Wednesday Words: April 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Grant, 27, Priory, St. Ann

Anthony McCarthy, 34, Aboukir, St. Ann

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Are You Ready for Earth Hour?

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

Earth Hour 2014.

Earth Hour 2014.

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

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

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

Check in with F1rst during Earth Hour in the Caribbean…

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

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

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

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

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

Earth Hour Acoustic Concert in Kingston, Jamaica.

Earth Hour Acoustic Concert in Kingston, Jamaica.

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

Use Your Power to…

raise consciousness

connect with your customers

find new partnerships

support each other

and simply celebrate our beautiful, blue Earth!

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

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

From Blue to Green…

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

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

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

 

 

 

What a Week! Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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

Thumbs up from Kern Spencer.

Thumbs up from Kern Spencer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Hanover Member of Parliament Ian Hayles.

Western Hanover Member of Parliament Ian Hayles.

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

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

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

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

Kingston Container Terminal. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kingston Container Terminal. (Photo: Gleaner)

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

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

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

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

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

Now… Major kudos this week to:

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

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

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

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

Michael Rose, 41, Franklin Town, Kingston

Edward Keating, Denham Town, Kingston

Sheldon Levy, 22, Retry Road, Clarendon

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

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

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

 

 

Fresh Sunday, March 23, 2014

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

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

I recommend the tweets of former Contractor General Greg Christie.

I recommend the tweets of former Contractor General Greg Christie.

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

Bishop Howard Gregory.

Bishop Howard Gregory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Major congrats to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamario Ferguson, 15, Kingston 12

Melissa Duffus, 35, Logwood, St. Thomas

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

Kevin Graham, 48, Claremont, St. Ann

Minister, Please Reconsider Your UNESCO Biosphere Decision

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

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

OPEN LETTER: To Minister Pickersgill

22 March, 2014

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

Dear Mr. Pickersgill,

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly,

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

Jamaica Environment Trust

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

Wendy A Lee
Seven Oaks Sanctuary for Wildlife

Horace Levy

Emma Caroline Lewis
Writer/Blogger

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

Sunday, March 9 – Wednesday March 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Petchary bouquets for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syril, Papine Market, St. Andrew

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

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

Keldon Wade, 31, Clifton District, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, McCook’s Pen, St. Catherine

Damion Callum, Alexandria, St. Ann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Annual Portland Bight Green Run!

1st Annual Portland Bight Green Run!

Jamaica’s Portland Bight: A Biosphere Deferred

As some of you are aware, the Government of Jamaica completed and resubmitted its application to have the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) recognized as a Biosphere Reserve  by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November, 2013 – only to request for it to be set aside (deferred) in late December, 2013. Jamaica would have been only the second country in the English-speaking Caribbean to establish such a reserve, after St. Kitts.

Chief responsibility for that action lies with the Minister of Land, Water, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill. The request for the deferral came from his office citing, “the need to revisit the boundary lines” (of the PBPA). NB: Minister of Youth and Culture Hon. Lisa Hanna chairs Jamaica’s National Commission for UNESCO and Mr. Everton Hannam is Secretary-General.

We all are aware of why the status was set aside. Minister Pickersgill is responsible for incorporating and enacting the climate change policies of the Jamaican Government. The development of the PBPA at Goat Islands by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) goes against every policy that the Government has adopted in order to help mitigate damages and the affects of climate change.

Please contact Minister Pickersgill and let him know you want the biosphere status returned to the PBPA.

Toll Free Number: 1 888 429 5500
Telephone: 1 876 927 9941 – 3
Fax: 1 876 968 8229
Email: http://opm.gov.jm/contact-us/
Address: c/o Office of the Prime Minister
1 Devon Road
Kingston 10

Read more here: 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140106/lead/lead1.html Bight betrayal: Government pulls back on biosphere recognition for Portland Bight: Gleaner, January 6, 2014

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140106/lead/lead7.html What is a biosphere reserve area? Gleaner, January 6, 2014

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=50372 Opposition says government underhanded in delay of Jamaica/UNESCO Portland Bight declaration: Gleaner, January 6, 2014

http://go-jamaica.com/pressrelease/item.php?id=2767 Jamaica’s first biosphere reserve soon to be declared in Portland Bight Protected Area: December 12, 2013

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/Regional-countries-agree-to-biosphere-reserves_14016553   Regional countries agree to biosphere reserves: Jamaica Observer: April 10, 2013

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/caribbean_countries_committed_to_establish_biosphere_reserves/#.Ux0KclxZ4Ts Caribbean countries committed to establish biosphere reserves: UNESCO, April 4, 2013

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Ash Wednesday: March 5, 2014

I was told that Ash Wednesday should be all about quiet meditation. But at least in our part of Kingston it has been far from meditative, with people on microphones and playing mindless music in all directions, all day long. Jamaica is one of the few countries in the world (they are mostly in the Caribbean) that takes a day off. Today seems to have been mid-week party time. I cannot see the point.

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson.

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson.

Phew! Yesterday, the heat was turned up considerably in the Lower House. Not unexpectedly, the issue was the pending Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre in May, 2010; and the selection of attorney Velma Hylton as a commissioner. The last shouting match in Parliament involved a great deal of bellowing from the Government side. This time, it was Opposition Member of Parliament for Tivoli Gardens ( and never a shrinking violet) Desmond McKenzie who repeatedly shouted “Sit down!”  The Gleaner reports that McKenzie called Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, who defended the Hylton selection, a “lackey, Mickey Mouse and an evil person.” Ouch.  Opposition Leader Andrew Holness noted, “The greater travesty is that the Government would seek to play politics with the deaths of 77 Jamaicans.” Well Mr. Holness, estimates are that at least 80-85 died and some have said closer to 100. But the part about “playing politics” made me laugh cynically. Tivoli Gardens, a small and struggling “garrison” community, has always been about “playing politics.” 

For the life of me I cannot understand what motivated the government to choose Ms. Hylton. I am also concerned at the Opposition’s apparent past ambivalence to discussions surrounding the setting up of the enquiry. And I wish Ms. Hylton would just say, in effect, “You know, I get it. I’ve had enough of this and I’m stepping down.” But no. “Oy vey”!

Bolivarian National Police officers push demonstrators to prevent them from blocking the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Anti-government protesters rallied to demand an end to the government crackdown on protests and the release of those jailed in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) (AP2014)

Bolivarian National Police officers push demonstrators to prevent them from blocking the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Anti-government protesters rallied to demand an end to the government crackdown on protests and the release of those jailed in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) (AP2014)

The Venezuela connection: Our Prime Minister left for a one-day trip to the somewhat edgy city of Caracas for the one-year commemoration of former Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez. It must have been a slightly nervous trip all round; I suspect the government is in a mild state of panic over the recent instability in the country. If – and it’s a big “if” in my opinion – there was to be a régime change, the PetroCaribe program would be in jeopardy. And without PetroCaribe we would be up a certain creek without a paddle. (I still don’t understand why the PetroCaribe office has moved into larger, much more expensive offices in New Kingston and taken on new staff?)

Talking about expensive offices, I understand that the Urban Development Corporation, anxious to offload some properties, has given the Ministry of Health until the end of April to quit its downtown location. The Ministry will then move back uptown and shell out much, much more rent. What happened to the idea of moving government downtown, by the way? Oh, that was the previous administration’s idea. Sorry. Forget it. Even if quite a good idea… Forget it.

A merger: National Security Minister Peter Bunting has announced that the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Island Special Constabulary Force will merge into one entity during the next financial year. This seems to have the approval of all, including Opposition Spokesman Derrick Smith. I’m not sure if this will greatly impact the work of the police, but may mean greater efficiency and cost-savings.

The Jamaica Observer editorial asks disingenuously, “Has Mr. Pickersgill [our so-called Environment and Climate Change Minister] been sidelined on Goat Islands?”  The editorial reminds us that it was Minister Pickersgill who spilt the beans last August in China, when he said that the Protected Area was “now under very serious consideration” as the site of a mega-port. And how quiet he has been, ever since. So, Jamaica Observer, the answer to your question is…clearly, yes.

The Gleaner has written another ill-informed and biased editorial on the subject of Goat Islands. I don’t know why I keep commenting. But I must point out, dear Gleaner editor, that the much-maligned environmentalists (who are such a nuisance, aren’t they?) are neither “neo-Luddians” nor “xenophobic.” Not one of them. Not one. Of course there are a range of opinions on the planned project. And local climate change expert Professor Anthony Chen expressed clear concern over the coal-fired power plant (more on that in later blogs) – not “instinctively,” dear Gleaner editor, but based on his scientific knowledge and many years of experience in the field.  Environmentalists have repeated endlessly that they are not opposed to development – they just want sustainable development and for proper procedures to be observed, laws to be obeyed and not side-stepped. And they are opposed to a project in one particular location. Nor have any of these awful environmentalists, to my knowledge, ever said or done anything “anti-Chinese.” Despite Minister of Everything Omar Davies’ protestations, concerns about a possible Chinese “enclave” are not to be dismissed out of hand, however, based on experiences around the world. And it ought to be discussed. (And for heaven’s sake, don’t drag poor Tessanne Chin into the argument! Good Lord).

Sorry for all the bold print in the previous paragraph. It’s just that the Gleaner persists in repeating fallacies and half-truths. It is just not listening!

Couldn’t care less: I was disturbed by a television report on the sudden, steep increase in the cost of obtaining birth and death certificates from the Registrar General’s Department. A senior official at the Department, when interviewed on the matter, looked as if she could hardly be bothered to explain the reason for this increase – which of course, will hit poor Jamaicans hard. This is unfortunately a common attitude among our public servants, who often forget they are servants, and are paid to do their jobs properly. It is a kind of disrespect that adds to the feelings of resentment and alienation among the general public.

The Liberty Hill Primary School in Dumbarton, St. Ann, on fire early Monday morning. The police now suspect arson. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

The Liberty Hill Primary School in Dumbarton, St. Ann, on fire early Monday morning. The police now suspect arson. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

People deserve better: An entire primary school in the rural parish of St. Ann burnt down a few days ago, largely due to an absence of fire truck in the town of Brown’s Town. And for reasons unknown, the operating theater at the only public hospital serving the very large parish of Westmoreland in Savannah-la-Mar has been closed. I hear the hospital is in a very poor state (this was where the tourist who was killed by a jet ski was taken). Can the Government please invest some money (or beg or borrow some, even) in essential services for Jamaicans? Would it be too much to ask to have working fire trucks and proper medical services, especially in rural areas?

Humanizing: By the way, I enjoyed radio talk show host and Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte’s talk with Minister Peter Bunting on her excellent program “Justice” yesterday. It was friendly, relaxed and humanized the Minister quite a bit (he has had a bit of a problem with the “human” aspect). It was also refreshing to hear two politicians from opposite sides of the fence discussing a problem that is a concern to all of us – crime – in a non-confrontational manner.

Prince Edward was here: On a “working meeting” with his wife. Do the Royals actually work? OK, don’t answer that one.

Some Indian nationals are very happy that they have their name on the list to travel one-way to Mars in 2024. (Photo: BBC)

Some Indian nationals are very happy that they have their name on the list to travel one-way to Mars in 2024. (Photo: BBC)

Mars-bound: Meanwhile, the Dutch non-profit organisation Mars One has a shortlist of Earthlings who want to travel to Mars – it’s a one-way trip – and settle there, in 2024. I wish I had added my name to the shortlist, but fear it’s too late. I’m stuck here on Planet Earth, or what’s left of it.

Congrats and pats on the back to:

A great advocate for women and girls: Nadeen Spence speaks at the launch of the 51% Coalition's media campaign last year. (My photo)

A great advocate for women and girls: Nadeen Spence (left)  speaks at the launch of the 51% Coalition’s media campaign last year. (My photo)

Ms. Nadeen Spence! Her I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation empowers the students of Mary Seacole Hall at the University of the West Indies (UWI) to serve as mentors for girls. I was honored to participate in today’s capacity-building and training session and to talk about social media for advocacy and leadership.  Nadeen spoke on “The Realities of Girls in Jamaica.” She is doing excellent work.

Environmentalists and media representatives strategize at the Panos Caribbean workshop on biodiversity in Kingston last Friday and Saturday. (My photo)

Environmentalists and media representatives strategized at the Panos Caribbean workshop on biodiversity in Kingston last Friday and Saturday. (My photo)

Panos Caribbean, the NGO with a difference, which organized a really superb two-day workshop on biodiversity, bringing environmentalists and journalists from across the island together for what was much more than a “talk shop.” An action plan is in the making. Well done to Indi McLymont and Petre Williams Raynor!

Youngsters take part in the 2014 Peace Day March and Concert at Emancipation Park in New Kingston yesterday. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Youngsters take part in the 2014 Peace Day March and Concert at Emancipation Park in New Kingston yesterday. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Ms. Deika Morrison, who continues to use the Wonderful World of Twitter in many interesting ways. She organized an interesting and vibrant tweet chat yesterday (Peace Day) and I am hoping she will put all the thoughtful comments and suggestions together in one online “Storify” document. When she has time!

Tessanne Chin performs at the Shaggy and Friends concert at Jamaica House in Kingston earlier this year. (Photo: Kenyon Hemans)

Tessanne Chin  will score another first in American and Jamaican music history tomorrow when she performs at the White House. Photo: Kenyon Hemans)

The fabulous Ms. Chin (Tessanne, that is) will be performing along with great “songbirds” like Melissa Etheridge, Aretha Franklin, Ariana Grande, Patti LaBelle, Janelle Monae and Jill Scott at the White House tomorrow evening, at a concert organized by First Lady Michelle Obama, “Women of Soul.” It will be broadcast live from the White House website and rebroadcast on PBS stations across the United States on April 7. So those unkind people who suggested that Ms. Chin would lapse into obscurity after winning “The Voice” had better keep quiet, now.

Three women’s organizations that will be celebrating anniversaries on Saturday, March 8 – International Women’s Day. They are the Bureau of Women’s Affairs (40 years old), the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (31 years old) and the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (20 years old). They will join together on Saturday for a special expo at UWI’s Undercroft from 10:00 until 4:00. I think you should be there!

I do recommend this blog: http://iamikonik.com/page/2/ - which focuses on the local social media scene and was kind enough to recommend 20 must-read” Jamaican blogs recently. It is clear, focused and small business-oriented. Do follow @iam_ikonik on Twitter, too!

Meanwhile, my sympathies to all those who are mourning these people – most of them young people, indeed – who have lost their lives to violence in the past three days. Nicole Whyte was a student nurse, who will never be able to practice her trade, now.

Nicolas Shaw, 29, Glendevon, St. James

Leroy Gordon, 42, Chelsea District/Montego Bay, St. James

Unidentified man, Montego Bay Transport Centre, St. James

Oneil Fraser, Clarks Town, Trelawny

Nicole Whyte, 26, Waterford, St. Catherine

Glen Hopwood, 43, Strathbogie, Westmoreland

#SaveGoatIslands #OccupytheMangoTree

Save Goat Islands

Save Goat Islands

There will be speakers. There will be activities. We will build a coal stack (not a real one, but…) There will be challenges. There will be many discussions, ideas, thoughts. There will be performances. There will be fun, even.

The Jamaica Environment Trust is organizing a gathering under the mango tree in their yard (Earth House, 11 Waterloo Road, Kingston 10, almost opposite Devon House). The hours will be as follows:

Thursday, March 6 from 11:30 a.m. to sundown

Friday, March 7 from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Saturday, March 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. – JET’s big #OccupytheMangoTree event!

For information and daily schedules and speakers, visit: http://www.jamentrust.org or http://www.savegoatislands.org

If you are living in or passing through Kingston, please make sure to drop by and make your contribution!

Donate to JET online: http://tinyurl.com/donatetojet

Easy, safe and environmentally friendly!

_________________________________________

Jamaica Environment Trust

11 Waterloo Road

Kingston 10

Jamaica

T : 876-960-3693

F : 876-926-0212

E-mail: jamentrust@cwjamaica.com

Website: www.jamentrust.org

Which side of this picture do Jamaicans want?

Which side of this picture do Jamaicans want?

Reasons to Be Cheerful: Sunday, March 2, 2014

It’s hard to be upbeat today, but I will try. A naughty Cockney English singer, the late Ian Dury had a great song called “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3″ (by the way, his band the Blockheads were so funky). So I will seek his inspiration…

Diana McCaulay

Diana McCaulay, the hard-working – and brave – founder/CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (and a highly successful novelist).

I don’t regularly comment on opinion columns. They are so predictable. (I still bemoan the absolute dearth of women columnists in our two daily newspapers. Are women reluctant to write or air their opinions?) On the Goat Islands issue, the Observer’s Mark Wignall seeks to think and write “outside the box,” (which he usually does), and has provided some food for thought in today’s piece entitled “The Chinese Goat Islands ‘offer’ is non-negotiable.” He’s a bit all over the place and drags the Americans into it, but still. Then there is Ronald Mason’s virulent, sexist attack on environmental advocate Diana McCaulay (he is careful not to name her) in today’s Gleaner entitled That screeching environmentalist.” A member of the Ruling Jamaican Patriarchy - the status quo that is apparently happily supported by the Gleaner newspaper these days – Mr. Ronald Mason is accusing Ms. McCaulay of getting her “knickers in a wad” (yes, it is that offensive) while writing to the newspaper to correct some assertions in an earlier column of his (here is her letter: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140226/letters/letters5.html). Shame on you, Sunday Gleaner and shame on you, Mr. Mason.

Marine scientist Dr. Peter Edwards. (Photo: Gleaner)

Marine scientist Dr. Peter Edwards. (Photo: Gleaner)

Meanwhile, a highly qualified environmentalist, Peter Edwards has responded with a letter to the Gleaner. You can read it in full here (I am sure it will be edited, if indeed they publish it at all): http://peteretedwards.ipower.com/other-musings.html  Perhaps Peter Edwards, with a doctorate in Marine Studies, and Ms. McCaulay, a Humphrey Fellow, are not as qualified to speak on the environment as our learned Mr. Mason. A related question: is one of our newspapers censoring/removing some online comments? It’s their website so they are entitled to, but this regular practice has been noted. 

Dr Edwards remarks: “Mr. Mason, like other cheerleaders of this ill-advised project (by which I mean the plan to dredge and fill the Goat Island for storing heavy cranes and aggregates and NOT the wider logistics hub concept) continues to promote the false argument that it is a bunch of uptown ‘brown’ people, out of touch with poor people’s reality that are blocking progress to save two likkle lizard.” Hit the nail on the head there. This is the kind of divisive tactic that is used repeatedly in Jamaican society. Sex, race, gender, class – it’s all fair game in the eternal “tracing” match. No wonder our society cannot progress.

Enough of the Sunday windbags. I am in danger of becoming one myself! I promised to be cheerful, didn’t I?

Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill. (Photo: Gleaner)

Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill. (Photo: Gleaner)

Cheerfulness, indeed: Meanwhile, our Environment Minister was observed (and heard) being loudly fêted in the dining room of a Kingston hotel by a group of Chinese people on Friday. Happy birthday, Minister Pickersgill!

Birds Caribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) is among several international entities that have not been accorded the decency of a response to their letters from the Government of Jamaica.

Birds Caribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) is among several international entities that have written expressing concern over the Goat Islands/Portland Bight Protected Area proposed project. None have been accorded the decency of a response from the Government of Jamaica.

The Sound of Silence: That is, the silence of officialdom. I understand that our government has not responded to any letters from international organizations (United Nations, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Birds Caribbean and others) expressing concern over Goat Islands. The IUCN (the largest and oldest global conservation organization, of which Jamaica is a member) wrote a long and detailed two-page letter on the topic, signed by its chairperson. No answer. Similarly, the government agency responsible for environmental protection (oh, and planning) does not respond to the concerns of environmentalists and even ordinary citizens. It just gives out licenses and approvals.

 

Government PAAC committee member Fitz Jackson (left) is objecting to JET's request to speak on Goat Islands; Opposition member Audley Shaw (right) says "We have a duty to take into consideration the concerns of the public." But isn't it all politics, really?

Government PAAC committee member Fitz Jackson (left) objects to JET’s request to speak on Goat Islands; Opposition member Audley Shaw (right) says “We have a duty to take into consideration the concerns of the public.” But isn’t it all politics, really?

Meanwhile, Ms. McCaulay’s request to appear in front of the parliamentary Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) to discuss the Goat Islands issue has sparked a bit of a row among committee members. Although the PAAC has apparently agreed to allow her to testify, Government politicians on the committee are still objecting (it’s not important, relevant, etc.) Both sides are accusing the other of politicizing the issue and the matter has been referred to the Clerk of the Parliament for procedural advice. I notice the veteran Opposition Member of Parliament Mike Henry (a bit of a maverick) is also stirring things up, as he does from time to time on various issues!

On other matters: This issue seems to be using up all the air in the room, today. My apologies.

The U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report on Jamaica never tells us anything new that we didn’t know before – or at least, that we should have known before. Former Contractor General Greg Christie notes these lines, however: “Despite the Access to Information Act to promote transparency, media accounts indicated that the Government sometimes categorically denied access to information.’ Also: “More than 5,000 civil servants failed to file or filed late or incomplete financial declarations required under the Corruption Prevention Act.” And so on. The word “impunity” is, notably, used in several different contexts. You can read the full document here: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=220454#wrapper

 

Commendations to:

The marvelous Ms. Kelly at a Youth Development Forum in Hanover. (Photo: Instagram/Facebook)

The marvelous Ms. Kelly at a Youth Development Forum in Hanover. (Photo: Instagram/Facebook)

  • Youth advocate Kemesha Kelly, who will appear on the popular and incredibly long-running television program “Profile” on Television Jamaica this evening. Kemesha is articulate, highly motivated and focused, and truly gives me hope for Jamaica’s future…
The apps "pitch" kicks off at Digital Jam 3.0 earlier today. (Photo: Twitter)

The apps “pitch” kicks off at Digital Jam 3.0 earlier today. (Photo: Twitter)

Anand James came to Jamaica in 1983 and initially went into teaching. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)

Anand James came to Jamaica in 1983 and initially went into teaching. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)

  • The Jamaica Observer has started what seems to be a promising series of articles about people who have settled in Jamaica and made it their home and who have contributed to building the country. Nice idea. The first one is about Guyana-born Anand James, who arrived in Jamaica in 1983 with his wife and now heads a successful company, Caribbean Flavours and Fragrances. I look forward to more inspiring pieces in this series.

 

 

Go to the kickstarter website to support Alpha Boys' School and to learn more about the project.

Go to the kickstarter website to support Alpha Boys’ School and to learn more about the project.

Please support! The Alpha Boys’ School is seeking funds to construct a radio and production studio for vocational and classroom training for this historic music school in Kingston, Jamaica – the home of so many Jamaican musical greats. Please contribute what you can (US$1 is the minimum!) here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alphaboysschoolradio/alpha-boys-school-radio-studio-and-media-lab-proje And here’s a related blog post of mine from 2012: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/the-global-spirit-of-reggae-music/

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica organized this demonstration in solidarity with LGBT Ugandans just before its anti-homosexuality bill was passed. This was at the University of the West Indies' Law Faculty.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica organized this demonstration in solidarity with LGBT Ugandans just before its anti-homosexuality bill was passed. This was at the University of the West Indies’ Law Faculty.

Quality of Citizenship Jamaica seeks to empower lesbian and bisexual women through education, workshops etc. The organization, which just celebrated its “first birthday” on January 22, needs funding to continue its work in this field and to improve the quality of citizenship of all Jamaicans through its determined fight for LGBT rights and human rights. If you would like to support them please go to http://qcjm.org/yearone/

Five young men have been murdered (including one in the prison in Spanish Town), and another shot dead by the police during a car chase in Kingston, in the past few days. My deepest sympathies to the families. Please don’t forget – they do have families and loved ones. Spare a thought for them, please.

Jesse Crawford, 25, Exton, St. Elizabeth

Jermaine James, 26, Spring Mount, St. James

Travoy Russell, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Tajay Samuels, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Lester Donaldson, St. Catherine Correctional Centre, Spanish Town

Killed by the police:

Unidentified man, Hagley Park Road, Kingston

On the roads: Pedestrians continue to be at terrible risk on our roads. In the past few days, a 70-year-old man was struck down and killed in Ocho Rios, St. Ann (yesterday evening). And an eight-year-old girl was struck by a bus while walking near her school, St. Mary’s Prep and Kindergarten School in Montepelier, St. James. Pedestrians, please do take care when using the roads; and motorists, for heaven’s sake look out for pedestrians, especially those who may not be able to walk very fast, and the youngsters. This is so very sad…