This week is Education Week in Jamaica. It means (obviously) that the Minister of Education is exceptionally busy, with a flurry of additional functions and school visits. We have also embarked on Child Month – when much wider issues affecting children are under the microscope. These “issues” are so wide-ranging that they cannot possibly be addressed during a few speeches/seminars during one month. We must keep them at the forefront of all our thoughts and discussions right through the year. In our hearts and minds.
Earlier today – Teachers’ Day – I spent some time at St. Michael’s Primary School, in the inner city area of Rae Town. The occasion was the donation of ten computers to the school by a U.S.-based company, GTECH Corporation (see press release below). The school is tucked away on a narrow lane, in one of the oldest parts of the city, close to the waterfront. There are remnants of old brick walls, broken kerbs and overgrown patches of land. This morning, rows of lilac-colored clouds furrowed the pale morning sky; the early light was soft and a faint humid breeze blew from the harbor. And just beyond the school loomed the red brick, Victorian walls of the “General Penitentiary” – or correctly named, the Tower Street Correctional Centre, spiked with barbed wire. The children must, one assumed, be used to these close quarters, this walled horizon.
The Chairman of the School Board, the Rev. Dr. Alton Tulloch, told me that the original St. Michael’s Anglican Church, where he ministers, was destroyed during the 1907 earthquake. It was close to or on the site of the current school, and was rebuilt further back from the shoreline, on Victoria Street. (The National Library of Jamaica has a wonderful photo album on Flickr, which includes a photo of the old church after the earthquake - little more than a pile of rubble).
The school was busy getting itself in order when we arrived; a few curious students wandered up to the room where we were to peer at the beautifully decorated walls, swathed in blue and yellow. They were shushed away. There was excitement in the air, and the narrow schoolyard was filling up with strange cars. The visitors were arriving…
Monday was Read Across Jamaica Day. Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count visited the Sunrays Educational Centre and read to the young children there. Pelican Publishers’ Latoya West-Blackwood visited the Central Branch Infant School and tweeted, “Don’t know how the teachers do it! So much energy in the room!” The photographs below tell the story of enjoyment and fun. Crayons Count campaigns, and provides materials, in the area of early childhood education – those years when a child’s thoughts awaken. The brain absorbs; the eyes widen and imagination begins to flow.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I grew up on fairy tales, and I don’t think they did me any harm.
Books, learning and exploring are at the core of the children’s experience at the Trench Town Reading Centre, which will celebrate its twentieth anniversary later this year. Situated in the heart of Kingston 12, just opposite the “Government Yard” where Bob Marley spent his youth, the Centre is bursting with energy and life. It is also a book-centred place of learning. No tablets here, no fancy technology; but so much creativity – hands-on – craft, music, art, gardening, dance, performing arts, and books, books, books.
And learning comes in many packages: whether it’s a tablet, a picture book or a computer such as those GTECH is providing to institutions in Jamaica.
So, wherever you are, and especially to my Jamaican readers… This month and throughout the year please do whatever you can to bring that shining light of discovery into a child’s eyes. The learning experience gives as much pleasure to the teacher and guide as it does to the young recipient. Try it, nuh! And please support organizations such as Trench Town Reading Centre and other places where the love of learning flourishes!
GTECH DONATES COMPUTERS TO ST. MICHAEL’S PRIMARY SCHOOL
Kingston, Jamaica, May 8, 2013 - Global information technology company GTECH today, Teachers’ Day, continued its commitment to fostering educational growth through their After School Advantage Programme with the handover of ten computers to St. Michael’s Primary School in Rae Town, Kingston.
This was their fifth such installation for Jamaican institutions, with two more planned by year-end. The Programme donates computers to non-profit organisations and schools with the aim of bridging the “digital divide” and empowering disadvantaged youth.
At the handover ceremony, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, who gave the main address, praised GTECH’s vision. He expressed his enthusiasm for and commitment to the use of information technology in schools, as a tool that will “create inquisitive minds” and encourage innovation and creativity. He recalled an early Jamaica Computer Society programme in rural schools that resulted in “almost immediate improvements” in reading.
“I thought: therein lies the answer,” Minister Paulwell observed. He expressed the belief that, once given access to information technology, Jamaicans could become technology leaders on the global stage.
GTECH Jamaica’s General Manager Debbie Green stressed that the Programme is much more than simply donating computers. “It is about establishing a relationship with the institution,” she noted, that includes continued support and maintenance. As an example of this, St. Michael’s Primary will be GTECH Jamaica’s Labour Day project onMay 23 this year; their staff members will be engaged in painting and refurbishing activities at the school, which houses 235 students.
GTECH’s Regional General Manager/Caribbean, Ann-Dawn Young Sang, quoted Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey’s words, “Knowledge is power.” She noted that in this “era of rapid advancement, there should be access to the digital world for every child.” In pursuit of this vision, she noted that GTECH works in over seventy countries worldwide, with over 200 After School Centres established. Emphasizing the importance of early childhood education, Mrs Young Sang sees information technology as a vital component for the region’s competitiveness.
St. Michael’s dedicated Principal, Dave Allen, expressed his gratitude for the computers, which he said would empower his students to “become good citizens of the world.” Noting the presence of veteran educator Verna Duncan, he celebrated the significance of the day – Teachers’ Day – for his school “in our little corner” of the city. Mr. Allen and a lively percussion section accompanied a group of charming students, who performed traditional folk songs for the guests.
Technology Specialist with the USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project Dr. Melody Williams commended the GTECH family for its focus, pointing to several key benefits of information technology in schools. “If used effectively,” she suggested, “IT enhances the child’s creative skills.” Students must be “good digital citizens,” she added, pointing to the need for responsible use of the Internet.
Since 2006, GTECH Jamaica has provided assistance to a number of schools and institutions, including Lawrence Tavern and Easington Primary Schools, Sylvia Foote Basic School, the University of Technology, Caribbean Maritime Institute, Portmore Community College, Dunrobin Primary School, Holy Trinity High School, the Jamaica Christian Boys’ Home and the SOS Children’s Village. On average, the GTECH-funded programme invests US$15,000 to open and maintain each IT centre over a period of four years.
The GTECH After School Advantage Programme started in the Caribbean in 2005 in Trinidad and Tobago, where it has established twelve centres since 2011. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, GTECH has partnered with the Queen Louise Home for Children in St. Croix. It plans to open a second centre in St. Thomas this year, as well as one in the Dominican Republic.
http://www.usaidjamaicabasiced.com USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0017.html Disaster: The Earthquake of 1907
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28320522@N08/ National Library of Jamaica Flickr Photostream
http://dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount/2013/05/07/open-books-smiling-faces-read-across-jamaica-day-2013/ Open books and smiling faces: Read Across Jamaica Day 2013
http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com Trench Town Reading Centre
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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://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://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://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://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.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)
Two elephants are standing in Jamaica’s living room right now. They are growing so large that we have had to move out most of the furniture. The last item we will remove will be the cosy armchair with the nice soft cushions. It will be hard for Jamaica to let that one go – it’s just so comfortable.
The two elephants are called Economy and Crime.
But dears – forgive us, there have been so many distractions over the past few months…In roughly chronological order: Jamaica 50; the London Olympics and its aftermath, which occupied us for a couple of months; Hurricane Sandy; and in the past week, the U.S. elections! Our Jamaican political analysts waxed lyrical on election night. I must confess that we were also glued to our television set, heart in mouth, on the edge of our seat; and then basking in the euphoria of President Obama’s win. We had to stay up for his stirring victory speech. Well, the elections blanketed the Jamaican media, with every radio and television station worth its salt running a “U.S. election special.” I get the feeling that Jamaicans find the U.S. vote more exciting, absorbing and inspiring than their own elections – its entertainment value is higher as it is at a distance, I suppose. And although most commentators agreed that the result would have very little impact on Jamaica per se, they still devoted many hours on TV and radio and many column inches to discussing it. For several days.
I repeat: the two elephants are called Economy and Crime. The politicians (and the print media) are trying their best to avoid discussing these two highly intelligent – and very large – animals. Only our diligent broadcast media and our talk show hosts, antennae waving in the cool winter breeze, seem to have picked up on the first elephant. No one pointed to the second one, although there was much focus on the white-collar variety. On the white-collar front we seem to have had mixed results, and success in some quarters. And yet the list of names at the end of my weekly post shows no sign of growing shorter (the numbers only fell during the week of Hurricane Sandy). Of course, those aren’t white-collar. Those are the “working class.”
Have I missed something, or have the media released the murder statistics for, say, September or October? If not, why not? By my count, fifteen Jamaicans have been murdered in the past week, as of 6:00 p.m. on Saturday – plus two brothers killed by the police. By tomorrow morning, there will likely be two or three more homicides (and I can now confirm that, as of Sunday lunchtime). You might think I am obsessed, but perhaps that’s because our local media is hardly talking about it. It seems to be a “given” – like our deteriorating economic outlook – just the norm. The print media studiously avoid reporting daily murders, unless it is something particularly egregious.
Meanwhile the police are seeking men with curious names like “Weed Seed,” “Duppy Film,” “Eggy” and “Wasp” (wasps bite harder than bees in Jamaica). Maybe they have “handed themselves in” to the police, by now. If not, they know what they might expect.
Before I go any further, a quick word – well, just a short rant – on the print media. I would like to suggest, seriously, that one of our daily national newspapers should simply become a lifestyle magazine – advertising a specific lifestyle: that of standing around at uptown cocktail parties with glasses in hand, or sitting in a restaurant, wearing the latest fashions, with one’s “BFF” (dresses exposing one shoulder seem to be de rigueur at the moment). There is an obsession with food and drink, and women in short skirts and high heels. All these people are grinning away happily, while the rest of the island struggles with floods and homeless people, sending their children to school without breakfast, and those little everyday injustices that don’t affect the grinning ones at all. They just want to get their pictures in the ever-expanding social pages. Oh, and the Saturday edition should just call itself “Hair and Nails,” or something similar.
Listen, I don’t want to sound churlish. Nothing wrong with having fun. And Jamaicans certainly know how to party! It’s the Fun Island!
Thank God for radio, which does try to tackle real issues seriously (to be fair though, the Gleaner has been putting some adrenalin-packed punches in their editorials lately…) A man who is fast becoming my favorite radio talk show host, Mr. Ronald Mason of Nationwide News Network, commented last week, “Why is there no sense of urgency?” Mr. Mason is gruff and blunt, with a touch of humor; he does not countenance the unofficial spokesmen/women for either party, who are always seeking a foothold in the talk shows. No propaganda for him. He reminds me of the late and much-revered Wilmot Perkins, whom we all miss dearly (but who could have been accused of bias at times). Mr. Mason used the word “autopilot” to describe the current state of our governance; and I have used this word myself in the past. “This country is in a financial crisis,” he insists, adding that “the people need to know” what is going on in the economy. Where is our growth plan? What is our job creation plan (no, not “JEEP”)? Where is our vision, our future?
And yet the newspapers’ Friday financial pages barely referred to the following facts that were revealed this week:
- Jamaica’s Net International Reserves have lost US$833 million this year and are now at their lowest level for ten years (US$1.1 billion), with thirteen weeks’ worth of U.S. Dollars remaining;
- Financial Secretary Wesley Hughes (the chief civil servant in that Ministry) is resigning – so far as I know, we do not know when, or why;
- The head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, a key government agency, is resigning – Dr. Gladstone Hutchinson was on secondment from a teaching post in the U.S., but still not great news;
- Jamaican dollar bonds performed the worst out of fifteen Central American and Caribbean nations in October, with interest rates rising to over eight per cent.
There has been precious little comment from our political leaders, too – apart from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose voice does not resonate strongly in the media at the moment. Broadcaster Cliff Hughes interviewed former Finance Minister Audley Shaw on the whole situation, and did not let him off the hook; the thing is, there has been foot-dragging and failure to step up to the plate in both administrations. The head of the JLP’s G2K young professionals, Floyd Green, suggested that “we are at a standstill” in our discussions with the International Monetary Fund. Is this really true? What is the true status of the IMF discussions, as of now? Or are we just waiting to hear something?
Only one Sunday newspaper column focused on Jamaica’s economic muddle; it is written by a Jamaican who does not live here, interestingly – a member of the so-called diaspora. Mr. David Mullings writes, “If we believe that Jamaica will be better off in a generation based on the current path, then we too are in denial.” The other Sunday opinion makers write about everything from (mostly) Obama to CARICOM to a trade agreement on rum – all of academic interest, if truth be told.
According to Bloomberg this week, a senior economist at JP Morgan asked the question: “How much longer can Jamaica muddle through this with virtually no growth?” Answers, please, Minister of Finance (they didn’t answer Bloomberg’s phone calls or emails, it is reported). With Belize and Grenada already there, will Jamaica be the next Caribbean country to default on its debt?
I am sorry. Too many questions. One major issue that the print media did a good job of reporting this week has been the terrifying, and seemingly intractable, issue of the lottery scam. Where will it end, one wonders. Alarming reports have emerged of the use of Jamaica’s humble postal service as a method of smuggling in the proceeds of the scam. The scale of all of this (which may be only the tip of the iceberg, who knows?) is frightening. Even more disturbing is the Jamaican government’s seeming inability to tackle this disgraceful state of affairs decisively. It has been said over and over that new legislation is urgently required to deal with the problem. It has not been forthcoming, although the government would like us to believe that they are taking it seriously. And how long has it been? Two years? Three years? The “lotto scam” has grown into a kind of monster – like the one in the sci-fi movie “Alien,” which feeds off humans and grows increasingly vicious and bloodthirsty. If you can bring yourself to read it, the Sunday Gleaner report below gives some idea of the scope of this nightmare that won’t go away.
The lotto scam was the focus of a recently published report by the very credible local think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). Unfortunately, CaPRI has not yet posted any information on their website (http://capricaribbean.org) that I can refer you to.
And then there is credit card fraud.
With the usual huffing and puffing of hot air, the Upper House unanimously passed regulations governing casino gambling on Friday. One Senator made an enormous issue out of the word “gaming” as opposed to “gambling.” I suppressed a groan. There are all types of gambling/gaming going on all over Jamaica already. Pontificating won’t make any difference.
And let’s not forget… Thousands of Jamaicans – yes the poor ones out in the “bush” – are still suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. The media has not forgotten this, to give them their due. There are a few thousand still without power, as the Jamaica Public Service Company struggles to reach them on damaged roads. Some are still in shelters. Others are still suffering from really bad weather, which has persisted in the past few days in some parts of the island. Yesterday, almost the entire town of Port Maria was flooded after heavy showers; the north-east corner of the island is being battered by rain and wind as I write. It’s not over yet. Perhaps the Prime Minister could venture out at some point in the next few days to show a little sympathy and to promise succor and relief. Something could be arranged. And I am sure that a few of those famous hugs would do the trick.
Talking of St. Mary, I must hand out some major kudos to the Jamaica National Building Society for their outreach to this particular community in St. Mary, through a residents’ forum, over this weekend. St. Mary is reportedly the poorest parish in Jamaica – beautiful, and under-developed. Congratulations to Mr. Earl Jarrett and his dedicated team on their Disaster Recovery Program, with the theme “Leading with Action.” Just what we need.
“Big ups,” too, to the medical team of the California-based Integrative Clinics International, which visited the birthplace of Bob Marley (Nine Miles, St. Ann) to provide free health care to the residents of the small rural community. The volunteer doctors and nurses paid their own way to Jamaica. I am glad they had the support of Ziggy Marley’s Unlimited Resources Giving Enlightenment (URGE) Foundation and the Bob Marley Foundation (Ziggy is my favorite Marley, after Bob of course).
I have felt a surge of sympathy for the hard-working Mr. Errol Greene, Town Clerk at the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation. His job is not an easy one. His somewhat battered-looking visage and his air of patience and determination, are quite endearing. On a regular basis, he dons his hard hat and marches out into the downtown area, ready to do battle with strident illegal vendors, who don’t go lightly. I am sure he has security back-up; but his job must be one of the most stressful in the city. Nevertheless, he aways has a twinkle in his eye. Cheers, Mr. Greene, and keep up the good work!
There is a Japanese expression “ganbatte!” which means “Keep going/don’t give up!” I would like to say this to Mr. Justin Felice, the former anti-corruption man in the police force who now heads our Financial Investigation Division; Ms. Leesa Kow, president of the Jamaica Money Remitters Association; Superintendent Leon Clunis, head of the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force in the Jamaica Constabulary Force; Postmaster General Michael Gentles, and all those engaged in the fight against the scammers, who have caused untold suffering in Jamaica and the United States. Mr. Felice and the others are working so hard to combat this scourge; they need the support of political leaders. Once again, the Jamaica National Building Society has supported their efforts and held its second forum “to discuss strategies in support of Government and private sector initiatives to eradicate the lottery scam and address its impact on security, trade and foreign relations” this week. Well done, Mr. Jarrett et al.
And that brings us full circle to the issues of the economy and crime: how can we expect foreigners and others to invest in a country where a segment of the population has been working to swindle and rob overseas citizens of their savings (there have been some suicides, by the way)? And where so many Jamaicans are being slaughtered, week in, week out? Let’s get a grip. “Action” is a word JNBS use frequently in their slogans. We all want to see more action from our lawmakers. Get on with it, please, before it is too late.
P.S. Mystery of the week: I am completely puzzled by the Jamaica Public Service court case, and the perceived change in priorities of the Simpson Miller administration and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell with regard to the issue of JPS’ license, granted by an earlier People’s National Party administration. I think I must be rather stupid. Can anyone explain what is happening? I must pay more attention and try to work it out for myself, I think…
As usual, I recall the grieving faces of Jamaican men, women and children who have lost their loved ones under violent circumstances. Below is this week’s sad tally of Jamaican citizens who have been murdered this week. I have noticed that many of them are young men in their twenties; and that something is going very wrong in the parish of St. Catherine. And are curfews the answer?
Killed by the police
Mytona Stewart, 25, Central Village, St. Catherine
Lincoln Stewart, 23, Central Village, St. Catherine
Daniel Hayes, 18, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Rose Hall, St. James
Pansy Morgan, 62, Watermount, St. Catherine
Unidentified woman, 25, May Pen, Clarendon
Shemell Gillespie, Waltham Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Kingston Gardens, Kingston
Keneil Graham, 28, Bushy Park, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Portmore, St. Catherine
Leroy McLeish, 27, Sheffield, Westmoreland
“Hot Head,” Sheffield, Westmoreland
Floyd Brown, Sheffield, Westmoreland
Navado Whitmore, 27, Dias District, Hanover
Unidentified man, Keesing Avenue, Kingston
Trevor Wright, Washington Boulevard, Kingston
Randy Bogle, 23, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Richard Swaby, 24, Mandeville, Manchester
Sebastian Earl, 25, Watson Grove, St. Catherine
Marlon Blake, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Oneil Brown, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41022 (Police kill brothers in alleged shootout: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/murders-keep-st-catherine-police-busy (Murders keep St. Catherine police busy: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead1.html (Mail, money and murder: Postal service under pressure as scammers move in: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/lead/lead3.html (Security auditors called in: large sums detected in unlikely mail: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-law-will-hit-scammers-_12968573 (New law will hit scammers: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=40872 (Burnt Port Royal body was Tandy Lewis: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121108/lead/lead12.html (Slippery slope: Lotto scam undermines financial sector: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121109/lead/lead1.html (Scammer fears: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DPP-wants-more-power-to-fight-lottery-scam (DPP wants more power to fight lottery scam: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41028 (Security worries for remittance companies: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-08/jamaica-bond-yields-jump-to-nine-month-high-after-belize-default.html (Jamaica bond yields jump to nine-month high after Belize default: Bloomberg News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Denial-is-disastrous_12959710 (Denial is disastrous (David Mullings op-ed: Sunday Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41026 (UTech security guards pointed out in ID parade: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41029 (Police crack credit, debit card scam in Caribbean Estate: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/DNA-draft-Bill-expected-today_12955648 (DNA draft Bill expected today: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Port-Doubt_12959068 (Delay in removal of prison said in conflict with Panama Canal timeline: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-They-took-my-leg- (“They took my leg”: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/US-medical-team-helps-Nine-Miles_12966348 (U.S. medical team helps Nine Miles: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Nannyville-youth-donate-books-to-community-school (Nannyville youth donate books to community school: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/9921-choir-members-take-cover-during-shootout-in-mandeville.html (Choir members take cover during shootout in Mandeville: On The Ground News Reports)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/southern-regional-health-authority-faces-possible-lawsuit (Southern Regional Health Authority faces possible lawsuit: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Senate-approves-casino-gaming-regulations (Senate approves casino gaming regulations: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/pioj-director-general-financial-secretary-to-demit-office-soon (PIOJ director general, financial secretary to demit office soon: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-105/32238 (Jamaica decisive on lotto scam: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/security-guards-in-utech-beating-pointed-out (Security guards in UTech beating pointed out: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121111/business/business7.html (Consumers paying for 17% of JPS losses, says Paulwell: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41070 (More rains for St. Mary as parish recovers from flood; Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/No-timeline-for–Sandy–relief-houses_12949270 (No timeline for Sandy relief houses: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gov-t–Joining-JPS-in-court-case-intended-to-protect-consumers_12941404 (Government joining JPS in court case intended to protect consumers: Jamaica Observer)
Today, Jamaica is half a century old. Music throbs from the National Stadium as the evening grey grows deeper. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto rustle in the trees, and the White-Chinned Thrush in our yard starts his persistent, piercing whistle. On television, the military bands in scarlet, white and black march at the Grand Gala. Choirs will sing, dancers will dance, flags will be waved, drummers will drum. The announcer will speak in her best Queen’s English Jamaican voice. There has been Indian Bollywood dancing, Chinese dragons and of course African drums, illustrating the Jamaican motto “Out of Many One People” – and then, time to wheel out the church people. The obligatory prayers (yes, we are a Christian country. Out of many one people, but let’s not worry too much about the Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and others tonight) – followed by gospel music. As one Twitter friend just commented, “Forgive my naïveté but I interpret ‘Out of many, one people’ to include many races, many cultures AND many religions.”
Sigh. Well as you can see my weekly review is well overdue. It has been overwhelmed with Olympic runners and swimmers and shooters and fencers and rowers and fighters, and now the celebrations of Jamaica’s fiftieth year of Independence. Putting all of that aside (which is a lot), what is left?
Talking about the preservation of our culture (last Monday, August 1, was our Emancipation Day and we are greatly focused on this topic at present), Professor Emeritus of English at the University of the West Indies Edward Baugh (who’s also a marvelous poet) spoke out recently on Jamaica’s lack of interest in actually preserving the physical aspects of our heritage. As we know, some of our finest examples of colonial architecture are now in ruins – except for a few that have been miraculously revived in the name of tourism. And there are many examples of our oral and written history that just can’t be found. How careless we are.
All the more reason to congratulate the venerable Gleaner Company - the oldest company in Jamaica by far – for its new website, diG Jamaica (www.digjamaica.com) – an ambitious project that seeks to pull together a great deal of information on Jamaica, including historical data and up-to-date vital statistics. This is a fiftieth birthday gift to Jamaica from the Gleaner, and it’s looking good. We need this kind of serious and detailed record. Kudos to Gleaner Managing Director Christopher Barnes and consultant Deika Morrison. This is the way to go!
Well, there were at least a couple of interesting developments last week. Firstly, the Supreme Court ruled that the license issued by the then minister of mining and energy in 2001 to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) was invalid and not, in fact, an exclusive monopoly. The legal details are too complex to get into, but this is a remarkable development, following a rare class action suit filed by a group of Jamaican citizens calling themselves Citizens United to Reduce Electricity (CURE) and represented by a high-profile and somewhat controversial lawyer. Well, it’s not quite a “cure” yet, but this paves the way for more competition. What next? JPSCo will appeal the ruling. There’s a long way to go before we manage to reduce the insanely high cost of electricity. Jamaica’s rates are the highest in the Caribbean and among the highest globally – a huge deterrent to business and investment, large and small, domestic and overseas. My favorite government minister, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, seems quietly pleased with the ruling.
Secondly, the British policeman who has been heading the Jamaica Constabulary Force‘s anti-corruption unit – with considerable success – for the past few years, has been appointed head of the Financial Investigations Division, which operates from the Ministry of Finance. Mr. Justin Felice says he will tackle corruption, financial crimes and money laundering “very, very robustly” (note emphasis) and more power to him! We would like to see some of the “big boys” under manners (a Jamaican expression meaning “on their best behavior,” for my non-Jamaican readers!)
Talking of law enforcement, the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force has been transferred to the newly-formed Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – another nice acronym), and the Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay was released from prison. You may recall the high drama at the orange house on the hill, the DM’s residence, with an early morning raid involving the seizure of large quantities of cash and “high-end vehicles,” etc. Well, gun and ammunition charges brought against the DM were dismissed in court last week. His son pleaded guilty. So the matter was swiftly dealt with; the DM was hauled on the shoulders of jubilant supporters – quite well-built ladies – on exiting the court; and he will no doubt return to taking up his duties in the St. James Parish Council. There are no charges remaining against him, including no charges connected with the hateful scam, either. That’s that.
Apart from these events, there was a huge wave of reflections and all kinds of analysis from columnists and anyone with an opinion on the state of Island Jamaica at fifty. We were regaled with the views of our former prime minister, P.J. Patterson, who believes that “we have achieved” much in the last fifty years. A strong advocate of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Mr. Patterson (sorry, the Most Honorable P.J. Patterson etc) thinks politicians should come together in the Jamaica 50 “spirit of unity” and “do what is necessary” - that is, pass legislation to make the Court Jamaica’s final court of appeal, without of course consulting the Jamaican people on the matter. A battle is to follow… I don’t need a crystal ball to foresee politicians on both sides showing a remarkable lack of Jamaica 50 unity on the matter – perhaps involving much braying, shouting and walking out of the chamber.
And talking of unity – it has become a real buzzword, lately – the Gleaner continued to air the views of the privileged and successful on the topic on its front page. Even business leaders – the head of our local cigarette company included – are pontificating on the matter. I would like them to go down and talk to the men, women and young people of this country and ask them what they think about unity; especially perhaps in the “garrison” communities of our inner-cities (funny there has been very little talk about them, lately) where one side of a street is feuding with the other side, and small communities have names like “Vietnam” and “Dunkirk.” Even the Prime Minister’s garrison constituency. I wonder what they would have to say.
There were, of course, endless speeches in Parliament, and numerous recorded messages from the Prime Minister, Governor General and Leader of the Opposition, on Emancipation Day and again for Jamaica 50. If you are really interested in reading them, the links are below. Our Prime Minister also gave an interview to Time magazine, talking about everything from homophobia (no, Jamaica, we are not really homophobic, and no, I am not going to do anything about changing the laws on buggery); to Usain Bolt, etc. The full interview is in the magazine and excerpts are in a link below.
There was an additional speech in Parliament late last week, by President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan. The hardly-ever-smiling President was warmly received, wore his usual felt hat both indoors and outdoors, and urged Jamaica to join his country in fighting poverty. Again, that old buzzword “Unity” or variations thereof continually punctuated his speech. In fact, he asked a very pertinent question: “Is the Black man really free today?” and continued, “Today the destiny of the Black person is in the hands of the Black people.” Well, Marcus Garvey told us that years ago.
President Jonathan had very little to smile about, on his own account. An Associated Press report printed in the Sunday Observer, a day or two after his visit, was headlined “Nigeria in turmoil.” Gloom and doom.
Others shared their views on Jamaica 50. A letter writer observed, “Isn’t it interesting that with all the festivities surrounding our Emancipation and Independence the only things that we can boast about are our music and our athletes? Are you telling me that almost 180 years after Emancipation and 50 years since Independence the only thing that we can brag about is entertainment?” Oh dear me. Financial analyst Dennis Chung, in his usual clear-headed manner, asked another question: “After the party, what?” Read his sensible and balanced article in the Observer’s Caribbean Business Report below.
And you may well have missed some interesting comments by economist Dr. Damien King of the University of the West Indies. “We are poor because we have not had the courage to expand opportunity. It is now time to choose inspired leadership that can create equality of opportunities instead of pandering to the poor,” Dr. King said recently. I could not agree more. But are our leaders listening? Well, for the past fifty years they have not been. And as we all know, our current Prime Minister loves the poor.
OK, now the good and bad (and we are all beautiful, not ugly):
Bad first: A letter to the Editor from a pastor last week declared, “Flexi-work is slavery.” Oh, come on. Can the church please get worked up about some actually relevant issues? The debate about flexi-time has actually been going on for eighteen years, now, with the church vehemently opposed. Eighteen years. That’s progress for you.
The University Hospital of the West Indies and the Kingston Public Hospital have malfunctioning or non-functioning CT scan machines. These are two crucial, large and busy Kingston hospitals. They, and their patients, often have to resort to seeking assistance from private institutions – and the patients have to pay.
As radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon has regularly remarked, with Jamaica at fifty years old, the historic Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston is literally crumbling. Chunks of it will soon start falling on people’s heads.
The good stuff, finally:
I don’t usually gush over beauty queens – and Jamaicans do love their beauty queens – but have to congratulate the Miss Jamaica Festival Queen 2012, Ms. Kemesha Kelly. She is not just a pretty face (although her smile is dazzling). She is a youth advocate – intelligent and articulate, with a strong vision for Jamaica. One of those many young people we should be proud of. Big ups to Kemesha! You will go far.
And now, congratulations to a Jamaican overseas, and a former work colleague of mine in Jamaica, Luke Williams. The lanky Luke has lived in London for ten years now and he is a tremendous teacher, a writer, a great actor. He is also a correspondent for Radio Jamaica, so I hear his warm voice reporting from London on a regular basis. And Luke recently carried the Olympic torch! From Ilford High Road to Redbridge Town Hall. His school nominated him for the honor. Marvelous stuff. And a lovely article by Jamaica Observer writer Janice Budd, by the way.
Our Jamaican Fulbright Scholars always do us proud, and six post-graduates were recently selected for courses in the United States ranging from public policy to tourism and the environment to finance and pest management. Congratulations to them all.
And once again, the American Friends of Jamaica came up trumps. They donated a forty-foot container full of very important equipment and supplies to the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, which serves a wide area with a population of almost a million people. I have no idea why this news was tucked away in the Gleaner’s social pages…
Last but not least, an organization called Halls of Learning has done a great job with a special summer camp for young people in the often-volatile Mountain View area of Kingston. Its young and enterprising founder, Marvin Hall, has a unique approach to learning which includes technology (robotics) and stimulating the child’s natural creativity. Great stuff.
To end, sadly blood was still shed on our island during its weeklong celebrations. My sincere condolences to the families, friends and all those affected by the sad deaths of the following Jamaicans.
And so we march on, into our next fifty years! Have a great remainder of the week.
Killed by police:
Joseph Williams, 29. Llandilo, Westmoreland
Randy Allwood, 21, Alma, Westmoreland
Kadena Jarrett, 24, Frome, Westmoreland
Robert Williams, 24, Dover, St. Mary
Dudley Gordon, Rose End, St. Mary
Sasheka McBean, 25, Spring Mount, St. James
Oneil Lee, Spring Mount, St. James
Jerome Allen, Spring Mount, St. James
Therese Marie Cole, 26, St. James
Davian Robinson, Port Antonio, Portland
Oneil Brown, 30, Cassava Piece, St. Andrew
Uleces Johns, 51, Slipe, St. Elizabeth
Stacy-Ann Smith, 17, Wynters Pen, St. Catherine
http://www.jis.gov.jm/special_sections/Independence/symbols.html (Independence symbols)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120731/lead/lead6.html (JPS licence invalid, rules Supreme Court)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UWI-professor-bemoans-Ja-s-poor-record-keeping-practices_12086060 (UWI professor bemoans Jamaica’s poor record-keeping practices)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120730/lead/lead8.html (Can you diG it? Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/lead/lead8.html (Felice to tighten noose on financial crimes)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/New-FID-boss-Justin-Felice-vows-to-tackle-corruption_12152121 (New FID boss Justin Felice vows to tackle corruption)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/news/news6.htmlRelated articles (Anti-corruption body to work with new task force)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120801/lead/lead1.html (Troupe set free)
Jamaica 50 – The Celebration Continues (prweb.com)
50-50 Reflections (petchary.wordpress.com)
Who Is Jamaica? (nytimes.com)
Jamaica celebrates 50th anniversary to mixed reviews (lfpress.com)
VIDEO: Memories of Jamaican independence (bbc.co.uk)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Raw-sewage-flowing-in-Majesty-Gardens-streets (Raw sewage flowing in Majesty Gardens streets)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/PJ-wants-politicians-to-show-maturity_12098630 (PJ wants politicians to show maturity)
http://repeatingislands.com/2012/08/05/jamaica-at-50-island-nations-p-m-talks-about-the-queen-the-caribbean-and-usain-bolt/ (Jamaica at 50: Island Nation’s PM talks – Time Magazine)
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1834406,00.html (Can Jamaica’s sprinters fight crime? – Time Magazine)
http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/newsflash/president-jonathan-speech-at-jamaicas-50th-annivesary-celebrations.html (President Jonathan Speech at Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/What-are-we-celebrating-_12142507 (What are we celebrating?)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jamaica-2012–A-time-for-reflection (A Time for Reflection: Dennis Chung column)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Redistributive-policies-have-not-helped-the-poor–says-Damien-King_12098736 (Redistributive policies have not helped the poor, says Damien King)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/news/news3.html (Hospital emergency)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/Fulbright-scholars-feted_11990181 (Fulbright scholars feted)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Luke-Williams–moment-to-shine_12035947 (Luke Williams’ moment to shine)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120802/lead/lead5.html (Huge support for Mountain View special summer camp)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120803/social/social4.html (American Friends of Jamaica gives Cornwall Regional medical supplies)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20061127/flair/flair1.html (Marvin Hall’s Robotics Stimul-i)
This week’s post will be somewhat abbreviated. I am in study mode – I am taking the Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française Niveau B1 (DELF exam level B1) in French. I have been preparing at the Alliance Francaise de la Jamaique and would highly recommend their classes. The summer classes – focusing on conversational French – will start soon (see link below) so why don’t you get Frenchified, now! Anyway – exam on Tuesday morning and I am truly out of the habit of studying, revising etc. It is an effort; my attention span seems to have shortened considerably since my student days, which is worrying. Wish me luck!
I called this post “Sunday Songs” because for the entire week (and the previous one) much media and public attention has been focused on a song (or songs). What song are we singing now? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Confusion and contention surrounds the issue of the “Jamaica 50″ official song, intended to raise our spirits and uplift our hearts as we celebrate our half century of independence. The traditional media has been trying to interpret the back-tracking, denials, confirmations and the ultimately contradictory statements emanating from the halls of government. In the background, there has been a ever-louder chorus of disapproval, recrimination and regret in the social media and among local bloggers (see links below), on talk shows, letters to the editor, vox pops and other outlets. Wails of “Oh, why can’t we just all get along, forget the ‘cass-cass’ and enjoy the celebration?” have been barely heard above the rising tide of anger and disappointment. The Minister in charge, Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, knit her brows prettily and said she didn’t know what all the fuss was over the reported sidelining of an official song written by Mikey Bennett (which has some merit, and a more traditionally “Jamaican” feel to it). That was before more was revealed, online and elsewhere. It appeared, for example, that the “new” song – a highly polished, generic pop song performed by Orville “Shaggy” Burrell (a man not unconnected with the current political administration) – was also launched as the “official” song for Jamaica 50. The video, and the program inviting journalists to the launch, appear to confirm this. The Ministry initially tried to say that there are many and varied Jamaica 50 songs, and that various songs had been approved by the Jamaica 50 Secretariat. The Secretariat, headed by a marketing “whizz kid” called Robert Bryan, then denied that Shaggy’s little ditty was the official song, despite what seemed to be evidence to the contrary. Now it is said that the public may be able to vote for a song. Conversations on this topic tend to begin with, “But…” “No, but…” “Well, didn’t they…” and end with question marks.
So, the song celebrating the fiftieth year of our independence seems to be wallowing in a mire of utter confusion. One can use several phrases to describe this state of affairs. Fiasco. Debacle. Mess. Public relations disaster (yes, certainly). I would call it, to use a colorful English term, a right cock-up.
Songs of lamentation at the end of this article, as I had promised to do, every week, as a reminder of Jamaica’s affliction – a fever which never breaks, that of crime and violence.
Moving on, with a sigh…
The People’s National Party administration is again teetering on the edge of a “donation scandal,” this time related to funds that Mr. David Smith, the incarcerated head of the failed Ponzi scheme Olint, says he donated to the party (US$1 million). Let us not forget that Mr. Smith told lawyers that he also donated $2 million to the Jamaica Labour Party, whose representatives become very vague when questioned by journalists. The question is whether the funds should, or will be, returned, as the authorities in the Turks & Caicos Islands have requested. Smith is spending a few years in those islands before moving on for a considerably longer period to the U.S. prison system. The PNP’s chairman Mr. Robert Pickersgill said that there was “no moral obligation” for the PNP to repay the money (I think it is always unfortunate when a political party is linked with the word “moral” in the same headline). With the mood of the Jamaican people as it is, this was altogether a most ill-conceived remark. As one columnist observed caustically, “We allow our MPs and Cabinet ministers to wear the title “honourable” before their names.”
The week has passed very quickly, and I have been too busy to follow every detail in the news, so I will cut this short as my French books are beckoning me. However, I must note in passing that the following items washed over my head during the week:
- The Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) results came out, whereby Jamaican children make the rite of passage from primary to secondary school. There was the usual gnashing of teeth by those parents whose children had not done well enough to go to one of the “traditional high schools” deemed superior (most are in Kingston); and celebrations by those who did well. There were the pompous speeches (or hard-hitting speeches, if you prefer) by our loquacious Minister of Education Mr. Ronald Thwaites, who in time-honored socialist fashion likened the GSAT system to educational “apartheid.” He hit the Sunday Gleaner headlines today with another grand exhortation to poor-performing teachers…“Pack up and go!” My question, as always, to politicians who tell us (ad nauseam) what needs to be done and what the government would like to do is, “HOW?” followed by “WHEN?” Let us just see if there is any action to follow these many pleasing words (yes, I agree 100 per cent, Mr. Minister, but…)
- There was an embarrassing episode involving the Attorney General, who was apparently not aware of a legal opinion that had threatened to turn the entire pension reform process on its head. The opinion was withdrawn…
- There was another fashion show, or another beauty contest; or both, probably.
- A full-scale price war broke out between our two battling mobile phone providers – the dominant Digicel, and LIME – who fired the first salvo. The consumer has benefited greatly. Once again, all is vibrant and healthy in the telecoms sector, presided over by the highly focused Minister Phillip Paulwell (whom I seem to heap praises on every week).
- More good news! The Minister of Finance did some further back-pedaling and jiggling of numbers, and announced that General Consumption Tax would not be imposed on any books at all. Well done to the Book Industry Association of Jamaica, who once again successfully lobbied for the removal of taxes.
- The annual Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) urban arts festival kicked off in fine style on Friday night, and will continue throughout the week.
- The National Gallery of Jamaica (a must-visit for those in Kingston) opened its doors today with its refurbished gallery of the sculptures of Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, and will be open once a month on Sundays from now on with special events.
- We had the pleasure of attending the opening night of a theater revival – a play called “Stanley, Fay Pularchie and P” written by Gloria Lannaman in the 1970s and set in 1938, the time of major labor unrest in colonial Jamaica. Congratulations to producers Pauline Stone Myrie and Marjorie Whylie (who acted in the original production), director D. Pablo Hoilett and the excellent cast. There are three performances per weekend at the cozy Theatre Place in New Kingston, until August 19, 2012. Lots of humor (I particularly enjoyed one scene in the back of a truck en route to the country); there is drama, and there is no happy ending, really. Great stuff!
- Warren Gyles, 30, in Salt Marsh, Trelawny
- Shamone Henry, 26, in Golden Grove, St. Ann
- Joshman Douglas, in Golden Grove, St. Ann
- Tania Christie Lowe, 37, in Granville, St. James
- Rohan Simpson, 39, in August Town, St. Andrew
- Moses Francis in August Town, St. Andrew
- Two other men in August Town, St. Andrew (names not determined)
- Narval Powell, 16, in Christian Gardens, Portmore, St. Catherine
- Unidentified man, found in Penwood Road, Kingston 11
- Unidentified man killed by police in Temple Hall, St. Andrew
- Melanie Lindo Thompson, 43, Craig Head, Manchester
- Anita Watson, 73
- My Jamaican Caribbean Heritage and Music (rawmultimedia.wordpress.com)
- That Jamaica 50 song… (anniepaul.net)
- Our Jamaica 50 Song….What the Hell Is It? (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- Lessons from the Jamaica 50 Song Fiasco (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/On-a-Mission-was-never-the-Jamaica-50-celebration-song–says-Secretariat (Jamaicaobserver.com)
- Celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Year of Independence (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120624/lead/lead76.html: Grange wants Hanna to come clean (jamaica-gleaner.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120623/cleisure/cleisure2.html: Stop politicizing Independence (jamaica-gleaner.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Wrong-jungle–Mr-Pickersgill_11772217: Wrong jungle, Mr. Pickersgill! (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://alliancefrjm.org/: Alliance Française de la Jamaïque
- http://natgalja.org.jm/ioj_wp/: National Gallery of Jamaica
- http://www.kingstonontheedge.org/: Kingston on the Edge 2012
- http://susumba.com/theatre/news/gloria-lannamans-classic-stanley-fay-pularchie-and-p-returns-stage: susumba.com preview
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- The Sunday Stumble – premiere edition (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Royal Jamaica (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Fifteen ways you know you are in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Ungrateful and Unreasonable : Jamaica’s Response To Digicel (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com
- Sunday Swirl: June 3, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- The Sunday Stumble – premiere edition (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Royal Jamaica (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Fifteen ways you know you are in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Ungrateful and Unreasonable : Jamaica’s Response To Digicel (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Burning the Political Fires, a flint of Olint (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
The title of this blog post is influenced by the fact that I am have become locked into the Euro 2012 tournament for the past three days. I am just watching the passionate Croatians getting the better of the dogged Irish. It has been (and will remain) a complete distraction for me, as I am a hopelessly addicted football (soccer) fan. If I was to give a score for this past week, however, I would say that it might be something along the lines of Jamaican Politicians 3, Jamaican People 1, although the people’s goal was really an “own goal.” And in the case of our home-grown don Christopher “Dudus” Coke – well, the U.S. Government kept a clean sheet, 1-0.
Mr. Coke received a 23-year sentence in a New York court this week, for racketeering and assault. This prompted local journalists to rush down to the tired and dusty Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in West Kingston, where large bullet holes still pock-mark some of the buildings after the security forces’ May 2010 assault on the area. This is where, in the “good/bad old days,” Mr. Coke and his “Presidential Click” held sway. And yet, Mr. Coke’s criminal career, his flight, pursuit, capture, extradition and now incarceration will linger on in Jamaica, like the sickening smell of a dead cat in our garbage bin even after it had been removed. (Yes, our dogs killed a cat one night last week. They have a penchant for hunting. I am sorry, cat-lovers…) The residents’ responses to Mr. Coke’s sentence ranged from angry tears to shrugged shoulders.
Coincidentally, I think, Mr. Mattathias Schwartz of the New Yorker magazine produced another piece on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion” (this is the euphemism used by the Jamaican media for a military attack on Tivoli Gardens, when security forces pursued Mr. Coke and over seventy people were killed). See the link to Mr. Schwartz’s article below. His first article on the Tivoli Gardens attack, published in December 2011, “revealed” information that everyone in Kingston already knew – that a surveillance plane of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security circled over Kingston; embarrassingly, then National Security Minister Dwight Nelson flatly denied what we had all seen with our own eyes. The second Schwartz article alleges that, according to the U.S. Government, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) “fired mortars” at Tivoli Gardens; and the JDF conceded that indeed they did. “Bombs on Tivoli” shouted the Gleaner’s headline on Friday; and they got another confirmation from the JDF, who noted that the so-called “bombs” did not target people or buildings. Now, the U.S. Government plan to search for Mr. Coke’s assets, amounting to a possible US$1.5 million to be forfeited. It’s all about the Benjamins, as a hip hop artist once said…
The Budget Debate dragged on to its inevitable conclusion: some more tinkering with the taxes, resulting in the Budget, Mark Two. Remember, Politicians vs People and, as always, the Politicians won. The local media dutifully broadcast and reported on two lengthy speeches, firstly by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and then by Finance Minister Peter Phillips – redux. In the background, government Members of Parliament twiddled their writing implements, adjusted the collars of their fashionable outfits, browsed their blackberries, and even stuffed food in their mouths. They kept their right hands at the ready though, so that they could thump their desks in thunderous approval of every announcement or political point scored by the speakers. Journalists remained at their posts, putting all other news on hold, tweeting and reporting small chunks of the changes and announcements – all of which could have been neatly wrapped up in a half hour presentation by Dr. Phillips. But, the public and media endured a hesitant, labored (almost tired) presentation, punctuated frequently by witty remarks, muttered insults and loud guffaws from both sides of the house. The Prime Minister, whose speech took place the day before Dr. Phillips’ revisions, consisted of 25% accusing the former administration of creating Jamaica’s economic woes; 35% ranting about child abuse and how “disgraceful” and “shameful” it is; another 25% of interruptions, etc; and about 15% actual substance. As broadcaster Dionne Jackson-Miller complained in her blog, why are these speeches so long?
Some of the “softening” measures adopted in Budget Version Two were the lifting of General Consumption Tax on school books “approved by the Ministry of Education.” Having worked for eight years in the book business, I know full well that we are already approaching the dreaded “school book season,” when anxious parents descend on the bookstores with book lists in hand for the upcoming academic year starting September. Of course, I agree with Mr. Steadman Fuller of Kingston Bookshop, who said on radio last week that the idea of producing an approved book list out of the hundreds of titles that appear on school lists each year by the middle of this month is completely impossible. And is the Bible, which appears on almost every school list, an approved text book? By the way, tax remains on beef patties.
And as for the child abuse issue, as columnist and common-sense businessman James Moss-Solomon observed in the Sunday Observer today, “The poor of this country are no more intentionally depraved than the animals on television that must find ways to survive even as their natural habitat is shrinking.” It’s all a part of the general desperation that afflicts large proportions of the country’s population – including the Prime Minister’s own constituency: Majesty Gardens, for example, which was prominently featured in recent television reports. One could not find a less appropriate name for that place.
Meanwhile, in the Land of Bling it seems anything goes (see link below). Everywhere one looks there are models strutting and posing for Caribbean Fashion Week. Last week I asked where the actual economic value was in this “fashion industry.” How much is it worth – how many jobs in Jamaica does it create? I would love to know…
And last night, our very own sprint champion crashed his car again – just around daybreak in Kingston’s Half Way Tree – just a little fender bender, returning from a “popular party.” He is “at home sleeping” now, his publicist says. The inexorable build-up to the London Olympics seems to go on for ever; surely the athletes’ jewelry boxes must be full of diamonds by now?
But several bouquets are waiting to be handed out… Perhaps the Reggae Boyz would prefer something more macho, but congratulations to Theodore Whitmore and the Jamaican football team for their win in the first game of their qualifying campaign for the next World Cup. Pity you had to let in the Guatemalan goal in extra time, though. But 2-1 is, indeed, a respectable score.
Well now! Ms. Janet Silvera of the Gleaner, always the epitome of Jamaican warmth and hospitality, is the first Jamaican to win the Marcia Vickery-Wallace Memorial Award for excellence in travel tourism.
Talking of Montego Bay (Ms. Silvera’s neck of the woods) I was pleased to learn that its Free Zone is set for a a 50,000 square foot expansion - “bursting at the seams” as my favorite Government Minister Phillip Paulwell put it – and that LIME is to give up the telecoms monopoly in the Zone. LIME Chairman Chris Dehring noted, “This partnership with the Government for the development of the ICT and telecoms services signals our total embrace of competition in the sector.” That is good; and I hope for the sake of competition in Jamaica on the whole that LIME does not suffer further great losses as it competes with Digicel. Excellent work Minister Paulwell too, on moving forward with net billing and awarding licenses to those who wish to sell their excess electricity back to the grid. Woot woot!
A pat on the back for another Minister – Justice Minister Mark Golding – for taking a step in the right direction with the formation of the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – a new acronym to remember) on Tuesday. This single anti-corruption body makes a lot of sense to me. Let’s hope the whole process does not take too long; a committee is to advise on this matter by the end of the month which is a good timeframe. After that, it will go to Cabinet. This is something that the Contractor General had recommended to the Government and Opposition more than two years ago.
I am also impressed by Jamaica’s first “all-green” residence, somewhere in St. Elizabeth I believe. It is quite a large house, and completely “off the grid” – swimming pool and all.
Another positive… The Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) that investigates police abuses appears to be gaining confidence, since the Supreme Court ruling in its favor.It has taken over the investigation into one of the more disturbing incidents (well, they are all disturbing) – the shooting death of sixteen-year-old Vanessa Kirkland in a car on March 20. Three policemen implicated in the shooting are to face identification parades next week. Meanwhile, the tireless and determined head of Jamaicans for Justice Dr. Carolyn Gomes joined the residents of Jarrett Lane in a peaceful demonstration on Friday evening in protest at the shooting death of Police Youth Club member Kavorn Schue a week ago. Head of the police Community Safety Branch Senior Superintendent James Forbes, a man whose sincerity I do not question, has a very hard job now as he seeks to mend fences in the community.
It’s tough being a talk show host. Ms. Barbara Gloudon patiently endured an onslaught of calls from irate rum-drinkers on Thursday. They were furious about the sudden increase in the price of white rum – which, like rice and peas, chicken and beef patties, is a Jamaican staple. Ms. Gloudon defended herself valiantly – the callers seemed to expect her to explain the many and various prices of large and small bottles. Let’s hope that things settle down and that “unscrupulous persons” (to use Government jargon) are not pricing their goods over the top (and often not handing over the Government tax – this does happen). Yes, you know who you are…
Time is getting on and there is more to talk about of course. Last but not least, however, may I send appreciation and thanks to Miss Jamaica Universe 2012, Ms. Chantal Zaky, who will be supporting the fund-raising efforts of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL). Ms. Zaky will hold a press conference tomorrow (Monday June 11) at JASL offices on Upper Musgrave Avenue, Kingston at 12:00 noon. Please come along and support. More on this anon, but suffice it to say, for now, that JASL are quietly doing incredible work with those Jamaicans who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and who are routinely marginalized by society. They need much more funds to be able to continue this heroic work. PLEASE support them in any way you can; financial donations will be most gratefully received. Visit their website at http://www.jasforlife.org/html/.
- Euro 2012: Why Can’t America Get Behind the World’s Most Popular Sport? (bleacherreport.com)
- It’s OK to like football and soccer. Really. (independentmail.com)
- Euro 2012: Embrace the Bar Life and Enjoy Games with Fellow Fans (bleacherreport.com)
- As Jamaican Drug Lord is Sentenced, U.S. Still Silent on Massacre (newyorker.com)
- http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz: A Massacre in Jamaica (mattatiasschwartz.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120610/lead/lead1.html: Dudus dollars wanted (Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/lead/lead1.html: Bombs on Tivoli (Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/memo-to-jamaican-politicians-long-speeches-bad-idea/: Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Tax-package-softened_11634098: Tax package softened (Jamaica Observer)
- http://www.kingstonstyle.com/2012/06/lisa-hyper-never-the-less-at-cfw-2012/: Lisa Hyper at Caribbean Fashion Week
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Population–popularity–and-politics_11649986: James Moss-Solomon column
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120610/news/news4.html: Janet Silvera receives major tourism award
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=466: Anger over Jarrett Lane police shooting lingers
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120605/lead/lead23.html: Deeply wounded (Jamaica Gleaner)
- The British officer who changed policing in Jamaica (guardian.co.uk)
I am waiting for the daily thunderstorm, that has generally announced its arrival with much rumbling every lunchtime.
The week’s news has been a little stormy indeed in Jamaica – although some of the storms were certainly of the kind that you serve tea in. Like the weather, there has been a lot of ominous rumbling, and very little to refresh the soul at the end of it all.
The rumblings continue – especially in the Sunday newspapers and one or two letters and opinion columns – on issues related to sexual abuse and sexual health. Today’s front pages reflect this – the Sunday Observer trumpets “Perverts Stalk Schools,” while the Sunday Gleaner, not to be undone, shrieks “Abortion for Sale!” What concerns me somewhat is that both newspapers give such stories the sensational tabloid treatment. One should skip over the lurid graphics and headlines and try to get to the meat of the issues; but both reports are a little short on facts. One learns from the Sunday front pages that 1) reports of teachers – and maybe other school staff – sexually abusing high school students are on the increase; and that 2) some health workers are illegally selling an ulcer treatment drug as an abortion pill (abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, for some reason). A television station reported the second story earlier in the week, even visiting an establishment where this practice was allegedly taking place. What is to be done about these matters – or rather, what will be done? That remains to be seen.
And then, last Monday, a nasty little squall skipped over the waters of the warm Caribbean Sea. It was up at the illustrious University of the West Indies (where, I hear, there have been several violent incidents among students over the past year, which have not been reported by the local media). A group of students protested violently at being banned from sitting examinations because they had not paid their fees to the university where they had been attending classes. Note that it is now the end of the academic year, and they still owe money. So, the students descended on the hall where hundreds of students had just begun writing their examinations, pencils sharpened, trying to settle their nerves. The aggressors banged on desks, kicked over the desks of some of the students sitting examinations and shouted about how “unfair” it all was, forcing the invigilators to cancel the examinations. What’s more, the university has to re-set the examination papers and reschedule the tests. As is so often said in our island – “the good (those who actually paid their fees, or whose parents struggled and saved to pay them) had to suffer for the bad (those wanting something for nothing).” As Professor Carolyn Cooper notes in her weekly Sunday Gleaner column, the offending students (some of whom masked their faces) were suffering from a delusional and selfish sense of “entitlement.” They don’t pay their fees, and yet somehow feel that the world owes them an education.
According to another video posted on a local blog, this is all evidence of the class/race war on campus. One of the examinees regrettably referred to the protesters as “uneducated ghetto people,” prompting the video’s rant about – yes, race and class, which has no relevance to this particular issue, in my view. There were no doubt “ghetto people” who had struggled to pay the fees sitting those examinations on Monday – and the disrupters included several “brown” middle-class students, for sure. To me, the issue is education, and the funding of it: As Martin Henry comments in his excellent op-ed on the topic today (Sunday Gleaner) it is successive political administrations that are to blame, not the mean old university that is just trying to make ends meet. Oh yes, poor people must have access to education, all Jamaicans must, the politicians say; but hey, we, the government, are not going to fund it. The new Education Minister, as I pointed out in an earlier post, makes wonderful and fine-sounding speeches; but in recent weeks he has been telling struggling independent schools on the verge of closure and other despairing educators that there will be no additional funds for education in the much-delayed Budget, so they will have to make do with what they have got. So there. (In his Education Week message, Minister Thwaites says Jamaica has “achieved the Millennium Goals set for education.” Could he elaborate on what these are? Somehow I wasn’t aware of this).
A few bolts of lightning this week too, amid the storm clouds glowering over our educational landscape: A Dean of Discipline at a rural high school was stabbed twice and had his leg broken by a group of students who had been told to stay home for a few days because of their disruptive behavior. Five students have been charged with the attack on Mr. Gavin Myers, who, lying in his hospital bed, said he hoped for “redemption” for the students. One suspects that karma may be more likely to kick in. By the way, there were two other stabbings at high schools reported late in the week. It goes on. May I ask whether the JCF School Resource Officers program is still functioning, and has it made an impact? It seemed like a good idea when it was launched some ten years ago. And can each student/visitor be searched on entering school compounds? It sounds drastic, but what do you think, dear readers? “Bring back flogging,” commented one member of the public. But violence begets violence.
Concerns: Things are not looking so good on the crime front. Although major crimes have declined, murder has slightly increased in the first quarter of this year, compared to last year. The Minister of National Security, accompanied by a gaggle of police officers, is on television almost every night in his baseball cap, bravely tramping through the byways of various depressed communities, occasionally comforting a grieving woman, trying to understand the complexities of each little neighborhood where gunfire rings out. This week, gunmen fired on a group of domino players outside a little shop in a place called Rejoin, Hanover, killing a father, son and two others. The smallest parish in Jamaica has experienced a startling increase in homicides this year. There were other depressing little stories: a fruit vendor’s body was found in downtown Kingston, by the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A woman was found in the sewage pit at the elaborate home of her “baby-father.” And the residents of a rural community knew exactly where to find the body of a taxi driver and policeman’s son, trooping down to the deep, swirling river ironically called Sweet River – where bodies are often dumped, they said. And there was the usual television footage of women – mothers, babymothers, sisters, aunts – collapsing at the roadside, or sitting on their cramped verandahs, numb with grief. I don’t know what I am going to do, they say.
I was not impressed, either, by circular conversations in the print and broadcast media about the “impasse” between the Transport Minister and Contractor General over the former’s plan to apparently override the CG’s surveillance of three big investment projects. Comments made by the Opposition, including Senator Christopher Tufton on “All Angles” this week, suggest that the Jamaica Labour Party is also being “mealy-mouthed” on this issue. And can we hear a bit more from civil society on this? It reminds me of a former People’s National Party slogan: “Don’t Stop the Progress!” This one is going to rumble around in the background for some time yet, one feels. And once again, as Mr. Henry noted on the issue of education funding, the Government is attempting to ride two horses running in opposite directions: Yes, we must “strengthen” the office of the Contractor General and it is very important; but No, we are not going to let him stand in our way when it suits us. Meanwhile, the Jamaican people have made it pretty clear in all the vox pops - they trust Mr. Greg Christie more than the Honorable Minister and his comrades. Sorry.
When are we going to hear any details at all about the Finance Minister’s visit to Washington? Or is he still there with his “technical team”?
And why bother? Crime, corruption and the economy are all burning issues for the Jamaica public. Don’t we know that? Then why, oh why, are we still regaled with bickerings and pettiness from both the Lower and Upper Houses? This past week, the Senate erupted in one of those storms in a teacup I mentioned earlier. An Opposition Senator and spokesman for foreign affairs raised the issue of the appointment of diplomats when there is a change of administration. Hardly a burning issue. It is quite normal for both political parties to recall key diplomats when they come to power, so that their envoy will be more in tune with the government of the day’s priorities and policies. Jamaica has had some excellent representation, and some fairly mediocre, overseas. But Senator Tufton, the fact that the previous administration you were a part of kept on one Ambassador appointed by the previous regime is neither here nor there. One swallow does not a summer make. I would like to know, however, who will be Jamaica’s next Ambassador to the United States? Has the media enquired into this?
Why did the Jamaica 50 logo need to be re-designed (and at what cost)? And by the way, do we have any details of what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of? There have been many media announcements, but I for one am still not clear…
Congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings are also accorded this week, to the following:
Mr. Brandon Allwood and his young team of volunteers and supporters, who successfully staged a hot and noisy march and rally last Tuesday on behalf of “Help JA Children,” a movement to try and shake things up on the issue of child abuse. May is Child Month in Jamaica. I have posted several comments and blogged on this before, but yes – I was one of the few people over the age of thirty who participated. UNICEF was there; Susan Goffe and Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice were there; and a group of non-governmental organizations that work with women and children – the indomitable ladies of Eve for Life, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre among them. More projects are planned for the month – I will keep you up to date. Meanwhile, please visit the Help JA Children Facebook page, and you can find them on Twitter, too. An excellent turnout and good media coverage, too. Keep up the pressure!
For the second consecutive week, I wish to congratulate Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who on Tuesday was responsible for some amendments of the eleven-year-old Telecoms Act that will not only make a monopoly in the market much less possible, but will also mean a reduction in local and international telephone rates. Once again, a big clap on the back for Minister Paulwell – one of the few who is properly focused on his portfolio, not distracted by photo-ops or sideshows. The gentleman is working – and the Jamaican consumer will benefit!
I am also heartened to hear that by this September the topic of climate change should be on the primary school curriculum, as announced by our Minister for Climate Change (and other things) Robert Pickersgill. Meanwhile, I hope the Honorable Minister will address the “Disaster in Waiting” described by the Gleaner’s Erica Virtue on Tuesday, the possible re-ignition of a fire at the Riverton City dump – or is that the Local Government Minister’s purview? (And by the way, Minister Arscott, a smile would be nice occasionally…It goes a long way).
And a word of commendation for Corporal Karen Austin (I hope I spelt her name right) of the Santa Cruz Police. A series of TVJ reports this week focused on the plight of a woman with two children, who were found to be living in the most awful conditions. The police were inclined to take the children and put them into care, but the mother begged for them to stay with her. Kind-hearted citizens – thanks to them also – have since contributed food and clothing and it is hoped that a home will be provided (by Food for the Poor, perhaps?) It was Corporal Austin’s calm face and comforting demeanor that impressed me though. The footage of her carefully cleaning between one of the children’s toes was somehow so touching. Corporal Austin embodied real compassion – something that is so lacking in our society. Thank you, you made my week.
“Big ups” also to Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, Ethnie Miller-Simpson of Brandz Avenue and Ingrid Riley, CEO of Connectimass, who helped launch – and will lead – the Women’s Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean. 22 Caribbean dynamos participated in a forum supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Women’s Issues Initiative. These three Jamaican women are working on building the network, along with fellow entrepreneurs from St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad. I wish you all much luck!
I am really sorry I missed it, but the three-day “Kingston Pon Di River” arts festival was a delight and a big success, I hear. Congratulations to the organizers – Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell and Millicent Lynch. Wish I had made it for the drumming session, especially – and of course, Tomlin Ellis’ passionate poetry.
And to the Alpha Primary School, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. It began when Miss Jessie Ripoll (later Sister Mary Claver) opened the Alpha Cottage to accommodate a little orphan girl on May 1, 1880. Let’s remember our history, and support education in whatever way we can.
Condolences to the afore-mentioned Mr. Greg Christie, Contractor General, who buried his father Rupert last week; and especially, to the widow and family of Mr. Lloyd Brevett, who died on Thursday morning. Mr. Brevett was the upright bass player with the Skatalites, the revered and wonderful ska band – of whom there is now only one surviving member. Although he had been ill for some time, the painful part is that Mr. Brevett took a turn for the worse after his son Okeene was murdered in February, just after collecting an award on behalf of his father from the band’s former manager and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson. So sad that a man who helped bring that driving, jumping beat that brought so much happiness and sheer enjoyment to the Jamaican and world music scene passed under such sad circumstances.
P.S. A definition of “mealy-mouthed” (one of my father’s favorite expressions): “Hesitant to state facts or opinions simply and directly because of timidity or hypocrisy.”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/lead/lead2.html: Abortion For Sale
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/focus/focus1.html: Samfie Government – Broke Pockets and Broken Education (Martin Henry op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/cleisure/cleisure3.html#disqus_thread: Student Rights and Wrongs (Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-1/30471: Education Week Message from Minister Ronald Thwaites
Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed… (anniepaul.net)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead1.html: Call rates to drop
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead2.html: Jamaica’s Children March for Help
http://184.108.40.206/news/list/30468: Jamaica 50 to Provide Opportunity for Small Producers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120504/ent/ent3.html: Skatalites lose another member
Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
New Book: Something to write home about (repeatingislands.com)