The Bard’s Birthday: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today is St. George’s Day, a rather patriotic day in England. It’s also William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday; he’s getting quite old.  In Kingston, Jamaica, the city is finally coming back to life after the torpor of the Easter holiday.

Still simmering: Resentment over the bank withdrawal tax still simmers. The Jamaican Twittersphere got itself quite tied up in knots over it. Finance Minister Peter Phillips held a press briefing yesterday which was closely followed on the live stream. The Minister tried to explain his broader strategy to modernize the tax administration system; he is seeking overseas assistance to do so. He also tried to explain why he reportedly said there would be no new taxes in the upcoming budget, in January; he said he was referring to petroleum tax specifically and that headlines had been misleading. Those PAYE workers who receive their pay through the bank find the tax unfair. The kind of thing that bugs me, though, is stuff like this: The case against a firm owned  by a People’s National Party activist, which allegedly owes over J$100 millions in General Consumption Tax, is still dragging through the courts after six years.

We have suffered from so many bad taxes – what results have we seen from all the taxes we have paid over the past few decades? Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw did not offer much of an alternative in his Budget presentation, but did say the Simpson Miller administration needed to “cut the fat” by reducing the size of government, cutting back on large overseas delegations, etc.  President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica Chris Zacca tweeted that the tax is “ill-advised” in his opinion (and yes, traditional media has to post screenshots of tweets to keep up with social media, now). And today the Bankers’ Association of Jamaica expressed concern over the impact of the tax on the formal banking system. As well they might. The Jamaica Teachers’s Association is not happy, either. Anyone in favor…?

The “most vulnerable”: This is the Finance Minister’s and the International Monetary Fund’s favorite catch-phrase. They want to protect the “m.v”s at all costs. Who comes into this category now? To my mind, the Jamaican middle class is more vulnerable than ever!

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

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

The Minister’s “thing”: A curious conversation between CVM Television reporter Garfield Burford and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has left me wondering. Mr. Burford waylaid the PM outside Parliament to ask her to comment on the withdrawal tax. Mrs. Simpson Miller began, “Well, what I understand from the Minister’s thing today… (thing, Madam, PM?)” and ended up confusing herself and the viewer completely. She interrupted her non sequitur sentences to emphasize, “I think the Minister himself” will explain everything when he closes the debate. I don’t think she understands the tax at all; or, she was not possibly briefed; or, she disagrees and was hinting it would be pulled back? A puzzling interview, altogether.

Still smokin' … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill.

Still smokin’ … A friend took this photo of the Riverton dump fire this afternoon, from Jacks Hill. Quite distant, but very much there.

NEPA getting tough: Smoke still wafts across parts of Kingston from the Riverton City dump, five days after another fire started there. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has served an enforcement notice on the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), insisting that the operators of the dump strengthen security and that it provides full details of how the fire started. NEPA is threatening to withdraw the permit that it only just gave the NSWMA in March.

NEPA has also ordered Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited to stop the unauthorized clearing of land outside the highway in breach of its permit, which China Harbour Engineering Company is building. It seems they are over-zealous in their environmental destruction. No comment.

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Police in discussion with civilians during the 1999 gas riots. The violent riots motivated the formation of human rights group Jamaicans for Justice. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Kudos and commendations!

Fifteen years of remarkable work: Happy fifteenth birthday to Jamaicans for Justice, the human rights lobby group that was born in 1999 – at the foot of Jack’s Hill in Kingston, where a group gathered – during the April “gas riots” protesting then Finance Minister Omar Davies’ imposition of a tax on gasoline.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley. I am not sure if he is environment spokesman, am trying to find out.

Dr. Andrew Wheatley, the Opposition’s Spokesman on the Environment.

Opposition Spokesman on the Environment Dr. Andrew Wheatley, who has asked the question,“My position is that we need to decide, what is the greater priority: The health of the nation or cheaper energy?” in relation to the question of coal (why are we even considering coal? The World Bank is no longer funding any projects involving coal). Oh yes, China Harbour Engineering Company want to use a coal-fired plant to provide electricity for their planned port on the beautiful Goat Islands in Jamaica’s largest Protected Area. What a travesty!

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

Directors and members of American Friends of Jamaica, including former U.S. Ambassadors Brenda LaGrange Johnson and J. Gary Cooper, with residents at the Rose Town Community Library in Kingston.

American Friends of Jamaica - led by former U.S. Ambassadors to Jamaica – recently gave J$14 million-plus in grants to community-based organizations. Every year they raise funds for grassroots Jamaican organizations with little fanfare. Thank you so much!

The "Gleaner" office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Gleaner” office building on North Street in downtown Kingston.

The “Old Lady of North Street”, our venerable newspaper the Gleaner, which is celebrating its 180th anniversary this year. It is in fact the oldest company in Jamaica. I hope it will seek to maintain and uphold journalistic standards for many more decades to come.

Two unidentified men were killed since Sunday: One in Waterford/Portmore, St. Catherine and the other on Woodlawn Road in Mandeville, Manchester.  I have not been able to find their names, but I have no doubt they are mourned.

ON THE ROAD: My friend and fellow blogger Dennis Jones does not believe that Jamaican drivers are generally indisciplined. I have to disagree. Speeding remains a huge problem, and the holiday weekend’s occurrences underline this. Four people died and many others were injured in crashes over Easter – including a minibus carrying twenty people to a beach outing on the north coast. The bus was apparently trying to overtake a car, which was turning right. 

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

One of the many people injured in a bus crash in St. Mary is placed in a wheelchair. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

 

 

Earth Day Part 2: Join the Green Run on Sunday!

Happy birthday, Portland Bight Protected Area!

We love you, Portland Bight! From C-CAM's Facebook page...

We love you, Portland Bight! From C-CAM’s Facebook page…

 

Yes, the largest protected area in Jamaica – which includes the now-threatened Goat Islands – was declared a Protected Area on Earth Day, 1999 with much fanfare by then Environment Minister Easton Douglas. Here’s a report from Peter Espeut, who then headed the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation:

The following message was circulated on 11 June 1999 by Peter Espeut, Executive Director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, Jamaica.

On Friday, June 4, 1999 as a prelude to Jamaica’s Environmental Awareness Week, the Honourable Easton Douglas, Jamaica’s Minister of the Environment and Housing, formally announced the declaration of Portland Bight as Jamaica’s newest Protected Area. He had previously signed the Declaration Order on April 22 — Earth Day 1999.

Chairman of the ceremony was Franklin McDonald, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), the government’s environmental agency. The ceremony was jointly sponsored by the NRCA and C-CAM. It was held within the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) in the fishing community of Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine. The PBPA falls within two civil parishes — St. Catherine and Clarendon. Councillor Maureen Scott of the St. Catherine Parish Council welcomed the attendees to the parish.

Carla Gordon and Frances Blair of the NRCA explained the government’s Systems Plan for Parks and Protected Areas in Jamaica. Peter Espeut, Executive Director of

C-CAM, described the natural and human resources of the area, and outlined the management goals C-CAM would seek to achieve when it was delegated the management authority. He pointed out that about 50,000 persons lived within the boundaries of the PBPA, and that many industries were located there. He expressed his confidence that the co-management approach being pursued by C-CAM would lead to success in bringing sustainable development and sustainable prosperity to the area.

Minister Douglas then gave a stimulating address where he outlined the government’s record in protecting the environment, and committed the government to implementing the systems plan. He stated his confidence in C-CAM’s ability to manage the area, and promised that a location would be provided for the headquarters of the PBPA. He then signed copies of the Portland Bight Declaration Order in the official Jamaica Gazette, and presented copies to Councillor Maureen Scott representing the St. Catherine Parish Council, Councillor Winston Maragh representing the Clarendon Parish Council, St. Catherine Member of Parliament Jennifer Edwards, and C-CAM Chairman Tarn Peralto.

Following the ceremony was a boat tour of the northern reaches of the PBPA. The first stop was the beautiful Cockpit Salt Marsh on the Clarendon side of the Bight, where a fish (a mullet) conveniently jumped into the Minister’s boat. The tour then proceeded to Little Goat Island on the St. Catherine side, where the group had a look at the decommissioned US Naval Air Base (WWII vintage) and the tourism potential of the island. The party then returned to the mainland for refreshments.

Coming events

June 19 – Delegates from all the citizens’ associations in the St. Catherine and Clarendon parts of Portland Bight, meet to consider the Management Plan and regulations for the PBPA. Funded by the OAS-ISP.

June 29 – All Portland Bight fishers are invited to a Fisheries Management Symposium to discuss the Management Plan for the PBPA and the draft fisheries regulations drawn up by the Portland Bight Fisheries Management Council (PBFMC) for implementation within the PBPA. Funded from the Pew Fellowship to Peter Espeut, 1996 Pew Fellow.

Goat Islands and its surroundings are now seriously threatened by a planned shipping port, to be constructed by China Harbour Engineering Company. The current Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill has remained completely silent about the plans. If you search for “Portland Bight Protected Area” or “Goat Islands” on my blog you will find several articles with more information. Also DO look at savegoatislands.org which is regularly updated and very informative.

This year, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation is celebrating the PBPA’s fifteenth anniversary with its first “Green Run.” If you are in Jamaica, do join us! The run/walk will begin at 7:00 a.m. sharp on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at Vere Technical High School in Clarendon and will end at Pawsey Park, Lionel Town. Registration fee (J$1,000 includes a Green Run T shirt, refreshments and prizes). All proceeds will go to C-CAM’s work in the PBPA. For more information call C-CAM at 289-8253 or email: ccamfngo@gmail.com. You can also leave a note on C-CAM’s Facebook page, and look at their website: http://www.ccam.org.jm

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Earth Day Part 1: Why Caribbean Birds Matter

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Although with the ever-present climate change issues weighing us down, and here in Jamaica the threat to our beautiful Portland Bight Protected Area still looming over us, it’s hard to feel very “happy”… But we live in hope and must keep on working for our precious Planet!

Today (Earth Day) is the fifteenth anniversary of the declaration of the Portland Bight Protected Area by the Jamaican Government on Earth Day, 1999. It is also the launch day of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival. Read more on this below…

BirdsCaribbean’s logo depicts the Bananaquit, a colorful, friendly and easily-recognized songbird that is a common resident on most Caribbean islands.

BirdsCaribbean’s logo depicts the Bananaquit, a colorful, friendly and easily-recognized songbird that is a common resident on most Caribbean islands.

Birds Caribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) is a major regional supporter of the campaign to save Goat Islands in the PBPA from a major port development and coal-fired power plant, which the Government of Jamaica aims to have built by China Harbour Engineering Company. Birds Caribbean is a non-profit organization committed to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats in the insular Caribbean. More than 80,000 local people participate in its programs each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region. Some of its international partners and supporters include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Royal Society for the Protection of Caribbean Birds, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Wetlands International, and BirdLife International.

The Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF), an annual BirdsCaribbean event, is a celebration of the region’s unique bird life: of 770 bird species in the region, 148 are endemic and 105 of these are confined to single islands, including colorful parrots, hummingbirds, todies and warblers. It is celebrated for one month in the spring, from Earth Day (April 22nd) to International Biodiversity Day (May 22nd). Local conservation organizations will be celebrating through an array of events, including bird and nature walks, presentations, art exhibitions and competitions, radio quizzes, bird calling contests, beach clean-ups, tree plantings, and more. 

To find out more about BirdsCaribbean and the CEBF, look them up on Facebook and follow BirdsCaribbean on Twitter @BirdsCaribbean. Here is their press release on “Why Caribbean Birds Matter,” the theme for the CEBF.

There’s no question that birds have a special place in the hearts of Caribbean people. The intimate cultural connection between people and birds is reflected in the local names for birds that vary from island to island. They are celebrated in art and literature from the region as well, receiving praise from Bob Marley for “singin’ sweet songs,” and representing the Caribbean spirit in the poems of Derek Walcott. The true importance of Caribbean birds, however, goes far beyond their beauty and power to inspire.

Although often unknown or unnoticed, birds play many critical roles that enrich the ecosystems and economies of the Caribbean. They act as garbage men, gardeners, fish-finders and tourist attractions. The Caribbean as we know it couldn’t exist without them. Best of all, they do all this work for free!

Birds eat pests. A single Barn Swallow can eat 60 insects in an hour, up to 850 per day! Photo by Ron LeValley.

Birds eat pests. A single Barn Swallow can eat 60 insects in an hour, up to 850 per day! Photo by Ron LeValley.

1. Birds eat pests.

The early bird catches the worm, and many Caribbean birds eat insects of all kinds, like mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies and beetles. In the wild, insect-eating birds help ensure the proper balance between plants, insects and other animals. On farms, and in even in backyard gardens, they do much the same, controlling the population of pest insects for free, and reducing the need to use potentially harmful pesticides.

The coffee berry borer beetle, the world’s most serious coffee pest, is an excellent example of this. Research on Jamaican coffee farms has shown that migratory song birds, such as the American Redstart and Black-throated Blue Warbler, and resident birds, such as the Bananaquit and Jamaica Tody, feast on the berry borers during the critical period when the beetles are attempting to invade the maturing coffee berries. This research demonstrated that wild birds in the Caribbean increased the profits of coffee farmers by about 12 percent.

Birds also help control invasive species that are harmful to human health and ecosystems. Birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, and owls eat rats and mice in addition to smaller birds, mammals, insects and reptiles. In St. Martin, the American Kestrel hunts immature green iguanas, which are an invasive species.

2. Birds bring birdwatchers.

Birdwatchers love birds. They are visiting the Caribbean to see our rare and beautiful endemic birds and unique habitats. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has calculated that birding and other wildlife watching is worth $32 billion per year (U.S. dollars) in the United States alone. Birding tourism, a growing segment of the international tourism market, now makes the Caribbean an important area for sun, sand, sea – and bird-watching! Birding trails and hotspots are established on most Caribbean islands, attracting both casual cruise ship visitors and the more dedicated stop-over birders in significant numbers. Birding tourism generates jobs and revenues for national parks and preserves, and hotels, restaurants and other small businesses. Promoting birding tourism during the peak migratory periods in the fall and spring may even help boost tourism during months that are traditionally considered the low season for tourism.

3. Birds clean up.

One man’s trash can be a bird’s treasure. From carcasses to breadcrumbs, birds are the champions of removing dead animal and other organic remains. Vultures, egrets, herons, crows and several other species remove road-kill, farming and domestic refuse. This helps keep islands beautiful and also benefits public health by disposing of items that could cause pollution or even spread disease.

Birds spread seeds. Many birds like the White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, grassquits, parrots, bullfinches, and mockingbirds spread seeds by eating and digesting. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

Birds spread seeds. Many birds like the White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, grassquits, parrots, bullfinches, and mockingbirds spread seeds by eating and digesting. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

4. Birds spread seeds.

None of our tropical hardwood forests would exist in their current state without wild birds. This is because for many tropical forest shrubs and trees, birds are the most important seed dispersers. The Caribbean is rich with seed-swallowing and fruit-pulp feeding birds, such as pigeons, doves, parrots, warblers and grassquits that spread forest seeds. By doing so, they protect valuable watersheds; produce vital water catchments; support important hardwood timber industries; help control floods; and buffer the effects of global climate change. Dominica’s large parrots, with their powerful thick beaks and feet, enhance seed dispersal by opening large hard fruits, making their seeds more available to smaller seed-dispersing songbirds.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Photo by Sean Modi.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird. Photo by Sean Modi.

5. Birds pollinate flowers.

Without birds, the region would lose some of its most beautiful treasures. In the Caribbean, bats, insects and birds, including hummingbirds, Bananaquits and many warblers overwhelmingly dominate pollination. A collection of studies has documented that the shape, nectar characteristics, and colors of several Caribbean flowers have evolved in response to hummingbird pollination. Thus plant diversity can be limited by a lack of hummingbird pollinators on some islands. Pollination is a key environmental service provided by birds—without birds, numerous plants could not produce seeds and fruits.

6. Birds enrich soils.

Guano, or seabird poop, contains concentrated sources of nitrogen and phosphates and is a valuable source of fertilizer. Although manure from commercially-produced chickens is now prevalent, seabird guano once formed the basis of entire industries. In the 1900s, before inorganic fertilizers became common, extensive guano deposits on Caribbean islands were harvested as guano prices skyrocketed in the Europe and in North America. Today, birds continue to provide this service in many habitats by enriching forest soils and recycling important nutrients for plant growth.

7. Birds are experts at finding fish.

Birds have been helping fishermen find fish since long before the invention of sonar and electronic fish finders. Seabirds like the Magnificent Frigatebird, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy have millions of years of experience spotting fish as they fly high above the sea. They are quick to the scene when schools of small fish are forced to the surface by larger, more desirable species. In the Caribbean, savvy fishermen have been using seabirds to help spot fish for generations, and refer to them as “fish finders.” They even know what type of fish they are likely to find in a given area based on the birds that are present!

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need to get started on a rewarding life long hobby. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need to get started on a rewarding life long hobby. Photo by Lisa Sorenson.

8. Birds connect us to nature.

Birds are everywhere and are easy and fun to observe. In the Caribbean, where there are few native mammals, birds are often the most charismatic and familiar animals, making them the perfect ambassadors for appreciation of nature. A pair of binoculars and a field guide is enough to get anyone started on a rewarding lifelong hobby. A field trip to see birds can bring biology to life and inspire students to be our future scientists and conservationists.

Birds also have much to tell us about the world we live in. Our understanding of the natural world was and still is enriched through research on birds by numerous scientists. Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist and geologist who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection described in his book “The Origin of Species,” how his study of mockingbirds and finches in the Galapagos Islands contributed to his theory. In the Caribbean, bird research may bring new discoveries that help us better understand both the region and the world. Each island is, after all, a laboratory of sorts, running its own experiments in ecology and evolution.

9. Birds are our “canary in the coal mine.”

In the past, coal miners brought canaries and other small animals with them into mines because they would die when exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, giving the miners a chance to escape. Even today, birds often signal when there are dangerous threats to the environment and people.

In the mid-20th Century, populations of birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey and Bald Eagle declined. Scientists found that accumulations of the pesticide DDT made them produce thin, brittle eggshells that broke easily. This discovery warned of the dangers of DDT to the health of wildlife and humans. More recently, mercury has been found in the blood of forest birds such as Bicknell’s Thrush, even though the birds are living far from power plants, showing the far-reaching effects of human pollution.

Just the presence or absence of birds can tell us a lot. In some parts of the Caribbean, the Magnificent Frigatebird was known as the Hurricane Bird. Their arrival from far at sea was a sign of a coming storm. When there are fewer birds, due to human disturbance such as forest clearing it can mean a loss in biodiversity. This makes habitats less resilient to change and more prone to invasion of harmful species and agricultural pests.

10. Caribbean birds are UNIQUELY ours!

The Caribbean cannot claim many goods, products and services as unique to the Caribbean. Many things that we now celebrate have their roots in other cultures and are derived from influences outside the region. Caribbean birds are, however, a notable exception! Ranked among the top five areas of the planet to possess a unique (and threatened) bird community, the Caribbean boasts a diverse collection of bird species that have lived here for millons of year and are not found anywhere else! According to global experts, an astonishing 72% of the approximately 208 resident island bird species found on Caribbean islands are endemic—that is, found nowhere else on the plant. Sadly, threats and rates of extinction have been increasing, meriting international focus on the preservation of this unique natural heritage.

By Leo Douglas, Mark Yokoyama and Lisa Sorenson

This article was inspired by the Audubon magazine’s articles “Ten Reasons to be Thankful for Birds” and “Birds Matter Because They Do.”

 

Wednesday Words: April 2, 2014

There have been some interesting developments this week, already. With the end of the financial year and the Budget coming up, this month promises to be a challenging one. The new Parliamentary session will open tomorrow (April 3) with the usual parade of politicians all dressed up for the occasion.

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on during a press conference at INDECOM's head office in New Kingston yesterday. - (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on during a press conference at INDECOM’s head office in New Kingston yesterday. – (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

The INDECOM Effect: The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) gave an important press briefing yesterday, which raised a number of issues. One impressive figure to note: police killings were way down in the first quarter of the year (40) compared to 2013, when there were 76.

The death squads: INDECOM has been investigating allegations of “death squads” in the police force, and yesterday announced that “there is great reason to believe” that eight cases in which nine Jamaicans were killed in the parish of Clarendon “were, indeed, police-involved homicides.” One policeman has been charged for the murder of Adif Washington, who was shot in Milk River but not killed; masked gunmen stormed into the hospital ward where he was recovering and killed him in January 2013. The same policeman has been charged with three other murders, and three other Clarendon policemen have been charged with murder since January. Some fifty police officers have been charged with various crimes, but none have come up in court yet, although INDECOM chief Terrence Williams said INDECOM is “trying its best” to get them to court. He noted one case that has been awaiting trial for nearly two years already.

Masked men: Human rights activist Horace Levy commented on radio that the police cannot be continually in “defensive mode” when such revelations are made; they must examine themselves. The Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) response to INDECOM’s announcements was confused, to say the least: At first the JCF was “unaware.” Two subsequent releases noted that the JCF “strategically denied” and then “categorically denied” the reports. But then the police urged investigations to move ahead as quickly as possible. 

Glad to see though that the JCF referred a rather unpleasant incident at the Steer Town Academy, a high school in St. Ann, to INDECOM. A group of police officers entered the school compound; one, whose child is reportedly a student at the school, allegedly pushed the Principal. This is the kind of thing that has to stop!

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell.

The Minister insists: Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell insisted on television in January that he was ready to sign off on a license for Energy World International (EWI) to construct a 35 megawatt power plant. Concerns have been raised in various quarters, but the Minister is adamant. He will go ahead and sign the license, after the Office of Utilities Regulation cleared the way on March 26. You will recall the confidentiality clause in the due diligence report that the OUR said would not allow it to disclose any details. So transparency has been minimal. Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

So Minister Omar Davies has signed a “Framework Agreement with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a transshipment hub in the Portland Bight.” I presume the Jamaica Information Service meant the port. This is pretty dismal news. See the photo below, with the silent Minister of Environment and Climate Change leaning forward eagerly to see the agreement, whose contents will likely never be made public. This was wrapped up with an agreement to study the possible damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, which had already been announced. Again, zero transparency.

Portland Bight, in southern Jamaica, was designated a Wetland of International Importance on World Wetland Day, February 2, 2006. The Jamaican Government is now seriously considering a demand from Chinese investors to build a transshipment port in the area, which is protected by law and includes recently established fish sanctuaries.  (Photo: Gleaner)

Portland Bight, in southern Jamaica, was designated a Wetland of International Importance on World Wetland Day, February 2, 2006. The Jamaican Government is now seriously considering a demand from Chinese investors to build a transshipment port in the area, which is protected by law and includes recently established fish sanctuaries. (Photo: Gleaner)

“We treasure the preservation of the environment, as much as any other group, and we are concerned about the human beings and the plight of poverty, and the impact which that has on the environment,” said the Minister, repeating the Government’s fallacious mantra that poverty is the most damaging thing that can happen to the environment. Once again, no. The most damaging thing would be dredging the seabed, dynamiting an island and destroying mangrove forest to create a port made of concrete and a coal-fired power plant!

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (4th left), presents Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong (2nd left), after signing the document with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a transshipment hub in the Portland Bight and a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Sharing in the occasion are (from left): General Manager of CHEC, Mr. Zhongdong Tang; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; Minister with responsibility for Housing, Hon. Dr. Morais Guy, and Minister of Water, Land Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies (4th left), presents Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Jamaica, Mr. Xiaojun Dong (2nd left), after signing the document with China Engineering Company (CHEC) for the development of a transshipment hub in the Portland Bight and a feasibility study on the damming of the Bog Walk Gorge, at the Ministry in Kingston, on March 28. Sharing in the occasion are (from left): General Manager of CHEC, Mr. Zhongdong Tang; Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell; Minister with responsibility for Housing, Hon. Dr. Morais Guy, and Minister of Water, Land Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. (Photo: JIS)Ja needs waste disposal policy. Duh.

Meanwhile Jamaican workers employed by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) on the North-South Highway have been on strike for a week. I’m not clear whether their grievances have been addressed.

Where are those engineering jobs? A qualified Jamaican engineer told a radio program this evening that she has  made over 70 job applications since returning to Jamaica a year ago, but is still jobless. I understand there should be great demand for engineers when the logistics hub takes shape (but then, it’s not here yet, is it).  Is the STEM field really opening up in Jamaica at all (I asked this question in a recent blog)? STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Pity the poor farmers: There have been more cases of praedial larceny recently (the theft of valuable animals). Neither the police nor the Agriculture Ministry has ever been able to get a handle on this problem, or find any solution; there are very few prosecutions. Now farmers in the Plantain Garden River Agro-Park in St. Thomas are still struggling to pay off their loans, after their crops failed. Wake up, Minister Roger Clarke!

And we need to get overseas funding to repair our fire hydrants? Once again, the Japanese Government has come up with the funds (some J$13 million). A survey of over 13,000 hydrants across Jamaica of which over 4,000 are in need of repair and servicing.

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (second left), and Indian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Shri Pratap Singh (second right), hold the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that will see the Indian Government providing US$2.1 million for the installation of flood lights at Sabina Park. The signing took place at Sabina Park on April 1. Minister with responsibility for Sport, Hon. Natalie Neita Headley (right), and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson, witnessed the signing. (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (second left), and Indian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Shri Pratap Singh (second right), hold the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that will see the Indian Government providing US$2.1 million for the installation of flood lights at Sabina Park. The signing took place at Sabina Park on April 1. Minister with responsibility for Sport, Hon. Natalie Neita Headley (right), and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson, witnessed the signing. (Photo: JIS)

 

And another grant for lighting up cricket matches: I’m not a cricket expert but understand that our Kingston cricket ground, Sabina Park, really needs lights so that it can stage the popular 20/20 matches, which bring in more income. Now a passionate cricketing nation has come up with a grant of over US$2 million (wow) to provide lighting. Thank you, Indian Government!

Total irrelevance: Meanwhile the churches are ignoring all the burning issues in society, and getting stressed out about “daylight Sabbath” and other issues relating to pending legislation on a flexible working week. OK, then.

Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yasuo Takese hands over cheque to outgoing Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Laurie Williams, at the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development in Kingston, on March 27. Looking on are (from left): Chairman of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Mr. Jalil Dabdoub Jnr., and Acting Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Errol Mowatt. (Photo: JIS)

Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yasuo Takese hands over cheque to outgoing Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Laurie Williams, at the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development in Kingston, on March 27. Looking on are (from left): Chairman of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Mr. Jalil Dabdoub Jnr., and Acting Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Errol Mowatt. (Photo: JIS)

I have some nice Petchary Awards to hand out, as follows:

  • Dr. Henry Lowe, the distinguished and enterprising Jamaican scientist, who continues to develop and expand research into Jamaica’s natural healing plants. Dr. Lowe is also Executive Chairman of Environmental Health Foundation Group of Companies and operator of Kingston’s recently rebranded health and wellness center, Eden Gardens – which is now a totally “green” facility. Good for him, and may his work go from strength to strength. I do like his suggestion that the Government implement policies and programs to transform Kingston into a “green city.” But won’t hold my breath.
Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (centre), takes a closer look at a bottle of supplements on display inside the herbal and gift store at the Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, as Executive Chairman, Dr. Henry Lowe (right), and his wife Janet, introduce her to more of the shop’s offerings. Occasion was the launch of the newly redeveloped and rebranded facility on March 25, at its Lady Musgrave Road location, in Kingston. (Photo: JIS)

Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller (centre), takes a closer look at a bottle of supplements on display inside the herbal and gift store at the Eden Gardens Wellness Resort and Spa, as Executive Chairman, Dr. Henry Lowe (right), and his wife Janet, introduce her to more of the shop’s offerings. Occasion was the launch of the newly redeveloped and rebranded facility on March 25, at its Lady Musgrave Road location, in Kingston. (Photo: JIS)

  • 23-year-old Ainsworth (Ainzy) Morris, who has been nominated in the Journalism Category in the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards, organized by the Youth and Culture Ministry. Good luck, Ainzy! And good luck to all the nominees in various categories!

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Leo studies a skin of a Vincentian parrot at the American Museum of Natural History. This species is threatened with endangerment, in part due to strong pressure from wildlife poachers. (Photo: NCEP blog)

Leo studies a skin of a Vincentian parrot at the American Museum of Natural History. This species is threatened with endangerment, in part due to strong pressure from wildlife poachers. (Photo: NCEP blog)

  • Dr. Leo Douglas, Jamaican Fulbright Scholar, who took over recently as President of BirdsCaribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation & Study of Caribbean Birds). Leo is a research scholar in the Department of Geography/Geology and an honorary research fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) at the University of the West Indies. The Network of Conservation Educators & Practitioners recently announced him as its March 2014 Professor of the Month.
The winning Kingston College team celebrates after Schools Challenge Quiz on television. In the background are Campion College team members, whom they beat by a very narrow margin. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The winning Kingston College team celebrates after Schools Challenge Quiz on television. In the background are Campion College team members, whom they beat by a very narrow margin. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  • The winners of Schools’ Challenge Quiz, a long-running television quiz show, Kingston College. They squeezed out a narrow win against Campion College, another Kingston high school. This year Television Jamaica seems to have hyped up the finals excessively, with a “pre-show,” etc. But I guess they were aiming for a high viewership.

Armed men fired at a one-bedroom house in rural Lyssons, St. Thomas, hitting a seven-year-old boy, who is in serious condition in hospital. What makes me especially sad about this story is that his distraught mother ran out onto the main road with her son in her arms, but for some time no one stopped to help her take him to hospital. As she started running, eventually someone stopped for her. My condolences to the families of the following murder victims:

Robert Mendez, 41, Maxfield Avenue/Half Way Tree, Kingston 10

Kenneth Grant, 27, Priory, St. Ann

Anthony McCarthy, 34, Aboukir, St. Ann

On the road: The National Road Safety Council reports that 79 people have been killed on our roads since the start of the year. This number seems very high.

Payless Motors on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston was closed for business yesterday following the murder of its manager, Robert Mendez. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Payless Motors on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston was closed for business yesterday following the murder of its manager, Robert Mendez. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

 

Jahmauny Robinson, aged seven, was seriously injured by gunmen in Lyssons, St. Thomas. His mother Nordia Johnson ran down the main road with him in her arms. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

Jahmauny Robinson, aged seven, was seriously injured by gunmen in Lyssons, St. Thomas. His mother Nordia Johnson ran down the main road with him in her arms. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

 

Are You Ready for Earth Hour?

Tomorrow – Saturday, March 29, 2014 – lights will go out across the globe from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., local time. It’s just over 17 hours away in New Zealand.

Earth Hour 2014.

Earth Hour 2014.

Earth Hour is about much more than “lights out.” It is a global movement that aims to create an inter-connected global community that will create opportunities to create a sustainable world (and face the challenges, too!) This year Spiderman has just zoomed in as Special Ambassador for Earth Hour.

How did Earth Hour get started? It started with one city – the beautiful city of Sydney. Then Communications Director with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia Andy Ridley convened a think tank in 2004 to discuss one simple action that would turn the spotlight on climate change. On March 31, 2007, over two million households and 2,000 businesses in Sydney turned their lights out for the inaugural Earth Hour. Since then, Earth Hour has steadily gathered momentum. It has garnered the backing of tens of thousands of businesses, including Google, Blackberry, HSBC, IKEA, Nickelodeon, PwC and many other multinationals. Earth Hour has also attracted support from governments at all levels and high profile global ambassadors including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. If you look at the Earth Hour website you will see how many countries are involved this year (roughly 150!). Earth Hour Global is now headquartered in Singapore. The movement also serves as a platform for a number of climate change-related projects globally, some of them crowd-funded.

Check in with F1rst during Earth Hour in the Caribbean...

Check in with F1rst during Earth Hour in the Caribbean…

Several Caribbean countries are getting involved in Earth Hour. And the plan is to make this a regional, coordinated effort in coming years. Under the theme “Earth Hour Blue,” Caribbean people, organizations and businesses across the region will be raising awareness of our changing climate. We are small islands, but we can do something to keep the balance. The focus will be on living sustainably, acting responsibly and eating locally.

In Jamaica there will be a free acoustic concert at the Ranny Williams Centre in Kingston from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m., featuring Rootz Underground and many other local performers. A number of local businesses, including telecoms firm Columbus Communications (Flow) have come on board. “Our partnership for the Earth Hour concert enables us to demonstrate our commitment to action on climate change via initiatives to minimize our negative impact on the environment,” says Flow’s Corporate Communications Director Gail Abrahams.

Stephen Newland with teachers at the Little London Primary School in Westmoreland.

Stephen Newland with teachers at the Little London Primary School in Westmoreland.

A word on Rootz Underground: Earth Hour Caribbean movement has selected the band’s frontman Stephen Newland as “one of the Caribbean’s Earth Superheroes.” Earth Caribbean notes on its Facebook page:  “As lead singer of the popular reggae band Rootz Underground Stephen and his band mates have always made an effort to promote an interest in agriculture amongst the younger generation through their music. In October 2012 he launched the Lasco Releaf Environmental Awareness Program (R.E.A.P.) which is a recycling, conservation and tree planting initiative in primary schools. R.E.A.P aims to get primary-level school children more actively involved in the environment around them. One practical way to combat climate change is to plant more trees in order to take excess carbon out of the atmosphere. Younger trees absorb carbon dioxide quickly while they are growing. Tree planting initiatives are therefore always welcomed in the fight against climate change. For his efforts to make young people more aware of their environment and using tree planting as a preventative measure against Climate Change we salute Stephen Newland, our Caribbean Earth Superhero!”  

Earth Hour Acoustic Concert in Kingston, Jamaica.

Earth Hour Acoustic Concert in Kingston, Jamaica.

What can we do on an individual basis? Before, during and after Earth Hour 2014, let’s find out more about what we can do for our blue planet. Join an environmental action organization in your neighborhood (or start one). Support causes that can help our environment live and breathe – after all, we are the environment! Get some “green” practices going at home, in your workplace and in your community.

Use Your Power to…

raise consciousness

connect with your customers

find new partnerships

support each other

and simply celebrate our beautiful, blue Earth!

You Have the Power: At the very least, turn your lights out for an hour tomorrow night. It’s a time for reflection.

For more information on Earth Hour 2014, go to: www.earthhour.org., “Like” Earth Hour and Earth Hour Caribbean on Facebook and follow on Twitter @earthhour and @EarthHourCARIB.

From Blue to Green…

A gentle reminder to join the inaugural Portland Bight Green Run on Sunday, April 27. It starts at 7:00 a.m. sharp at Vere Technical High School in Clarendon and ends in Pawsey Park, Lionel Town. The run is in support of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation’s (C-CAM) work in the Portland Bight Protected Area – which, despite the threat of a port to be built in the Goat Islands area, is celebrating 15 years as Jamaica’s largest Protected Area. To register and obtain more information, call: 289-8253 or email: ccamfngo@gmail.com. Also you can find C-CAM on Facebook!

Do join and support the inaugural "Green Run" in aid of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation's great work in the Portland Bight Protected Area.

Do join and support the inaugural “Green Run” in aid of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation’s great work in the Portland Bight Protected Area.

 

 

 

What a Week! Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The week started dramatically. In just five minutes and one or two sentences, Resident Magistrate (RM) Judith Pusey upheld a no-case submission by the defense, dismissing a corruption case against a well-known politician that had dragged on for six years. Former Minister of State in the Energy Ministry Kern Spencer and his personal assistant Colleen Wright were cleared of charges of money laundering, conspiracy to defraud and breaches of the Corruption Prevention Act. The news went down like a lead balloon in many circles; Spencer’s party supporters celebrated with him in his former constituency of N.E. St. Elizabeth.

Thumbs up from Kern Spencer.

Thumbs up from Kern Spencer.

We lost the thread: Part of the reason why this came as a shock was the incredibly slow progress of the trial. Although it was “high profile” I think the general public – and the media – lost the plot. The entire trial went on a long leave of absence (from April 13, 2010 to September 3, 2013) because of a legal battle between the RM and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). It had stopped and started so many times before and since that hiatus that we had all lost track of the ins and outs of it. Be that as it may, the public perception is that there is one law for the politicians, and another for poor Jamaicans. One commentator compared this with the oft-quoted case of a man who was jailed for stealing J$350 worth of ackees on the grounds of King’s House. It would also have helped if the RM had expanded on her decision. There was no reasoning, no overview of evidence – just that there was no case to answer. The DPP on radio came close to saying that justice had not been served…

Right of appeal: The case highlighted the recently-discussed issue of the prosecution’s right to appeal. There is currently no such right, but just this morning the Government announced that it will begin work on legislation allowing for limited rights to appeal certain court decisions. A step in the right direction, I think.

Defence attorneys KD Knight (left) and Deborah Martin, for former energy junior minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant Coleen Wright after the court ruled Monday morning that there was no case for the two to answer. (Photo: Paul Henry/Jamaica Observer)

Defence attorneys KD Knight (left) and Deborah Martin, for former energy junior minister Kern Spencer and his personal assistant Coleen Wright after the court ruled Monday morning that there was no case for the two to answer. (Photo: Paul Henry/Jamaica Observer)

“Corruption remains entrenched and widespread in Jamaica,” the U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report notes. “It is compounded by a judicial system that has a poor record of successfully prosecuting corruption cases against high-level gov officials.”  Meanwhile, the defense lawyer for Colleen Wright and government Senator K.D. Knight advises Kern Spencer not to consider re-entry into politics now. (He should bide his time, perhaps?)

A fish vendor talks to Mayor of Lucea Shernet Haughton during a visit to the market last year. (Photo: Claudia Gardner/Gleaner)

A fish vendor talks to Mayor of Lucea Shernet Haughton during a visit to the market last year. (Photo: Claudia Gardner/Gleaner)

“You know my taste, right!” Member of Parliament for West Hanover Ian Hayles (also State Minister in the Environment Ministry) is in hot water after his utterly misogynistic remarks at a public People’s National Party (PNP) meeting. The target of Mr. Hayles’ remarks was the 38-year-old Mayor of Lucea Shernet Haughton. Mr. Hayles is to face a disciplinary hearing of the PNP, and I hope he will issue a public apology. Meanwhile, women’s activist Joan Grant-Cummings noted that such episodes are a set-back as Jamaica seeks to improve its UN ranking on the status of women (we are not doing too well in the Millennium Development Goals). Such verbal abuse is sexual harassment, and Jamaica has no laws against that. Moreover, as Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith said, such behavior “has absolutely no place in politics.” Women in leadership positions in Jamaica appear to be under great pressure at the moment. 

Western Hanover Member of Parliament Ian Hayles.

Western Hanover Member of Parliament Ian Hayles.

“We have forgotten what our government is, you know. They are not our kings and queens. They are our servants. And when we ask for information we should get it.” So said CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) Diana McCaulay at this week’s community meeting in Old Harbour Bay. She was referring to the repeated refusal of the Government to provide information on the planned Goat Islands port to JET under the Access to Information Act.

Businessman Richard Byles, who heads the Economic Programme Oversight Committee.

Businessman Richard Byles, who heads the Economic Programme Oversight Committee.

The Economic Program Oversight Committee (EPOC), headed by businessman Richard Byles, keeps us firmly rooted in reality. It reports that tax revenues have fallen, helping to create a shortfall in the primary balance of payments for the first time since entering the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program. EPOC expressed some concerns that unless revenues are increased, the Government will have challenges as it enters the fourth quarter of the IMF program. Mr. Byles also expressed concern over the government’s indecisiveness on energy matters over the years, which he thinks has deterred investors; and matters related to the major power plant are still not resolved and ready to go.

Kingston Container Terminal. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kingston Container Terminal. (Photo: Gleaner)

Huge loss: Meanwhile, the heavily-indebted Port Authority of Jamaica - the government agency in charge of plans to build a port on Goat Islands – has recorded a J$2.23 billion net loss, mainly due to the depreciation of the Jamaican Dollar. Wow. Plans to privatize the Kingston Container Terminal need to be fast-forwarded.

CHEC workers on strike: The China Harbour Engineering Company is working on another project in Jamaica, the long-awaited highway that will bypass Mt Rosser in St. Ann. But all is not well. Jamaican workers are on strike, claiming that they are not paid the negotiated rates and that working conditions are poor – there is insufficient protective gear, and so on.

Firemen seek to control the  fire at Riverton City dump on Sunday, March 16. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Firemen seek to control the fire at Riverton City dump on Sunday, March 16. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

The fire is out! Head of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) Jennifer Edwards has confirmed that the fire which began at the Riverton City dump on March 16 is finally out (I thought they already told us). But why was there a smoke problem in the Spanish Town Road area and beyond, this morning?

Now… Major kudos this week to:

  • The Jamaica Environment Trust and Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, who took on the challenge of organizing a Community Meeting in Old Harbour Bay on Monday evening. The turnout (200/300 people) was excellent and the residents expressed themselves – sometimes a little too energetically – but they aired many of the issues surrounding the controversial planned port project at Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area. CVM Television provided some good coverage (and kudos too to CVM’s “Live at Seven” program for keeping the focus on the issue). You can view footage of both these programs on http://www.cvmtv.com.
Randy McLaren with a whole set of new fans at the Trench Town Reading Centre's 20th anniversary celebrations last year. (My photo)

Randy McLaren with a whole set of new fans at the Trench Town Reading Centre’s 20th anniversary celebrations last year. The children were thrilled by his performance. (My photo)

  • Randy McLaren, the “Kriativ Aktivis,” who will stage a lunchtime concert at the University of the West Indies’ Philip Sherlock Centre tomorrow (1:00 p.m.) to raise funds for cancer treatment for a UWI student. Contribution only $200. Randy is the 2013 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture and was also named a finalist in the Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development Work that same year. He’s also Jamaica’s youth ambassador for culture and vulnerable youth. Do support him!
  • The Jamaica Public Service Company, who commissioned a small hydro-electric plant today at Maggotty, St. Elizabeth – 7.2 megawatts of electricity to be added to the national grid. 

So as always I will extend my condolences to those left behind to mourn, after the untimely deaths of these Jamaican citizens:

Michael Rose, 41, Franklin Town, Kingston

Edward Keating, Denham Town, Kingston

Sheldon Levy, 22, Retry Road, Clarendon

Anthony George Hudson, 25 – body has been found in St. Mary. Three men, including a policeman, have already been charged with his murder.

An amateur video showing a tussle between a taxi operator and a policeman, during which the latter appeared to fire several shots injuring the man, has been circulating widely on social media. Residents blocked the road in protest at the incident in Hopewell, Hanover, which was witnessed by many. The video is disturbing to watch.

On the road: The driver of the bus that knocked down and killed a street sweeper and seriously injured another last week has finally turned himself in to the police. A 43-year-old woman was killed when a car crashed into the back of the taxi as she got out of it in Williamsfield, Manchester.

 

 

Fresh Sunday, March 23, 2014

We’re feeling a little freshened up after a nice shower. We give thanks.

The increasingly tabloidesque Sunday Observer kicks off its front page with a somewhat dubious story about a pastor accused of deliberately “spreading AIDS” (the latter word in huge red letters in the headlines). Moving quickly on, I have found a couple of good articles on…

I recommend the tweets of former Contractor General Greg Christie.

I recommend the tweets of former Contractor General Greg Christie.

The C-word: A lot of public officials and others have been gathering in the Cayman Islands this week to discuss what to do about corruption. The issue has been analyzed to death, and still no one has a solution. Or do they? Former Contractor General Greg Christie has come up with a 21-point plan to deal with corruption.  He suggests that Caribbean governments pursue “remedial counter-measures.” He also uses the word “immediately.” In my view, that word is not in the vocabulary of our political leaders, who have little or no interest in addressing the issue any time soon. While they are still trying to figure out what corruption is, though, do follow Mr. Christie on Twitter (@Greg0706). He will enlighten you.

Bishop Howard Gregory.

Bishop Howard Gregory.

I also applaud Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands Howard Gregory - one of the very few church people who talks about issues that are actually relevant. He insists that the Church play a heightened advocacy role on corruption (I see absolutely no sign of that happening, apart from his own utterances). He points to an issue that is always an irritant to Jamaicans: “Very often when public figures have allegations of corruption laid against them, they are quick to point out that they have not broken any laws. It is…important to understand that corruption is not just about laws, but is at base about ethics and morality in governance and social relations.” Well said, Bishop Gregory! He hits the nail on the head and his language is forthright.

And the last word from our Prime Minister: “On my watch, I pledge that we will reject governmental extravagance and be vigilant in eliminating corruption.”  (Inaugural speech, January 5, 2012).

Priorities: The Church raised the dreary old issue of a flexible work week, huffing and puffing about how disappointed it is with the Government. Of course, whether people take a day off on a Saturday or a Sunday is so much more important than corruption. Successive administrations have tried and failed to push this issue through to a sensible conclusion; the poor Labour Minister Horace Dalley must be fed up to the back teeth. The umbrella group of churches is now accusing him of avoiding them. All they want is for the right to rest and worship on specific days of their choice to be enshrined in law. Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund is breathing down the Government’s neck to get the thing sorted out (after several years of wrangling!) Enough already!

The Energy Monitoring Committee is headed by investment banker Peter Melhado. (Photo: Gleaner)

The Energy Monitoring Committee is headed by investment banker Peter Melhado. (Photo: Gleaner)

Lingering doubts: The private sector-led Energy Monitoring Committee (EMC) is confirming my doubts over the Office of Utilities Regulation’s (OUR) seemingly hurried decision to award a license to Energy World International (EWI) to build a major power plant. I wondered if the OUR is under some political pressure, and I think we should remain concerned. The EMC feels that EWI has still not provided enough financial information.  So what next?

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

On economic matters, you should always read Dennis Chung’s clear-eyed articles. They appear in Caribbean Journal online. In his latest article Dennis notes that public sector bureaucracy, coupled with inefficient and poor service, must be tackled to boost productivity. Here it is: http://www.caribjournal.com/2014/03/21/transforming-jamaicas-public-sector/

And what next on the Tivoli Gardens Commission of Enquiry? One supposes that the Government is scouting around for a replacement for the unsuitable Velma Hylton. Hoping for an update soon. I am generally feeling uncomfortable about the affair, which has certainly got off to an inauspicious start. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s equivocation and contradictory comments do not bode well either.

Questions: Should garbage collection be privatized? What has changed after last weekend’s major dump fire? What will change?

Media star: Former Senior Superintendent of Police Reneto Adams, who once headed the controversial Crime Management Unit, appeared in a short television report on Al Jazeera English called “Island of Music and Murder” (oh, doesn’t that sound nice). Although retired, Mr. Adams is not shy of the limelight and we have to listen to his pearls of wisdom on how to solve our crime problem at frequent and regular intervals. At least now in interviews we can actually see his eyes; for years he wore dark glasses, even in television studios.

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And talking of human rights, there are two big events this week. Tomorrow (Monday 24th) at 6:30 p.m., the Jamaica Environment Trust and Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation will host a community meeting in Old Harbour Bay Square on the planned Goat Islands development. It’s my birthday so I don’t think I will be able to attend, but please come and support and spread the word! Nationwide News Network will broadcast from the event.

On Thursday, March 27 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. there will be the University of the West Indies’ “Great Debate” - a partnership with J-FLAG – on the topic “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Populations.” Students from three Jamaican tertiary institutions will participate. Not to be missed! And don’t forget to watch the interview with UWI’s debaters on “Smile Jamaica” (Television Jamaica’s morning show) on Tuesday morning!

The fearsome Reneto Adams in full battle gear. Some Jamaicans actually believe he should be our National Security Minister. If that happened I would be on the first plane out of here!

The fearsome Reneto Adams in full battle gear. Some Jamaicans actually believe he should be our National Security Minister. If that happened I would be on the first plane out of here!

Carnival Minister: Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna considers it entirely appropriate to share a photo of herself on Instagram, dressed in her skimpy Carnival costume, displaying what some online observers consider an enviable set of abs. Ms. Hanna clearly spends a lot of time and attention in the gym tending to her body. I hope she spends as much time tending to the young Jamaicans, many in desperate straits in juvenile correctional centers, that are her responsibility.  But I suppose once a beauty queen…

On some other political matters, I repeat: The level of political corruption and victimization in government agencies is appalling. I will say no more.” Sometimes, your face just does not fit…

 Major congrats to:

A Phase Three Productions truck ready for action. The multi media firm is celebrating 30 years.

A Phase Three Productions truck ready for action. The multi media firm is celebrating 30 years.

  • Phase Three Productions, a family firm working in the television and the wider media that has lasted thirty years through tough economic times. Congratulations to Dr. Marcia Forbes, husband Richard and son Delano for their hard work and focus on high standards. Last year alone, Phase Three produced over 500 hours of local content. Wishing you continued success!
JN Foundation volunteer Neville Charlton tries to figure out what to do next during first aid training over the weekend.

JN Foundation volunteer Neville Charlton tries to figure out what to do next during first aid training over the weekend.

  • The JN Foundation, which offered its volunteers free first aid training over the weekend. The Foundation is expanding and growing in all directions, and don’t forget its great “I Support Jamaica” program, which allows supporters to lend or donate to projects or small entrepreneurs.  I urge you to take a look and contribute what you can!  https://www.isupportjamaica.com
  • The Star – the Gleaner’s tabloid sister paper that comes out in the afternoons – is know for its strange, sometimes rather unpleasant headlines. Here’s a funny one though: “Cow escapes police custody.”

It is always very sad to list these names, but as always I extend my sympathies to the families who are left to mourn:

Jamario Ferguson, 15, Kingston 12

Melissa Duffus, 35, Logwood, St. Thomas

Anthony George Hudson, 25, Richmond District, St. Mary

Kevin Graham, 48, Claremont, St. Ann

Minister, Please Reconsider Your UNESCO Biosphere Decision

I think the following open letter speaks for itself… I am posting it here, in case Jamaican media do not see fit to publish it. 

I wrote about the biosphere issue here: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/jamaicas-portland-bight-a-biosphere-deferred/

OPEN LETTER: To Minister Pickersgill

22 March, 2014

Hon. Robert Pickersgill
Minister of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change

Dear Mr. Pickersgill,

We urge you to reconsider your position on Jamaica’s application to UNESCO for biosphere reserve status for the Portland Bight Protected Area. In December 2013, just one month after submitting the application to UNESCO, your office requested a deferral of the application on the basis of a need to revisit the zoning of the area. Mr. Pickersgill, you are aware that the preparation of the biosphere reserve application took over fifteen years of work by Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) and its partners, including the GOJ, and you signed the application on behalf of the GOJ.

As participants in this process, Minister, you and your staff should have been aware of the benefits of biosphere reserves to Jamaica. The emphasis on sustainable development within a biosphere reserve provides economic benefits directly to the poorest of the nation. The establishment of research facilities, opportunities for nature and heritage tourism, support for new small/medium businesses, sustainable agriculture and other activities associated with a biosphere reserve are more conducive to sustainable economic growth than would be a transshipment port in the Portland Bight.

As Minister of Climate Change you must know that development of a major port in the PBPA will greatly impact the vulnerability of the area to major storms, which primarily come in from the south-southeast towards Jamaica. The Goat Islands, coral reefs and the mangrove forests of the PBPA act as a buffer for storms and tidal surges. Maintaining the natural ecosystems of the Portland Bight is necessary not only for protecting infrastructure, but more importantly for saving lives. Given the increased urbanization that would occur in the PBPA as a result of situating a transshipment port in the Portland Bight, the loss of natural shoreline protection would mean a greater risk to residents as well as infrastructure.

Minister Pickersgill, the impacts of climate change are inevitable. Shouldn’t your Ministry be trying to reduce them rather than increase them?

We therefore request that you allow the application for biosphere reserve status for the Portland Bight Protected Area to go forward as before, in the best interests of the people of Jamaica — especially those whose livelihoods and safety will be at stake.

Yours truly,

Steven G. Smith
Campaign Organizer for Petition/Face Book
NO! to port on Goat Islands/PBPA, Jamaica

Jamaica Environment Trust

Lisa Sorenson, Ph.D
Executive Director
BirdsCaribbean
(formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds).

Wendy A Lee
Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife

Horace Levy

Emma Caroline Lewis
Writer/Blogger

Ingrid Parchment
Executive Director of CCAM.
Dr. Ann Sutton Consultant.

It’s Not Raining: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I am unhappy that two drops of rain fell earlier, and then stopped. So, our little corner of Kingston remains warm, sticky – and rainless.

FILE - In this May 20, 2010 file photo, residents gather outside their house riddled with bullet holes during a media tour organized by government authorities inside the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica.  In May 2010, in one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica's recent history, over 80 civilians were killed over the course of a few days while security forces hunted drug kingpin Christoper "Dudus" Coke. We await the start of an enquiry into the incident, if it ever happens. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

FILE – In this May 20, 2010 file photo, residents gather outside their house riddled with bullet holes during a media tour organized by government authorities inside the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica. In May 2010, in one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica’s recent history, over 80 civilians were killed over the course of a few days while security forces hunted drug kingpin Christoper “Dudus” Coke. We await the start of the enquiry into the incident. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

Some interesting developments this week: Ms. Velma Hylton, QC has stepped down (granting my fervent wish) as a Commissioner at the upcoming enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre of 2010. Ms. Hylton stated: “The Commission of  Enquiry is important to Jamaica and should not be hampered by politics and petty distractions.”  I am glad that you have withdrawn, Ms. Hylton, but the concerns were far from petty. Putting the politics well to one side, your appointment seemed neither fair nor ethical, after the comments you made at another enquiry into an earlier Tivoli Gardens slaughter. The government should appoint someone who hasn’t been involved in any previous investigations. Simple.

Another positive development is the announcement of an adjustment to the Airport Passenger Duty that the United Kingdom had imposed on flights to the Caribbean. This has been a thorn in the side of tourism interests for a long time. Let us hope that it will make a difference to our anemic tourism performance. And at least the Tory Government in the UK has done something right in its new Budget.

Vybz Kartel, looking pale.

Vybz Kartel, looking pale.

A couple of twists in the murder conviction of dancehall star Vybz Kartel. Firstly, a juror has been charged with attempting to bribe the foreman and possibly other jurors to persuade them to return a “not guilty” verdict. Secondly, Kartel and two others are charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and will go to court on August 11. The latter charge arose from a false report by a supporter, Ms. Gaza Slim to a police station which suggested that Clive Williams (whom Kartel and others have now been convicted of murdering) was still alive.

Mr. Derrick Latibeaudiere got into hot water over houses from as far back as 2006, and was eventually fired as Governor of the Bank of Jamaica in October, 2009.

Mr. Derrick Latibeaudiere got into hot water over houses from as far back as 2006, and was eventually fired as Governor of the Bank of Jamaica on October 30, 2009.

Former Bank of Jamaica Governor Derrick Latibeaudiere is the new chair of the Housing Association of Jamaica, after the entire board of the government agency resigned recently. I find this appointment amusing, in light of a controversy during the last political administration over Mr. Latibeaudiere’s low interest loan to himself to help build a luxury mansion in the hills. This eventually resulted in his removal as Governor. I suppose heading a housing agency is a fitting portfolio for him. (If you need to refresh your memory you can read this Gleaner report: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20091108/lead/lead2.html)

On the topic of government agencies in general, I tweeted today, and I repeat: “The level of political corruption and victimization in government agencies is appalling. I will say no more.”

The dump: Late on Sunday, the government announced that it had “activated its multi-agency Emergency Response Protocol” in response to the fearsome fire at the Riverton City dump. Very impressive. Less impressive were the radio interviews the following morning. The Jamaica Fire Brigade complained that it did not receive any water for over seven hours, and when the chairman of the National Water Commission was asked about this he said something about “the blame game.”  Meanwhile, the Acting Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (clearly focusing on the emergency part of his portfolio) seems to have been pushed to the front as spokesman for this awesome coalition of government agencies.

Photo taken from West Kirkland Heights on Sunday of the horrendous tire fire at Riverton City dump.

Photo taken from West Kirkland Heights on Sunday of the horrendous tire fire at Riverton City dump.

I thought the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) was the government agency responsible for the maintenance and management of the Riverton City dump. Yet, since the five-acre section containing tires (supposedly to be recycled at some point) caught light, Ms. Jennifer Edwards who heads the NSWMA has hardly spoken.  Why the reticence, Ms. Edwards? How do you feel about the dump operating in breach of the law?

And what does the Minister of Environment and Climate Change etc have to say? (*crickets*) Any word from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) (*crickets*)

With so much talk/lip service about climate change, you would think we could do better at protecting our forests; but the denuding of our hillsides continues apace. Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley says 350 hectares or so is lost every year in Jamaica. Remember, we are only a small island. She is doing her best, one supposes. Public education and lots of outreach to farmers would help. But it’s not just the farmers slashing and burning. As we noted in a recent Panos workshop, much of the forested land is being taken for large-scale housing developments, especially in western Jamaica.

EWI: Having made it clear less than three weeks ago that it needed a lot more financial and other information before recommending that Energy World International (EWI) receive a license for the 350 megawatt power plant, the Office of Utilities Regulation is now ready to give the green light “by the end of this week.” Yes! That was quite a volte-face, it seems to me. One minute, major concerns; now, everything cool. I know that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell declared on television in January that he wanted to sign EWI’s license as soon as possible. Was there perhaps some pressure exerted?

Conservator of forests/head of the Forestry Department Marilyn Headley. With her are (from second left) managing director of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez; deputy director of Meteorological Service of Jamaica Evan Thompson; and Adrian Shaw, also of the Met Service. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

Conservator of forests/head of the Forestry Department Marilyn Headley. With her are (from second left) managing director of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez; deputy director of Meteorological Service of Jamaica Evan Thompson; and Adrian Shaw, also of the Met Service. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, is author of "DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto." Her blog is dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com

Dr. Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, is author of “DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto.” Her blog is dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com

The dancehall trial: Some of my tweeps have upbraided me on this. If I am not a dancehall “fan,” they say (and I am not, I just don’t like it) then it is my loss, since dancehall is “the most relevant aspect of contemporary Jamaica.” Really? I stand accused of “living in a bubble.” Well, we all have our own bubbles, I guess, some smaller than others. Meanwhile, Dr. Sonjah Niaah from the University of the West Indies is very knowledgeable on the topic, so as a final postscript to the Vybz Kartel trial I highly recommend that you read her latest blog post here: http://dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/convicted-the-exceptional-werl-boss-and-the-dilemma-of-social-responsibility/  Social responsibility remains, I believe, a key issue in all of this. And having read more about him, I suspect that Mr. Kartel needs to seek professional help.

While we are still discussing the fire and the murder trial, it may have escaped our notice that tourism numbers are not looking so hot, again – down 3.2 per cent in January compared to January 2013; and that the Jamaican Dollar’s slide has accelerated this month. On Friday, it was J$109.27 to the U.S. Dollar; on Monday it went to J$109.31. The Bank of Jamaica put out a statement on Sunday evening that it stood ready to intervene in the market to avoid anything “disorderly” happening.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips

Finance Minister Peter Phillips is focused on one thing only: passing the next IMF test. He must dream IMF at nights…

The IMF at work: Parliament swiftly passed two laws yesterday that will help restrain public spending: The Public Bodies Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act and the Financial Administration and Audit (Amendment) Act. Me and many other cynics will agree that such legislation would never have been passed without the International Monetary Fund (IMF) breathing down our politicians’ necks – especially an administration that still includes former Finance Minister Omar “Run Wid It” Davies. But anyway, good going, Minister Peter Phillips.

Anyway, André Haughton, who teaches at the University of the West Indies, says Jamaica is “poised for growth.” What, again? How long have we been poised?

Parry Town residents demanding water in their pipes. (Photo: Renae Dixon/Jamaica Observer)

Parry Town residents demanding water in their pipes. (Photo: Renae Dixon/Jamaica Observer)

Irate and “bex”: Every evening on prime time news we see residents waving placards in protest at – well, it could be one of three things: lack of water, poor roads, or a police killing. On Monday night, the people of Parry Town, in Ocho Rios, were furious, shouting down their local councilor. They blocked the road.

The White Knight in "Alice in Wonderland" wore spiked ankle bands to keep away the sharks.

The White Knight in “Alice in Wonderland” wore spiked ankle bands to keep away the sharks, and recited a deeply strange poem.

The White Knight: In a nice little PR piece, University of Technology lecturer James McNish tells us that “China evidently is becoming the white knight for many economies of the world.” I am assuming he means a friendly investor. In one of my childhood stories, “Alice in Wonderland,” the White Knight is friendly enough, but one of Lewis Carroll’s strangest characters. Mr. McNish extols the virtues of the huge Baha Mar mega-resort and casino in the Bahamas. It is being built by 3,000 (yes, 3,000!) Chinese workers and with a huge Chinese loan, too. Hopefully there will be jobs for Bahamians at the end of it all.

And the White Knight has come to the rescue of JEEP (our Prime Minister’s Jamaica Emergency Employment Program) – which had broken down by the side of the road some time ago. There have been delays, but an agreement between the relevant ministries and the China Harbour Engineering Company was signed on Tuesday in the amount of J$5.4 billion (more or less) for the revival of the government’s Major Infrastructure Development Program. Some JEEP jobs will come out of that, one expects and hopes.

The Negril Morass and Royal Palm Reserve.

The Negril Morass and Royal Palm Reserve. (Photo: Island Buzz Jamaica)

Drying out: The head of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez notes that water supplies in western Jamaica are drying up, and this will affect tourism. A year or two back there was a water crisis in the tourist resort of Negril that affected hotels. Once when we were staying there the entire morass was on fire; we had to leave the hotel. A lot of this is to do with climate change – the tropics are drying up; and also to do with bad planning, especially in the case of Negril, which is a mess in terms of badly planned developments and hotels.

Big ups to the following, meanwhile:

The Jamaica Fire Brigade, which was on the front line and worked round the clock to bring the horrible Riverton City fire under control. Special kudos to their spokesman Emilio Ebanks (I love that name), who is very straight forward and focused.

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Caribbean Producers (CPJ): It’s always a pleasure to eat lunch at their Deli on Kingston’s Lady Musgrave Road. Now I have even more reason to praise the food distribution company, which has announced through its Managing Director Mark Hart that it will be adopting the Glenhope Nursery. I have visited there on more than one occasion and this would tug at anyone’s heart: the sight of rows of cots containing small abandoned babies, and a sad little playground where the toddlers play. These are all abandoned children, most “in need of care and protection” as they say. Muchissimos kudos, Mr. Hart!

Jamaica's formidable Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has a broad, broad smile.

Jamaica’s formidable Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has a broad, broad smile.

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, who spent considerable time on Monday morning discussing some details of the much-sensationalized Vybz Kartel trial on Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte’s morning talk show “Justice.”  I was very impressed at her diligence in answering many of the questions about court procedures and the investigative process that had been hovering around after the dancehall star’s murder conviction last week. Ms. Llewellyn clarified a lot of issues for me and other listeners. It was also a reality check on the over-stretched and inadequate justice system. Did you know that more than forty cases had to be rescheduled because of the long Vybz Kartel trial?  Anyway, thanks to both ladies!

Norma Walters being escorted by her husband, retired Custos of St Ann Radcliffe Walters during an inspection of the grounds of the Seville Great House prior to her installation as Custos of the parish.

Norma Walters and her husband, retired Custos of St Ann Radcliffe Walters at the Seville Great House prior to her installation as Custos of the parish.

The first female Custos of St. Ann Ms. Norma Walters, who has succeeded her husband Radcliffe in the largely ceremonial -but influential – position.The office of Custos is a colonial throwback; but Ms. Walters can still play an important role in guiding citizens and their leaders alike, up there on the north coast.

Videographer/photographer Zomian Thompson of Modern Media Services/Drone-maica. Photo stolen from his Facebook page!

Videographer/photographer Zomian Thompson of Modern Media Services/Drone-maica. Photo stolen from his Facebook page!

Mr. Zomian Thompson and his Modern Media Services/Dronemaica, who do brilliant aerial photography and post “virtual tours” online. Check them out on Facebook. Their recent postings of tours of Goat Islands (beautiful) and Riverton City dump on fire (fearful) are well worth looking at.

The sad part is that the murders continue, while everyone discusses everything else. My deepest condolences to the loved ones of the following Jamaican citizens, killed since Sunday (but at least the police have taken their fingers off the triggers, and we are grateful for that)…

Unidentified woman, Kitson Town, St. Catherine

Wiggan Bennett, 46, Bel Air/Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Norris Garvey, 70, Gayle, St. Mary

On our roads: Two women, both street sweepers, were run over by a speeding coaster bus that did not stop in Dunbeholden, St. Catherine this morning. One is dead and the other seriously injured. I am so sick of hearing of these hit-and-run incidents. How can one knock down two women and not stop? What kind of conscience do these people have? These street sweepers start work before dawn, very often. It is so sad. And why does the media use this expression “mowed down” to describe the running over of pedestrians? Human beings are not lawns. It sounds awful.

Sunday, March 9 – Wednesday March 12, 2014

Sorry, this is going to be one of those combination, or rather belated posts on what’s happening in Jamaica. Somehow I didn’t manage my Sunday bulletin, so am carrying it all over to Wednesday. Forgive me.

Over in St. Vincent, a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Inter-Sessional summit (please don’t ask me to explain what that is) is debating those two old favorites: the legalization of ganja and reparations for slavery. Education? Employment? Crime? Freedom of movement for CARICOM nationals? Economic opportunity? Hopefully they will get a mention, and I believe the weakening economies of member states will be under discussion. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is there, in her capacity as “Chairman of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Negotiations.” Not sure we knew about that before, but we know now. I wonder if we can expect a briefing (by “we” I mean the Jamaican public) on what transpired, on the PM’s return. She has taken quite a large delegation with her again, one notes.

Back home, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is making a great deal of noise now about the forthcoming Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre. A team of lawyers, headed by Opposition Justice Spokesman Alexander Williams, has been appointed to represent the interests of the residents. Things are very murky. It seems to me the JLP should have got properly involved in the proceedings from Day One. They are whining now, but were very equivocal prior to this – for reasons some of which were quite clear. The JLP is now threatening legal action if the controversial Ms. Velma Hylton remains in place as a selected Commissioner. It is accusing the ruling People’s National Party of politicking, but both are equally guilty, it seems to me. The whole thing is a royal mess already, and it hasn’t even started yet. I agree with the Gleaner: Ms. Hylton, please step aside, gracefully!

Church members protest against crime in West Kingston last Sunday. (Photo: Gleaner)

Church members protest against crime in West Kingston last Sunday. (Photo: Gleaner)

And over the weekend, the people of West Kingston went on a peace march. Minister Bunting and the Commissioner of Police were there, and a lot of hymns were sung. Television footage showed an elderly lady sitting on a rickety bench calling on the “blood of Jesus” to help them. Though all this might make people feel a little better, I doubt it will have any effect whatsoever. The Minister exhorted residents to turn “informer” on the criminals. Enough is enough, the residents parroted. I have heard that phrase many times before, and somehow it never is enough… I also suspect that a lot of people stayed at home.

All is not well in some government agencies. The entire board of the Housing Association of Jamaica has resigned; and recently the Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was sent on leave pending investigations into irregularities at the agency, where she has served for nearly twenty years. And the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Culture is also on leave, as discussed before. The media talk about “crisis” and “controversy,” rumors flybut none of us really knows what goes on behind the scenes. We realize that sometimes people’s faces don’t fit, politically; or are they too non-political?

Discussions under the mango tree at Jamaica Environment Trust, last week. (My photo)

Discussions under the mango tree at Jamaica Environment Trust, last week. (My photo)

I wasn’t expecting much, but the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) stance on the proposed shipping port at Goat Islands is disappointing. The JLP has left its Member of Parliament Gregory Mair out in the cold…under the mango tree at Jamaica Environment Trust, where he spent some time last week. Mr. Mair’s private member motion has dropped off the order sheet in Parliament, and will not be revived, it seems.The JLP is talking out of two sides of its mouth at the same time. I guess it u weighing their options, and quite happy to sell Jamaica’s birthright down the river for the chance of backing the right horse and getting themselves elected next time around. JLP leader Andrew Holness reportedly told the Jamaica Observer that “the party is in support of the development of the hub/trans-shipment port on condition that there is no environmental threat to the Portland Bight Protected Area.” But Mr. Holness, the threat has already been established, as you well know. This may backfire on the Opposition further down the line. We shall see. Meanwhile political expediency comes first.

Oh! Our city dump is operating illegally… As we would say in social media, “smh.” I truly wonder about this government agency called the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA). I would also love to get some information on the air quality in the city from them. Does NEPA measure air quality? 

The National Environment & Planning Agency mentioned in passing last week that the Riverton City dump in Kingston is operating without a license. (Photo: Gleaner)

The National Environment & Planning Agency mentioned in passing last week that the Riverton City dump in Kingston is operating without a license. (Photo: Gleaner)

Short-sightedness: We have often said that our leaders (political and otherwise) have short-term vision only (not even medium-term, let’s face it). But there is Vision 2030. Does anyone know what it is? Is it mere words? I plan to examine the Vision 2030 document in future blog posts…

Patrons at the opening night of Bacchanal Fridays in Kingston last week…in anticipation of Carnival. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Patrons at the opening night of Bacchanal Fridays in Kingston last week…in anticipation of Carnival. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Meanwhile, young uptowners are girding their loins for the upcoming Carnival celebrations. Hugely expensive costumes are on sale I believe, and every Friday there is a major session to get everyone warmed up for the road march and other gyrations. If it’s your thing…enjoy! I feel nostalgic about the days when Carnival was less sophisticated and exclusive – it didn’t matter if you didn’t have a costume. And the Children’s Carnival in early years was great (we have photos of our son in various costumes, the kids just loved it). Those were the days…

Residents of West Kingston march for peace over the weekend. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Residents of West Kingston march for peace over the weekend. (Photo: Joseph Wellington/Jamaica Observer)

Major Petchary bouquets for:

Senators Imani Duncan-Price (left) and Kamina Johnson-Smith, who presented on advancing leadership and gender equality in Jamaica's democracy in the Upper House last Friday. (Photo: Facebook)

Senators Imani Duncan-Price (left) and Kamina Johnson-Smith, who presented on advancing leadership and gender equality in Jamaica’s democracy in the Upper House last Friday. (Photo: Facebook)

  • Senators Imani Duncan-Price and Kamina Johnson-Smith, who presented on advancing leadership and gender equality in Jamaica’s democracy last Friday, March 7 in the Upper House. I posted Senator Duncan-Price’s presentation in my last blog post and hope to have her Opposition counterpart’s presentation shortly to share with you. A group of supporters was there, and I plan to be among them this coming Friday! All who would like to come and listen to the ongoing debate should check into Gordon House a little before 10:00 a.m. (It’s very sad that some Senators, on both sides of the political fence, chose to heckle and comment loudly throughout the presentations that these women had worked so hard on, to the extent that the Speaker of the House had to ask them to be quiet. Shame on them).
  • Food for the Poor, the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation and the Solo Jamaica Foundation on their partnership to provide badly-needed school furniture for 1,000 students – a container full. I hope that FFP will be able to achieve their goal of 30,000 desks and chairs. 
  • Tamara Nicholson, graduate student at the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies and “Half the Sky” Ambassador, for her initiative in showing the film and organizing a stimulating panel discussion on sexual and gender-based violence two days before International Women’s Day. I was a panelist along with three brilliant women – Jalna Broderick of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, Georgia Love of WMW Jamaica and Inspector Winifred Moore of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA). The film “Half the Sky” can be viewed online. More in a later blog post.
Jay and me at last year's World AIDS Day event at the University of the West Indies.

Javan and me at last year’s World AIDS Day event at the University of the West Indies.

  • Youth activist Javan Campbell, one of the coolest young men I know, who has been selected as Jamaica country coordinator for the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning (IYAFP). Jay will seek to support an alliance of young individuals, youth associations, youth organizations or communities with a common mission to support provision of comprehensive reproductive health care services with a particular focus on family planning for vulnerable populations, especially youth.
Founder and chair of Alligator Head Marine Lab Francesca von Habsburg, and Principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Professor Archibald McDonald sign the partnership agreement for the establishment of Alligator Head Marine Lab and seven projects designed to restore the marine environment in the area. Witnessing the signing are Director of the Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Andre Kong (left) and Director of the Centre for Marine Science, Professor Dale Webber. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

Founder and chair of Alligator Head Marine Lab Francesca von Habsburg, and Principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona, Professor Archibald McDonald sign the partnership agreement for the establishment of Alligator Head Marine Lab and seven projects designed to restore the marine environment in the area. Witnessing the signing are Director of the Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Andre Kong (left) and Director of the Centre for Marine Science, Professor Dale Webber. (Photo: Naphtali Junior/Jamaica Observer)

  • Baroness Francesca von Habsburg and her art foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA 21). The Baroness opened the Alligator Head Marine Lab in Portland over the weekend, on her property. The University of the West Indies (UWI), the Portland Environment Protection Association and Reef Check Dominican Republic are partners in the project, which has seven specific goals. Much needed!
Jamaica Observer's Environment Editor Kimone Thompson at a recent biodiversity workshop organized by Panos Caribbean. (My photo)

Jamaica Observer’s Environment Editor Kimone Thompson at a recent biodiversity workshop organized by Panos Caribbean. (My photo)

  • And kudos to the Jamaica Observer’s environment editor Kimone Thompson. She is doing an outstanding job in pursuing the issues and some solid reporting has resulted.

The police have released composite pictures of two men wanted in connection with the murder of a man and an infant in “Dunkirk” on Valentine’s Day. Take a look: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Police-release-sketches-of-suspects-in-Dunkirk-double-murder I guess it’s not always possible, but it would be good if they could do this for all wanted men. These actually look like real, identifiable people, so good job. Meanwhile, my deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives to violence in the past week. Ms. Williams was attacked, stabbed and robbed while walking home from church…

Syril, Papine Market, St. Andrew

Livingston Garvey, 68, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Mario Cross, 26, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine

Keldon Wade, 31, Clifton District, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, McCook’s Pen, St. Catherine

Damion Callum, Alexandria, St. Ann

Phyllis Williams, 79, Mango Walk, Montego Bay, St. James

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington (left) meets Shackelia Jackson sister of deceased Robert Nakeia Jackson while he toured the Orange Villa community with Minister of National Security Peter Bunting after the shooting. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Police Commissioner Owen Ellington (left) meets Shackelia Jackson sister of deceased Robert Nakeia Jackson while he toured the Orange Villa community with Minister of National Security Peter Bunting after the shooting. Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie is on the right. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Meanwhile, Special Constable Leighton Rose who was charged in the January 20, 2014 fatal shooting of Nakiea Jackson, a cook shop operator in Downtown Kingston, is to appear in court today.

On the road: Three people were killed in a terrible bus crash on Highway 2000 in Clarendon last night. The driver “lost control” of the vehicle (a euphemism for speeding) and was killed along with two passengers. Fourteen others remain in hospital. A 61-year-old woman was hit by two cars and killed, as she tried to cross the road near Ferry, on the Mandela Highway; and a two-year-old was killed by a motorist in Portland, as he and his mother got off the bus. Many of the pedestrians killed on the road are older persons, and the very young. Please take care!

And the back of Jay's shirt! (My photo)

And this is what Javan Campbell is all about! (My photo)

1st Annual Portland Bight Green Run!

1st Annual Portland Bight Green Run!