Jamaican Exports Not Worth Cost of Imported Fuel: diGJamaica

This is such disturbing information that I just simply had to reprint it here – especially since I somehow missed it in my Sunday review. It’s a very short article, but the implications are huge. Read the article online at  http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/lead/lead2.html. What is the answer – or answers? And how can Jamaica continue this way?

Trade data unearthed through website http://www.diGJamaica.com has revealed that the value of all the island’s exports from January to August this year would fail to cover the cost of importing petroleum products for the same period.

Total exports for the period valued US$1.1 billion or J$97 billion, while imported petroleum products valued US$1.6 billion or J$142 billion. This represents a US$500 million, or J$45 billion trade deficit on petroleum products alone.

Put another way, the trade deficit on petroleum products alone would purchase 4.5 billion $10 Cash Pot bets.

Petroleum products is a category of imports used by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica that includes the fuel used locally in cars, trucks and boats. It also includes the gas used to cook, the fuel used in airplanes and the fuel used by the Jamaica Public Service Company to produce electricity.

Critically, in many parts of Jamaica, the National Water Com-mission could not operate without petroleum products to push water up the hillsides and into homes and communities. Without these petroleum products, Jamaica would come to a standstill.

Total imports, including petroleum products, valued more than US$4.3 billion or J$382 billion. Put more simply, for every J$1,000 in exports earned, Jamaica has to find J$3,900 to cover its import bill.

Added up, the total deficit this year now stands at US$3.2 billion, in excess of J$284 billion. After the nation has collected its export revenue, Jamaica must find almost J$105,000 per citizen to pay for all the imports the island has made in this calendar year up to August 2012.

The cost of importation

Food – J$9.5 million per hour.

Machinery and transport equipment – J$9.3 million per hour.

Chemicals – J$7.9 million per hour.

Manufactured goods – J$6.4 million per hour.

Other items, including cigarettes, alcohol and cardboard boxes – J$7.7 million per hour.

For all the info you need on Jamaica visit http://www.digjamaica.com

 

Sunday Wonders: November 25, 2012

I am talking about potential “nine-day wonders,” a special feature of public life in Jamaica. A dramatic story hits the news; people throw up their hands in alarm; they call the radio talk shows, their voices shrill with concern; they write angry letters to the newspapers; and the opinion-makers begin to register the story on their radar and write their opinions. By the time our learned columnists and editors have done that, the story is already half-way through the door, bumping into another drama just coming in to replace it. Or it simply gets submerged in the mundane, washed away in the trivia.

Average life: approximately nine days.

A couple of stories surfaced virtually at the same time on Thursday. It was not a good day; the kind of day when your heart sinks just a little – or, when, in Jamaican social media lingo, you may write “kmt.” These stories have not, as yet, been examined deeply enough by the media in my view, and there is still much more to be said – particularly in the print media. There were several newspaper editorials lat week about the wonderful relationship between Jamaica and China over the past forty years; why so many, I don’t know. But we want more details on these two stories to emerge, this week. Please.

Let’s deal with the two wonders first, before we talk about a couple of pachyderms – you know, the ones in the living room that take up so much space?

Two elephants

The two fine elephants in the room: Economy (left) and Crime (right)

Firstly, it emerged on Wednesday evening that in July our government spent a large sum of money on sixteen SUVs (Toyota Prados, to be precise) for the use of its ministers while they are serving the people. The sum of money quoted was around sixty-two Jamaican Dollars. Most of these vehicles were close to the US$30,000 upper limit (that’s quite an upper limit, isn’t it!)

This news followed hot on the heels of the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s revelation that Jamaica has just endured its third consecutive quarter of negative growth. This means that the Jamaican economy is officially in recession. (Hello! One of the elephants is waving its trunk, reminding us of its presence). The reaction from the Jamaican public was a combination of bitterness, cynicism, anger and weary shakes of the head. The Minister of Information Sandrea Falconer tried to explain the reasoning behind the purchase of these lovely vehicles; apparently most of those in the outgoing administration bought their vehicles before they left. The ministers needed to be comfortable, Minister Falconer explained in her “I am being very patient” voice to journalists at the post-Cabinet press briefing; they also needed to negotiate the rough rural roads that they have to travel. Minister Falconer went on to inform us, the struggling taxpayers, that our political leaders make great sacrifices. Life is not as easy for them as a politician as it was before they entered the public service, she informs us. I suppose that is why they fight so hard, using whatever means they have at their disposal, for political power – because they all want to make those sacrifices, just for us? Because elections are nothing if not very, very hard-fought. Well.

Sandrea Falconer

Minister of Information Sandrea Falconer (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

I am afraid that one stuck in my craw. (What is a craw exactly? But you know what I mean). I don’t think the words “Jamaican politician” and “sacrifice” can really be mentioned in the same breath.

Social activist and founder of the New National Coalition Betty Ann Blaine waxed sarcastic. “[Finance Minister] Peter Phillips told us the shop is empty,”  she reminded us. And what of the ordinary Jamaicans who have to drive on these rough rural roads every day. (Can they have Prados, too?) Minister Phillips himself drives the latest model Audi, by the way.

The 2012 Audi A6

The Minister of Finance has been driving this lovely car since earlier this year.

Toyota Prado 2012

The Toyota Prado 2012 in all its glory.

The last straw for me was a speech made by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller immediately after the Prado disclosure. In a “what is all the fuss about” tone, she told a Social Development Commission meeting that she doesn’t “travel econ” on her personal business when she travels abroad (and of course, not on taxpayers’ business, either); and that ministers should not be expected to do so. She then rambled on about the Secret Service (?!) and how the fact that she does not live at the Prime Minister’s official residence (Vale Royal) saves the country money (does it?). I held my head in my hands. She is just showing off about the air travel, my husband suggested. I despair – along with many other Jamaicans who feel hurt and offended by the somewhat defiant and “there’s nothing wrong with it, this is perfectly justified” response of the government. Meanwhile, middle class Jamaicans (almost a dying breed) struggle to pay their supermarket and utility bills (as the Jamaican dollar is slipping, so all our everyday costs go up) and dread another increase in petroleum prices (and most of us don’t have the ministers’ gas-guzzlers, air conditioning up high). And for the many Jamaicans living close to poverty – I don’t, simply don’t, understand how they manage. They must be going hungry, and they must be desperate. But then, as one of my fellow bloggers comments below, “Portia loves the poor.”  

There was a rash of memes on social media after this news broke. And by the way, if our leaders paid more attention to what is being said in the social media on such matters, they would have a major reality check. Not saying they would change their ways – but it might surprise them. The backlash is considerable.

First class airline travel

The wonders of first class airline travel – of course, our government ministers fully deserve it… “They must be comfortable”….

On the matter of the first class travel, I can tell you an experience I had a few years ago: I was attending a conference in another Caribbean country, and was on the same plane going home as a number of Caribbean government ministers as well as their U.S. equivalent (a member of the U.S. cabinet). All the Caribbean ministers settled down in first class, laughing, slapping each other’s backs, enjoying nice food and drink, and socializing all the way. Their American counterpart sat in a bulkhead seat on economy class, so he had more space, quietly got out his laptop and papers, and worked for the entire journey in silence. I merely observed, and took note.

The second piece of news on Thursday was a tragic story. A sixteen-year-old girl who was being held in an adult prison, the Horizon Remand Centre in Kingston, committed suicide. Young Vanessa Wint was one of twenty girls housed in the adult prison; this is against Jamaican law and I believe international human rights norms. A security post to watch the cells is reportedly right opposite what was Vanessa’s cell, yet no one noticed anything; an investigation is under way. Her family is deeply traumatized and has hired a lawyer; the girl’s uncle has vowed to get to the bottom of the story. Meanwhile, as human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice has pointed out, all the government agencies responsible for children in the care of the State are to blame. This includes the Minister of Youth Lisa Hanna, the melodious-voiced former beauty queen – who has not had the decency to issue a statement of condolence to the family (I have not heard one anyway). Ms. Hanna is, in fact, the minister responsible. JFJ has been accused of “pointing fingers” - but it is a simple fact that, as so often happens, the government is breaking its own laws (the much-heralded Child Care and Protection Act). The child was behind bars for “uncontrollable behavior,” as well as possession of an offensive weapon – although her family denies any knowledge of the latter – but had not been charged. As she is a ward of the state, the State is responsible for her.

Lisa Hanna

Our beautiful Minister responsible for youth, Ms. Lisa Hanna, M.P. Has she issued a statement of condolence or any comment on the death of a teenage girl in the care of her Ministry?

This is a heart-breaking story, and there will be more details to follow; so this might have a longer shelf life than nine days. But how many times have we revisited this subject? We agonized over the fire at the girls’ correctional centre in Armadale, when seven wards of state burnt to death in an over-crowded dorm, in 2010. Have successive governments really demonstrated that they care for the welfare of our children, especially those most at risk and in conflict with the law? Meanwhile, plans are afoot to transfer those girls being housed at the Fort Augusta adult women’s prison to another adult facility on South Camp Road in Kingston. Thank you, Minister Hanna, that will greatly solve the problem. Are we looking at, perhaps, root causes? And have all the children now been removed from the horrible police lock-ups?

South Camp Adult Correctional Centre

Kingston’s South Camp Adult Correctional Centre – the site of the “Gun Court.” The government is seeking to “retrofit” the centre to accommodate girls.

Fort Augusta

The Fort Augusta women’s prison, where girls are currently incarcerated alongside adult women.

The much-respected Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, of the Mustard Seed Communities, linked the above two stories – pointing out the twisted and just-plain-wrong priorities. “Why do we have a children’s advocate or a Child Development Agency if we are still putting children in adult correctional centres? Why are we spending our money on SUVs rather than on children’s care?” he asks. Why, indeed.

Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon

Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon (photo: Randy Economy’s blog)

Meanwhile we must be careful about inhaling deeply. After “noxious fumes” (a favorite journalistic term here) were emitted recently by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, this week there was an ammonia leak on the Mandela Highway that connects Kingston and Spanish Town. A gas company was responsible for this. But don’t worry, all is well. The weather is getting dryer, though. Next will be the Riverton City dump, optimistically called a “landfill.” Time for it to catch fire again. But here I go, predicting doom and gloom again.

Gladstone Hutchinson

Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica Gladstone Hutchinson, who will be returning to his job in the United States in January 2013.

Talking about doom and gloom: It’s the economy, stupid (again). The Planning Institute of Jamaica revealed the bad news mid-week. I won’t bore you with all the depressing “minuses” but suffice it to say that in the nine months up to September 2012, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by 0.3 per cent; the biggest declines over that period were in the mining, construction and transport, storage and communication sectors. In the third quarter alone, the economy contracted 0.6 per cent. I can’t tell you what the answers are; but I feel that we are on a slippery slope, and that we are not able to dig our heels in to stop the sliding. I hope I am wrong. It’s just a feeling.

Meanwhile, commentator Dennis Chung has written a very good column on the subject of the recession-that-we-now-cannot-deny. He proposes three solutions for us to drag ourselves back out of the slide: working seriously on Jamaica’s energy issues, including alternative energy solutions, reducing the enormous cost of importing oil etc; reducing costly food imports; and tackling the law and order problem which continues to plague our society. I could not agree more. Minister Phillip Paulwell is now looking at alternative energy; one hopes this will bear some fruit, and that it will all result in action, not talk.

Has the Finance Minister commented on any of this? I am not sure. He has, however, conceded that the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund may not be concluded by the end of December, after all. It may be in January, but as the Information Minister said, “Let’s not quibble about it.” She loves that word!

Dennis Chung

Financial analyst Dennis Chung always injects plenty of common sense into his analysis, which is clear and unbiased.

Back to that other pachyderm, crime. In an excellent op-ed (link below), a former Fulbright Professor and criminologist, Bernard Headley observes that “a balanced development and nation-building strategy ought to include understanding, teaching and practicing the ways of peace – respect and tolerance, healing and restoration, love and justice. These are, in the final analysis, the ultimate ‘protective factors’ against crime and disorder.” We are told (and goodness knows we should be aware of this by now) that Jamaica is a “Christian country.” All these beautiful Christian principles should be built into the country’s infrastructure of governance. But, strange… how come there is so little of it “deh ’bout”?

There have been various reports of reductions in crime in specific parishes. However, murders are not going down, overall. I know that full well. If you compare the sad lists of names at the end of each of my weekly blog posts, I think you will agree that nothing has changed. The numbers are pretty consistent, don’t you think?

The police have been really busy. By my count, they have killed seven Jamaicans – one for each day of the past week. Four killed in one “alleged shootout” in St. Elizabeth were allegedly linked to the “guns for drugs” trade between Jamaica and Haiti. Residents allege that the police chased the four men and shot them. It’s funny how the accounts of residents differ so dramatically from those of the police, isn’t it? Do they ever agree on a story? In St. Elizabeth, there were apparently many witnesses; hopefully they will give statements to members of the over-worked Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). In one of the incidents in Kingston, a policeman was injured.

I don’t like it: The all-too-frequent reports of robberies at schools – I think probably on average once a week these reports emerge. It is usually computers and electronic equipment (often donated by parents, past students or kind overseas organizations). But it’s all fair game. Let’s help ourselves to any cash that might have been saved for a school outing. And there’s food and drink in the kitchen! It truly distresses me to see the faces of stressed-out school principals, often fighting back tears, giving details of the theft, while the camera pans round a ransacked school office or computer lab. Who buys these computers? And what about the children?

Oh, please: The preachers-on-buses issue has lingered on. A “tweep” of mine commented that she had to endure “two hours of Christian music” on the privately-run Knutsford Express, which does longer-distance trips. Is there no escape? Meanwhile, the Public Defender… But no, I am not going to go there. Should I mention the words Tivoli Gardens in the same paragraph? Please read Jaevion Nelson’s article, below.

I like it: The Minister of Justice has also been busy, in a much more positive way I must say. The Senate finally passed a very important piece of legislation, the Evidence (Special Measures) Act 2012. The bill will allow “vulnerable witnesses” (such as children, and U.S.-based victims of the hateful lotto scam) to give evidence via video. As the head of the Jamaican Bar Association Ian Wilkinson noted this evening, however, the government should hurry up and pass the accompanying regulations, so that the law can be properly implemented.

A little baffling: The two security guards charged for the beating of an alleged gay student at the University of Technology have pleaded Not Guilty. Of course, it is their right. But they were picked out in an identity parade, and they should be pretty easy to identify from the YouTube video that went viral, too. But I am no lawyer. I am clearly missing something.

What a surprise: A review of the antiquated anti-buggery law, famously promised by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller during a debate, is not going to happen any time soon. But least one should be happy that, as Minister Falconer noted, the economy and crime are high priorities for the government. Oh! Perhaps some people have seen the two elephants pictured in this post…

Now on, to the good stuff: World AIDS Day is coming up (December 1) and the Caribbean has recorded a significant decrease in HIV infections – a decrease of 42 per cent since 2001. This is largely due to the increased availability of anti-retroviral drugs. I am sure we will be hearing more details on Jamaica in the next week or two. But I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the dedicated, hard-working Jamaicans who have worked, and continue to work, towards “zero” new infections: the Ministry of Health, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS, Eve for Life, the parish AIDS committees, and other organizations that play their part.

Congratulations to Olivia McGilchrist, the winner of the Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year competition, an event at Kingston’s Mutual Gallery that has gained in prestige. Ms. McGilchrist explored issues of identity in her photographs (rather odd, though, that of the four finalists three were photographers. Can we have more painters or even sculptors in the future, if possible?)

I am very pleased to learn, also, that several key private sector companies have decided to engage in charitable activities throughout the Christmas season – which now seems to be upon us. Digicel, GraceKennedy and Stewart’s Automotive Group are among them; also, the RJR Group is now making a public appeal for the Annotto Bay Hospital in St. Mary, which was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy – in particular the children’s and maternity wards. Do support all these activities in the spirit of Christmas.

Congratulations also to two pioneering surgeons, who have teamed up to perform the second minimally invasive surgery – laparoscopic prostatectomies, two long words there – at Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay. I am sure there is much more potential for this kind of amazing teamwork that can do so much for our often struggling health system. The UK’s Dr. Christopher Eden and Jamaica’s Dr. Roy McGregor are awesome. And they look so young, too!

I mentioned the recent, amazingly successful Caribbean Beta 2012 for young IT entrepreneurs, which I attended; see my blog post at http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/its-getting-beta-young-tech-entrepreneurs-in-jamaica/. I was really happy to read a report about the founder of a locally-based call center in the small town of Junction, St. Elizabeth, Lincoln Gayle. A graduate of Northern Caribbean University (which is making strides in Information Technology), Gayle currently lives in the United States but is a native of the pretty town of Southfield.

A community of bloggers: It was wonderful to meet so many Jamaican bloggers (there were around fifty of us!) at the Jamaica Bloggers Meet-Up in the cozy courtyard of the Knutsford Court Hotel. UNICEF is sponsoring a special blog challenge for World AIDS Day, which many of us will be going for… The tempting prize of a Samsung Tablet is being dangled before our eyes! It was a great get-together. Congratulations to the organizers of the third Jamaica Blog Awards – the only such awards in the English-speaking Caribbean, I believe. The hot competition begins early next year!

Last but certainly not least: The list below is of Jamaicans who have lost their lives since my last blog post. My sincere condolences and love to all their families, friends and loved ones, who are mourning their loss. One day, I wish, there will be no such list at the end of my weekly blog posts. I live in hope.

Jamaica Bloggers Meet Up

Jamaican Bloggers Unite: Here we are in the lobby of the Knutsford Court Hotel!

Lincoln Gayle

Lincoln Gayle, of Innovative Outsourcing Company Limited.

Olivia McGilchrist Red Dress #1

Olivia McGilchrist: Red Dress #1

By the way, if you want to see some of the television news reports, you can look up evening and noon news broadcasts which are archived at http://news.cvmtv.com/index.php?news=watch at CVM Television, which tends to have more detailed reports, I find. But you can find a link to some of the Prime Minister’s comments below on TVJ. Both websites are useful. Radio Jamaica and Nationwide News Network also have live streaming of their programs.

 

Dr. Chris Eden and Dr. Roy McGregor

A great team: Dr. Chris Eden and Dr. Roy McGregor before their first operation in Jamaica in 2011.

By the police: Oneil Green, 33, Kilmarnock, Westmoreland; Kenrick Bennett, New Town, St. Elizabeth; Rohan Barrett, New Town, St. Elizabeth;  Carlington Wallace, New Town, St. Elizabeth; Turline Wallace, New Town, St. Elizabeth;  unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston; Unidentified man, Red Hills Road, Kingston

Cab driver Albert Gordon

Cab driver Albert Gordon, one of the murder statistics

Albert Gordon, Richmond Park, Kingston

Unidentified woman, Bog Walk, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Forest Hill Gardens, St. Andrew

Everald Singh, 30, Grey Ground, Manchester

Danny Broderick, 22, Hopeton District, Manchester

Valentine Reid, 47, Riverton City, Kingston

Jacquelyn Harriott, 40, Windsor Heights, St. Catherine

Richard McCalla, 33, Hellshire Heights, St. Catherine

Allan White, 63, Job Lane, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Ernest Lumsden, 70, Bartons, St. Catherine

Courtney Mills, 34, Marlie Mount/Old Harbour, St. Catherine

http://news.cvmtv.com/index.php?news=watch (CVM Television news clips)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead1.html (Government shells out $60 million for new vehicles: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121124/lead/lead1.html (We deserve these cars: PM defends $60 million spent on ministers’ new vehicles: Gleaner)

http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22437 (PM responds to vehicle purchase: TVJ)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120322/lead/lead91.html (Falconer clears air on vehicle purchases: MARCH 2012 Gleaner report)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Government succumbs to bling culture: Gary Spaulding op-ed/Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/focus/focus2.html (Has everyone turned off the lights on growth? Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/cleisure/cleisure5.html (Will Witter arise from slumber? Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Sunday Gleaner)

http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2012/11/portia-loves-poor.html?showComment=1353699155063#c6788092347541038464 (Portia loves the poor: blog post by D. Marcus Williams)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/focus/focus5.html (It’s the Church that needs salvation: Gordon Robinson column/Sunday Gleaner)

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-117/32368 (Cabinet satisfied with pace of IMF negotiations: Jamaica Information Service)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead9.html (Debt to international organizations could hurt Jamaica – government technocrat: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead1.html (Squander! Government spends more than $32 million to keep old, empty Jamintel building safe for pigeons: Sunday Gleaner)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/guards-implicated-in-utech-beating-appear-in-court (Guards implicated in UTech beating appear in court: RJR)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Promised-buggery-review-put-on-back-burner_13056162 (Promised buggery law review put on back burner: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/letters/letters4.html (The struggle for common people to get justice: Letter/Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Keeping-the-buggery-law-is-preposterous_13042100 (Keeping the buggery law is preposterous: Letter/Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41318 (Senate passes Evidence Act: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/lead/lead6.html (St. James murders down: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41355 (Murders down in south St. Catherine: Sunday Gleaner)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/indecom-to-probe-police-shooting-of-four-men (INDECOM to proble police shooting of four men: RJR)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Dead-teen-was-tormented (Dead teen was tormented: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Remove-Prendergast- (Remove Prendergast: Relatives of Vanessa Wint label Commissioner of Corrections as uncaring: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead11.html (Who was watching the suicidal teen? Sunday Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Slipping-through-the-cracks_13075685 (Slipping through the cracks: Sunday Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead92.html (“You are all to blame”: Sunday Gleaner)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/policy-changes-in-the-making-for-handling-of-detainees (Policy changes in the making for handling of detainees: RJR)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/lead/lead7.html (Fewer cases of sex with minors reported: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41319 (Family wants Corrections Commissioner fired: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Invoking-God-s-blessings-_13054007 (“Invoking God’s blessings”: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead91.html (Paulwell steps up bid for cheaper electricity: Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Homosexual reparative therapy revisited: Rev. Clinton Chisholm op-ed/Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Good-move–Hardley-Lewin_13056130 (Good move, Hardley Lewin: Jamaica Observer/Mark Wignall column)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/lead/lead93.html (NEPA performs balancing act – agency provides residents with alternative livelihoods: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-104/32365 (Crime down, more qualified Jamaicans: Jamaica Information Service)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/letters/letters2.html (End victimization in S.W. St. Ann: Letter/Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Family–colleagues-mourn-cabbie-s-killing_13053266 (Family, colleagues mourn cabbie’s killing: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121125/lead/lead7.html (Let’s end this 50-year relationship with crime: Bernard Headley op-ed/Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/news/news2.html (Manchester police find fleeing lotto scammers: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/One-dead–3-000-lbs-of-ganja-seized (One dead, 3,000 pounds of ganja seized: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Caribbean-records-significant-decrease-in-HIV-infections (Caribbean records significant decrease in HIV infections: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/School-feeding-woes—Only-6-of-46-milk-delivery-trucks-refrigerated_13056355 (School feeding woes: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Reality check: would you invest in Jamaica? Dennie Quill column/Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/business/business6.html (Wehby rallies “growth creators”: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Why-is-Jamaica-back-in-recession- (Why is Jamaica back in recession? Dennis Chung column/Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Jamaica needs to produce: Letter from Metry Seaga to Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-2-B-duty-Loss ($2 billion duty loss! Tax reversal drives down demand for new cars: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/More-tax-from-consumption (More tax from consumption: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Phillips-puts-doubt-on-December-IMF-deal (Phillips puts doubt on December IMF deal: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/-Stop-waiting-on-the-IMF–_13017382 (“Stop waiting on the IMF”! Jamaica Observer/Jean Lowrie-Chin column)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/JFJ-disappointed-at-delay-in-Tivoli-report (JFJ disappointed at delay in Tivoli report: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Party-time–Holness-says-JLP-s-political-campaign-starts-now (Holness says JLP’s political campaign starts now: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Putting-our-JLP–PNP-houses-in-order_13035768 (Putting our JLP, PNP houses in order: Jamaica Observer editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/cleisure/cleisure1.html (JLP must obey its constitution: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121121/business/business1.html (Back in recession – Jamaican economy contracts for third quarter: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jamaica-goes-deeper-into-recession (Jamaica goes deeper into recession: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead95.html (Tax reform remains high on agenda: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Customs-boss-to-meet-with-frustrated-exporters_13018303 (Customs boss to meet with frustrated exporters: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Potty-training-and-nation-building_13052344 (Potty training and nation building: Jamaica Observer/Grace Virtue op-ed – very good!)

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32370 (PAHO, WHO support a smoke-free environment: Jamaica Information Service)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead2.html (NEPA, Petrojam at odds over explanation for odor: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/lead/lead6.html (UDC set to embark on “Operation Restoration”: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Race-still-defines-relationships-in-America–says-French-journalist_13053322 (Race still defines relationships in America, says French journalist: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121118/arts/arts5.html (Super Plus Under 40 Artist of the Year Competition excites: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32361 (Protecting vulnerable crucial under IMF program – UNCTAD head: Jamaica Information Service)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Developing-country-unity—what-unity-_13044444 (Developing country unity – what unity? Jamaica Observer editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/news/news8.html (Corporate entities nice up the Christmas! Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121122/news/news4.html (Cornwall Regional team performs second minimally invasive surgery: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Renowned-astrophysicist-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson-to-visit (Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to visit: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/news/news7.html (African board game arrives in Jamaica: Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/lead/lead4.html (Stepping from the shadows: Lincoln Gayle: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.rjrgroup.com/news/rjr-makes-public-appeal-help-restore-annotto-bay-hospital-after-damage-hurricane-sandy (RJR makes public appeal to help restore Annotto Bay Hospital after damage)

Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday Whatever, November 18, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday Whatever, November 18, 2012

A friend of mine teased me the other day that my weekly commentary on Jamaican affairs is generally of the gloom-and-doom variety. But hey, I am a cynical optimist. I always hope for and expect the best, but when I don’t get it… Whatever!

So much for my personal outlook on life. Let’s look at a few things that have been going on in the past week… and I have to say that I have actually found a number of “positive” stories for you, my faithful readers.

Firstly – and I think this is rather important – I was pleased to learn today of an initiative by University of the West Indies (UWI) students, a response to the recent homophobic beating of a student at the nearby University of Technology in Kingston. It is borrowed from a U.S.-based campaign called “NoH8″  (“no hate,” you see). Although some of Jamaica’s more devout Christians may not believe in the idea of love and tolerance (curious isn’t it?) I believe this is a good effort that really deserves our support – and in particular, one hopes, from public figures, celebrities etc. And I am especially glad to see young Jamaicans taking a stand. Kudos to the UWI Guild of Students’ Maya Wilkinson.

Maya Wilkinson NoH8

Maya Wilkinson of the NoH8 campaign had to immediately clarify that she is not gay. If she was, presumably the campaign would have no credibility in the eyes of the media and others. And she would not show her face.

NoH8

The faces of the University of the West Indies’ NoH8 campaign.

The Sunday Observer article ran a report on the matter that included comments from a student who claimed he had been tricked and harassed into participating in the campaign but subsequently withdrew when he heard that it was in support of gay marriage (which it apparently is not). The Observer’s continued ambivalence on such matters has been quite evident (the newspaper rarely seems to use the term “human rights” for example) but I am glad that they printed the article, although I am not sure about the overall tone of it. Read it and see for yourself. And I suppose one should be thankful that the Observer cartoonist no longer depicts homosexuals as bizarrely distorted freaks in women’s clothing, but rather as “fish” (this being the latest derogatory term for gays in Jamaica). You see, they are still obsessed with the topic.

But isn’t it strange how quiet our politicians are, as well as our leaders in general? They have remained mostly silent on this topic – one that is fundamental to the health of Jamaican society. The media and the Jamaican people have had much to say, and the debate has been generally thoughtful, interesting and vibrant up to this point. But clearly our leaders consider the issue of violence and intolerance of anyone who is “different” (not just gays) to be of little relevance; in fact, one has the sense that politicians, sportsmen/women, entertainers etc are avoiding the subject; or am I being unfair? The Minister of Education put out a hasty statement immediately after the University of Technology student mob chased and attacked a young man accused of being a homosexual. But since then a deafening silence, so far as I know. Correct me if I am wrong – but I have been listening out for something.

I have posted below what was probably my favorite cartoon of the week from Clovis… our beleaguered Finance Minister scraping the barrel for U.S. Dollars in the Net International Reserves. Somehow I feel stressed every time I hear him speak – because he sounds so stressed himself. It doesn’t engender confidence in me. Unlike the ever-cheerful former Finance Minister Omar Davies, he always seems rather down. Cheer up! It can’t be that bad – can it?

Finance Minister Peter Phillips

Finance Minister Peter Phillips always seems harassed and unbelievably stressed. I would love to see a smile from him – perhaps next week, Minister Phillips?

Editorial cartoon

This editorial cartoon made me laugh out loud. It is just the expression on Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ face…

Oops! I promised to be positive. OK…The aforementioned UWI now has a shiny new Medical School, which will accommodate far more students than the current 350, including some foreign ones, it is hoped. It’s a nice building, and designed by a Jamaican, Robert Woodstock.

Now, I mentioned distractions in a recent blog: distractions from the large elephants currently installed in Jamaica’s living room, which is bedecked with the traditional crocheted mats and flamboyant artificial flowers. One of these was the news that the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), which operates buses in Kingston and surrounding areas, is to ban preachers on its buses. Yes, preachers. These devout gentlemen (I think they are mostly men) climb aboard with Bible in hand and proceed to harangue the captive, and not necessarily willing, congregation who are going about their business. They bellow, they pray, they shake their fists, they sing. At the end of their sermons, they take a collection. The preachers condemn those passengers who rebel (objecting to the proselytizing or refusing to pay up) to eternal hellfire. At which point other passengers may verbally reprimand the heathens, who then shrink into their seats with embarrassment. But hellfire might be preferable to taking a JUTC bus with a preacher on board.

This issue rattled on all week in the local media. This huge story (was it a huge story, I ask?) broke on Monday morning, and was still making front page headlines on Friday. Enough already, I cried. The preacher-on-the-bus issue was examined and discussed from every possible angle on radio talk shows, and radio and television stations ran numerous vox pops, asking every man, woman and child on the street, “What do you think?”

But then, one asked, what about the distorted, maniacal ramblings of so-called deejays, with their misogynistic lyrics that are offensive to women (and men), which minibus drivers apparently still play at full volume for the delectation of their passengers? Perhaps, as radio talk show host and Sunday Gleaner columnist Orville Taylor sagely observed, there is a serious underlying issue here, that of “respect for the rights and freedoms of others.”

This actually points to the fact that Jamaicans have a remarkable, and not particularly admirable, capacity for putting up with crap. To put it bluntly (pardon my French). And it also highlights once again a quite recent tendency for evangelical Christian beliefs to be foisted on the public in general. No meeting or meal can take place without a fervent prayer preceding it. We are told to lower our heads obediently and listen to someone asking the Almighty to direct our thoughts and guide our pens as we write, or for the food we are about to eat to be properly digested (yes). Supposing I am an atheist, an agnostic, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim or any other religion? Freedom of religion works both ways. I am sure these Christians are well-meaning, but please don’t impose your beliefs on others and simply expect us all to fall in line… But then again, Jamaicans do acquiesce, meekly. They do fall in line. Anything for a quiet life (or in the case of the JUTC buses, a noisy one).

And now, lo and behold! The Public Defender, Mr. Earl Witter, bestirred himself yesterday and decided he was going to investigate the constitutionality of the whole affair. A fellow blogger has commented on this, and you will find the link to his sharply observed blog post below. I plan to write more, but would just like to enquire of Mr. Witter: Could you kindly give us an update on your report on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion” of May 2010, during which over seventy Jamaican citizens died at the hands of the security forces? This report was promised to us within two weeks, some months ago now (or maybe I imagined that). The Gleaner enquired about it in its editorials of August 27 and October 3 of this year. The Public Defender, who has described himself as a “whipping boy” for the media, has promised that we will soon see the report. When can we exhale, dear Mr. Witter?

Meanwhile, it’s politics time again. This time, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) held its annual conference – a rather subdued affair compared to last year’s, when a huge crowd, transported by many buses, converged on the National Arena just prior to the election – which, of course, the JLP comprehensively lost a few weeks later. This year they met at the Jamaica Conference Centre downtown – a really nice, more intimate venue compared to the cavernous and ugly arena – just for one day, not two. Many supporters, however, said they preferred the Arena (perhaps it was harder for them to smoke their ganja at the Conference Centre – this is a party conference tradition, by the way).

Today’s Sunday Observer ran the eager headline this morning, “JLP in turmoil.” The Sunday Gleaner chimed in, “Warmington faces JLP’s wrath” (the last two words in huge red letters)Yes, once again the local media have discovered unrest in the JLP ranks, and there is nothing that they enjoy more than alleged plots and sub-plots within either of the two political parties. Mr. Everald Warmington (always one for a bit of excitement) filed a court injunction to prevent the election of deputy leaders (there are four) which he said was in breach of the party constitution. He withdrew the injunction at the end of the week, so I don’t know where that leaves us. It’s a nice tasty morsel for the local media to get their teeth into, though. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness (who served as our Prime Minister briefly last year before his thumping defeat) sounded more than usually animated this afternoon at the podium, expressing concern for the poor – he took a leaf out of Portia Simpson Miller‘s book there. He actually shouted. It was quite invigorating.

Now, party politics – especially suspected internal upheavals – is always a major distraction. So, too, was another eulogy in the Lower House: this time for former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who made a speech himself. They did “Uncle Eddie, and now it was PJ’s turn to have his afternoon of speechifying. Our current Prime Minister put on her brightest party colors for the occasion. This is all under the umbrella of Jamaica 50, one understands. No comment.

Didn’t I promise to be “positive” this week? Well, here goes: on the government side, there has been some movement. Couched in “anti-colonialism” terms, rather than with reference to Jamaicans’ human rights, the bills to abolish flogging were tabled in the Upper House last week. Also sitting on the Senate’s table is the Evidence (Special Measures) Act, designed to enable video evidence to be considered in court. This is an absolutely vital piece of legislation as the government continues to struggle with the deeply-embedded thorn in our side, the ubiquitous lotto scam. Good job, Justice Minister Mark Golding.

Minister of Justice Mark Golding

Minister of Justice Mark Golding

It’s important to reward young scientists and innovators; we need far more of them. The Jamaica Public Service Company recently sponsored a series of awards under the aegis of Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell. Many congratulations to the winners of the Innovation of the Year Award (worth a cool two million Jamaican Dollars) from UWI’s Natural Products Institute; and to Sunderland Primary School in St. James for their Youth Innovator Award – this for a remarkable pothole-patching compound. Much needed across the island, especially since Hurricane Sandy!

Speaking of technology, I attended the Caribbean Beta 2012 tech entrepreneurship conference in Kingston on Friday, and was deeply impressed by the caliber of the panelists; the excellent organization; and above all, the enthusiasm of the participants and the eighteen teams who competed in the afternoon in a “PitchFest” for their products – many of them mobile applications. Caribbean Beta is the brainchild of Ingrid Riley, supported by a young and energetic team at Connectimass.  Read more at caribbeanbeta.com and take a look at Ingrid’s excellent website at  www.siliconcaribe.com. More details in another blog post that I plan to write this week. Congratulations to all involved in this marvelous event – not just talk, but practical, learning stuff – a “boot camp” continued over the weekend for start-up companies.

And on the same theme, this year’s Jamaican Rhodes Scholar is UWI student Vincent Taylor, who is currently studying for an M.Phil in Computer Science. Runner-up is medical doctor and UWI graduate Katherine Innis, who will compete for the Commonwealth Caribbean Scholarship. Mr. Taylor, I hope you will enjoy and greatly benefit from study at my own alma mater!

I am personally so thrilled to hear that the St. Patrick’s Foundation, a faith-based NGO that does amazing work in inner-city areas of Kingston, has been receiving so much support from the friends of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia over the years – amounting to more than two million U.S. dollars! The contributions of overseas churches, universities, diaspora groups and volunteers of all ages to Jamaica are so great that it is almost impossible to quantify in monetary terms. And that does not even count all the goodwill engendered. What would we do without them all…

By the way, I am sorry I missed a very special art exhibition yesterday in downtown Kingston. 34-year-old Astro Saulter, who has cerebral palsy, uses the back of his head to paint digital pictures with a special device in his wheelchair. His first solo art exhibition was launched at Studio 174 downtown yesterday. Astro has two creative brothers, too – young Jamaican filmmakers Nile and Storm Saulter of New Caribbean Cinema. They have made a short film, “Astro, the Morning Star,” which will be screened at a special event tomorrow. Read more below… Congratulations Astro, and to your brothers for your loving support!

And finally, my deepest condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of police Corporal Robert Sortie, who was shot dead on a busy Kingston street last week. And to the loved ones of all those who have died violently in the past week. I should add that the families of those people (including many children) who are missing are also in my thoughts. I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety of having a loved one who has disappeared. I hope they all come home safely, and soon.

Astro Saulter

Astro Saulter talks to his brother Storm.

Jamaican Rhodes Scholar Vincent Taylor and runner-up Dr. Katherine Innis

Jamaican Rhodes Scholar Vincent Taylor and runner-up Dr. Katherine Innis (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Youth Innovator Awards

Youth Innovator Awardees, sponsors etc (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Andrew Holness at JLP Conference

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness at today’s JLP Conference, in full flight. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

University of the West Indies Medical School

University of the West Indies Medical School – looks “pretty” as Jamaicans would say. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Killed by the police: Unidentified man, Mount Carey, St. James; Daniel Hayles, 18, Old Harbour, St. Catherine; Delroy Scott, August Town, St. Andrew

Sasia Johnson, 35, Little London, Westmoreland

Travis Welcome, 21, Jobs Lane, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Denham Town, Kingston

Corporal Robert Sortie, Constant Spring Road, Kingston

Shanique Pinnock, 27, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Related articles:

http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2012/11/public-defense-of-twisted-priorities.html?showComment=1353213315787#c5807704627188400409 (Public Defense of Twisted Priorities: Cogito Ergo Sum)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41204 (Bunting decries Corporal’s killing: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41201 (Public Defender held up and robbed: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/arts/arts2.html (Introducing Astro Saulter – digital painter mounts first exhibition: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121116/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Freedom and restraint: Jamaica Gleaner/Peter Espeut op-ed)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121116/business/business2.html (Bank of Jamaica predicts fourth quarter contraction of Jamaican economy: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/lead/lead1.html (Foul affair: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/letters/letters4.html (All hail PJ Patterson! Jamaica Gleaner/Letter to the Editor)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/13-arrested-in-Lottery-scam-raid (Thirteen arrested in lottery scam raid: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Bills-to-abolish-flogging-tabled-in-Senate_13018187 (Bills to abolish flogging tabled in Senate: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-more-H8_13009532 (No more H8: University students fight discrimination: Sunday Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JLP-in-turmoil_13025168 (JLP in turmoil: Sunday Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41221 (JLP leader outlines solutions to aid Jamaica’s poorest: Sunday Gleaner)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/new-pnpyo-president-elected (New PNPYO president elected: RJR)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121117/letters/letters4.html (All hail PJ Patterson! Letter to the Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121118/focus/focus4.html (Thou shalt not preach…on JUTC buses: Sunday Gleaner op-ed by Orville Taylor)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Public-Defender-tackles-ban-on-bus-preachers_13025007 (Public Defender tackles ban on bus preachers: Sunday Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121003/cleisure/cleisure2.html (Earl Witter and the missing report: Gleaner editorial, October 3, 2012)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Phillips–Shaw-s-claims-have-no-basis_13009361 (Phillips: Shaw’s claims have no basis: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cop-shot-and-killed (Cop shot and killed: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/NEWS/Big-contribution-to-St-Patrick-s-Foundation-from-Virginia_13007574 (Big contribution to St. Patrick’s Foundation from Virginia: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/News/BoJ-projects-1-7–contraction-in-economy (Bank of Jamaica projects 1.7% contraction in economy: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/arts/arts2.html (Introducing Astro Saulter – digital painter mounts first exhibition: Jamaica Gleaner)

Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday After Sandy: October 28, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

Jlp at War With Itself Again ? (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)

Radcliffe Lewis Tells Bus Preachers Their Practice Is … An Offence And A Crime (steppaz1961.wordpress.com)

Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012

Two elephants are standing in Jamaica’s living room right now. They are growing so large that we have had to move out most of the furniture. The last item we will remove will be the cosy armchair with the nice soft cushions. It will be hard for Jamaica to let that one go – it’s just so comfortable.

The two elephants are called Economy and Crime.

But dears – forgive us, there have been so many distractions over the past few months…In roughly chronological order: Jamaica 50; the London Olympics and its aftermath, which occupied us for a couple of months; Hurricane Sandy; and in the past week, the U.S. elections!  Our Jamaican political analysts waxed lyrical on election night. I must confess that we were also glued to our television set, heart in mouth, on the edge of our seat; and then basking in the euphoria of President Obama’s win. We had to stay up for his stirring victory speech. Well, the elections blanketed the Jamaican media, with every radio and television station worth its salt running a “U.S. election special.” I get the feeling that Jamaicans find the U.S. vote more exciting, absorbing and inspiring than their own elections – its entertainment value is higher as it is at a distance, I suppose. And although most commentators agreed that the result would have very little impact on Jamaica per se, they still devoted many hours on TV and radio and many column inches to discussing it. For several days.

Obama supporters celebrate outside White House

Somehow this reminds me of Jamaica – political supporters hanging in trees: Obama supporters celebrate outside White House on election night (Photo: lightbox.time.com)

Elephant in the Room

Jamaica has two of these. They sit comfortably together: the Economy and Crime.

I repeat: the two elephants are called Economy and Crime. The politicians (and the print media) are trying their best to avoid discussing these two highly intelligent – and very large – animals. Only our diligent broadcast media and our talk show hosts, antennae waving in the cool winter breeze, seem to have picked up on the first elephant. No one pointed to the second one, although there was much focus on the white-collar variety. On the white-collar front we seem to have had mixed results, and success in some quarters. And yet the list of names at the end of my weekly post shows no sign of growing shorter (the numbers only fell during the week of Hurricane Sandy). Of course, those aren’t white-collar. Those are the “working class.”

Have I missed something, or have the media released the murder statistics for, say, September or October? If not, why not? By my count, fifteen Jamaicans have been murdered in the past week, as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday – plus two brothers killed by the police. By tomorrow morning, there will likely be two or three more homicides (and I can now confirm that, as of Sunday lunchtime). You might think I am obsessed, but perhaps that’s because our local media is hardly talking about it. It seems to be a “given” – like our deteriorating economic outlook – just the norm. The print media studiously avoid reporting daily murders, unless it is something particularly egregious.

Meanwhile the police are seeking men with curious names like “Weed Seed,” “Duppy Film,” “Eggy” and “Wasp” (wasps bite harder than bees in Jamaica). Maybe they have “handed themselves in” to the police, by now. If not, they know what they might expect.

Before I go any further, a quick word – well, just a short rant – on the print media. I would like to suggest, seriously, that one of our daily national newspapers should simply become a lifestyle magazine – advertising a specific lifestyle: that of standing around at uptown cocktail parties with glasses in hand, or sitting in a restaurant, wearing the latest fashions, with one’s “BFF” (dresses exposing one shoulder seem to be de rigueur at the moment). There is an obsession with food and drink, and women in short skirts and high heels. All these people are grinning away happily, while the rest of the island struggles with floods and homeless people, sending their children to school without breakfast, and those little everyday injustices that don’t affect the grinning ones at all. They just want to get their pictures in the ever-expanding social pages. Oh, and the Saturday edition should just call itself “Hair and Nails,” or something similar.

Listen, I don’t want to sound churlish. Nothing wrong with having fun. And Jamaicans certainly know how to party! It’s the Fun Island!

Thank God for radio, which does try to tackle real issues seriously (to be fair though, the Gleaner has been putting some adrenalin-packed punches in their editorials lately…) A man who is fast becoming my favorite radio talk show host, Mr. Ronald Mason of Nationwide News Network, commented last week, “Why is there no sense of urgency?” Mr. Mason is gruff and blunt, with a touch of humor; he does not countenance the unofficial spokesmen/women for either party, who are always seeking a foothold in the talk shows. No propaganda for him. He reminds me of the late and much-revered Wilmot Perkins, whom we all miss dearly (but who could have been accused of bias at times). Mr. Mason used the word “autopilot” to describe the current state of our governance; and I have used this word myself in the past. “This country is in a financial crisis,” he insists, adding that “the people need to know” what is going on in the economy. Where is our growth plan? What is our job creation plan (no, not “JEEP”)? Where is our vision, our future?

And yet the newspapers’ Friday financial pages barely referred to the following facts that were revealed this week:

  • Jamaica’s Net International Reserves have lost US$833 million this year and are now at their lowest level for ten years (US$1.1 billion), with thirteen weeks’ worth of U.S. Dollars remaining;
  • Financial Secretary Wesley Hughes (the chief civil servant in that Ministry) is resigning – so far as I know, we do not know when, or why;
  • The head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, a key government agency, is resigning – Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson was on secondment from a teaching post in the U.S., but still not great news;
  • Jamaican dollar bonds performed the worst out of fifteen Central American and Caribbean nations in October, with interest rates rising to over eight per cent.

There has been precious little comment from our political leaders, too – apart from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose voice does not resonate strongly in the media at the moment. Broadcaster Cliff Hughes interviewed former Finance Minister Audley Shaw on the whole situation, and did not let him off the hook; the thing is, there has been foot-dragging and failure to step up to the plate in both administrations. The head of the JLP’s G2K young professionals, Floyd Green, suggested that “we are at a standstill” in our discussions with the International Monetary Fund. Is this really true? What is the true status of the IMF discussions, as of now? Or are we just waiting to hear something?

Only one Sunday newspaper column focused on Jamaica’s economic muddle; it is written by a Jamaican who does not live here, interestingly – a member of the so-called diaspora. Mr. David Mullings writes, “If we believe that Jamaica will be better off in a generation based on the current path, then we too are in denial.” The other Sunday opinion makers write about everything from (mostly) Obama to CARICOM to a trade agreement on rum – all of academic interest, if truth be told.

According to Bloomberg this week, a senior economist at JP Morgan asked the question: “How much longer can Jamaica muddle through this with virtually no growth?” Answers, please, Minister of Finance (they didn’t answer Bloomberg’s phone calls or emails, it is reported). With Belize and Grenada already there, will Jamaica be the next Caribbean country to default on its debt?

I am sorry. Too many questions. One major issue that the print media did a good job of reporting this week has been the terrifying, and seemingly intractable, issue of the lottery scam. Where will it end, one wonders. Alarming reports have emerged of the use of Jamaica’s humble postal service as a method of smuggling in the proceeds of the scam. The scale of all of this (which may be only the tip of the iceberg, who knows?) is frightening. Even more disturbing is the Jamaican government’s seeming inability to tackle this disgraceful state of affairs decisively. It has been said over and over that new legislation is urgently required to deal with the problem. It has not been forthcoming, although the government would like us to believe that they are taking it seriously. And how long has it been? Two years? Three years? The “lotto scam” has grown into a kind of monster – like the one in the sci-fi movie “Alien,” which feeds off humans and grows increasingly vicious and bloodthirsty. If you can bring yourself to read it, the Sunday Gleaner report below gives some idea of the scope of this nightmare that won’t go away.

The lotto scam was the focus of a recently published report by the very credible local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). Unfortunately, CaPRI has not yet posted any information on their website (http://capricaribbean.org) that I can refer you to.

And then there is credit card fraud.

With the usual huffing and puffing of hot air, the Upper House unanimously passed regulations governing casino gambling on Friday. One Senator made an enormous issue out of the word “gaming” as opposed to “gambling.” I suppressed a groan. There are all types of gambling/gaming going on all over Jamaica already. Pontificating won’t make any difference.

Flooding in St. Mary

Flooded gas station in Port Maria. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

And let’s not forget… Thousands of Jamaicans – yes the poor ones out in the “bush” – are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. The media has not forgotten this, to give them their due. There are a few thousand still without power, as the Jamaica Public Service Company struggles to reach them on damaged roads. Some are still in shelters. Others are still suffering from really bad weather, which has persisted in the past few days in some parts of the island. Yesterday, almost the entire town of Port Maria was flooded after heavy showers; the north-east corner of the island is being battered by rain and wind as I write. It’s not over yet. Perhaps the Prime Minister could venture out at some point in the next few days to show a little sympathy and to promise succor and relief. Something could be arranged. And I am sure that a few of those famous hugs would do the trick.

Talking of St. Mary, I must hand out some major kudos to the Jamaica National Building Society for their outreach to this particular community in St. Mary, through a residents’ forum, over this weekend. St. Mary is reportedly the poorest parish in Jamaica – beautiful, and under-developed. Congratulations to Mr. Earl Jarrett and his dedicated team on their Disaster Recovery Program, with the theme “Leading with Action.” Just what we need.

“Big ups,” too, to the medical team of the California-based Integrative Clinics International, which visited the birthplace of Bob Marley (Nine Miles, St. Ann) to provide free health care to the residents of the small rural community. The volunteer doctors and nurses paid their own way to Jamaica. I am glad they had the support of Ziggy Marley’s Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment (URGE) Foundation and the Bob Marley Foundation (Ziggy is my favorite Marley, after Bob of course).

I have felt a surge of sympathy for the hard-working Mr. Errol Greene, Town Clerk at the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation. His job is not an easy one. His somewhat battered-looking visage and his air of patience and determination, are quite endearing. On a regular basis, he dons his hard hat and marches out into the downtown area, ready to do battle with strident illegal vendors, who don’t go lightly. I am sure he has security back-up; but his job must be one of the most stressful in the city. Nevertheless, he aways has a twinkle in his eye. Cheers, Mr. Greene, and keep up the good work!

Errol Greene

Errol Greene, the intrepid Town Clerk, minus hard hat in this photo.

There is a Japanese expression “ganbatte!” which means “Keep going/don’t give up!” I would like to say this to Mr. Justin Felice, the former anti-corruption man in the police force who now heads our Financial Investigation Division; Ms. Leesa Kow, president of the Jamaica Money Remitters Association; Superintendent Leon Clunis, head of the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force in the Jamaica Constabulary Force; Postmaster General Michael Gentles, and all those engaged in the fight against the scammers, who have caused untold suffering in Jamaica and the United States. Mr. Felice and the others are working so hard to combat this scourge; they need the support of political leaders. Once again, the Jamaica National Building Society has supported their efforts and held its second forum “to discuss strategies in support of Government and private sector initiatives to eradicate the lottery scam and address its impact on security, trade and foreign relations” this week. Well done, Mr. Jarrett et al.

Justin Felice

Justin Felice, head of the Financial Investigations Division.

And that brings us full circle to the issues of the economy and crime: how can we expect foreigners and others to invest in a country where a segment of the population has been working to swindle and rob overseas citizens of their savings (there have been some suicides, by the way)? And where so many Jamaicans are being slaughtered, week in, week out? Let’s get a grip. “Action” is a word JNBS use frequently in their slogans. We all want to see more action from our lawmakers. Get on with it, please, before it is too late.

P.S. Mystery of the week: I am completely puzzled by the Jamaica Public Service court case, and the perceived change in priorities of the Simpson Miller administration and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell with regard to the issue of JPS’ license, granted by an earlier People’s National Party administration. I think I must be rather stupid. Can anyone explain what is happening? I must pay more attention and try to work it out for myself, I think…

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell

As usual, I recall the grieving faces of Jamaican men, women and children who have lost their loved ones under violent circumstances. Below is this week’s sad tally of Jamaican citizens who have been murdered this week. I have noticed that many of them are young men in their twenties; and that something is going very wrong in the parish of St. Catherine. And are curfews the answer?

Medical team in Nine Miles

Nurse Pattye Anderson and Dr. Doug Aberg with Nine Miles residents Sadie Bygrave (left) and Fabian Anderson. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood, Jamaica Observer)

Flooding in St. Mary

A car is swept away by floods in Port Maria on Saturday. (Photo: On the Ground News Reports)

Hurricane shelter

Cheryl Hall lights a kerosene lamp in a shelter in Manchioneal, Portland. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Jamaica Observer)

Fitz Bailey looks at credit card fraud equipment

Head of the police Organized Crime Investigation Division Fitz Bailey looks at recently seized equipment, cards etc used by an alleged credit/debit card fraud ring. (Photo: Michael Gordon/Jamaica Observer)

Tandy Lewis

Young Tandy Lewis, a public relations officer at the Jamaica Postal Service, was one of the victims of the lotto scam, it appears. A former colleague, Barrington Davis and his companion were also victims. All murdered.

Killed by the police

Mytona Stewart, 25, Central Village, St. Catherine

Lincoln Stewart, 23, Central Village, St. Catherine

Daniel Hayes, 18, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Other murders:

Unidentified man, Rose Hall, St. James

Pansy Morgan, 62, Watermount, St. Catherine

Unidentified woman, 25, May Pen, Clarendon

Shemell Gillespie, Waltham Crescent, Kingston

Unidentified man, Kingston Gardens, Kingston

Keneil Graham, 28, Bushy Park, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Portmore, St. Catherine

Leroy McLeish, 27, Sheffield, Westmoreland

“Hot Head,” Sheffield, Westmoreland

Floyd Brown, Sheffield, Westmoreland

Navado Whitmore, 27, Dias District, Hanover

Unidentified man, Keesing Avenue, Kingston

Trevor Wright, Washington Boulevard, Kingston

Randy Bogle, 23, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Richard Swaby, 24, Mandeville, Manchester

Sebastian Earl, 25, Watson Grove, St. Catherine

Marlon Blake, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Oneil Brown, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Related articles and websites:

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41022 (Police kill brothers in alleged shootout: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/murders-keep-st-catherine-police-busy (Murders keep St. Catherine police busy: RJR)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead1.html (Mail, money and murder: Postal service under pressure as scammers move in: Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead3.html (Security auditors called in: large sums detected in unlikely mail: Sunday Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-law-will-hit-scammers-_12968573 (New law will hit scammers: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40872 (Burnt Port Royal body was Tandy Lewis: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121108/lead/lead12.html (Slippery slope: Lotto scam undermines financial sector: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121109/lead/lead1.html (Scammer fears: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DPP-wants-more-power-to-fight-lottery-scam (DPP wants more power to fight lottery scam: Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41028 (Security worries for remittance companies: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-08/jamaica-bond-yields-jump-to-nine-month-high-after-belize-default.html (Jamaica bond yields jump to nine-month high after Belize default: Bloomberg News)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Denial-is-disastrous_12959710 (Denial is disastrous (David Mullings op-ed: Sunday Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41026 (UTech security guards pointed out in ID parade: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41029 (Police crack credit, debit card scam in Caribbean Estate: Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DNA-draft-Bill-expected-today_12955648 (DNA draft Bill expected today: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Port-Doubt_12959068 (Delay in removal of prison said in conflict with Panama Canal timeline: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-They-took-my-leg- (“They took my leg”: Sunday Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/US-medical-team-helps-Nine-Miles_12966348 (U.S. medical team helps Nine Miles: Sunday Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Nannyville-youth-donate-books-to-community-school (Nannyville youth donate books to community school: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.og.nr/rbt/9921-choir-members-take-cover-during-shootout-in-mandeville.html (Choir members take cover during shootout in Mandeville: On The Ground News Reports)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/southern-regional-health-authority-faces-possible-lawsuit (Southern Regional Health Authority faces possible lawsuit: RJR)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Senate-approves-casino-gaming-regulations (Senate approves casino gaming regulations: Jamaica Observer)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/pioj-director-general-financial-secretary-to-demit-office-soon (PIOJ director general, financial secretary to demit office soon: RJR)

http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-105/32238 (Jamaica decisive on lotto scam: Jamaica Information Service)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/security-guards-in-utech-beating-pointed-out (Security guards in UTech beating pointed out: RJR)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/business/business7.html (Consumers paying for 17% of JPS losses, says Paulwell: Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41070 (More rains for St. Mary as parish recovers from flood; Jamaica Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-timeline-for–Sandy–relief-houses_12949270 (No timeline for Sandy relief houses: Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t–Joining-JPS-in-court-case-intended-to-protect-consumers_12941404 (Government joining JPS in court case intended to protect consumers: Jamaica Observer)

We Are the 51 Per Cent

A few weeks ago I attended a very important and powerful training session for women serving on public sector boards, conducted by the 51% Coalition in association with the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung – see the link to my earlier post on “Madam Director, Madam Chair” below. I promised a follow-up…

The following article by Jamaica’s 51% Coalition appeared in the last edition of Sunday Gleaner. It provides much more background information on what drives the 51% Coalition; and some simple logic, too. Here is the link: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120729/focus/focus4.html.  I added some photos and the emphases in bold. 

Recently, the new French president did what would many would describe as bold and unusual when he named a Cabinet which included an equal number of male and female ministers – a first in the country’s history. The situation in France is not an isolated case. In 2004, the Spanish socialist prime minister had equal numbers of men and women on his first Cabinet, and more women than men in his second.

But what does this mean? Are these appointments merely symbolic? Do we really need more women in government and on boards?

Research conducted by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian International Development Agency, showed that while women have made significant strides in educational and professional development, over a 10-year period from 1998, women moved from 29 per cent to 33 per cent on public-sector boards, and from 14 per cent to 16 per cent of members of private-sector boards. Since then, the percentage on public boards has slipped to 31 per cent, but the process of appointments is still ongoing.

Women's Resource & Outreach Centre logo

Key decision-makers

Yet, women are among shareholders of publicly listed companies and are key decision-makers, as consumers of goods and services in the marketplace. Women bring several strategic advantages to boards and leadership. Boards with more diverse membership benefit from improved financial performance, better risk management and better corporate governance. Several studies and economists have made the case for having more women in leadership.

Judy Rosener

Dr. Judy B. Rosener is a professor in the Paul Merage School of Business at University of California/Irvine.

Having more women on boards makes it more likely than not that frequently overlooked female market issues will be identified and addressed, cited Judy Rosener, (‘Women on corporate boards makes good business sense’, 2007). Economic analyses by the World Bank, United Nations, Goldman Sachs and other organisations show a significant statistical correlation between gender equality and the level of development of countries.

The Association of British Insurers reports that promoting women to the higher echelons of management will improve firms’ risk management, encourage debate around strategy, and help them focus on longer-term objectives.

In addition, through training, preparation and practical support, women will bring a new approach to the practice of leadership. This will ensure that women’s gender interests in key national-policy matters are addressed.

The phrase ‘gender equality as smart economics’ has become the recent mantra of such powerful women leaders as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet. It is also the rallying cry of the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development.

This latest report – the first ever to focus on gender equality – is a welcome and persuasive effort to demonstrate why gender equality is critical, and what policymakers can do to achieve it.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

A photograph taken by myself of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her official visit to Barbados in 2010.

 

 

In June, the Harvard Business Review reported that diversity on boards was critical to sustaining performance. Broadening the composition of the board increases the size of the candidate pool and, more important, helps expand perspectives at the top. While most CEOs recognise the importance of appointing directors of different ages and with different kinds of educational backgrounds and functional expertise, they tend to underestimate the benefits of gender diversity.

The 51 per cent Coalition has been monitoring the appointments to public boards. While the process is not yet complete, it is our view that there are far too many boards in which the majority of the directors are men. Shouldn’t public boards be representative of society? How can a public board which, by its very composition, not reflect the wider population effectively govern and manage the interests of the Jamaican people?

The boards in which women are more represented include e-Learning Jamaica, EXIM Bank, Scientific Research Council, as well as the Child Development Agency, Maxfield Park Children’s Home and the Adoption Board. One could easily argue that traditionally many of the ‘softer’ ministries and boards have been dominated by women, while the ‘big jobs’ like finance, transportation, water and defence usually go to the men. Regrettably, these and other perceptions still exist, whereby certain portfolios are better suited for women; primarily those which focus on education, children and health care.

Women usually account for 50 per cent of the population in any given country. Therefore, it is critical for us to ensure that women are involved at all levels of society and consulted in the decision-making process. In Jamaica, women represent 51 per cent of the population. This reality has inspired the formation of the 51 per cent Coalition: women in partnership for development and empowerment though equity who proposed a quota system whereby public-sector boards, including school boards, commissions and publicly listed companies should have no more than 60 per cent, or no less than 40 per cent, of either sex.

Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet was Chile’s first female president and now heads UN Women.

Quality and quantity

However, one should note that it is not merely about the numbers. The real issue lies in both the quality and quantity of women appointed to serve.

No longer can the argument be made that there are not enough women for consideration or that women have no interest in serving on a board or in government. The Jamaica Stock Exchange recently published on its website a list of 54 women who have been recommended as competent candidates for board appointment, after consultation with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Women Business Owners and the Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre. There are also wider networks of women leaders which can be consulted for suitably qualified female board directors.

One’s gender has no bearing on one’s ability to serve effectively; professionalism, integrity, as well as the requisite competencies and experience in the desired field, are the core issues for consideration.

Our 50th anniversary as an independent nation is undoubtedly a significant milestone and a time for us to highlight our achievements and the strides made as a nation. However, it also provides an opportunity for us to examine how we will move forward in realising our objectives of sustainable economic development and the creation of equal opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of gender. By so doing, we will truly become the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

Related articles

50-50 Reflections

Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary (Jamaica 50) celebration has not been a smooth, gentle glide to the August 6 finish line. In fact, it has been fraught with political niggling, confusing press statements and slick marketing jargon, (with the local media trying to make sense of it all) and apparently rising levels of frustration and irritation on the part of the Jamaican populace. Amidst the confusion, it seems we are all searching for meaning. Surely, we cry, Jamaica 50 is not just about signature songs and parties and Jamaica 50 sunglasses, cute as they may be. Recriminations have been heaped on the head of an overburdened Culture Minister who is valiantly seeking to create something coherent. According to a Gleaner article this week, the youth of Jamaica – those who will take over for the next half-century – believe that “the true essence of Jamaica 50 is lost on the masses.”  And the venerable Gleaner regretted the lack of “sober reflection” on Jamaica’s half-century, in an editorial.

Jamaica 50 sunglasses

Jamaica 50 sunglasses

But perhaps Jamaicans are expecting far too much of Ministers, government agencies and the like. We all know that there is very little money in the public piggy bank for elaborate celebrations, and governments generally like to do everything “big.” So they have scaled things down, and now it seems like very little, and the people are disappointed. I am hoping that appropriate and meaningful commemorations will take place at the local level – much smaller, but with substance and of course the element of enjoyment and celebration (nothing wrong with that).

But what of the “sober reflection” of which the Gleaner speaks? Well, it is far too late for the government to conjure that out of thin air, especially with exactly one month left before Independence Day; just one month. Fortunately – and to my personal deep satisfaction and relief – one institution has been preparing steadily and in a clear and focused way to consider Jamaica’s fifty years.  It has adopted a long-term approach rather than grasping last-minute marketing opportunities. The emphasis is not only on Jamaica’s past and present, but also on its future – thus “50-50.” 

50-50: Surviving the Past to Inform the Future

50-50: Surveying the Past to Inform the Future

I speak of the University of the West Indies‘ (UWI) Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), which launched its 50th Anniversary of Independence Conference under the theme “50-50: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty.” The conference will take place at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston from August 20-24, 2012. Good timing, when the official celebrations are over and we have all had time to get over our hangovers and think. The dates are also significant as they fall half-way between the Jamaican and Trinidadian Independence Days; our Caribbean neighbors celebrate their fiftieth on August 31 this year. So this conference will have a regional aspect also.

And it’s all open to the public, free of charge. Not just as onlookers, but as participants who can make their contribution on the wide range of issues. Issues that do (and will) affect Jamaica and Jamaicans, our children and grandchildren, in the next fifty years.

This conference did not come “out of the blue.” Conceived at the end of 2009, SALISES has prepared us for it with a series of seminars over the past two years. Some of the most significant sessions were: “Challenges of the Independence Experience in Small Developing Countries” in March 2011; “Prime Ministerial Reflections” (Edward Seaga, Portia Simpson Miller and PJ Patterson), April – June 2011; and “Globalization, Climate Change and the Reframing of Rural Resilience: The Development Challenge for Small States in the Caribbean and Beyond” in April, 2012; as well as “Through Women’s Eyes: Conversations on Independence,” a partnership with UWI’s Institute for Gender and Development Studies. There have been over thirty related events over the past year, Conference Director Professor Brian Meeks informed us. A new partnership with Florida International University Libraries has also proved beneficial in the process.

Professor Brian Meeks

Professor Brian Meeks, Director, SALISES

Professor Trevor Munroe told the media that reflection (one assumes, some introspection included) is the cornerstone of the conference. As one of the oldest research institutes in the Caribbean based on empirical evidence, SALISES will maintain this empirical underpinning. As Professor Munroe’s colleague Dr. Patsy Lewis explained, the presentations will come out of the various research clusters – more than seventeen of them – which cover a wide range of sectors, including migration; youth; religion; the Caribbean experience of conflict, both internal and external; aging and demographic shifts; regional integration; culture and sports; and others. A number of outstanding keynote speakers and many other distinguished expert panelists are confirmed. The conference will open on Monday, August 20 at 3:00 p.m.

On the cultural front, there will be considerable interest – as it cannot be denied that culture has formed a vital part of Jamaican/Caribbean development. There will be a major cultural event in Emancipation Park, just across the road from the Jamaica Pegasus, on Wednesday August 22. And there will be a film night on Thursday.

Well, what more could you want? SALISES would love the public to come in droves, and support the conference in all its aspects. This is not only going to be a reflection, but a reflection – a “reasoning,” if you will – with the Jamaican people. The University of the West Indies has often been accused of operating “in a bubble,” Dr. Lewis noted; perhaps an unfair criticism. SALISES plans not only to produce publications after the Conference, but to post lots of material online so that it can be much more widely available and available to the public. It also hopes to produce Policy Briefs arising from the discussions, which it will share with key public, private and civil society groups. If you check out the blog link below, you will see a number of videos and other relevant material – so let’s dig in and get our “thought juices” flowing! (I just made up that expression, I think).

More details and updates to follow… and check out the SALISES Facebook page for more information.

And did I mention that it is all open to the public? Spread the word!

SALISES

The University of the West Indies

Mona Kingston 7

Jamaica, W.I.

Tele:(876) 927-1020/927-1234

Fax: (876) 927-2409

Email: salises5050reg@gmail.com

 Related articles

Sunday Steam

It’s a steamy spring morning in uptown Kingston, and the revelers are warming up down the road.  The careless, jumbled confusion of the annual Jamaica Carnival (and its offshoots) fills the air.  The air is humid after several downpours that soaked the gardens of uptown yesterday.  And the sky juice vendors, hustlers and hangers-on are looking forward to a few hours on the road, amidst all those mostly-naked bodies – toned and flabby, sprinkled with sequins and glitter, painted and bejeweled and sunblocked – jumping and leaping along the road.

The Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris is sworn in

The Mayor of Montego Bay Glendon Harris is sworn in against the gloomy backdrop on March 29, 2012

The steamy story to ponder:  Well, the media has been getting all steamed up over what the highly alliterative Sundays are now calling the “Flag Fiasco Fallout” (or, if you prefer, the “Flag Folly Fallout”).  And an expendable government official has been Fired in the Flag Folly Fiasco Fallout. Yes, it’s all about the Jamaican flag – a striking combination of black, gold and green – except that on one occasion the green was omitted.  The civic ceremony – the investiture of the new Mayor of Montego Bay (and some are now calling for his resignation) – took place with a huge, incongruous backdrop consisting mostly of funereal black with gold diagonal stripes.

The outraged Opposition protested.  For those non-Jamaican readers, I should explain that green is the color of the recently-trounced Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which is feeling aggrieved about most things these days.  The JLP lost the general election in December and the local government election last month and are presently licking wounds that show no signs of healing, yet.  In fact, as this is the tropics, infection may soon set in…

If you want to know more about the daily twists and turns of this “saga” (in which there are no heroes) there are a few relevant links below.  Suffice it to say there are several threads to this story – one being the obsession with colors, symbols and all the other paraphernalia of the highly partisan political life in Jamaica; another the emotionalism and intense patriotism that invariably accompanies the national flag; and additionally, the sheer incompetence of some public officials.  If nothing else, this is a complete public relations disaster of the highest order.  Are you sick and tired of this story now, Jamaican readers?  But how would non-Jamaicans feel if their national flag appeared at an official ceremony minus certain features – Stars without Stripes, for example?

Why bother?  One or two journalists have been endeavoring to come up with something meaningful to say about the new Portia Simpson Miller administration’s “First 100 Days.”  CVM Television’s Andrew Cannon – a serious reporter if ever there was one – has been gallantly attempting in the last few days to point to successes and failures – the Riverton City pollution disaster, and the confusion of our Prime Minister’s comments as reported by Bloomberg, among others.  The Sunday Gleaner reporters took a stab at it. Mention has been made of “JEEP” – the much-hyped Jamaica Emergency Employment Program – but no one is sure if this is an “achievement,” yet.  Meanwhile, Ms. Simpson Miller herself, who is attending the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, issued a press release noting “satisfaction” with her government’s performance.  Let’s just move on, and hope the next 100 days will be more inspiring.  Maybe 100 days is just too soon?

Answer to last week’s Quiz Question: National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante served as Mayor of Kingston from 1947-48.

This week’s question: What do the colors of the Jamaican flag represent?  (Yes, I know there is more than one interpretation!)  Views and comments welcome…

The Jamaican flag

The Jamaican flag we all know and love.

Meanwhile, the issue of child sexual abuse – an almost constant topic of radio talk shows, newspaper columns and letters to the editor for the past two weeks or so – is about to fade into the background.  As more than one Jamaican has mentioned, it will become a “nine-day wonder,” after all the outrage and debate has subsided.  There has been much wringing of hands in the press, and some attempts to finds solutions and a way forward; more on the latter in another blog post I am writing.  Meanwhile, commentary from Ms. Taitu Heron of the University of the West Indies‘ Centre for Gender and Development Studies in last week’s “Observer” is noted.  Ms. Heron urges: “So, what about the child’s present now? Are we saying, even in this 50th year of Independence that we still believe that children are non-citizens that must be seen and not heard until they become adults? I urge all Jamaicans, abused or protected, loved or violated, cared or neglected, to speak what they know, report what they see, wherever and whenever child abuse occurs.”   Montego Bay-based psychologist Beverley Scott believes Jamaicans are more aware of the issue than twenty years ago (are they?) but reminds us, “If you know of any instance of children being molested and you don’t report it, you can be charged up to $500,000…People can call the Children’s Registry, and you don’t have to identify yourself.”  

Mr. James Moss-Solomon waxed philosophical again this week, telling Rotarians that “old thinking” in Jamaica – and repeating the same things over and over (a sure sign of madness) – have resulted in Jamaica making no progress at all over the past ninety years!  Phew.  He calls those decades a “devastating period,” blaming the private sector (he is a businessman himself) as much as successive governments.  Not very encouraging words on our Fiftieth Anniversary.  I would like to get a copy of that speech, though.

The Sarangi

The Sarangi, a bowed musical instrument from India, used to play folk music in Jamaica. From the Institute of Jamaica collection.

Commendations:  I like the Sunday Gleaner’s Jamaica 50 feature “Objects from our Past” with photographs of what Jamaicans love to call “artifacts” – fifty objects from the Institute of Jamaica’s collection of all kinds of historical items.  I am learning from it.

Human rights activist and lawyer Hilaire Sobers’ article in the Sunday Gleaner is a must-read – a response to two recent columns by the self-contradicting Mr. Ian Boyne – who is fascinated by the topic of religion, as are so many of his fellow countrymen.  The title is “Secularism, not religion, protects human dignity.”  With this, the Petchary heartily agrees – but what say you, dear reader?  

…To the American Friends of Jamaica, led by the always-focused former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Sue Cobb, for their annual grants to non-governmental and community-based organizations in Jamaica – presented this year on April 4 in Montego Bay.  J$19 million worth was disbursed – including a grant to the Portland Rehab Centre, which cares for the most marginalized citizens of Port Antonio, and to many other worthy causes.

…And to another American, Ms. Becky Stockhausen, Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica.  Ms. Stockhausen attended the first Global Business Conference in Washington, DC  on the invitation of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, through the auspices of U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater.  As always, Ms. Stockhausen (who has lived in Jamaica for many years) is looking for partnerships in business and trade that will lead to the development of her adopted home.

Sistren Theatre Collective

Sistren Theatre Collective in their early days.

To the Sistren Theatre Collective (35 years old next month!), who are winners of the Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre (to be presented in New York on May 20).  According to their own summary, “The Otto Award is named for the Guatemalan poet and revolutionary Otto Rene Castillo, who was murdered by that country’s military junta in 1968. Established in 1998, the Otto Awards have since honored such accomplished, dedicated and diverse artists and theatre companies as: El Teatro Campesino, The Living Theatre, Laurie Anderson, the Steppenwolf Theatre, Bread and Puppet Theatre, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe.”  I believe Sistren will be the first Caribbean group to be so honored.

And last but not least, to the marvelous chef Ms. Jacqui Tyson (From Thought to Finish), for joining the effort to bring downtown Kingston back to life.  A Food Festival sounds like a great idea…What’s not to love?

Kenton Williams stands on the beach near the spot where his sister drowned

Kenton Williams stands on the beach near the spot where his sister drowned

Condolences:  To the family of Evelyn Williams, the teenager who drowned at Hellshire Beach in St. Catherine on the Easter weekend.  She and her mother were swimming in a quiet section of the beach, to get away from the noise and crowds.  But the Petchary understands that this end of the beach has strong currents – and no swimmer can fight those tides.  Her mother was rescued, but Evelyn was pulled away.  “Right now mi feel like mi deh inna a dream and mi nuh wake up,” said her brother Kenton.  I know how that feels.  Are there any warning signs at that end of the beach?  Are there life guards on the main part of the beach?  Many Jamaicans who splash happily in the water can’t swim at all…

(And talking of swimming, more congratulations are in order to the Jamaican medal-winners at the Carifta Swimming Championships in Nassau, Bahamas.  Wonderful stuff!  I won’t mention all the names but you were all awesome.)

Remember when deejays at music shows used to command the unruly audience, “Seckle!  Seckle!”  (“Settle” in Jamaican parlance)?  Well, next week I am hoping to call this weekly piece the “Sunday Settle” – because I do hope and trust that everyone will have calmed down – and that the politicians will have sat back down in their seats and reminded themselves that they have the people’s business to attend to.

Or, as the latest phrase goes, it’s time to press the “reset” button.
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