Little girls of the Jamaica House Basic School celebrate Culture Day last Thursday. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)
I know. I have been rather missing in action – mainly because I have been so busy with all kinds of interesting things! But my blog has suffered. I propose to make up for it in the next few days. Since the strange and difficult period of Hurricane Matthew, I get the feeling that Jamaicans have been scrambling to get back to normal. Now, the long holiday weekend is here – Monday is National Heroes Day. Oh, and there has been a lot of focus on the economy (good) and crime (bad), recently. Immediately after Hurricane Matthew moved on to devastate Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas (as well as parts of the United States), some bored and irritated Jamaicans started a bit of a rumpus about how the long drawn-out waiting game was handled. And did the Prime Minister hog the limelight too much? I wrote about it for Global Voices, here…
For some years now, Derrick Robinson has been campaigning for Tacky, the instigator of the Easter Rebellion of 1760, to be named as a National Hero. (Photo: Gleaner)
Moving right along, this is perhaps a bit more than a touch of symbolism: The Government is putting in place legislation for the expungement of criminal records and Statutory Pardon of three National Heroes – Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle and Samuel Sharpe. Chief Tacky, who led a rebellion in St. Mary in 1760, is also included, besides their hundreds of followers and sympathizers. The Statutory Pardon will mean that the crimes that the National Heroes (and freedom fighters, as Minister of Culture Olivia Grange’s Statement in Parliament states) were charged with will not only be forgiven, but will be not recognized as crimes. You can read the Minister’s Statement here. It’s definitely worth a read. Time ran out on the petition to the White House to grant a pardon to Garvey. The Government gave it a push, but far too late; it could have acquired the 100,000 signatures required, if it had been given more time and promotion. However, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) has a petition out that only needs 304 more signatures to reach 10,000. Why don’t you sign it? It’s here: https://www.change.org/p/barack-obama-presidential-pardon-for-marcus-garvey
The good news: Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Thursday that a new staff-level agreement has been reached between Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund for a three-year Precautionary Standby Agreement. Former Finance Minister Peter Phillips says it will “give some confidence…that Jamaica will continue to pursue sound macro-economic policies” and monetary policies. One has to give Phillips credit for his determined efforts that have laid a solid foundation. The IMF says that, if approved by its Executive Board, about US$430 million would be immediately available – but adds the usual reminder that “a renewed focus on growth and job creation is needed.” I wish I knew why that is so slow in coming, despite all efforts…
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is choosing his words carefully when talking about public sector transformation. Does this mean job cuts, is the question?
Getting to grips with the public sector: Once upon a time, there was something called the Public Sector Transformation Unit. It was set up in the Cabinet Office in 2009. In 2015, J$370 million was set aside in the Budget for what is now called the Public Sector Transformation and Modernisation Programme. Some progress has been made, mainly in terms of the supply of software and the drafting of plans for data sharing (“joined-up government”). Now the Holness administration is anxious to dispel the idea that there will be job cuts, but clearly wants to create a more “lean and mean” public sector. He appears to be looking at outsourcing and divestment as two of the strategies. Let’s watch and see. Meanwhile, State Minister Ruddy Spencer wants to have wage negotiations with the unions started by December and to complete them early.
The bad news: Meanwhile, criminals are busy “making duppies” all over Jamaica. It is no coincidence that not long after alleged gang leader Tesha Miller returned from a relatively short stint in U.S. jail, all hell broke loose in St. Catherine. Church leaders, the Peace Management Initiative and others are scrambling to do damage control in March Pen, where five people (including three children) were murdered last Sunday and their houses set on fire. Pastor of the Lighthouse Assembly in Spanish Town Rohan Edwards got a major suspect in this horror, Marvin Campbell Snr., (allegedly one of Mr. Miller’s henchmen) to turn himself in. I was glad to see that the Jamaica Constabulary Force tweeted a photo of Mr. Campbell. I hope the JCF will continue to use social media much more than it has been doing hitherto, to inform and get the public involved. It could be a very effective tool. I retweet a lot!
Co-chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee, Richard Byles. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)
“Just pruning trees:” Pastor Edwards said the efforts of church leaders and others in St. Catherine amount to little more than “just pruning trees,” not killing them. “You have to get to the root,” he said. Meanwhile, co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Richard Byles has urged the Government to increase resources to fight crime, instead of raising the tax threshold next year as promised (and planned). Prime Minister Andrew Holness says there “has to be” an increase in resources, mysteriously mentioning a “kind of new legal framework” that the National Security Ministry and Attorney General is working on…
The burnt-out dormitory after the fire at Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre for girls in St. Ann in 2009. The girls were “on lock-down” and could not escape. Seven girls died and several were injured. (Photo: Gleaner)
Armadale victims get compensation: The Office of the Children’s Advocate has finally had some success in obtaining “quite significant” compensation for six of the girls who survived the horrible fire at the Armadale juvenile correctional centre back in 2009. The girls (all now adults) claimed breaches of their constitutional rights and negligence. 26 claims still remain, however – which seem a lot, but Diahann Gordon Harrison and her supporting counsel Jacqueline Samuels Brown seem confident. It is unbelievably slow, but kudos to them both.
New ID system: This has been talked about for years, and there are pros and cons, but now the Prime Minister says a new biometric National Identification System will be rolled out in January 2018. A pretty substantial sum (nearly J$15 billion) has been set aside for its development, with support from the Inter-American Development Bank. I know, some people are cynical and say criminals will forge them etc. I think that will be hard to do.
The Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston.
I don’t like the term “dead babies scandal” at all – it sounds so callous. Nevertheless, four babies died at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in one month. The Health Ministry says the deaths were caused by Group B Streptococcus – a bacterial infection. Chief Medical Officer Winston De La Haye says such infections are found in 20 – 30 per cent of pregnant women globally. Wow. A full report on the matter is due next week. Opposition Health Spokesman Horace Dalley has been agitating about this and about babies born with microcephaly – and I think he should be careful about sensationalizing health issues. Still, I suppose he thinks he is doing his job and asking questions. He did get answers, although I am not sure whether Opposition members and supporters are satisfied. Memories of former Health Minister Fenton Ferguson’s fairly disastrous performance still rankle. Be that as it may, the Health Ministry reported three cases of microcephaly in newborns this year, none of them Zika-related.
Meanwhile, as I have noted in a previous blog post, Health Minister Christopher Tufton believes the health sector is in serious need of reform; he does not think the regional authorities created back in 1987 have made for greater efficiency. It doesn’t seem that way, at all. Let us recall that Jamaica failed to achieve two Millennium Development Goals in respect of reducing infant mortality and improving maternal health. And on another note, the Public Defender has cleared the University Hospital of the West Indies of any blame in the deaths of 13 premature babies at the hospital last year. “There is no evidence of negligence on the part of any medical practitioner or hospital personnel at the UHWI. Neither was there any evidence of medical negligence on the part of any hospital staff in the treatment, care and management of pre-term babies who passed. The staff at the special care nursery and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit performed their duties with skill and diligence, and acted reasonably and responsibly, particularly under the prevailing circumstances,” said Arlene Harrison-Henry. Those of a political bent may feel their former Health Minister has been vindicated in this respect. The fact is, though, that our health sector is struggling. Full stop. The Public Defender recommended that a new neonatal unit be built.
Revered Merrick “Al” Miller, pastor of the Fellowship Tabernacle Church, was convicted of perverting the course of justice in September. He still has many supporters and his congregation remains very supportive. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)
So Reverend Al Miller now says he will appeal his sentence for perverting the course of justice. He did not do any jail time, but quickly paid his J$1 million fine last month. The more I read about the tragicomical “Driving Miss Daisy” episode, when Miller drove a wanted man in disguise allegedly to the U.S. Embassy after the Tivoli Gardens massacre of 2010, the more disgusted I feel. I would recommend you read The Terrible Tout’s hard-hitting series of blog posts on the matter, starting with “Al and Herro’s Excellent Adventure”!
NOT Tastee Cheese.
Cheese heist: An 18 year-old was arrested in Moonachie, New Jersey for stealing J$20 million worth of Jamaican Tastee cheese from a warehouse. Lawks! What a lot of cheese – and it’s not even Easter time. I was amused by the photograph the Jamaica Star used to illustrate this story… This does not look at all like the orange, processed Tastee cheese that we all know (and some of us love).
Quickly “bigging up” several worthy efforts…The energy, and the hope, is real – despite everything! There are many more people to congratulate, but I will do so in separate posts…
- Former Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce heads the End Bullying Campaign in Jamaica. “Today’s bully could be tomorrow’s crime boss,” says Mr. Pryce, who is working in schools such as Merlene Ottey High in St. James. Way to go!
- Professor Rosalea Hamilton, who is heading the USAID-funded Fi Wi Jamaica project, has been doing some great awareness training on trafficking in persons. I am very pleased to hear that this has been included in the curriculum for some 500 schools, beginning this academic year, alongside training for school officials and safety and security officers. Kudos to the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons – this is a commendable effort. There is a great lack of understanding on human trafficking.
- The Digicel Foundation has exceeded its targets! I missed the presentation of the Foundation’s annual report, but warm congratulations! Since 2004, it has invested over J$3 billion on a range of projects, mainly in the education (literacy), special needs and community empowerment.
Naomi Francis is the new Press Secretary to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
- Former journalist and public relations practitioner Naomi Francis has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. I know she will do a brilliant job! Naomi is calm, professional and really smart. I first got to know her as a reporter for Nationwide News Network. She is also a trained mediator and a Justice of the Peace.
- Despite the tremendous pressure they are under, the Jamaica Constabulary Force are seizing quite a few guns and ammunition. Its “Get the Guns” program has reaped an astonishing 675 firearms since it began a year ago – 118 in St. James alone. This is a staggering number, and it makes you wonder how many are still out there.
It’s disturbing and depressing, but the number of murders committed up to September 24 this year totals 919 – a 2.6 per cent increase over the same period in 2015. The parish of St. James has seen 195 murders, followed by Clarendon (107) and St. Catherine North (86). This list of Jamaicans who lost their lives to violence since I last posted (September 25) is almost overwhelming. The list includes six women and four children. I grieve for their families.
“Spike,” Constant Spring Arcade, Half Way Tree Road, Kingston
Junior Jermaine, 51, Barbican, Kingston 6
Sonia Blake, 55, Lyndhurst Road, Kingston 5
Shevon Williams, 25, Seaview Gardens, Kingston
Carl Sadler, Osbourne Road/Kencot, Kingston
Unidentified man, Riverton City, Kingston (killed by police)
Unidentified man, New Haven, Kingston
Jamar Samuels, Alexander Road/Maxfield Avenue, Kingston 13
Koy-Andra Wynter, 2, March Pen, St. Catherine
Revaughn Evans, 9, March Pen, St. Catherine
Marvin Campbell Jnr., 14, March Pen, St. Catherine
Venisha Bartley, 22, March Pen, St. Catherine
Salesha Evans, 24, March Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Burke Road, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Joshua Brown, 71, Guy’s Hill, St. Catherine
Angie Smalling, 47, Exeter, Clarendon
Andy Castell, 27, Milk River, Clarendon
Ryan Hinds, 18, Anchovy, St. James
Ricardo Thompson, 23, Anchovy, St. James
Unidentified man, Barnett Street, Montego Bay, St. James
“Sasa,” Flanker, St. James
Seston Walters, 70, Hague, Trelawny
Unidentified woman, Rio Bueno/Duncans, Trelawny
Rajae Dean, 17, Bounty Hall, Trelawny
Kemar Richard Jones, Wakefield, Trelawny
Ricardo Walker, Lucea, Hanover
Unidentified man, York Town/Bethel Town, Westmoreland
Ezekiel Williams, 49, Cave, Westmoreland
Kevin Morris, 35, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Roderick Williams, 34, Boscobel, St. Mary
Marvin Stennett, 28, Kidd Land/Mason Hall, St. Mary
Brian Chambers, 31, Coleyville, Manchester
Alric Levy, 71, Russell District, St. Elizabeth
Kyodie Daye, 39, Cockpit/Brown’s Town, St. Ann