The title of this blog post is influenced by the fact that I am have become locked into the Euro 2012 tournament for the past three days. I am just watching the passionate Croatians getting the better of the dogged Irish. It has been (and will remain) a complete distraction for me, as I am a hopelessly addicted football (soccer) fan. If I was to give a score for this past week, however, I would say that it might be something along the lines of Jamaican Politicians 3, Jamaican People 1, although the people’s goal was really an “own goal.” And in the case of our home-grown don Christopher “Dudus” Coke – well, the U.S. Government kept a clean sheet, 1-0.
Mr. Coke received a 23-year sentence in a New York court this week, for racketeering and assault. This prompted local journalists to rush down to the tired and dusty Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in West Kingston, where large bullet holes still pock-mark some of the buildings after the security forces’ May 2010 assault on the area. This is where, in the “good/bad old days,” Mr. Coke and his “Presidential Click” held sway. And yet, Mr. Coke’s criminal career, his flight, pursuit, capture, extradition and now incarceration will linger on in Jamaica, like the sickening smell of a dead cat in our garbage bin even after it had been removed. (Yes, our dogs killed a cat one night last week. They have a penchant for hunting. I am sorry, cat-lovers…) The residents’ responses to Mr. Coke’s sentence ranged from angry tears to shrugged shoulders.
Coincidentally, I think, Mr. Mattathias Schwartz of the New Yorker magazine produced another piece on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion” (this is the euphemism used by the Jamaican media for a military attack on Tivoli Gardens, when security forces pursued Mr. Coke and over seventy people were killed). See the link to Mr. Schwartz’s article below. His first article on the Tivoli Gardens attack, published in December 2011, “revealed” information that everyone in Kingston already knew – that a surveillance plane of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security circled over Kingston; embarrassingly, then National Security Minister Dwight Nelson flatly denied what we had all seen with our own eyes. The second Schwartz article alleges that, according to the U.S. Government, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) “fired mortars” at Tivoli Gardens; and the JDF conceded that indeed they did. “Bombs on Tivoli” shouted the Gleaner’s headline on Friday; and they got another confirmation from the JDF, who noted that the so-called “bombs” did not target people or buildings. Now, the U.S. Government plan to search for Mr. Coke’s assets, amounting to a possible US$1.5 million to be forfeited. It’s all about the Benjamins, as a hip hop artist once said…
The Budget Debate dragged on to its inevitable conclusion: some more tinkering with the taxes, resulting in the Budget, Mark Two. Remember, Politicians vs People and, as always, the Politicians won. The local media dutifully broadcast and reported on two lengthy speeches, firstly by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and then by Finance Minister Peter Phillips – redux. In the background, government Members of Parliament twiddled their writing implements, adjusted the collars of their fashionable outfits, browsed their blackberries, and even stuffed food in their mouths. They kept their right hands at the ready though, so that they could thump their desks in thunderous approval of every announcement or political point scored by the speakers. Journalists remained at their posts, putting all other news on hold, tweeting and reporting small chunks of the changes and announcements – all of which could have been neatly wrapped up in a half hour presentation by Dr. Phillips. But, the public and media endured a hesitant, labored (almost tired) presentation, punctuated frequently by witty remarks, muttered insults and loud guffaws from both sides of the house. The Prime Minister, whose speech took place the day before Dr. Phillips’ revisions, consisted of 25% accusing the former administration of creating Jamaica’s economic woes; 35% ranting about child abuse and how “disgraceful” and “shameful” it is; another 25% of interruptions, etc; and about 15% actual substance. As broadcaster Dionne Jackson-Miller complained in her blog, why are these speeches so long?
Some of the “softening” measures adopted in Budget Version Two were the lifting of General Consumption Tax on school books “approved by the Ministry of Education.” Having worked for eight years in the book business, I know full well that we are already approaching the dreaded “school book season,” when anxious parents descend on the bookstores with book lists in hand for the upcoming academic year starting September. Of course, I agree with Mr. Steadman Fuller of Kingston Bookshop, who said on radio last week that the idea of producing an approved book list out of the hundreds of titles that appear on school lists each year by the middle of this month is completely impossible. And is the Bible, which appears on almost every school list, an approved text book? By the way, tax remains on beef patties.
And as for the child abuse issue, as columnist and common-sense businessman James Moss-Solomon observed in the Sunday Observer today, “The poor of this country are no more intentionally depraved than the animals on television that must find ways to survive even as their natural habitat is shrinking.” It’s all a part of the general desperation that afflicts large proportions of the country’s population – including the Prime Minister’s own constituency: Majesty Gardens, for example, which was prominently featured in recent television reports. One could not find a less appropriate name for that place.
Meanwhile, in the Land of Bling it seems anything goes (see link below). Everywhere one looks there are models strutting and posing for Caribbean Fashion Week. Last week I asked where the actual economic value was in this “fashion industry.” How much is it worth – how many jobs in Jamaica does it create? I would love to know…
And last night, our very own sprint champion crashed his car again – just around daybreak in Kingston’s Half Way Tree – just a little fender bender, returning from a “popular party.” He is “at home sleeping” now, his publicist says. The inexorable build-up to the London Olympics seems to go on for ever; surely the athletes’ jewelry boxes must be full of diamonds by now?
But several bouquets are waiting to be handed out… Perhaps the Reggae Boyz would prefer something more macho, but congratulations to Theodore Whitmore and the Jamaican football team for their win in the first game of their qualifying campaign for the next World Cup. Pity you had to let in the Guatemalan goal in extra time, though. But 2-1 is, indeed, a respectable score.
Well now! Ms. Janet Silvera of the Gleaner, always the epitome of Jamaican warmth and hospitality, is the first Jamaican to win the Marcia Vickery-Wallace Memorial Award for excellence in travel tourism.
Talking of Montego Bay (Ms. Silvera’s neck of the woods) I was pleased to learn that its Free Zone is set for a a 50,000 square foot expansion - “bursting at the seams” as my favorite Government Minister Phillip Paulwell put it – and that LIME is to give up the telecoms monopoly in the Zone. LIME Chairman Chris Dehring noted, “This partnership with the Government for the development of the ICT and telecoms services signals our total embrace of competition in the sector.” That is good; and I hope for the sake of competition in Jamaica on the whole that LIME does not suffer further great losses as it competes with Digicel. Excellent work Minister Paulwell too, on moving forward with net billing and awarding licenses to those who wish to sell their excess electricity back to the grid. Woot woot!
A pat on the back for another Minister – Justice Minister Mark Golding – for taking a step in the right direction with the formation of the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – a new acronym to remember) on Tuesday. This single anti-corruption body makes a lot of sense to me. Let’s hope the whole process does not take too long; a committee is to advise on this matter by the end of the month which is a good timeframe. After that, it will go to Cabinet. This is something that the Contractor General had recommended to the Government and Opposition more than two years ago.
I am also impressed by Jamaica’s first “all-green” residence, somewhere in St. Elizabeth I believe. It is quite a large house, and completely “off the grid” – swimming pool and all.
Another positive… The Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) that investigates police abuses appears to be gaining confidence, since the Supreme Court ruling in its favor.It has taken over the investigation into one of the more disturbing incidents (well, they are all disturbing) – the shooting death of sixteen-year-old Vanessa Kirkland in a car on March 20. Three policemen implicated in the shooting are to face identification parades next week. Meanwhile, the tireless and determined head of Jamaicans for Justice Dr. Carolyn Gomes joined the residents of Jarrett Lane in a peaceful demonstration on Friday evening in protest at the shooting death of Police Youth Club member Kavorn Schue a week ago. Head of the police Community Safety Branch Senior Superintendent James Forbes, a man whose sincerity I do not question, has a very hard job now as he seeks to mend fences in the community.
It’s tough being a talk show host. Ms. Barbara Gloudon patiently endured an onslaught of calls from irate rum-drinkers on Thursday. They were furious about the sudden increase in the price of white rum – which, like rice and peas, chicken and beef patties, is a Jamaican staple. Ms. Gloudon defended herself valiantly – the callers seemed to expect her to explain the many and various prices of large and small bottles. Let’s hope that things settle down and that “unscrupulous persons” (to use Government jargon) are not pricing their goods over the top (and often not handing over the Government tax – this does happen). Yes, you know who you are…
Time is getting on and there is more to talk about of course. Last but not least, however, may I send appreciation and thanks to Miss Jamaica Universe 2012, Ms. Chantal Zaky, who will be supporting the fund-raising efforts of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL). Ms. Zaky will hold a press conference tomorrow (Monday June 11) at JASL offices on Upper Musgrave Avenue, Kingston at 12:00 noon. Please come along and support. More on this anon, but suffice it to say, for now, that JASL are quietly doing incredible work with those Jamaicans who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and who are routinely marginalized by society. They need much more funds to be able to continue this heroic work. PLEASE support them in any way you can; financial donations will be most gratefully received. Visit their website at http://www.jasforlife.org/html/.
- Euro 2012: Why Can’t America Get Behind the World’s Most Popular Sport? (bleacherreport.com)
- It’s OK to like football and soccer. Really. (independentmail.com)
- Euro 2012: Embrace the Bar Life and Enjoy Games with Fellow Fans (bleacherreport.com)
- As Jamaican Drug Lord is Sentenced, U.S. Still Silent on Massacre (newyorker.com)
- http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz: A Massacre in Jamaica (mattatiasschwartz.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120610/lead/lead1.html: Dudus dollars wanted (Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/lead/lead1.html: Bombs on Tivoli (Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/memo-to-jamaican-politicians-long-speeches-bad-idea/: Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Tax-package-softened_11634098: Tax package softened (Jamaica Observer)
- http://www.kingstonstyle.com/2012/06/lisa-hyper-never-the-less-at-cfw-2012/: Lisa Hyper at Caribbean Fashion Week
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Population–popularity–and-politics_11649986: James Moss-Solomon column
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120610/news/news4.html: Janet Silvera receives major tourism award
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=466: Anger over Jarrett Lane police shooting lingers
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120605/lead/lead23.html: Deeply wounded (Jamaica Gleaner)
- The British officer who changed policing in Jamaica (guardian.co.uk)
I am waiting for the daily thunderstorm, that has generally announced its arrival with much rumbling every lunchtime.
The week’s news has been a little stormy indeed in Jamaica – although some of the storms were certainly of the kind that you serve tea in. Like the weather, there has been a lot of ominous rumbling, and very little to refresh the soul at the end of it all.
The rumblings continue – especially in the Sunday newspapers and one or two letters and opinion columns – on issues related to sexual abuse and sexual health. Today’s front pages reflect this – the Sunday Observer trumpets “Perverts Stalk Schools,” while the Sunday Gleaner, not to be undone, shrieks “Abortion for Sale!” What concerns me somewhat is that both newspapers give such stories the sensational tabloid treatment. One should skip over the lurid graphics and headlines and try to get to the meat of the issues; but both reports are a little short on facts. One learns from the Sunday front pages that 1) reports of teachers – and maybe other school staff – sexually abusing high school students are on the increase; and that 2) some health workers are illegally selling an ulcer treatment drug as an abortion pill (abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, for some reason). A television station reported the second story earlier in the week, even visiting an establishment where this practice was allegedly taking place. What is to be done about these matters – or rather, what will be done? That remains to be seen.
And then, last Monday, a nasty little squall skipped over the waters of the warm Caribbean Sea. It was up at the illustrious University of the West Indies (where, I hear, there have been several violent incidents among students over the past year, which have not been reported by the local media). A group of students protested violently at being banned from sitting examinations because they had not paid their fees to the university where they had been attending classes. Note that it is now the end of the academic year, and they still owe money. So, the students descended on the hall where hundreds of students had just begun writing their examinations, pencils sharpened, trying to settle their nerves. The aggressors banged on desks, kicked over the desks of some of the students sitting examinations and shouted about how “unfair” it all was, forcing the invigilators to cancel the examinations. What’s more, the university has to re-set the examination papers and reschedule the tests. As is so often said in our island – “the good (those who actually paid their fees, or whose parents struggled and saved to pay them) had to suffer for the bad (those wanting something for nothing).” As Professor Carolyn Cooper notes in her weekly Sunday Gleaner column, the offending students (some of whom masked their faces) were suffering from a delusional and selfish sense of “entitlement.” They don’t pay their fees, and yet somehow feel that the world owes them an education.
According to another video posted on a local blog, this is all evidence of the class/race war on campus. One of the examinees regrettably referred to the protesters as “uneducated ghetto people,” prompting the video’s rant about – yes, race and class, which has no relevance to this particular issue, in my view. There were no doubt “ghetto people” who had struggled to pay the fees sitting those examinations on Monday – and the disrupters included several “brown” middle-class students, for sure. To me, the issue is education, and the funding of it: As Martin Henry comments in his excellent op-ed on the topic today (Sunday Gleaner) it is successive political administrations that are to blame, not the mean old university that is just trying to make ends meet. Oh yes, poor people must have access to education, all Jamaicans must, the politicians say; but hey, we, the government, are not going to fund it. The new Education Minister, as I pointed out in an earlier post, makes wonderful and fine-sounding speeches; but in recent weeks he has been telling struggling independent schools on the verge of closure and other despairing educators that there will be no additional funds for education in the much-delayed Budget, so they will have to make do with what they have got. So there. (In his Education Week message, Minister Thwaites says Jamaica has “achieved the Millennium Goals set for education.” Could he elaborate on what these are? Somehow I wasn’t aware of this).
A few bolts of lightning this week too, amid the storm clouds glowering over our educational landscape: A Dean of Discipline at a rural high school was stabbed twice and had his leg broken by a group of students who had been told to stay home for a few days because of their disruptive behavior. Five students have been charged with the attack on Mr. Gavin Myers, who, lying in his hospital bed, said he hoped for “redemption” for the students. One suspects that karma may be more likely to kick in. By the way, there were two other stabbings at high schools reported late in the week. It goes on. May I ask whether the JCF School Resource Officers program is still functioning, and has it made an impact? It seemed like a good idea when it was launched some ten years ago. And can each student/visitor be searched on entering school compounds? It sounds drastic, but what do you think, dear readers? “Bring back flogging,” commented one member of the public. But violence begets violence.
Concerns: Things are not looking so good on the crime front. Although major crimes have declined, murder has slightly increased in the first quarter of this year, compared to last year. The Minister of National Security, accompanied by a gaggle of police officers, is on television almost every night in his baseball cap, bravely tramping through the byways of various depressed communities, occasionally comforting a grieving woman, trying to understand the complexities of each little neighborhood where gunfire rings out. This week, gunmen fired on a group of domino players outside a little shop in a place called Rejoin, Hanover, killing a father, son and two others. The smallest parish in Jamaica has experienced a startling increase in homicides this year. There were other depressing little stories: a fruit vendor’s body was found in downtown Kingston, by the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A woman was found in the sewage pit at the elaborate home of her “baby-father.” And the residents of a rural community knew exactly where to find the body of a taxi driver and policeman’s son, trooping down to the deep, swirling river ironically called Sweet River – where bodies are often dumped, they said. And there was the usual television footage of women – mothers, babymothers, sisters, aunts – collapsing at the roadside, or sitting on their cramped verandahs, numb with grief. I don’t know what I am going to do, they say.
I was not impressed, either, by circular conversations in the print and broadcast media about the “impasse” between the Transport Minister and Contractor General over the former’s plan to apparently override the CG’s surveillance of three big investment projects. Comments made by the Opposition, including Senator Christopher Tufton on “All Angles” this week, suggest that the Jamaica Labour Party is also being “mealy-mouthed” on this issue. And can we hear a bit more from civil society on this? It reminds me of a former People’s National Party slogan: “Don’t Stop the Progress!” This one is going to rumble around in the background for some time yet, one feels. And once again, as Mr. Henry noted on the issue of education funding, the Government is attempting to ride two horses running in opposite directions: Yes, we must “strengthen” the office of the Contractor General and it is very important; but No, we are not going to let him stand in our way when it suits us. Meanwhile, the Jamaican people have made it pretty clear in all the vox pops - they trust Mr. Greg Christie more than the Honorable Minister and his comrades. Sorry.
When are we going to hear any details at all about the Finance Minister’s visit to Washington? Or is he still there with his “technical team”?
And why bother? Crime, corruption and the economy are all burning issues for the Jamaica public. Don’t we know that? Then why, oh why, are we still regaled with bickerings and pettiness from both the Lower and Upper Houses? This past week, the Senate erupted in one of those storms in a teacup I mentioned earlier. An Opposition Senator and spokesman for foreign affairs raised the issue of the appointment of diplomats when there is a change of administration. Hardly a burning issue. It is quite normal for both political parties to recall key diplomats when they come to power, so that their envoy will be more in tune with the government of the day’s priorities and policies. Jamaica has had some excellent representation, and some fairly mediocre, overseas. But Senator Tufton, the fact that the previous administration you were a part of kept on one Ambassador appointed by the previous regime is neither here nor there. One swallow does not a summer make. I would like to know, however, who will be Jamaica’s next Ambassador to the United States? Has the media enquired into this?
Why did the Jamaica 50 logo need to be re-designed (and at what cost)? And by the way, do we have any details of what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of? There have been many media announcements, but I for one am still not clear…
Congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings are also accorded this week, to the following:
Mr. Brandon Allwood and his young team of volunteers and supporters, who successfully staged a hot and noisy march and rally last Tuesday on behalf of “Help JA Children,” a movement to try and shake things up on the issue of child abuse. May is Child Month in Jamaica. I have posted several comments and blogged on this before, but yes – I was one of the few people over the age of thirty who participated. UNICEF was there; Susan Goffe and Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice were there; and a group of non-governmental organizations that work with women and children – the indomitable ladies of Eve for Life, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre among them. More projects are planned for the month – I will keep you up to date. Meanwhile, please visit the Help JA Children Facebook page, and you can find them on Twitter, too. An excellent turnout and good media coverage, too. Keep up the pressure!
For the second consecutive week, I wish to congratulate Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who on Tuesday was responsible for some amendments of the eleven-year-old Telecoms Act that will not only make a monopoly in the market much less possible, but will also mean a reduction in local and international telephone rates. Once again, a big clap on the back for Minister Paulwell – one of the few who is properly focused on his portfolio, not distracted by photo-ops or sideshows. The gentleman is working – and the Jamaican consumer will benefit!
I am also heartened to hear that by this September the topic of climate change should be on the primary school curriculum, as announced by our Minister for Climate Change (and other things) Robert Pickersgill. Meanwhile, I hope the Honorable Minister will address the “Disaster in Waiting” described by the Gleaner’s Erica Virtue on Tuesday, the possible re-ignition of a fire at the Riverton City dump – or is that the Local Government Minister’s purview? (And by the way, Minister Arscott, a smile would be nice occasionally…It goes a long way).
And a word of commendation for Corporal Karen Austin (I hope I spelt her name right) of the Santa Cruz Police. A series of TVJ reports this week focused on the plight of a woman with two children, who were found to be living in the most awful conditions. The police were inclined to take the children and put them into care, but the mother begged for them to stay with her. Kind-hearted citizens – thanks to them also – have since contributed food and clothing and it is hoped that a home will be provided (by Food for the Poor, perhaps?) It was Corporal Austin’s calm face and comforting demeanor that impressed me though. The footage of her carefully cleaning between one of the children’s toes was somehow so touching. Corporal Austin embodied real compassion – something that is so lacking in our society. Thank you, you made my week.
“Big ups” also to Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, Ethnie Miller-Simpson of Brandz Avenue and Ingrid Riley, CEO of Connectimass, who helped launch – and will lead – the Women’s Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean. 22 Caribbean dynamos participated in a forum supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Women’s Issues Initiative. These three Jamaican women are working on building the network, along with fellow entrepreneurs from St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad. I wish you all much luck!
I am really sorry I missed it, but the three-day “Kingston Pon Di River” arts festival was a delight and a big success, I hear. Congratulations to the organizers – Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell and Millicent Lynch. Wish I had made it for the drumming session, especially – and of course, Tomlin Ellis’ passionate poetry.
And to the Alpha Primary School, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. It began when Miss Jessie Ripoll (later Sister Mary Claver) opened the Alpha Cottage to accommodate a little orphan girl on May 1, 1880. Let’s remember our history, and support education in whatever way we can.
Condolences to the afore-mentioned Mr. Greg Christie, Contractor General, who buried his father Rupert last week; and especially, to the widow and family of Mr. Lloyd Brevett, who died on Thursday morning. Mr. Brevett was the upright bass player with the Skatalites, the revered and wonderful ska band – of whom there is now only one surviving member. Although he had been ill for some time, the painful part is that Mr. Brevett took a turn for the worse after his son Okeene was murdered in February, just after collecting an award on behalf of his father from the band’s former manager and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson. So sad that a man who helped bring that driving, jumping beat that brought so much happiness and sheer enjoyment to the Jamaican and world music scene passed under such sad circumstances.
P.S. A definition of “mealy-mouthed” (one of my father’s favorite expressions): “Hesitant to state facts or opinions simply and directly because of timidity or hypocrisy.”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/lead/lead2.html: Abortion For Sale
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/focus/focus1.html: Samfie Government – Broke Pockets and Broken Education (Martin Henry op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/cleisure/cleisure3.html#disqus_thread: Student Rights and Wrongs (Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-1/30471: Education Week Message from Minister Ronald Thwaites
Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed… (anniepaul.net)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead1.html: Call rates to drop
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead2.html: Jamaica’s Children March for Help
http://18.104.22.168/news/list/30468: Jamaica 50 to Provide Opportunity for Small Producers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120504/ent/ent3.html: Skatalites lose another member
Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
New Book: Something to write home about (repeatingislands.com)