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.
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!
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.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
- 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!
- 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 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.