We had rain! Yes, you know, that wet stuff that makes you wet. It was glorious in Kingston, splashing around for a bit. The cooler temperature is delightful. Our whole garden has woken up again.
The week so far has been fairly quiet. But here are a few things to ponder:
Time for “Man a Yaad”: Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw made an interesting contribution to the Budget Debate in Parliament yesterday. As he often does, he alternated between throwaway jibes and humor and heavy, somber pronouncements. In between, he put forward some alternatives, some solutions. This was refreshing. We didn’t really get any from the Finance Minister last week; his “no new taxes” presentation was predictably dull. But then, it’s easier for the Opposition to be more interesting and engaging, whichever one of the parties it is. One just wishes these budget speeches didn’t go on so darn long.
Gloom and doom: As the signing of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finally appears on the horizon – within striking distance now – it seems Jamaican consumers are none too cheerful. Although business confidence is reportedly up a little, 47 per cent of consumers in the latest Jamaica Chamber of Commerce quarterly survey are pessimistic about the economy. There has been a significant increase in gloom and doom compared to a year ago. IMF or no IMF.
“Bun and cheese politics”: This is how the Jamaica Observer’s editorial describes the current style of governance in Montego Bay. I would love to hear a really nice, inspiring story coming out of that city. Please. In particular, the leadership of the current Mayor Glendon Harris (People’s National Party) worries me. The former mayor, the Jamaica Labour Party‘s Charles Sinclair (who is a great deal more articulate than his successor) alleges that at Easter time the Parish Council over which Mayor Harris presides gave $20,000 to each council member to buy bun and cheese; and that it is also funding a Monday night public street dance. There was a bit of a shadow over the Council after the ridiculous and prolonged to-do last year over a Jamaican flag – minus the green – draped above a stage at an official function. Of course, the absent green is the Jamaica Labour Party’s color. That unpleasant little episode remains a little murky to this day, but fingers were pointed here and there…
The renaming of the ‘Ospital: Yes, the ‘Ealth Minister has, at last, spoken on the issue of the renaming of the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay. He and the Prime Minister are pouring gallons of oil on troubled waters, stirred up by the aforesaid Mayor Harris. Whose name, you may ask? Why, only that of the man who almost single-handedly brought the hospital into being to serve western Jamaica. Dr. Herbert Eldemire died three years ago. He was Minister of Health from 1962-72 under the Jamaica Labour Party and served as party chairman for a few years; but was never known as a “tribalist.” Cabinet approved the renaming of the hospital in August, 2011. The current administration has said it had intended to proceed with the official renaming soon. This does not seem to sit well with the Mayor, who last week decided to “consult” with Montegonians on the matter. The Prime Minister has intervened and spoken to Dr. Eldemire’s daughter Denise, but it seems it is too late. The family is clearly deeply offended and hurt by the Mayor’s attitude and does not want the renaming to happen; see their statement below. This seems to me petty, reeking of political tribalism. By all accounts, Dr. Herbert Eldemire served his country extremely well. If not for him, the hospital might well not exist.
But no, the forces of political partisanship have won again, and soured what might have been a positive and celebratory move. Then again, maybe it would be best not to name anywhere at all after politicians, anywhere on the island. Not even a lamp post.
FINSAC report: The creation of the Financial Sector Adjustment Company (FINSAC) during the financial crash of the 1990s shattered many lives. This is a known fact. Opposition Spokesman Audley Shaw caused quite a rumpus in Parliament this week when he insisted that the Government must find the J$10-15 million needed to complete and publish the report of the Commission of Enquiry into FINSAC. Of course, there is politics at work here; FINSAC was presided over by the now Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies, who was Finance Minister in 1997. But for heaven’s sake, just find the money please and let’s bring closure. By the way, FINSAC has a nice website in patriotic Jamaican colors: http://www.finsac.com. I am sure it does not refer to the suicides, family breakups and destitution it left in its wake.
…and the other one: Another painful and shameful episode in Jamaica’s recent history was, of course, the massacre of over seventy Jamaican citizens in Tivoli Gardens in May, 2010. Yes, we are approaching the third anniversary of this horror, and still the Public Defender‘s interim report is not forthcoming. I am beginning to feel sorry for Mr. Michael Peart, the House Speaker, who is now insisting he will receive it by month-end, ready or not.
A little warming: The Prime Minister actually smiled at a journalist yesterday. CVM Television’s Andrew Cannon managed to have a chat with her, while her security man peered over her shoulder. On the Azan matter (which still rankles) the Prime Minister, in a disarming manner, pointed out that there was an ongoing “investigation” (a favorite word) and suggested poor Mr. Azan may “per’aps” have made an error. So no budging in the position there. It also appears that a microphone did not come into contact with Mrs. Simpson Miller’s mouth (a bit of dramatic license there perhaps on the part of the Information Minister). The Prime Minister merely backed away from the over-enthusiastic, unknown reporter; no physical contact. Speaker of the House Michael Peart, in the same TV report, seemed to have also let the cat out of the bag by saying he was unaware of any shooting incident that may have made the PM’s security even more uptight than usual. Did he not get the memo?
…but not so lovable these days? As a result of this public relations fiasco, I find the Prime Minister’s demeanor has become cold and distant. It may be a defense mechanism, but it is really strange and unexpected. She has been making almost no effort to “woo” either the media or the public at large. Her Information Minister is becoming far too schoolmistressy – and so condescending it leaves you breathless. It is all about protecting the Prime Minister from the rest of us, it seems. That’s fine, but can the Prime Minister’s entourage of advisors, support team etc. – whatever they call themselves – just lighten up a little? We are not zombies rampaging across the land. We are ordinary people seeking information! Minister Falconer, try smiling sometimes? The media and the public are not your enemies.
But hey, some awesome things have already happened this week: Top of my list, the donation of a gorgeous, shining white bus by UNICEF to Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that supports teen mothers living with HIV. As the organization’s chair, I was happy to be able to thank UNICEF for this generosity and for their ongoing support and faith in the incredible Eve family – especially the indefatigable Joy Crawford and Pat Watson, who are so dedicated and hard-working it’s not true. The bus was loaded up with provisions today for the young ladies in Montego Bay – its inaugural trip out of town! SO exciting.
Then there is the current visit of the African American artist Kehinde Wiley, who creates breathtaking (and often huge) canvases of young urban males of various ethnicities in the striking poses of Western art traditions. I remember being stunned by a huge painting of LL Cool J sitting imperiously on a throne, against an ornate background, at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC some years ago. It’s a thrill to have Mr. Wiley here (his first visit to Jamaica) as part of his “World Stage” project. Can’t wait to see the results!
Speaking of art… Don’t forget the National Gallery will be having its monthly free Sunday opening on April 28th. It promises to be fun and stimulating, as usual.
And an intrepid group of Jamaicans has started the ball rolling on what I know will be an ongoing discussion on gender equity in Jamaica and what can be done to redress the balance. According to official figures, 34% of women are unemployed, compared to 10% for men (the actual figures are very likely higher). I have a feeling that the #leaninJA conversation will likely translate into action. Congratulations to Marcia Forbes et al for sharpening the focus!
Question: Is the drug trade on the rise again in Jamaica? See the reports below. I hope not, I really do.
My condolences to the families of the following Jamaicans who were killed recently. I want this to end…
Ann-Marie Campbell, 39, Black River, St. Elizabeth
Barrington Bennett, 61, Highfield, St. Catherine (British national) – last week.
Related articles (local blog posts in purple):
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/letters/letters1.html Richard Azan a law unto himself: Letter of the Day/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/cleisure/cleisure1.html Azan’s specter haunts the Budget: Is PM a coward? Gleaner editorial
http://constructedthoughts.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/time-come-portia-time-come/ Time come, Portia, time come: constructedthoughts.wordpress.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/lead/lead1.html ”White Lady” is back: cops say cocaine trade resurfacing in Jamaica: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/men-linked-to-international-drug-network-remanded Men linked to international drug network remanded: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/marijuana-seized-on-navy-island Marijuana seized on Navy Island: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/guardsman-suspends-contractors-in-wake-on-multimillion-dollar-cocaine-find Guardsman suspends contractors in wake of multimillion dollar cocaine find: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130423/lead/lead7.html PM to intervene in Cornwall Regional Hospital renaming issue: Gleaner
http://delanoseiv.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/statement-from-the-eldemire-family-regarding-the-renaming-of-the-cornwall-regional-hospital/ Statement from the Eldemire family regarding the renaming of the Cornwall Regional Hospital: delanoseiv.wordpress.com
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Rise-above-the-fray_14138564 Rise above the fray: Letter to the Editor from Lloyd B. Smith, MP/Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Bun-and-cheese-politics-in-MoBay_14138493 Bun and cheese politics in MoBay: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/letters/letters2.html No progress on murder halt: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130423/cleisure/cleisure4.html Focus on safety, not war: Letter to the Editor from Yvonne McCalla Sobers/Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Rev-Al-Miller-faces-court-in–Dudus–case Rev Al Miller faces court in “Dudus” case: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Peart-insists-Tivoli-Report-will-be-tabled-by-month-end Peart insists Tivoli report will be tabled by month-end: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/cleisure/cleisure4.html Jamaicans enjoy living on the edge: Robert Lalah column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=44343 Jamaica hoping for talks on PetroCaribe soon: Gleaner
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130422/news/news9.html Entrepreneur reports growth and success in Tel-Aviv: Jamaica Star
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130424/news/news4.html Visas, air service hindering Chinese tourists to Jamaica: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Reclaiming-water–A-solution-to-one-of-Jamaica-s-problems_14126106 Reclaiming water: A solution to one of Jamaica’s problems: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130423/lead/lead1.html Pastor says: Use more contraception – calls for use of “morning after” pill… Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/lead/lead2.html Politicians afraid to tell poor not to have kids – Reid: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130424/news/news2.html Teachers learn to use music in class: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/God-s-way-not-gay_14130077 God’s way not gay: Letter to the Editor/Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/-Mr-Commissioner–oh-where-art-thou–_14138406 ”Mr. Commissioner, oh where art thou?” Akay Hendricks op-ed/Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130424/lead/lead1.html ”Bang belly” economy: Shaw claims present state of affairs hostile to growth: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130424/business/business4.html Businesses more optimistic than consumers ahead of IMF agreement: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Pledge-FINSAC-assets-to-NHT–Shaw-suggests_14138289 Pledge FINSAC assets to NHT, Shaw suggests: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130424/lead/lead4.html Shaw rips Government to shreds over incomplete FINSAC report: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130422/news/news5.html Women entrepreneurs link with global network: Gleaner
http://chatychaty.com/2013/04/reggae-legend-toots-hibbert-makes-on-the-spot-donation-towards-purchase-of-vital-medical-equipment/ Reggae legend, Toots Hibbert makes on the spot donation towards purchase of vital medical equipment: chatychaty.com
Here’s the second half of the week: April 21, 2013 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Exclusion versus Empowerment (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