Two elephants are standing in Jamaica’s living room right now. They are growing so large that we have had to move out most of the furniture. The last item we will remove will be the cosy armchair with the nice soft cushions. It will be hard for Jamaica to let that one go – it’s just so comfortable.
The two elephants are called Economy and Crime.
But dears – forgive us, there have been so many distractions over the past few months…In roughly chronological order: Jamaica 50; the London Olympics and its aftermath, which occupied us for a couple of months; Hurricane Sandy; and in the past week, the U.S. elections! Our Jamaican political analysts waxed lyrical on election night. I must confess that we were also glued to our television set, heart in mouth, on the edge of our seat; and then basking in the euphoria of President Obama’s win. We had to stay up for his stirring victory speech. Well, the elections blanketed the Jamaican media, with every radio and television station worth its salt running a “U.S. election special.” I get the feeling that Jamaicans find the U.S. vote more exciting, absorbing and inspiring than their own elections – its entertainment value is higher as it is at a distance, I suppose. And although most commentators agreed that the result would have very little impact on Jamaica per se, they still devoted many hours on TV and radio and many column inches to discussing it. For several days.
I repeat: the two elephants are called Economy and Crime. The politicians (and the print media) are trying their best to avoid discussing these two highly intelligent – and very large – animals. Only our diligent broadcast media and our talk show hosts, antennae waving in the cool winter breeze, seem to have picked up on the first elephant. No one pointed to the second one, although there was much focus on the white-collar variety. On the white-collar front we seem to have had mixed results, and success in some quarters. And yet the list of names at the end of my weekly post shows no sign of growing shorter (the numbers only fell during the week of Hurricane Sandy). Of course, those aren’t white-collar. Those are the “working class.”
Have I missed something, or have the media released the murder statistics for, say, September or October? If not, why not? By my count, fifteen Jamaicans have been murdered in the past week, as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday – plus two brothers killed by the police. By tomorrow morning, there will likely be two or three more homicides (and I can now confirm that, as of Sunday lunchtime). You might think I am obsessed, but perhaps that’s because our local media is hardly talking about it. It seems to be a “given” – like our deteriorating economic outlook – just the norm. The print media studiously avoid reporting daily murders, unless it is something particularly egregious.
Meanwhile the police are seeking men with curious names like “Weed Seed,” “Duppy Film,” “Eggy” and “Wasp” (wasps bite harder than bees in Jamaica). Maybe they have “handed themselves in” to the police, by now. If not, they know what they might expect.
Before I go any further, a quick word – well, just a short rant – on the print media. I would like to suggest, seriously, that one of our daily national newspapers should simply become a lifestyle magazine – advertising a specific lifestyle: that of standing around at uptown cocktail parties with glasses in hand, or sitting in a restaurant, wearing the latest fashions, with one’s “BFF” (dresses exposing one shoulder seem to be de rigueur at the moment). There is an obsession with food and drink, and women in short skirts and high heels. All these people are grinning away happily, while the rest of the island struggles with floods and homeless people, sending their children to school without breakfast, and those little everyday injustices that don’t affect the grinning ones at all. They just want to get their pictures in the ever-expanding social pages. Oh, and the Saturday edition should just call itself “Hair and Nails,” or something similar.
Listen, I don’t want to sound churlish. Nothing wrong with having fun. And Jamaicans certainly know how to party! It’s the Fun Island!
Thank God for radio, which does try to tackle real issues seriously (to be fair though, the Gleaner has been putting some adrenalin-packed punches in their editorials lately…) A man who is fast becoming my favorite radio talk show host, Mr. Ronald Mason of Nationwide News Network, commented last week, “Why is there no sense of urgency?” Mr. Mason is gruff and blunt, with a touch of humor; he does not countenance the unofficial spokesmen/women for either party, who are always seeking a foothold in the talk shows. No propaganda for him. He reminds me of the late and much-revered Wilmot Perkins, whom we all miss dearly (but who could have been accused of bias at times). Mr. Mason used the word “autopilot” to describe the current state of our governance; and I have used this word myself in the past. “This country is in a financial crisis,” he insists, adding that “the people need to know” what is going on in the economy. Where is our growth plan? What is our job creation plan (no, not “JEEP”)? Where is our vision, our future?
And yet the newspapers’ Friday financial pages barely referred to the following facts that were revealed this week:
- Jamaica’s Net International Reserves have lost US$833 million this year and are now at their lowest level for ten years (US$1.1 billion), with thirteen weeks’ worth of U.S. Dollars remaining;
- Financial Secretary Wesley Hughes (the chief civil servant in that Ministry) is resigning – so far as I know, we do not know when, or why;
- The head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, a key government agency, is resigning – Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson was on secondment from a teaching post in the U.S., but still not great news;
- Jamaican dollar bonds performed the worst out of fifteen Central American and Caribbean nations in October, with interest rates rising to over eight per cent.
There has been precious little comment from our political leaders, too – apart from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose voice does not resonate strongly in the media at the moment. Broadcaster Cliff Hughes interviewed former Finance Minister Audley Shaw on the whole situation, and did not let him off the hook; the thing is, there has been foot-dragging and failure to step up to the plate in both administrations. The head of the JLP’s G2K young professionals, Floyd Green, suggested that “we are at a standstill” in our discussions with the International Monetary Fund. Is this really true? What is the true status of the IMF discussions, as of now? Or are we just waiting to hear something?
Only one Sunday newspaper column focused on Jamaica’s economic muddle; it is written by a Jamaican who does not live here, interestingly – a member of the so-called diaspora. Mr. David Mullings writes, “If we believe that Jamaica will be better off in a generation based on the current path, then we too are in denial.” The other Sunday opinion makers write about everything from (mostly) Obama to CARICOM to a trade agreement on rum – all of academic interest, if truth be told.
According to Bloomberg this week, a senior economist at JP Morgan asked the question: “How much longer can Jamaica muddle through this with virtually no growth?” Answers, please, Minister of Finance (they didn’t answer Bloomberg’s phone calls or emails, it is reported). With Belize and Grenada already there, will Jamaica be the next Caribbean country to default on its debt?
I am sorry. Too many questions. One major issue that the print media did a good job of reporting this week has been the terrifying, and seemingly intractable, issue of the lottery scam. Where will it end, one wonders. Alarming reports have emerged of the use of Jamaica’s humble postal service as a method of smuggling in the proceeds of the scam. The scale of all of this (which may be only the tip of the iceberg, who knows?) is frightening. Even more disturbing is the Jamaican government’s seeming inability to tackle this disgraceful state of affairs decisively. It has been said over and over that new legislation is urgently required to deal with the problem. It has not been forthcoming, although the government would like us to believe that they are taking it seriously. And how long has it been? Two years? Three years? The “lotto scam” has grown into a kind of monster – like the one in the sci-fi movie “Alien,” which feeds off humans and grows increasingly vicious and bloodthirsty. If you can bring yourself to read it, the Sunday Gleaner report below gives some idea of the scope of this nightmare that won’t go away.
The lotto scam was the focus of a recently published report by the very credible local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). Unfortunately, CaPRI has not yet posted any information on their website (http://capricaribbean.org) that I can refer you to.
And then there is credit card fraud.
With the usual huffing and puffing of hot air, the Upper House unanimously passed regulations governing casino gambling on Friday. One Senator made an enormous issue out of the word “gaming” as opposed to “gambling.” I suppressed a groan. There are all types of gambling/gaming going on all over Jamaica already. Pontificating won’t make any difference.
And let’s not forget… Thousands of Jamaicans – yes the poor ones out in the “bush” – are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. The media has not forgotten this, to give them their due. There are a few thousand still without power, as the Jamaica Public Service Company struggles to reach them on damaged roads. Some are still in shelters. Others are still suffering from really bad weather, which has persisted in the past few days in some parts of the island. Yesterday, almost the entire town of Port Maria was flooded after heavy showers; the north-east corner of the island is being battered by rain and wind as I write. It’s not over yet. Perhaps the Prime Minister could venture out at some point in the next few days to show a little sympathy and to promise succor and relief. Something could be arranged. And I am sure that a few of those famous hugs would do the trick.
Talking of St. Mary, I must hand out some major kudos to the Jamaica National Building Society for their outreach to this particular community in St. Mary, through a residents’ forum, over this weekend. St. Mary is reportedly the poorest parish in Jamaica – beautiful, and under-developed. Congratulations to Mr. Earl Jarrett and his dedicated team on their Disaster Recovery Program, with the theme “Leading with Action.” Just what we need.
“Big ups,” too, to the medical team of the California-based Integrative Clinics International, which visited the birthplace of Bob Marley (Nine Miles, St. Ann) to provide free health care to the residents of the small rural community. The volunteer doctors and nurses paid their own way to Jamaica. I am glad they had the support of Ziggy Marley’s Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment (URGE) Foundation and the Bob Marley Foundation (Ziggy is my favorite Marley, after Bob of course).
I have felt a surge of sympathy for the hard-working Mr. Errol Greene, Town Clerk at the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation. His job is not an easy one. His somewhat battered-looking visage and his air of patience and determination, are quite endearing. On a regular basis, he dons his hard hat and marches out into the downtown area, ready to do battle with strident illegal vendors, who don’t go lightly. I am sure he has security back-up; but his job must be one of the most stressful in the city. Nevertheless, he aways has a twinkle in his eye. Cheers, Mr. Greene, and keep up the good work!
There is a Japanese expression “ganbatte!” which means “Keep going/don’t give up!” I would like to say this to Mr. Justin Felice, the former anti-corruption man in the police force who now heads our Financial Investigation Division; Ms. Leesa Kow, president of the Jamaica Money Remitters Association; Superintendent Leon Clunis, head of the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force in the Jamaica Constabulary Force; Postmaster General Michael Gentles, and all those engaged in the fight against the scammers, who have caused untold suffering in Jamaica and the United States. Mr. Felice and the others are working so hard to combat this scourge; they need the support of political leaders. Once again, the Jamaica National Building Society has supported their efforts and held its second forum “to discuss strategies in support of Government and private sector initiatives to eradicate the lottery scam and address its impact on security, trade and foreign relations” this week. Well done, Mr. Jarrett et al.
And that brings us full circle to the issues of the economy and crime: how can we expect foreigners and others to invest in a country where a segment of the population has been working to swindle and rob overseas citizens of their savings (there have been some suicides, by the way)? And where so many Jamaicans are being slaughtered, week in, week out? Let’s get a grip. “Action” is a word JNBS use frequently in their slogans. We all want to see more action from our lawmakers. Get on with it, please, before it is too late.
P.S. Mystery of the week: I am completely puzzled by the Jamaica Public Service court case, and the perceived change in priorities of the Simpson Miller administration and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell with regard to the issue of JPS’ license, granted by an earlier People’s National Party administration. I think I must be rather stupid. Can anyone explain what is happening? I must pay more attention and try to work it out for myself, I think…
As usual, I recall the grieving faces of Jamaican men, women and children who have lost their loved ones under violent circumstances. Below is this week’s sad tally of Jamaican citizens who have been murdered this week. I have noticed that many of them are young men in their twenties; and that something is going very wrong in the parish of St. Catherine. And are curfews the answer?
Killed by the police
Mytona Stewart, 25, Central Village, St. Catherine
Lincoln Stewart, 23, Central Village, St. Catherine
Daniel Hayes, 18, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Rose Hall, St. James
Pansy Morgan, 62, Watermount, St. Catherine
Unidentified woman, 25, May Pen, Clarendon
Shemell Gillespie, Waltham Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Kingston Gardens, Kingston
Keneil Graham, 28, Bushy Park, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Portmore, St. Catherine
Leroy McLeish, 27, Sheffield, Westmoreland
“Hot Head,” Sheffield, Westmoreland
Floyd Brown, Sheffield, Westmoreland
Navado Whitmore, 27, Dias District, Hanover
Unidentified man, Keesing Avenue, Kingston
Trevor Wright, Washington Boulevard, Kingston
Randy Bogle, 23, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Richard Swaby, 24, Mandeville, Manchester
Sebastian Earl, 25, Watson Grove, St. Catherine
Marlon Blake, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Oneil Brown, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41022 (Police kill brothers in alleged shootout: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/murders-keep-st-catherine-police-busy (Murders keep St. Catherine police busy: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead1.html (Mail, money and murder: Postal service under pressure as scammers move in: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead3.html (Security auditors called in: large sums detected in unlikely mail: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-law-will-hit-scammers-_12968573 (New law will hit scammers: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40872 (Burnt Port Royal body was Tandy Lewis: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121108/lead/lead12.html (Slippery slope: Lotto scam undermines financial sector: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121109/lead/lead1.html (Scammer fears: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DPP-wants-more-power-to-fight-lottery-scam (DPP wants more power to fight lottery scam: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41028 (Security worries for remittance companies: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-08/jamaica-bond-yields-jump-to-nine-month-high-after-belize-default.html (Jamaica bond yields jump to nine-month high after Belize default: Bloomberg News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Denial-is-disastrous_12959710 (Denial is disastrous (David Mullings op-ed: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41026 (UTech security guards pointed out in ID parade: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41029 (Police crack credit, debit card scam in Caribbean Estate: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DNA-draft-Bill-expected-today_12955648 (DNA draft Bill expected today: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Port-Doubt_12959068 (Delay in removal of prison said in conflict with Panama Canal timeline: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-They-took-my-leg- (“They took my leg”: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/US-medical-team-helps-Nine-Miles_12966348 (U.S. medical team helps Nine Miles: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Nannyville-youth-donate-books-to-community-school (Nannyville youth donate books to community school: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9921-choir-members-take-cover-during-shootout-in-mandeville.html (Choir members take cover during shootout in Mandeville: On The Ground News Reports)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/southern-regional-health-authority-faces-possible-lawsuit (Southern Regional Health Authority faces possible lawsuit: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Senate-approves-casino-gaming-regulations (Senate approves casino gaming regulations: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/pioj-director-general-financial-secretary-to-demit-office-soon (PIOJ director general, financial secretary to demit office soon: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-105/32238 (Jamaica decisive on lotto scam: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/security-guards-in-utech-beating-pointed-out (Security guards in UTech beating pointed out: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/business/business7.html (Consumers paying for 17% of JPS losses, says Paulwell: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41070 (More rains for St. Mary as parish recovers from flood; Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-timeline-for–Sandy–relief-houses_12949270 (No timeline for Sandy relief houses: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t–Joining-JPS-in-court-case-intended-to-protect-consumers_12941404 (Government joining JPS in court case intended to protect consumers: Jamaica Observer)
2011 hasn’t got off to an impressive start, has it. There are floods (Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka), famine (Kenya, parts of India), and indeed pestilence (Haiti, a few African countries). There have also been large quantities of birds falling out of the sky, and dead fishes floating side by side on the surface of lakes and rivers. All very Biblical, and very discouraging. And no, the Petchary does not believe in “the end of days.”
Let’s look at the famine (food) part of it, to start with. We can move on to the floods, pestilence and showers of dead birds in another post, perhaps. Today, a president, who has ruled his country (Tunisia) for as long as our adult son has been on this earth, fled from the power he so tenaciously clung to, leaving behind burnt barricades, bleeding and masked protesters and streets filled with the acrid scent of anger and pain.
How did the Tunisia crisis start? Well, there is a food connection. An unemployed young man was selling vegetables without a permit, and set fire to himself in protest. The first demonstrators shouted the slogan, “Bread, water, Ben Ali out.”
Of course, the protests took a political turn. And, as so often is the case, the high price of food was closely linked to dissatisfaction – essentially, anger – with the government in charge. Reuters reports the chant of Tunis protesters, ”We don’t want bread or anything else, we just want him to leave…After that we will eat whatever we have to.”
And, naturally, the gloomy specter of unemployment and lack of opportunity – social, educational and economic – shuffles around in the background, in shabby doorways. The dark shadow taps the young, eager-faced students on the shoulder, reminding them, “I’m here for you. Whenever you’re ready, here I am.”
Now food riots are contagious. The price of food (and perhaps, oil) can sometimes have the same effect as tossing a can of gasoline on an already smoldering bonfire. There have been riots in Tunisia’s close neighbor, Algeria, and now down into Jordan. Last September, there were food riots in Mozambique, where huge price increases were sparked by catastrophic fires in the great wheat fields of Russia during a tremendous heatwave.
Many developing countries, including little Jamaica, are highly dependent on imported wheat. We may have to change, and start producing more cassava flour, yam flour, breadfruit flour. Why not? The Petchary watched a TV report this week about how Indian cuisine is suffering because of the high price of onions. Well, guess what… find a substitute. We will all have to adapt, and we’d better start now. In Jamaica, we can stop moaning about the price of salt fish, too. It’s an anachronism, a colonial hangover that is just too expensive. Find something else.
Yes, we use words like “catastrophic,” “crisis” and “chaos” with increasing frequency, don’t we. Crisis is really sadly over-worked, and we try to find other words, like… well, there’s no word like crisis. It sums it all up.
Meanwhile, in Jamaica, there is the scare of food poisoning – which may seem trivial compared to the riots, but is also sometimes rooted in poverty and deprivation. After the death of an Argentine tourist at a Christmas wedding celebration, apparently from saltpeter liberally used instead of salt, a rash of ackee poisoning has broken out. Warnings are going out (as if we didn’t know) that ackees must be fully and naturally opened before they are consumed. But people are desperate, picking them when they are not open and therefore poisonous, and selling them. And again, desperate thieves are busy stealing sweet peppers and other crops from the fields of the long-suffering, industrious farmers, and selling the food with the residue of more poison – freshly sprayed chemicals – still on them.
Food and want, going hand in hand.
The Maputo riots last September were a direct result of climate change. Fire caused by high temperatures is a destroyer of crops. Floods caused by an over-enthusiastic La Nina in Australia and Brazil (yes, both the same cause) also destroy crops. So do the numerous hurricanes and storms that afflict the planet daily. Let’s bear this in mind, too.
Adaptation is the name of the game. Which means: get used to change; roll with the punches; make changes in our lifestyle; leave the cultural hangups behind; become self-reliant; think outside the box; prepare for the worst, even if we don’t know what that is.
A U.S. professor who visited Jamaica last year, an Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow named Gerry Galloway, made a simple statement: ”The only thing we know for certain about climate change is that it is uncertain. The future is uncertain.”
Let’s get used to it, people.
- Sri Lanka floods hamper food distribution; 27 dead (ctv.ca)
- Revolution in Tunisia: photo gallery (boingboing.net)
- First Goes Tunisia, Next Goes… (businessinsider.com)
- Mozambique food riots: The true face of global warming
The rain grows in intensity. A storm is threatening near Mexico. The Petchary hopes it will start to wash away the uncomfortable sores, the throbbing wounds, the tender bruises of this country that won’t ever heal before they are cut and bruised and wounded all over again.
Even if the rivers should swell and the highways flood… Our island needs this cleansing, at this time.
And a pretty, white Lear jet rises above the thick banks of white cloud, away…
Meanwhile, back in South Africa, the world champions are going home with tear-stained faces, following their fierce opponents in the last finals. They looked so weary throughout, as if old history was on their shoulders.
Meanwhile, the energetic, scurrying Japanese side leapt and twisted and showed off their skills, as the Danes slowly faded. Two sublime free kick goals in quick succession (the first from the yellow-haired Keisuke Honda positively lasered into the back corner of the net; the second from Yasuhito Endo curled smoothly round the end of the wall) barely touched the fingertips of the Danish goalie. The Japanese seemed to become more invigorated as the game went on, while the Danes looked more labored. What a delight!
And can we not forget the gloriously happy fans? The images of insane, monumental headgear (a cooking pot, a kiwi bird, a Viking helmet, a wild wig) and elaborate face paint adorn our television sets every day. Some outfits seem to allude to fairly obscure cultural references, known only to themselves.
But life will be very dull without them, when the competition is over and they all go back to their humdrum lives around the planet…