Jamaica Blog Awards. I think this gets under way in January, and congratulations to the organizers for this concept. But in many ways the important thing is not the awards. However, the competition does encourage the growing community of local bloggers, which has blossomed over the last two or three years in Jamaica – and what they have to offer. There are fashion bloggers, food bloggers, very serious political bloggers, social commentary bloggers, entertainment bloggers and more. Big ups to them all, and let 2013 be a record blogging year for Jamaica!
UNICEF Jamaica, which has devised a great blogging venture for World AIDS Day (last Saturday). You can read more details of #HashCon2012 at their Facebook page. The theme of the competition is the “SHEroes” in the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can read my entry (“Everyday Courage”) on this blog, and you can vote for it at the Jamaica Blog Awards website from December 8-14. Jamaican bloggers, send in your entries now! And not later than midnight on December 7! Good luck to all…
Last but not least, I must point you to a new and incredibly useful online resource: diGJamaica.com, a great project of the Gleaner Company. It is not only fascinating to browse through; it has all kinds of relevant information on aspects of Jamaican life and society, focusing on different sectors. It includes all kinds of valuable data, a calendar of events, directories, government resources and many other items – all attractively presented with interactive slideshows etc. An excellent research tool. Kudos to Deika Morrison and her team! (And comments/suggestions are welcome).
One final question for our Public Defender: When can we expect to see the Interim Report on the deaths of over seventy Jamaican citizens in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston on May 24, 2010? I believe another deadline was missed, last week. Any word?
The following Jamaicans were murdered in the past week. My thoughts are with their grieving families at this time…
Kurtis Bucker, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Wilbert Gayle, 48, Haughton, St. Elizabeth
Lily May Burton-Anderson, Farm Pen/Gayle, St. Mary
Winston Brown, Farm Pen/Gayle, St. Mary
Dane Peart, 40, Norwood, St. James
Unidentified man, Mineral Heights/May Pen, Clarendon
Marlon McKenzie, August Town, St. Andrew
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/mustard-seed-offers-to-care-for-females-wards-of-the-state (Mustard Seed offers to care for female wards of state: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Something’s broken in the state of governance: Carol Narcisse op-ed, Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/focus/focus1.html (State-sponsored rape – re: Prados: Gordon Robinson column, Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Patois-Bible-took-four-years-of-research–cost-US-350-000_13096136 (Patois Bible took four years of research, cost US$350,000: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Patois-Bible-not-a-retrograde-step_13096374 (Patois Bible not a retrograde step: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/westmoreland-fishermen-protest-plundering-from-honduran-pirates (Westmoreland fishermen protest plundering from Honduran “pirates”: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Is-the-shop-really-empty-_13094128 (Is the shop really empty? Betty-Ann Blaine column/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22555 (Recipients of the sixteen Prados are… RJR)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/10248-manager-of-dunn-s-river-falls-shot-and-injured.html (Manager of Dunn’s River Falls shot and injured: On the Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead21.html (Transport tycoon dead: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Diaspora-engagement-and-its-possibilities_13055481 (Diaspora engagement and its possibilities: Terrol Graham op-ed/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cops-bracing-for-Jungle-12-violence (Cops bracing for Jungle 12 violence: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22480 (Simpson Miller tackles Holness: TVJ Prime Time News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead3.html (The gentle giant: Pamela Monroe Ellis: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Vanessa-s-death-must-be-a-turning-point_13073768 (Vanessa’s death must be a turning point: Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer)
http://seemydeath.com/suicides/4172-vanessa-wint-16-hung-herself-with-a-sheet-out-of-pure-fear-from-being-molested.html#axzz2E14uGxyf (Vanessa Wint, 16, hung herself with a sheet out of pure fear of being molested: Online Tragic Deaths)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41403 (Foreign forensic expert for ward’s autopsy: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead5.html (Hanover bleeds: murders surge in western parish: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead3.html (Major crimes down island-wide: 49 fewer murders in St. Catherine North: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead6.html (Work for idle hands: Simpson Miller says construction boom ahead: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32449 (Untapped opportunities under CBI: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/letters/letters2.html (Who are we to believe? Letter to Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121126/business/business2.html (Caribbean ports rushing to meet challenges of Panama Canal expansion: Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32380 (Growth Inducement Strategy available online: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/22497 (Opposition Finance Spokesman speaks on TVJ)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-111/32428 (Mining Minister confident Alpart will be open soon: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121128/ent/ent1.html#.ULbpLei7TYA.facebook (“Cyaa lock off di dance” – Ministers mull over noise abatement and keeping vibrant entertainment going: Gleaner)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/22544 (Toys for Tots: TVJ)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/brazen-gunmen (Brazen gunmen: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-103/32432 (Initiative launched for sustainability of the fisheries sector: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/senate-passes-public-debt-management-bill (Senate passes public debt management bill: RJR)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/10284-mexico-lifts-visa-requirements-for-jamaicans.html (Mexico lifts visa requirements for Jamaicans: On The Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead31.html (“They don’t care about the rules”: Auditor General: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead42.html (Jamaican marries lesbian lover: Sunday Gleaner)
A friend of mine teased me the other day that my weekly commentary on Jamaican affairs is generally of the gloom-and-doom variety. But hey, I am a cynical optimist. I always hope for and expect the best, but when I don’t get it… Whatever!
So much for my personal outlook on life. Let’s look at a few things that have been going on in the past week… and I have to say that I have actually found a number of “positive” stories for you, my faithful readers.
Firstly – and I think this is rather important – I was pleased to learn today of an initiative by University of the West Indies (UWI) students, a response to the recent homophobic beating of a student at the nearby University of Technology in Kingston. It is borrowed from a U.S.-based campaign called “NoH8″ (“no hate,” you see). Although some of Jamaica’s more devout Christians may not believe in the idea of love and tolerance (curious isn’t it?) I believe this is a good effort that really deserves our support – and in particular, one hopes, from public figures, celebrities etc. And I am especially glad to see young Jamaicans taking a stand. Kudos to the UWI Guild of Students’ Maya Wilkinson.
The Sunday Observer article ran a report on the matter that included comments from a student who claimed he had been tricked and harassed into participating in the campaign but subsequently withdrew when he heard that it was in support of gay marriage (which it apparently is not). The Observer’s continued ambivalence on such matters has been quite evident (the newspaper rarely seems to use the term “human rights” for example) but I am glad that they printed the article, although I am not sure about the overall tone of it. Read it and see for yourself. And I suppose one should be thankful that the Observer cartoonist no longer depicts homosexuals as bizarrely distorted freaks in women’s clothing, but rather as “fish” (this being the latest derogatory term for gays in Jamaica). You see, they are still obsessed with the topic.
But isn’t it strange how quiet our politicians are, as well as our leaders in general? They have remained mostly silent on this topic – one that is fundamental to the health of Jamaican society. The media and the Jamaican people have had much to say, and the debate has been generally thoughtful, interesting and vibrant up to this point. But clearly our leaders consider the issue of violence and intolerance of anyone who is “different” (not just gays) to be of little relevance; in fact, one has the sense that politicians, sportsmen/women, entertainers etc are avoiding the subject; or am I being unfair? The Minister of Education put out a hasty statement immediately after the University of Technology student mob chased and attacked a young man accused of being a homosexual. But since then a deafening silence, so far as I know. Correct me if I am wrong – but I have been listening out for something.
I have posted below what was probably my favorite cartoon of the week from Clovis… our beleaguered Finance Minister scraping the barrel for U.S. Dollars in the Net International Reserves. Somehow I feel stressed every time I hear him speak – because he sounds so stressed himself. It doesn’t engender confidence in me. Unlike the ever-cheerful former Finance Minister Omar Davies, he always seems rather down. Cheer up! It can’t be that bad – can it?
Oops! I promised to be positive. OK…The aforementioned UWI now has a shiny new Medical School, which will accommodate far more students than the current 350, including some foreign ones, it is hoped. It’s a nice building, and designed by a Jamaican, Robert Woodstock.
Now, I mentioned distractions in a recent blog: distractions from the large elephants currently installed in Jamaica’s living room, which is bedecked with the traditional crocheted mats and flamboyant artificial flowers. One of these was the news that the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), which operates buses in Kingston and surrounding areas, is to ban preachers on its buses. Yes, preachers. These devout gentlemen (I think they are mostly men) climb aboard with Bible in hand and proceed to harangue the captive, and not necessarily willing, congregation who are going about their business. They bellow, they pray, they shake their fists, they sing. At the end of their sermons, they take a collection. The preachers condemn those passengers who rebel (objecting to the proselytizing or refusing to pay up) to eternal hellfire. At which point other passengers may verbally reprimand the heathens, who then shrink into their seats with embarrassment. But hellfire might be preferable to taking a JUTC bus with a preacher on board.
This issue rattled on all week in the local media. This huge story (was it a huge story, I ask?) broke on Monday morning, and was still making front page headlines on Friday. Enough already, I cried. The preacher-on-the-bus issue was examined and discussed from every possible angle on radio talk shows, and radio and television stations ran numerous vox pops, asking every man, woman and child on the street, “What do you think?”
But then, one asked, what about the distorted, maniacal ramblings of so-called deejays, with their misogynistic lyrics that are offensive to women (and men), which minibus drivers apparently still play at full volume for the delectation of their passengers? Perhaps, as radio talk show host and Sunday Gleaner columnist Orville Taylor sagely observed, there is a serious underlying issue here, that of “respect for the rights and freedoms of others.”
This actually points to the fact that Jamaicans have a remarkable, and not particularly admirable, capacity for putting up with crap. To put it bluntly (pardon my French). And it also highlights once again a quite recent tendency for evangelical Christian beliefs to be foisted on the public in general. No meeting or meal can take place without a fervent prayer preceding it. We are told to lower our heads obediently and listen to someone asking the Almighty to direct our thoughts and guide our pens as we write, or for the food we are about to eat to be properly digested (yes). Supposing I am an atheist, an agnostic, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim or any other religion? Freedom of religion works both ways. I am sure these Christians are well-meaning, but please don’t impose your beliefs on others and simply expect us all to fall in line… But then again, Jamaicans do acquiesce, meekly. They do fall in line. Anything for a quiet life (or in the case of the JUTC buses, a noisy one).
And now, lo and behold! The Public Defender, Mr. Earl Witter, bestirred himself yesterday and decided he was going to investigate the constitutionality of the whole affair. A fellow blogger has commented on this, and you will find the link to his sharply observed blog post below. I plan to write more, but would just like to enquire of Mr. Witter: Could you kindly give us an update on your report on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion“ of May 2010, during which over seventy Jamaican citizens died at the hands of the security forces? This report was promised to us within two weeks, some months ago now (or maybe I imagined that). The Gleaner enquired about it in its editorials of August 27 and October 3 of this year. The Public Defender, who has described himself as a “whipping boy” for the media, has promised that we will soon see the report. When can we exhale, dear Mr. Witter?
Meanwhile, it’s politics time again. This time, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) held its annual conference – a rather subdued affair compared to last year’s, when a huge crowd, transported by many buses, converged on the National Arena just prior to the election – which, of course, the JLP comprehensively lost a few weeks later. This year they met at the Jamaica Conference Centre downtown – a really nice, more intimate venue compared to the cavernous and ugly arena – just for one day, not two. Many supporters, however, said they preferred the Arena (perhaps it was harder for them to smoke their ganja at the Conference Centre – this is a party conference tradition, by the way).
Today’s Sunday Observer ran the eager headline this morning, “JLP in turmoil.” The Sunday Gleaner chimed in, “Warmington faces JLP’s wrath” (the last two words in huge red letters). Yes, once again the local media have discovered unrest in the JLP ranks, and there is nothing that they enjoy more than alleged plots and sub-plots within either of the two political parties. Mr. Everald Warmington (always one for a bit of excitement) filed a court injunction to prevent the election of deputy leaders (there are four) which he said was in breach of the party constitution. He withdrew the injunction at the end of the week, so I don’t know where that leaves us. It’s a nice tasty morsel for the local media to get their teeth into, though. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness (who served as our Prime Minister briefly last year before his thumping defeat) sounded more than usually animated this afternoon at the podium, expressing concern for the poor – he took a leaf out of Portia Simpson Miller‘s book there. He actually shouted. It was quite invigorating.
Now, party politics – especially suspected internal upheavals – is always a major distraction. So, too, was another eulogy in the Lower House: this time for former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who made a speech himself. They did “Uncle Eddie,“ and now it was PJ’s turn to have his afternoon of speechifying. Our current Prime Minister put on her brightest party colors for the occasion. This is all under the umbrella of Jamaica 50, one understands. No comment.
Didn’t I promise to be “positive” this week? Well, here goes: on the government side, there has been some movement. Couched in “anti-colonialism” terms, rather than with reference to Jamaicans’ human rights, the bills to abolish flogging were tabled in the Upper House last week. Also sitting on the Senate’s table is the Evidence (Special Measures) Act, designed to enable video evidence to be considered in court. This is an absolutely vital piece of legislation as the government continues to struggle with the deeply-embedded thorn in our side, the ubiquitous lotto scam. Good job, Justice Minister Mark Golding.
It’s important to reward young scientists and innovators; we need far more of them. The Jamaica Public Service Company recently sponsored a series of awards under the aegis of Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell. Many congratulations to the winners of the Innovation of the Year Award (worth a cool two million Jamaican Dollars) from UWI’s Natural Products Institute; and to Sunderland Primary School in St. James for their Youth Innovator Award – this for a remarkable pothole-patching compound. Much needed across the island, especially since Hurricane Sandy!
Speaking of technology, I attended the Caribbean Beta 2012 tech entrepreneurship conference in Kingston on Friday, and was deeply impressed by the caliber of the panelists; the excellent organization; and above all, the enthusiasm of the participants and the eighteen teams who competed in the afternoon in a “PitchFest” for their products – many of them mobile applications. Caribbean Beta is the brainchild of Ingrid Riley, supported by a young and energetic team at Connectimass. Read more at caribbeanbeta.com and take a look at Ingrid’s excellent website at www.siliconcaribe.com. More details in another blog post that I plan to write this week. Congratulations to all involved in this marvelous event – not just talk, but practical, learning stuff – a “boot camp” continued over the weekend for start-up companies.
And on the same theme, this year’s Jamaican Rhodes Scholar is UWI student Vincent Taylor, who is currently studying for an M.Phil in Computer Science. Runner-up is medical doctor and UWI graduate Katherine Innis, who will compete for the Commonwealth Caribbean Scholarship. Mr. Taylor, I hope you will enjoy and greatly benefit from study at my own alma mater!
I am personally so thrilled to hear that the St. Patrick’s Foundation, a faith-based NGO that does amazing work in inner-city areas of Kingston, has been receiving so much support from the friends of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia over the years – amounting to more than two million U.S. dollars! The contributions of overseas churches, universities, diaspora groups and volunteers of all ages to Jamaica are so great that it is almost impossible to quantify in monetary terms. And that does not even count all the goodwill engendered. What would we do without them all…
By the way, I am sorry I missed a very special art exhibition yesterday in downtown Kingston. 34-year-old Astro Saulter, who has cerebral palsy, uses the back of his head to paint digital pictures with a special device in his wheelchair. His first solo art exhibition was launched at Studio 174 downtown yesterday. Astro has two creative brothers, too – young Jamaican filmmakers Nile and Storm Saulter of New Caribbean Cinema. They have made a short film, “Astro, the Morning Star,” which will be screened at a special event tomorrow. Read more below… Congratulations Astro, and to your brothers for your loving support!
And finally, my deepest condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of police Corporal Robert Sortie, who was shot dead on a busy Kingston street last week. And to the loved ones of all those who have died violently in the past week. I should add that the families of those people (including many children) who are missing are also in my thoughts. I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety of having a loved one who has disappeared. I hope they all come home safely, and soon.
Sasia Johnson, 35, Little London, Westmoreland
Travis Welcome, 21, Jobs Lane, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Denham Town, Kingston
Corporal Robert Sortie, Constant Spring Road, Kingston
Shanique Pinnock, 27, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2012/11/public-defense-of-twisted-priorities.html?showComment=1353213315787#c5807704627188400409 (Public Defense of Twisted Priorities: Cogito Ergo Sum)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41204 (Bunting decries Corporal’s killing: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41201 (Public Defender held up and robbed: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/arts/arts2.html (Introducing Astro Saulter – digital painter mounts first exhibition: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121116/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Freedom and restraint: Jamaica Gleaner/Peter Espeut op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121116/business/business2.html (Bank of Jamaica predicts fourth quarter contraction of Jamaican economy: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/lead/lead1.html (Foul affair: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/letters/letters4.html (All hail PJ Patterson! Jamaica Gleaner/Letter to the Editor)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/13-arrested-in-Lottery-scam-raid (Thirteen arrested in lottery scam raid: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bills-to-abolish-flogging-tabled-in-Senate_13018187 (Bills to abolish flogging tabled in Senate: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-more-H8_13009532 (No more H8: University students fight discrimination: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JLP-in-turmoil_13025168 (JLP in turmoil: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41221 (JLP leader outlines solutions to aid Jamaica’s poorest: Sunday Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/new-pnpyo-president-elected (New PNPYO president elected: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/letters/letters4.html (All hail PJ Patterson! Letter to the Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121118/focus/focus4.html (Thou shalt not preach…on JUTC buses: Sunday Gleaner op-ed by Orville Taylor)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Public-Defender-tackles-ban-on-bus-preachers_13025007 (Public Defender tackles ban on bus preachers: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Earl Witter and the missing report: Gleaner editorial, October 3, 2012)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Phillips–Shaw-s-claims-have-no-basis_13009361 (Phillips: Shaw’s claims have no basis: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cop-shot-and-killed (Cop shot and killed: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Big-contribution-to-St-Patrick-s-Foundation-from-Virginia_13007574 (Big contribution to St. Patrick’s Foundation from Virginia: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/News/BoJ-projects-1-7–contraction-in-economy (Bank of Jamaica projects 1.7% contraction in economy: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/arts/arts2.html (Introducing Astro Saulter – digital painter mounts first exhibition: Jamaica Gleaner)
Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Jlp at War With Itself Again ? (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)
Radcliffe Lewis Tells Bus Preachers Their Practice Is … An Offence And A Crime (steppaz1961.wordpress.com)
There is a growing unease in the air. I thought it was just me, but it’s not. I have been calling in my Sunday blogs for some word, but… Why aren’t we hearing from our political leaders? Why are they so quiet? OK, we have got over the Olympics, and Jamaica 50, and it was all wonderful. But now… What? We are back to business. What business?
Where are we? Who are we? Where are we heading?
Can we hear from someone? From the Finance Minister perhaps, on the state of our economy – the little signs I have seen are rather worrying? I know you are talking to the IMF soon. What are the parameters of those discussions? Any thoughts, hopes, plans, strategies? Why is the Jamaican Dollar sliding to J$90/US$1? What about food security – what actual concrete steps are being taken to deal with this? Food prices are going to soar. Gas prices already soaring…
As for the National Security Minister, who was SO vocal during the election campaign? Why has he not spoken on the escalating number of murders? I KNOW they are escalating because I have been keeping track of them, listing the sad names at the end of each Sunday blog. The numbers are increasing every week. Could he (or the silent Police Commissioner) say something about the woman who was allegedly shot dead by the police in Yallahs, St. Thomas? Eight months pregnant, an almost fully-formed child in her belly – two Jamaicans dead? And if not the death of a humble rural woman, then why not an expression of concern and condolences to the more high-profile Clover Graham and Dr. Barrington Dixon, two much loved and well-respected Jamaicans who served their countrymen and women with distinction and with love, in their own fields. Why not a statement – or better still, a visit down to Yallahs?
Now to our Prime Minister – and I have mentioned before, “Prime” means “first”, and “Minister” means “servant.” She is our Top Servant. How is she serving us? OK, we know she went to Trinidad and Tobago. Fine, it was their 50th anniversary too. But she is not visible. We are not seeing her. We are not hearing her. Journalists lie in wait, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. As I mentioned before, CVM TV’s intrepid Andrew Cannon waylaid her recently outside Parliament and she said that she does not interfere with what her ministers’ work – that’s what she appointed them for. As I said before, is this “hands off” governance, on autopilot? I don’t know what to say. I never expected this.
My social media friends, old and young, are becoming increasingly critical. One called the Prime Minister our “Avatar.” In computer terms, an avatar is “the graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character.” There is a new hashtag on Twitter: #whereisPortia. And talk show hosts are beginning to wonder out loud.
A song I loved so much was “Wide Awake in a Dream.” A line in the song by Alton Ellis (and Barry Biggs) goes: “I can’t believe you are real…” Are we all wide awake in a dream?
I have posted this blog post from a fellow blogger, Cucumber Juice – heartfelt, and it simply echoes my feelings. This is painful, and this is sad. Thanks for allowing me to post this, CCJ!
Yes it works to the tune of the Carmen Sandiego game show song, just dip your voice on the “Simpson.”
So, where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller?
I wonder for a few reasons…and I gather that I am not alone in wondering.
The last I saw of her was at the Jamaica 50 Grand Gala. She looked regal and happy. That’s nice. Before that I saw her gleefully waving in London as our athletes trooped into the stadium. Super. During this past weekend I saw a picture of her and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at that country’s 50th Independence celebrations. Yay, Caribbean unity. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister received an honorary degree from Northern Caribbean University but I didn’t see any footage of her acceptance speech (pardon me if I missed it). Congrats to her…an opportunity for a speech about policy or the state of the country. Alas, missed. And, to be honest, an acceptance speech from a University is not what I’m looking for. Nor am I looking for the obligatory Emancipation and Independence messages.
I am looking for leadership…leadership that Jamaica desperately needs at the moment.
On the heels of the death of Prime Minister Meles from Ethiopia, Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s absence from public life really struck me. And before Meles there was President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi who died around April 7, 2012 (succeeded by Joyce Banda) and President John Atta Mills of Ghana who died on July 24, 2012 (succeeded by John Mahama). So, I wondered even more. Where is Jamaican Prime Minister Simpson-Miller? Because it is now an open secret that the Prime Minister is unwell (it was apparent to me during the campaigning before the December 2011 election and recent images of her, to me, show more than age and private conversations confirm that she’s not well). Moreover, this kind of absence is not what I’m accustomed to from Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller. I wonder if we – resident and Diaspora Jamaicans – need to begin a watch for her…as was done with the late Prime Minister Meles. The transitions for these countries were not all smooth but they were far less bumpy than in the past, which has become a source of pride for the citizens and supporters of those countries. Jamaica had occasion for such a transition too when Donald Sangster died in office and was succeeded by Hugh Shearer. More recently the resignation of Bruce Golding led to the election of Andrew Holness as JLP leader and swearing in as Jamaican Prime Minister. But I am less concerned about the transition process than I am with the the available options, should such a transition become necessary, because I’m far more concerned with the leadership vacuum in Jamaica. As someone on my timeline (@gocharms) commented this morning: Jamaica is on autopilot.
I can certainly understand that if the Prime Minister is indeed ill she may wish to remain private about the nature of her illness and that she should be afforded some privacy. I sympathize with her because it must be difficult. Yet she’s not just any ol’ public official; she really doesn’t have the luxury of this depth of silence. Like it or not, it’s the cost of being an elected official who is also the leader of a country. Surely we don’t need or require details of a treatment schedule or her medical history but the country at least deserves to know what plans are in place as she deals with treatment to ensure that the country has appropriate and competent leadership. But that is if she’s indeed ill. Regardless of the state of her health, the current state of Jamaican leadership is unacceptable. Jamaica is at a fragile place…the uncertainty does not help that position.
I am looking for leadership. Leadership that Jamaica desperately needs at the moment.
I am looking for leadership that would have capitalized on the Olympic fever and our athletes’ success. Such domination by a small country in the capital of the place that colonized us is surely not only a golden PR moment, but also a prime opportunity to harness the energy and focus of the country — then on the athletes’ hard work, execution, and the achievement — to tackle bigger issues that also require planning, hard work, and execution. It could have been a start, a teachable moment of sorts. There was much chatter about getting a holiday in celebration. Yet instead of a speech either to congratulate the athletes and to announce a holiday or to congratulate the athletes and to announce that now is not the time for a break, now is the time to push on, to work hard following the examples of our athletes…we get silence. Where is the passionate, effervescent Prime Minister Simpson-Miller who despite her perceived “intellectual gaps” is adept at whipping up and galvanizing a crowd? Why was that skill not on display immediately after or during Olympic fever to at least try to maintain the unity? There was a spirit in Jamaica and among Jamaicans that begged for use in a continuous and positive way. Alas. More importantly, where is the Prime Minister to provide leadership about the hoped-for IMF agreement and all the usual “bitter medicine” that it will require? To explain what it will mean for all strata of society? We can surely guess but that’s besides the point; where is the elected leader to…lead? To explain and reassure as public sector jobs are cut (it was announced recently that 3,000 jobs would be cut and I expect more of that…it would be foolish of anyone to expect otherwise)? To provide some sort of rationale for why the government needs consultants and why those consultants are being paid so much? Where is the leadership to prepare the nation for what could happen when Hugo Chavez, another leader with (apparently) failing health and possibly untenable popularity and support, is no longer leader and that PetroCaribe deal is on shaky ground? Another person on my timeline (@Tyrone876) labeled the lack of discussion about and preparation for such a scenario and the same for the possibility that an IMF deal is notforthcoming a “crisis.” Seems apt. Where is the leadership to explain (or SOMETHING!) about the value of the U.S. dollar (now almost JA$90 : US$1 and about the Canadian dollar, which is now over JA$90 : CDN$1?
I am looking for leadership. Leadership that Jamaica desperately needs at the moment.
Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to speak up about the kidnapping and murder of Clover Graham? Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to speak up about the murder of Dr. Barry Dixon? Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller to speak up about the killing of Kayann Lamont and her child by the police? At this point I may even be OK with her going to Yallahs and hugging up Ms. Lamont’s parents, sisters, grandmother, and children. OK…not really, more is needed…but where is even the smallest indication that Jamaica has an elected Prime Minister who is actually trading on her self-professed love of country and of poor people to provide some comfort and empathy in a very troubling and grief-filled time?
Some will say, “Well, what do you expect of Prime Minister Simpson-Miller because she was, after all, not fit for the job of in the first place.” This may be true but the fact is that she was elected to lead and she’s not doing so. Where are the surrogates, then, the senior leadership of the PNP and GOJ to provide a steadying message and hand? Fact is, no one in her cabinet is stepping up so the leadership vacuum is even more severe. I saw more of and heard more from Finance Minister Peter Phillips during the Manatt Mendacity than I do now…now when he’s actually in a position of responsibility and trust. Funny how that works, eh? Not much from Peter Bunting who really should be saying and being more proactive about the growing crime and scamming problem that is his responsibility as Minister of National Security. I wonder if he knows that the constant statements about the crime rate being down don’t match up either with the frequent reports of murders, kidnappings and robberies or with the persistent use of excessive force by the Jamaican police? Minister of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining (*grimace*) seems to be beating at JPS’ door yet nothing much is being said about PetroCaribe. One measly comment that you’re hopeful of a Chavez victory because Jamaica cannot afford to lose the deal (likely if Chavez loses, which is distinctly likely) is not sufficient, sir.
Where is Jamaica’s elected leader to set the tone and present a narrative that seeks – at least – to reassure the country’s citizens about Jamaica’s ability to cope, but ideally a tone and narrative meant to gather support for a clearly defined plan for the obviously rough road ahead? A plan to which GOJ can and should be held accountable? Where is the honesty and frank discussion?
Jamaica needs leadership.
Where is the leadership to explain just exactly what mission Jamaica is on and how the country will get there? Because at the moment Jamaica is on an auto-piloted mission to God knows where and I’m not sure even He knows how we’ll be getting there.
Where is Prime Minister Simpson-Miller and, most important, what are Jamaicans going to do about it?
- Jamaica at 50: Island Nation’s P.M. Talks About the Queen, the Caribbean and Usain Bolt (repeatingislands.com)
- 50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Newly elected Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller a strong advocate for gay rights (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Jamaica revels in Olympic glory (bbc.co.uk)
Yes, we are striding into the next fifty years full of confidence and braggadocio (what a great word that is!) after our command performance at the London Olympics. (I am planning a couple more posts on that topic, so will not get side-tracked here). Many Jamaicans believe that this euphoric wave (which might last for another week or two) will somehow carry the island forward in a spirit of love and unity. Others believe that our twelve medals will somehow boost Jamaica’s economic recovery. Our Prime Minister is still on a high, and milking both the Jamaica 50 celebrations and the Olympic achievements for all they are worth.
Well, that’s what politicians do. Cynics like me have strong doubts about it all.
So let us look at other matters. Among those issues pushed on one side for discussion later, there is that little matter of education. The results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations were released by the Caribbean Examinations Council on Friday. Our eloquent Education Minister Ronald Thwaites declared himself “very disappointed.” I think “horrified,” or perhaps to use an awful English expression “gobsmacked” might have been a better word. But then Minister Thwaites, having reflected further, described the results later as “a very disastrous lurch downwards.” That’s more like it.
Of the so-called “cohort” of students who are actually allowed to sit the exams (which is only a fraction of the school population) only 31.7 per cent passed the Mathematics paper. Fewer passed than in 2011 (a mere 33.2 per cent), which was lower than 201o (a less than impressive 39.5 per cent). Passes in English Language showed a dramatic drop from 64.9 per cent (2010) and 63.9 per cent (2012) to 46.2 per cent. Again, this was only the results for those entered for the exam; many others – I will have to check the percentage – will have left secondary school with neither English nor Mathematics passes, one presumes. Plus, of course, well over half the students who did prepare for the exams – a two-year syllabus. What is to happen to these thousands of young people?
How can we talk about striding into the next fifty years, when our young people are so poorly educated/uneducated/hardly literate/innumerate/untrained? Is this our work force of the future? One hopes for proper analysis, discussion – and solutions – to this crisis in the next few weeks. Yes, I do believe this is a crisis. If this isn’t a crisis, then what is? Will we finally panic when we get down to 20 per cent passes?
Meanwhile, Minister Thwaites has suggested cutting teachers’ vacation leave in order to deal with the issue of teachers’ unemployment. Yes, hundreds of teachers qualify every year and many cannot find work. Even those who have been urged to go into early childhood education – supposedly the government’s priority – are finding no jobs after they have graduated from teachers’ college. And what is being taught at those colleges? Are our teachers really equipped to go into a class of forty or so students and teach properly?
OK. SMH as they say in social media. Meanwhile Minister Thwaites has other issues to deal with. For a start, around 200 Jamaican schools still use pit latrines – in other words, the children use a dark, evil-smelling hole in the ground as a toilet. One such rural school made the front page of the Gleaner this week. The Minister took pity on the school and has issued an edict for real toilets to be installed by the beginning of the school year. When will the other 199 or so schools get their toilets, I wonder? (Having personally seen the condition of some school toilets that are not pit latrines, I can say that sanitary conditions in many schools are pretty disgusting).
Another burning issue for Minister Thwaites: the bookmarks. Bookmarks, you may ask, what bookmarks? Well, a great deal of hot air is being blown about over the printing of 100,000 bookmarks as gifts to the students of secondary schools. Minister Thwaites had asked for as many schools as possible to recognize Independence Day (August 6). The bookmarks were to be distributed as souvenirs. Anyway, these bookmarks bore the smiling face of the Minister superimposed on the Jamaican flag. Opposition Leader (and former Education Minister) Andrew Holness was furious. (There seem to be so many “flag issues” don’t there?) He has called in the intrepid Contractor General, Greg Christie, to investigate procurement and other concerns. I understand that the offending bookmarks, which are now useless, cost J$1.7 million. This would be enough to fund a non-governmental organization serving Jamaican children for at least six months.
We will no doubt never get to the “truth” on this matter, but meanwhile – I wonder who authorized this? Did they really think this was OK, protocol-wise?
While we were all celebrating, Western Union shut down the operations of fourteen overseas branches in and around Montego Bay. We didn’t really see this one coming, and anyway we were in the clutches of full-fledged “Olympicitis” by then. The only conversations were about finals and semi-finals on the track.
The closure was, of course, connected to the heinous lottery scam. This remittance service has become a conduit for the activities of our Jamaican-based criminals, and I am, like the Gleaner, somewhat surprised that this did not happen sooner. The closure is expected to last for two weeks – possibly more – and it will not be business as usual when they reopen (or at any other branch in Jamaica either, one hopes).
Meanwhile those poor and needy people who depend on remittances from Jamaican family members living overseas were thrown into panic at the closure. I was amazed – and depressed – to see the crowds of Jamaicans, young and old, thronging the Western Union offices. Some did not even have the money to travel down the road to Hanover to collect their money. Women said they depended on the money to send their children to school. Little old ladies and frail old gentlemen were thrown into despair. Somehow, it frightened me to see such dependency. Although I should not have been surprised.
The Gleaner served up a number of punchy editorials this week, as if determined not to be distracted by the dancing in Half Way Tree, joyful as it may be. One suggested, “There is a sense that ministers are off on independent programs, seeking to outdo each other, rather than being part of a coherent whole.“ Is this fair, one wonders? And if so, what is Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke doing about the growing food crisis? Ah – that might be a topic for another blog post; because this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Even the Observer got tetchy on the subject this week, with an editorial that pointed out rising grain prices in the United States, our huge food import bill, and the lack of a clear strategy to deal with food security. With another quick left hook, the Gleaner - while congratulating Minister Clarke on his national honor, a Commander of the Order of Distinction – reprimanded him for his lack of vision on the matter.
Vision. There’s a big word. It’s something we seem to be searching for, sadly and with increasing weariness. Like Growth. And Leadership! And Investment. And, oh yes, Unity!
And here are a couple of things I was less than excited about last week:
Winston Hubert McIntosh (better known as Peter Tosh) received a posthumous Order of Merit (O.M.) in the Independence National Honors. The weed-smoking, profane, rebellious, unicycling Tosh, a former member of the Wailers, was murdered in 1987. He still has a website, liberally sprinkled with ganja leaves. I remember he was well-known for his obscene language on stage (but of course, that is quite accepted these days) – part of his rebelliousness, one supposes – and he played a guitar shaped like an M-16 on stage, too. Yes, a great role model.
Having said all that, I love Mr. McIntosh’s music and always have done. And yes, he spoke out against apartheid (so did almost every other singer at that time) and “Equal Rights and Justice” is a brilliant song. But I don’t think that is enough to get the third highest honor in Jamaica. Plus, I don’t really believe in the posthumous thing. If they didn’t deserve one when they were alive then why give people an award when they are six feet under, many years later? I’m sure Tosh wouldn’t care and might well refuse it, as John Lennon refused a National Honor. I also know that, although our current Transport Minister reveres the reggae musician, if the anti-establishment Tosh were alive today he would not be so popular with politicians. Didn’t he invent the word “politricks” ? He would be giving them hell.
An article, headlined “500 new houses for Coral Springs,” puzzled me this week. The article declared that the said homes would be built “in the dry limestone forests surrounding an already existing housing estate in Coral Springs.“ This is in Trelawny, western Jamaica. Presumably that existing housing estate was also built on previously existing dry limestone forest. Forgive me for enquiring, but isn’t dry limestone forest a special ecosystem, an environment that is becoming very scarce indeed in Jamaica and that is home to the endangered iguana and other creatures? Am I missing something here? Someone explain please?
Finally, is this the only way that Red Stripe beer can think of to advertise its product? How sad. And how unoriginal. Like those endless dancehall videos. Bottoms…protruding everywhere.
And much more inspiring…
Congrats to the Braco Village Hotel, which won a TripAdvisor Award after only being open for a couple of months. I swear by TripAdvisor and am one of its “senior reviewers.” I make hotel and other choices based on its reviews. So this means something to me.
As a passionate Arsenal Football Club fan, what’s not to love about the Observer Lifestyle Team’s great feature on the club’s haute cuisine a few days ago. Yes, chef Collin Brown can whip up a wicked jerk chicken roulade. Go Gunners! The new season awaits!
And kudos to the Observer reader, who gave Independence Day gifts to students from the difficult Mountain View Avenue area of Kingston. There was a touching article about this by the Observer’s Kimmo Matthews, which unfortunately I am unable to locate – but it really was quite moving. I will try to find the link. Such gestures of human kindness are what the “spirit of Independence” is about, no? P.S. For more reflections on Jamaica 5o and Independence, I would like to refer you to fellow blogger Annie Paul’s blog and 2009 article, “Do you remember the days of slav’ry?” The link is below.
As always, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, husbands and wives of the following persons who died violently this week:
Ms. Natasha Dixon, 29, Mandeville, Manchester
Oneil Livingston, 26, Mark Lane, Kingston
Unidentified man, Grier Park, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew
Paul Cooper, 44, Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, King Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Charles Street, Kingston 13
Cecil Elson, 45, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Related websites and articles:
http://www.cxc.org (Caribbean Examinations Council website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120811/news/news6.html (Shocking CSEC results)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/lead/lead92.html (Cut vacation leave, employ more teachers)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead8.html (Mt. Rosser Primary pleads for proper sanitary facilities)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Thwaites-says-he-s-ready-for-probe-on-bookmarks (Thwaites says he’s ready for probe on bookmarks)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Spanish-Town-hospital-patients-transferred-to-Linstead (Spanish Town Hospital patients transferred to Linstead)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120809/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Warning from Western Union – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead2.html (Western Union operators pushing to implement new security measures)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120812/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Food crisis and a disjointed Government – Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Incoherent Government – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Beyond Roger Clarke’s C.D. – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Seizing-the-moment-in-a-time-of-crisis_12216161 (Seizing the moment in a time of crisis – Observer editorial)
http://petertosh.com (Peter Tosh website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure3.html (O.M. for Peter Tosh? No way!)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Five-hundred-new-houses-for-Coral-Springs_12224190 (500 new houses for Coral Springs)
http://www.bracobeachresort.com (Braco Village Hotel & Spa website)
http://anniepaul.net/2012/08/01/do-you-remember-the-days-of-slavry/ and http://anniepaulose.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/the-days-of-slavry1.pdf (Do you remember the days of slav’ry? Annie Paul blog and 2009 article)
The swirl is the dust in my yard, whipped up by the trade winds that blow continually through these hot days. And I begin with something that is very disturbing, just like the wind, which rattles and bangs every window and door in the house.
Yesterday afternoon, the police killed a citizen in an alleged “shootout” in Jarret Lane, a narrow, impoverished street just off Mountain View Avenue in Kingston. Mountain View has been a perennially troubled area, with quite small pockets of communities – sometimes just one or two streets or lanes – loyal to either one of the two political parties. Traversing this road, heading east out of town, to Port Royal or the airport, one feels close to its problems. Wareika Hill – still mostly green and wild – leans over it. The citizen was 25-year-old Kavorn Schue – the same age as our son. In today’s Sunday Observer his grieving brother Shane describes hearing the shooting of Kavorn inside their home; and then overhearing the police concocting a story that would be told to their superiors – and to the public, on last night’s evening news. A police officer told us on television last night that as the police entered the house looking for wanted men, two men jumped up and started firing at them. One escaped and another was shot and killed. No policeman was injured or killed in the incident (this is quite normal; the police always seem to be better shots than the alleged gunmen). Angry residents blocked the road in protest; one woman wanted to know where their Member of Parliament was (he is a new, young politician, Andre Hylton). We were later told he was “overseas on government business.” The National Security Minister did visit the area, however. In the last couple of months, police killings seemed to have declined slightly; but I believe this impression was erroneous. According to Mr. Terrence Williams, who heads the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) that investigates police abuses, there were 65 cases resulting in deaths in the first quarter of 2012. How can we make our (still heavily armed) police force more accountable, less corrupt, more professional, less callous? Mr. Williams told the media last week that it is “getting there” with a number of prosecutions in the offing; and one must commend him and his team for their determination as they seek to conquer their massive workload.
Moving on, sadly. The repercussions (and recriminations) inevitably followed the recent Budget announcement, thick and fast, throughout the week, blowing interminably like the wind. The Opposition responded to the Finance Minister in Parliament. Opposition Spokesman Audley Shaw (who has been fairly pro-austerity, one would say) chided the Portia Simpson Miller administration for not being bold enough. He called the Budget a “betrayal,” - a word that resonated with some Jamaicans. Without actually saying “I told you so,” Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, who had warned the Jamaican public last year that they would be taking “bitter medicine,” described the Budget as “poisonous.” Radio talk shows reverberated with cries of “unfair” from members of the public; columnists picked over the budget like John Crows, looking for juicy pieces to seize and feed on.
The worst of this poisonous fare, which has made many Jamaican organizations and citizens choke and splutter, is probably a) the tax on printed material – including school books; and b) the tax on patties – the staple Jamaican fast food which is often called the “poor people’s food.” As some commentators noted, the cheap and cheerful patty is filling – and the only meal for the day for some poor Jamaicans. A number of articles and columns appeared on these topics. Increased taxes on tourism and on international telephone calls were also major areas of concern – but more for those specific sectors than for the Jamaican public. School books (an estimated 25% increase) and patties – that hurts. But the implementation of the book tax has been delayed, as the Book Industry Association of Jamaica puts pressure on the government to rethink. We shall see.
Now, next Tuesday, the Prime Minister herself will make her presentation in Parliament. The general mood is that she had better “come good” with something that will reassure and encourage the Jamaican people (and members of her administration who have taken a bit of a bashing since Budget Day). Today’s “Sunday Gleaner” even printed a photograph of Ms. Simpson Miller planting one of her frequent kisses on a child (everyone gets hugs and kisses from her), with the headline “A Kiss from Judas?” Heavy stuff.
There were other implications to Holness’ presentation – two huge issues that have been the flagship of the current administration’s agenda – that of the Caribbean Court of Justice, and the ongoing discussion about Jamaica becoming a republic. These two issues, which require the agreement of the Opposition, are now “dead in the water,” according to broadcaster Dionne Jackson-Miller. Mr. Holness made this quite clear. Talk show host and columnist Barbara Gloudon sighed: “there is no common ground,” questioning why politicians continue “ripping each other to shreds.” Why, indeed. And we will certainly hear more on this.
Back to our children… You may have missed it, but one of our faith-based leaders, Father Gregory Ramkissoon of the Mustard Seed Communities, made what seems to have been quite a hard-hitting and political speech at the Rotary Club last week. “Any increase in salaries or benefits to members of the Upper or Lower Houses of Parliament should be postponed for this fiscal year and the money given to the needs of the early-childhood institutions,” asserted the good father, to rousing applause. See the links below and support Mustard Seed Communities, who care for hundreds of children and adults with disabilities and HIV/AIDS.
Meanwhile, a series of accidents involving apparently crazed bus drivers, children – and tourists, sparked numerous stories. A bus crashed in Portmore, killing a high school student, after it was allegedly “chased” by a Transport Authority vehicle. There are so many versions from eye witnesses, friends of eye witnesses, and others that it is hard to know the truth; but the driver did have 85 outstanding traffic tickets and should not have been on the road at all. A couple of days later, a bus driver was stopped and found to have over 130 tickets, unsettled. The redoubtable head of the traffic police, Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis – a no-nonsense man if ever there was one – must have a permanent headache.
“Gleaner” reporter Ryon Jones (a new name?) wrote a good report on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day (May 31). Health Minister Fenton Ferguson assures us that work is far advanced to give effect to the Tobacco Control Act; but haven’t we been hearing this for quite a while now? Everything that was said this year was, I swear, also said on World No Tobacco Day 2011. The exact same thing.
In other news… The rather unpleasant-sounding Beet Armyworm (where is the army?) is wreaking havoc among our vegetable crops; two major Jamaica-based firms (LIME and Caribbean Cement) are making huge losses, with LIME seeking assistance from its parent company Cable & Wireless; and while the Cubans’ search for oil has come up empty, it was announced that offshore exploratory drilling will take place off the shore of beautiful St. Elizabeth, on Jamaica’s south coast. Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke sought a major distraction by providing details of the former administration’s granting of huge tax waivers to a Chinese firm that took over three state-owned sugar factories, and with a long, leisurely discussion of fake Blue Mountain Coffee being sold abroad (is this anything new?); and “No IMF deal likely before autumn,” the Gleaner reported. So much for the promise to “renegotiate” the IMF deal in the first one hundred days of this administration? (What is the current status of the IMF talks, anyway?) And, quietly and without any great fanfare, unions accepted a two-year public sector wage freeze. Some interesting developments, but no space to discuss further – at least, not this week.
Meanwhile, on another planet… The Governor General and wife got out their best “dan dans” and went off to London for the hyped-up Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. “It’s cougar week at Hedonism II!” reports the Gleaner’s social pages, with hungry older women arriving in scores on Jamaica’s shores looking for younger prey. The newspapers were also filled with huge photographs of anorexic models with legs like sticks parading up and down in mostly ridiculous outfits, as “Styleweek Jamaica” got under way, ending with something called “Fashion Block” in New Kingston, a week ago. How much income does the fashion industry in Jamaica generate? Is it an industry at all, or is it just for show? I would love someone to tell me. But wait… It’s not over yet… Caribbean Fashion Week runs from June 7-11, so I hope you are all ready for more “fierce,” “on-trend,” and “chic” offerings? Well, Pulse’s Romae Gordon tells us that “It is a great time to be in fashion in the region.” Let’s see know, exactly how? Who buys these “fashions”? In the real world, evicted tenants downtown were begging for extra time, as they had nowhere to live…
But hey, congratulations are in order…
- To that lovable uptown rude boy, the Mohican-haired deejay Sean Paul, who married his long-term sweetheart last week. Congratulations, the photos were really sweet!
- To the Poetry Society of Jamaica, still going strong after 23 years
- To young Gifton Wright, who finished tied in fourth place out of 278 spellers at the Howard Scripps National Spelling Bee Final in Washington, DC last week. Amazing!
- To the winners of the U.S. Embassy’s “50 Years of Democracy in Focus” photography competition: Trench Town High School, Penwood High School and Yallahs High School. See their wonderful photographs, and all the great entries from high schools across Jamaica, on the “U.S. Embassy Jamaica” Facebook page…
- To the Caribbean winners of the Commonwealth Writers Prize – both Jamaicans: Alecia McKenzie (Commonwealth Book Prize) and Diana McCaulay (Commonwealth Short Story Prize)
- And last but not least, to Wayne Reynolds, Twain Wright and Jubal “Jubby” Daley, who received the Canadian Medal of Bravery for saving the life of a tourist who was drowning in rough waters in Negril.
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120601/lead/lead43.html: We’re getting there – INDECOM says most of its cases solved
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120603/focus/focus2.html: Andrew bitter over Portia’s poison
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120530/lead/lead6.html: Shaw shines light on PM’s tax “betrayal”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120601/lead/lead44.html: Father Ramkissoon to government: Do more for our kids
http://www.mustardseed.com/site/PageServer?pagename=where_serve_jamaica: Mustard Seed Communities in Jamaica
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120531/news/news1.html: Driver with more than 130 tickets released
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120601/lead/lead31.html: “Smoke-free public spaces now!”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120602/ent/ent1.html: Directing Caribbean Fashion
http://blogs.jamaica-gleaner.com/fashion/?p=2800: Styleweek Jamaica Review
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120531/lead/lead2.html: Samuda defends big Complant waivers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120601/cleisure/cleisure1.html: Roger Clarke’s comedy act
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120601/lead/lead3.html: Good going, Gifton
Summer Sunday turns to Monday (petchary.wordpress.com)
Yes, summer is definitely here. Gusty winds, the sun burning grass, and the birds are frequent visitors to our bird bath. And a huge cloud of Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic from West Africa… The Petchary – my namesake, and a summer visitor – is snapping at the other birds on the telephone wire. And my weekly news review nearly got blown away with the wind and sun and dust.
LAST WEEK, AS ANTICIPATED, WAS LARGELY A MONEY WEEK. THE BUDGET, THE DETAILS OF WHICH FINANCE MINISTER PETER PHILLIPS BATTLED THROUGH LAST TUESDAY, DOMINATED THE NEWS. THE JAMAICAN PUBLIC HAD BARELY DIGESTED THE HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS BEFORE THE REACTIONS STARTED COMING IN, DRIP BY DRIP. THIS WEEK, ONE CAN EXPECT A FLOOD OF RECRIMINATIONS, COMMENTARY FROM FINANCIAL ANALYSTS, QUERIES AND COMPLAINTS. TODAY’S OBSERVER, FOR EXAMPLE, INCLUDES A FRONT-PAGE EDITORIAL ON WHAT IT SEES AS A SEVERE IMPACT ON THE ALREADY AILING TOURISM SECTOR, HEADLINED, “THE TOURISM GOOSE IS COOKED.” THE GOOSE THAT LAID THE GOLDEN EGG, THAT IS. I GUESS THE GOLDEN EGG HAS BEEN SCRAMBLED, TOO.
But let’s start with sports, for a change. And it’s all been a struggle, too. Yesterday, Panama beat the Jamaican “Reggae Boyz” (1-0) at the National Stadium in what was supposed to be a good preparation match for World Cup qualifiers (I’m talking football/soccer, of course). It was not so much the scoreline, but the lackluster effort of the Jamaican players that disappointed the fans, who uncharitably booed their performance, at the end of the game. And just as the Finance Minister exhausted himself during his budget presentation, our superstar sprinter Usain Bolt struggled hard to win a race with a slower-than-usual speed at the Golden Spike athletics meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic. He is very busy with all kinds of marketing and promotions and has a new music track (his husky voice repeats, “I need to go faster.”) Poor Mr. Bolt is under serious pressure. And now, for those who follow cricket, the West Indies team was “crushed” during their tour of England, losing the Test series. All pretty woeful. But one brushes the Sahara dust off oneself and tries again, eh? Better luck next time, I’m sure.
Back to the Budget (and don’t ask me why the font has changed – I know, it’s annoying but I can’t seem to fix it). I felt a certain sympathy for Minister Phillips, who did not sound as if he was enjoying himself as he presented his first Budget as Finance Minister. I could see him mentally mopping his brow. The presentation actually offered us some of the “bitter medicine” that former Prime Minister Andrew Holness had (rather unwisely for him) foretold during the election campaign. We, the long-suffering and over-taxed Jamaican public, did not enjoy listening to it, either. The two items that jumped out at me with alarm bells ringing furiously were the imposition of General Consumption Tax on books, and the heavy taxation of the tourism industry. Yes, we know that Minister Phillips has to plug the gap – which is now 19 billion Jamaican Dollars within the 612 billion. Eighty per cent of the budget will go to debt payments and public sector salaries, by the way.
What it boils down to, Dr. Phillips suggests (and I believe he is right) is that, although it would be lovely to go for the stimulus approach, as Eurozone leaders are now leaning towards, little Jamaica just can’t afford it. Dr. Phillips called a stimulus package a “mirage” that would not quench our thirst. Our debt burden (at 128 per cent of GDP) is one of the highest in the world, and is crippling us. Economist Wilberne Persaud called the debt crisis a “modern-day tragedy” last week. We have no choice but to “bang our bellies” and tighten our belts. Sacrifices will have to be made – but no one wants to make sacrifices. Many of us – in particular the hard-pressed “middle class,” or what is left of it – have already sacrificed so much. Ms. Maxine Walters eloquently pointed this out in a Letter to the Editor, bemoaning the plight of the “educated poor.” The less educated poor, of course, will continue to get poorer (despite the Prime Minister’s professed love for them) – and the rich will get richer (especially those who avoid paying their taxes).
Keith Collister, the Observer’s financial analyst, had two very useful articles last week. In one, he calls the tax package in the budget “very severe.” In the other, he points to several “signs of distress” in the local and regional tourism sector. The Observer (owned by tourism mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart) has not minced its words on the subject. I can’t help but agree. I thought tourism was our precious foreign exchange earner?
As for the tax on books, a Facebook correspondent reminded me this morning that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller herself vehemently opposed such an imposition, just two years ago in Parliament. Ms. Simpson Miller, then the Opposition Leader, called a proposed tax on books a “huge mistake.” This is recorded in Hansard, if you don’t believe me. But then, haven’t we come to expect such changes of heart? (I am being kind; others might call it hypocrisy). Anyway, we are choking down that bitter medicine now. And we still have the IMF to deal with. Five months after the triumphant General Election, things are starting to look a little wobbly, a little off-key.
My friend and a great columnist, Jean Lowrie-Chin, has as usual sought to put a positive spin on things today. What’s the point of hand-wringing? We just have to deal with it. Jean’s column last week was equally hard-hitting in that “gentle but firm” style of hers, which I greatly admire. She touched on another tricky topic: the unedifying and downright depressing saga of the lotto scammers. Last week, to our great shame, some local residents (their faces hidden from the camera) expressed support for the scammers (many of whom have been rounded up in recent weeks) and went so far as to say that cheating elderly, lonely and often helpless Americans out of their life-savings was “pay back” for slavery. Another shameful incident that the television stations highlighted last week: demonstrations by parents and students outside a primary school, where a teacher had been arrested on suspicion of sexually molesting a twelve-year-old student (who is now doubly traumatized by the school community’s response). Nothing good is going to come out of any of this – but I hope, at least, that we can move on and do better next time. Ignorance is a terrible thing.
Unhappy anniversaries: There were two anniversaries last week which were dealt with, if somewhat superficially, in the local media. It was as if the budget news was bad enough, and we couldn’t take the reminders of two painful episodes that took place in May, all in the same week. On May 22, 2009 seven girls who were wards of the State died in a fire at the Armadale child facility in St. Ann. The painful details still burn in our heads – the burnt mattresses, the scorched windows, the anxious relatives clustered at the gate in the night. As youth activist Jaevion Nelson noted in his excellent op-ed piece in the Gleaner last week, the Government’s initial response was appropriate, but in general the issue of child protection remains sorely neglected. Jamaicans for Justice made a number of recommendations to the Government; a Commission of Enquiry followed the fire and highlighted many severe deficiencies in the system – but I saw JFJ’s Susan Goffe on television recently asking for at least fire extinguishers to be placed in children’s homes. Are we serious?
We also remembered, with a sense of dread as well as deep sadness, what is now euphemistically called the “incursion” by the police and military into Tivoli Gardens on May 23, 2010. Tivoli was then the West Kingston stronghold of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the don who was called by residents “Prezi.” They were searching for the chubby-faced Coke, who was led away in handcuffs by Drug Enforcement Administration agents not long afterwards. Meanwhile, 73 residents of Tivoli Gardens (the official number), mostly young men, were dead. An agonizing television report last week recalled the grief of a mother whose son went missing during the attack; she discovered that he had been lying in the street, grievously wounded, for six hours. He died as she eventually got him to the hospital. Human rights activist Yvonne McCalla Sobers noted in the Gleaner last weekend that there has simply been no closure. The Public Defender’s report on the issue has not yet materialized. The Director of Public Prosecutions is not ready to rule on the shocking death of accountant Keith Clarke, whose house was attacked by the military in the middle of the night and who died in a hail of bullets. There will be no Commission of Enquiry, which Amnesty International has been calling for. Questions and more questions remain unanswered, piling on top of each other.
Meanwhile in New York, the long-drawn-out drama of Mr. Coke’s sentencing hearing created some dramatic headlines, with witnesses giving what appeared to be damning, and certainly detailed evidence. There was excellent reporting from the Gleaner’s Fern Whyte (also on Power 106 FM) and from CVM Television’s Andrew Cannon – who is on the ball, as usual. Congratulations to my former colleague, Fern! Meanwhile, Mr. Coke (and the rest of us wait until June 8 for the final episode to unfold in court.
Not the cheeriest of weeks, I suppose… And the Jamaica Observer continues its unrelenting anti-gay stance – it seems to be a mouthpiece for the fundamentalists, such as Reverend Peter Garth. Today they have wheeled out a “reformed” gay American, imported by Reverend Garth & Co. Columnist Betty Ann Blaine (the one who declared Jamaicans to be “Christians, not homophobes”) fights a strong and passionate rearguard action. Thank God (I have probably blasphemed here) for columnist Tamara Scott-Williams, who pointed out in the Sunday Observer that the so-called “Gay Manifesto” that Reverend Garth and others arm themselves with is in fact a satire.
But hey… There is a glimmer of light somewhere, isn’t there? The TeenAge section of the Jamaica Observer continues to keep its standards up, and I especially like the Teen History feature for Jamaica 50 (don’t get me started on that topic, though; I would still like to know what will actually be happening at our Independence celebrations this year, but cannot penetrate Mr. Robert Bryan’s slick marketing jargon. Don’t use the word “legacy” Mr. Bryan – oh, what was the legacy of the Cricket World Cup, again?) Can someone please tell me what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of?
I was delighted that the wonderful charity Food for the Poor provided a new home for the tragic little rural family in Stepney, St. Ann, who were living in a ruin. Congratulations, too, to the Geology Department of the University of the West Indies, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last week. Appropriately enough, the original Professor of Geology unveiled a huge boulder (what type of rock was not specified) on the campus grounds. I’ve always been fascinated by those people who go around with a small hammer, tapping on rock faces. I rather think it must be fun to be a scientist.
Talking of science and so on, may I commend the Caribbean Maritime Institute for their forward thinking. They are engaged in a project to turn seawater into drinking water,using clean energy. Big ups to the CMI, as well as to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the local Solar and Fire Protection Services Limited, who are also partnering with it on an excellent project that trains inner-city students to make LED lights. Marvelous!
Thanks also to the World Bank’s Giorgio Valantini. He believes in young people, and asserts that “an engaged, employed youth” with IT expertise can move Jamaica forward. Jamaica, do we believe in our youth? As I asked in an earlier post, are we listening to them?
Mr. Omar Robinson is not only charming and hospitable, but also a true professional who fully deserves the award of Hotelier of the Year from the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association. Congratulations! We met him quite a few years ago at a Sandals/Beaches resort in Negril. He is now General Manager of the beautiful Round Hill resort in Montego Bay. They are lucky to have him!
And the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Relay for Life celebrates ten years this year. The event will take place on June 9-10 (overnight, that is) at the Police Officers Club on Hope Road, Kingston. Check for enrollment details at http://www.jamaicacancersociety.org/relayforlife.htm. And you can also donate online.
I am proud of the efforts of the Jamaican diaspora to support Jamaicans at home. Last week, Children of Jamaica Outreach Inc (COJO), a U.S.-based organization headed by Gary Williams, presented scholarships to three wards of state who had no funds to pursue further education after leaving state homes. Grace Kennedy Group CEO Don Wehby had some important things to say about the plight of our children at the ceremony, too. Well done and thank you, COJO!
Last but not least… The past week or so has been a wonderful one for culture! You will read more from me on this, but I would like to congratulate rising poetry star Ann-Margaret Lim on the launch of her first volume, “The Festival of Wild Orchid” (available at all good Kingston bookstores, Bookophilia, Bookland etc). It was good also to have the Calabash International Literary Festival back under the theme Jubilation! 50 - a happy reunion in hot and humid Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth. I ventured to the Open Mic for the first time, and the audience were kind to me! On the same weekend were two other great events: Performances by the Dance Theater of Harlem organized by the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section (so appreciated by Jamaican “culture vultures” who stayed in town specially); and yesterday’s Festival of the Dancing Child, organized by the effervescent, dedicated dancer Kofi Walker and attended by hundreds of eager participants. Kofi, your dedication and love knows no bounds!
The arts uplift, when the news does not!
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=433 Usain Bolt runs a music track
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120526/sports/sports1.html ”I just never got going”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120525/lead/lead91.html Budget in brief
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120525/business/business8.html Jamaica’s debt crisis a modern-day tragedy
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Let-s-make-the-best-of-it: Jean Lowrie-Chin
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Equity-lacking-in-Jamaica_11525491: Letter from Maxine Walters
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120527/lead/lead6.html: Lotto scam: A Tale of Glamor, Death and a Free Ticket to a U.S. Jail
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120522/cleisure/cleisure5.html: Armadale Still Burning: Jaevion Nelson
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120520/letters/letters2.html: Tivoli Gardens – No Closure After Two Years: Yvonne McCalla Sobers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120523/lead/lead9.html: Amnesty International calls for Tivoli Incursion Probe
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120523/lead/lead1.html: Deadly “Dudus” tales
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120524/lead/lead1.html: ”Dudus” eyes June 8
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Gay-Manifesto-the-rantings-and-ravings-of-a-revolutionary_11543999: Tamara Scott-Williams column
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120523/lead/lead4.html: COJO presents scholarships to three wards of state
Sunday Simmer (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Stunner – Early Edition (petchary.wordpress.com)
Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
Last week, all was to be revealed in the overdue Budget, which was tabled in the Lower House on Thursday. But before we got to that, the week opened with a stunner.
Mr. David Smith is a Jamaican now serving a few years behind bars in the Turks & Caicos Islands, after being found guilty of cheating thousands of Jamaicans, Americans and others of their hard-earned cash (at least US$220 million) through his “unregistered financial scheme,” Olint, which offered fantastically high rates of interest rates. The already-rich and powerful, and others less so, initially benefited; but like all Ponzi schemes, inevitably, Olint collapsed. After a relatively short stint in the Caribbean, Mr. Smith will move for a considerably longer period to a prison in the United States, where he was indicted on 23 charges of wire fraud and money laundering last summer. Meanwhile, he has informed prosecutors that he donated money to both Jamaican political parties as well as some individuals. Confiscation orders have been issued in the Turks & Caicos; these are now regarded as “tainted gifts”. The ruling People’s National Party (US$1.3 million) has prevaricated somewhat, saying it has no record of such a payment, but will look into it. Former People’s National Party Prime Minister PJ Patterson (US$1 million) speedily denied receiving any such thing. The Jamaica Labour Party (US$5 million) conceded that it did receive money from Smith/Olint, but is not sure if it was that much. Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz (US$50,000) said yes, he did receive money but called it a “political contribution to the constituency.” A fellow party member, political candidate Sally Porteous (US$100,000) has also been candid. All this was prior to the 2007 general elections, by the way, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith were welcome guests at top-class cocktail parties across the island, and appeared in the newspapers almost every day in a highly positive light.
How times have changed. And we shall wait and see.
As for the budget itself, which increased by fourteen per cent, debt repayments took the lion’s share as expected. Finance Minister Peter Phillips, who returned from an important trip to Washington, DC recently, had already warned us to make “sacrifices.” Is this the “bitter medicine” of which former Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke just a few months ago? Sounds like it to me. Painfully, justice, education, national security and health all took cuts. What could be more important than these?
Another piece of news, this time from overseas stunned the Jamaican public last week: President Obama’s quiet declaration in an interview that his views on same-sex marriage have evolved to the point that he can now affirm his support for it. The reaction in Jamaica was largely negative, judging from comments on radio talk shows and letters to the Editor; although I think some quietly applauded his courage in breaking new ground. On radio, Ms. Gloudon had to fend off one or two bullying fundamentalists, one of whom accused her of being “sympathetic” to the gay rights cause because she had the absolute nerve to say that we should at least listen to others’ point of view on such matters. For those in religious straitjackets, I would suggest they consider phrases from the New Testament such as “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Or, perhaps, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.” I am more than ever convinced that if Jamaicans were to vote on issues (which of course they don’t) and had to choose between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they would choose the former, despite their declared love for “America’s first black President” as the local media call him. I like the way Canada-based columnist Keeble McFarlane describes President Obama’s declaration: “A declaration of simple humanity.” Or as a Jamaican mother would say, “‘Im is somebody pickney too!”
By the way, I wonder how the Queen’s representative and Governor General felt while reading out the 2012/13 Throne Speech in Parliament on Budget Day? He calmly announced that a priority of the Jamaican Government is to basically abolish him, and to establish Jamaica as a Republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. No more Queenie, whom our Prime Minister has already described as a “wonderful lady,” but… The other priority is to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s final Court of Appeal. One expects these two issues to be up there in flashing neon lights for the remainder of this year, and perhaps beyond, generating much political heat and noise. Will either of these developments, which the politicians appear quite excited about, impact the quality of life for Jamaicans in any way? I can’t answer that question. Let us see.
The third Friday of May – starting next week – will be National Children’s Day. Our Queen’s representative (for now), Governor General Sir Patrick Allen made this proclamation last week. The National Child Month Committee’s Dr. Pauline Mullings would like to see the day treated like Mother’s and Father’s Day. Any day for children is welcome – so balloons, sugar cakes and melting ice-cream treats are in order on May 18.
One hundred and sixty-seven years ago (on May 12, 1845) the first group of East Indian indentured laborers arrived at Old Harbour Bay in St. Catherine. Their descendants, whom you can often meet in rural and sugar-growing areas of the island, celebrated Indian Arrival Day in the pouring rain last Sunday at Chedwin Park. A great deal of roti was consumed and delegations from Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and United Kingdom mingled with the locals. Well done, Dr. Winston Tolan of the National Council for Indian Culture for keeping this important part of Jamaican heritage alive. As he noted, ”We are Jamaicans first and foremost.”
Concerns: The third murder trial of Milton “Tony” Welsh, a known People’s National Party activist, was rescheduled last Monday and postponed until November 19 – for another six months! – just because the courtroom where it was scheduled to be held was being used. His $3.5 million bail was extended. His previous two trials ended in a “hung” jury. Charges will be dismissed if this happens again. Welsh is charged with the murder of 21-year-old Damion Hussey following a PNP rally in Golden Spring in January 2006. Will Mr. Welsh or the family of Mr. Hussey ever see justice done? Is this justice?
I don’t understand the people who write newspaper headlines. Why are they so often off the mark? Do they actually read the article itself? A small but irritating example came up in the entertainment pages of Monday’s “Gleaner.” The article, about an American band called The Dubplates, was headlined “Converting California” to their sound system-type music. The article described the band as “California-based,” then proceeded to quote a band member, who spoke at length about the challenges of being a dancehall/reggae band in South Carolina, the city of Charleston, etc. Is this sheer carelessness on the part of the writer, the headline writer, or both? I don’t know why these things annoy me so much. But they just do.
A couple of days after Teachers Day, a female high school student attacked a guidance counselor at Yallahs High School in St. Thomas, because she claimed he “didn’t like her.” Teachers work so hard in difficult conditions, and the children who come through the school gates in the morning bring with them a multitude of unknown grievances, psychological hurt and sadness. I heard Ms. Barbara Gloudon talking to a representative of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Ms. Ena Barclay, a marvelous primary school teacher, on her “Hot Line” program this week. Ms. Barclay reminded us that these deprived and needy children need love – at home and in the society. Many of them are getting precious little of that – why is it in such short supply? Anyway, kudos to the JTA for organizing a professional development seminar – and for Read Across Jamaica Day, an annual event which brings much happiness and pleasure. And talking about teachers…
A huge pat on the back to Ms. Jean Porter, Principal of Denbigh High School, for her sterling work since 2008, when she took over from Ms. Joan Wint who had served there for 23 years. I remember visiting Denbigh High a few years ago, and being very impressed by Ms. Wint’s stern focus on academic achievement, and by the atmosphere of concentration at the school. Ms. Porter credits the school’s success (it is one of the top ten high schools in Jamaica based on Caribbean Examinations Council results) to team work.
Other bouquets to be handed out to…
Jamaica’s lanky female hurdlers, Ms. Melaine Walker and Ms. Brigitte Foster-Hylton on their gold medals; to Mr. Asafa Powell, Ms. Kaliese Spencer and Ms. Veronica Campbell-Brown for their Silver medals; and to Mr. Lerone Clarke and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce for their Bronze medals, at the high-profile Diamond League athletics meet on Friday. I hope I haven’t missed anyone out. Congratulations also to U.S. athletes Justin Gatlin and Alyson Felix. It is only 75 days until the London Olympics begin, and Jamaican athletes are flexing their muscles and feeling the pressure. I wrote about this in my blog earlier this week; they are doing their best, working hard. Let us support them, even if they “lose” some races (by “lose” I mean winning a Silver or Bronze medal).
I loved the Gleaner’s special supplement this week – Trailblazers in Medical Sciences. This included a special feature on the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, founded by a British doctor of the same name in 1954 to deal with a terrible outbreak of poliomyelitis. It now helps children with cerebral palsy, adults with spinal cord injuries, and others. Brave and unrelenting work.
May I express my simple support for Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count, who has energetically taken up the bat for the education and stimulation of our young children; and for Ms. Maia Chung, mother of an autistic son, who set up the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation four years ago to lobby for and support Jamaica’s autistic children. The Foundation is now struggling and Maia has had to curtail outreach activities. She needs help and financial support! I am in awe of these two women – both of them an “army of one.” I wish for them every success in the world.
Another Jamaican, Philip Liu, founded Angels of Love about two and a half years ago. He works with the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston, having adopted one of its wards. Kingstonians, next time you are at the Brick Oven buying cakes, at Cafe Blue indulging in your favorite cuppa, or at Little Tokyo for some sushi…remember to drop some change in their collection box. And they would welcome volunteers, too!
And Mr. Ricardo Williams, one unemployed youth who sought a solution in adversity. He has opened an Internet cafe in the troubled area of March Pen, Spanish Town. Ricardo graduated high school six years ago with one subject – Information Technology. He has one computer, the use of which he rents out for a small fee. Can someone donate some more computers? Read more about Ricardo’s efforts at the link below…
One online comment struck me this week: ”Jamaica can be a very “cold” place. If you are young, old or disabled in Jamaica you are in deep trouble. If you are young and also disabled, may the good Lord help you.”
Why bother: If I see one more full-page photo spread of politicians arriving at Parliament for the Throne Speech, dressed up to the nines, I will rip up the newspaper. The men were, according to the newspapers, “dapper,” “spiffy,” and “dashing.” The women were “stunning,” “stylish,” and and so on. The poor Mayor of Kingston, refusing to join the fashion parade, was severely criticized for wearing a perfectly normal outfit, rather than a designer ensemble. I am, quite frankly, much more concerned about the politicians’ work in Parliament – on behalf of the people – than I am in whether Senator so-and-so was wearing Dior, Escada or whatever. Please, no more!
I’m sorry to end on a sad note…. My condolences to the families of…
Senior Superintendent Dayton Henry, who headed the Clarendon Police Division. I met him once, and was struck by his open, candid disposition and his round-eyed, friendly face. SSP Henry died suddenly, and I know his colleagues are still in shock. Not only was he an efficient policeman, who helped to bring down crime levels in the parish – but he was also a kind-hearted man who supported many community projects.
…and of eleven-year-old Ricardo Dove, who was shot dead while sleeping in bed at his home in Bethel Town, Westmoreland. ”It would have been better if they had killed me,” said his father Robert, who was home at the time and found his son’s body soon after gunshots rang out. My heart goes out to you Mr. Dove, and to the family. Why?
And so the week comes to an end, as early summer starts to stoke up hot clouds in the sky. Hurricane season is a few weeks away…
Have a great week!
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120508/lead/lead1.html: Big Olint handouts
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Political-intentions-and-tainted-money_11433253: Column by Mark Wignal, Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100822/lead/lead2.html: Oh God! Oh no! Olint!
Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
Claim Says Jamaica Crook Funded Political Parties (abcnews.go.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120510/lead/lead7.html: Phillips urges Jamaicans to prepare to make sacrifices
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120512/news/news42.html: Indian Arrival Day observed at Chedwin Park
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120509/lead/lead4.html Bethel Town child murdered in his sleep
Angels of Love http://angelsofloveja.org/
Crayons Count http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount