There are lots of stories simmering on the stove this week. They haven’t quite come to the boil. Here goes…
Tax reform is not a particularly sexy subject, but this has been on the back burner (occasionally moved to the front) for quite some time. There has been much media focus on one aspect of it – the application of General Consumption Tax (GCT) to basic food and other items essential to keep Jamaica’s growing population of paupers afloat (I know, that sounds cynical, but…it is a growing population – this includes things like cornmeal, etc). The Gleaner, to its credit, has sought to shed light on the proposals put forward by the Private Sector Working Group (PSWG) headed by influential businessman Joseph M. Matalon – and to share the varying views on the topic. The proposals have been tagged “anti-poor,” but the PSWG says it is current GCT arrangements that are anti-poor. But interestingly, Mr. Matalon has suggested that there is a mindset at work in those opposing the group’s plan (which will undoubtedly be watered down before it is ever adopted, for various reasons). He finally came out with his personal feelings about it last week: “When you have a public policy issue like this one, which challenges the status quo, but further is mixed in now with an environment that is lacking in trust, those two things really combine into what I would describe as an almost unstoppable force…It’s a force for inertia and inaction and I think, way beyond tax reform, that it’s a feature of our public life that we somehow have to come to grips with.” I tend to agree that there is an element of this (and Mr. Matalon’s private sector colleagues agree, too). I would suggest that successive Jamaican political administrations have leaned more towards “inertia and inaction.” What do you think, dear readers? Have the proposals been properly explained – do you understand them? (You can actually find details here and a link to the PSWG website below).
The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce had something interesting to say on the subject of governance and public life, too. Mr. Milton Samuda (who always makes perfect sense to me) and his colleague Mr. Warren McDonald are sensing the current administration’s ambivalence and lack of clarity on economic issues. They also think the Simpson Miller administration would prefer to pick and choose what aspects of tax reform (for example) that it likes – those that are politically digestible and popular, perhaps? There is no coherent, unified Government position, they suggest. I agree that this is concerning. Mr. Samuda says that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller would be the best person to articulate this common vision and economic plan, “not only because she is the leader, but also she is the best person to take the message of believable form to the mass of the populace who already feel that they constantly make sacrifices and others don’t.” I personally don’t think the Prime Minister is able (or willing) to do this. Let us see what Finance Minister Peter Phillips has to say during the upcoming Budget debate…
As columnist Chris Burns noted last week, “courageous leadership” is definitely needed on the socio-economic front. Personally, I am not holding my breath.
Speaking of ambivalence, last Thursday was International Day Against Homophobia (the acronym is the name of a U.S. state…) and the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) was happy to have Education Minister Ronald Thwaites address an important meeting on homophobic bullying. The theme was “Right the Wrong: Encouraging Respect for Safer Schools and Better Learning Environments.” The heads of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, UNICEF and UNESCO made telling contributions immediately following Minister Thwaites’ speech, but unfortunately he did not stay to hear them. Diplomats representing the British (who sponsored the event – good for them) and several other countries attended. I will write more on this event in a blog post later on, but meanwhile Ms. Donna Hussey-White gave an accurate description of the discussion in the Jamaica Observer this week. Meanwhile, the Reverend Peter Garth, who heads the evangelistic church in Jamaica, along with colleague Dr. Wayne West, raged on about the gay marriage issue on CVM Television. Reverend Garth declared at a forum last week, “Monogamous heterosexual marriage is the ONLY form of partnership approved by God for full sexual relations in our and every generation.” Well, before you consider anything else, please make sure that you have God’s approval. “I’m God, and I approve this message,” kind of thing, I suppose.
The Jamaica Observer’s Ms. Ingrid Brown and colleague reporter Ms. Alicia Dunkley, have not taken their feet off the pedal as they continue to give us examples of the prevalence of sexual abuse of all kinds. The focus is still on our children, but the reporting has moved on to investigate and uncover sex abuse in schools. Like bullying – homophobic and otherwise – it has been going on for quite a while. The waters have been muddied somewhat, however, by apparently contradictory comments from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) on the subject. Meanwhile, the head of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offenses and Child Abuse (CISOCA) – which used to be called, more briefly but bluntly, the Rape Unit – has come out with all guns blasting in the press as she threatens to expose the so-called “big men” in society who sexually abuse young girls. Sexual abuse is far from being simply a “lower-class” phenomenon – another fact that has been hitherto well-known, but little discussed. More light is being shed. But is there much more to be said?
Meanwhile, much drama: The lotto scammers – the curse of Jamaica and a source of much shame and embarrassment to Jamaicans – are on the run, according to the police. Kudos to Superintendent Leon Clunis and members of the Lottery Scam Task Force for their tremendous successes in recent weeks. These zealous men and women have arrested many people in gated communities in Montego Bay, and confiscated big fancy cars and big screen TVs in big, lavishly appointed houses. What concerns me, though, is that the legislation is still not in place to deal effectively with these vampires (yes, blood-suckers, leeches), who swindle vulnerable, often elderly Americans out of their life savings over the phone. The frustration of Police Commissioner Owen Ellington was evident in his remarks last week, as he noted that all those arrested so far are out on bail and still continuing their activities. When they are taken to court, Mr. Ellington says, it is easy for them to exploit the several weaknesses in Jamaican laws. He would like the Jamaican system to be strengthened, adding,“whenever they are arrested for these kinds of offenses, countries that are serious about this type of crime will immediately imprison them, give them fast trials and once they are convicted they go to prison for a long time.” In other words, the Jamaica Government is not serious about introducing amendments to the Evidence Act that would help the scammers’ victims (who are understandably afraid to go to Jamaica to testify) give video evidence. I would love someone to tell me otherwise… Why the talk, and no action? The police need are doing their part, and need support. Where is what we call the “political will”?
Why bother: I don’t care about visiting beauty queens. Although I admit I liked Gleaner social writer Chester Francis-Jackson in a rather fetching see-through top…
I am worried about… Our rising unemployment rate. One media house reported that over one third of our young people (not sure of the age group) is now unemployed, but I would suggest that in many impoverished communities the general unemployment rate is probably fifty to sixty per cent…
I agonize too, like Ms. Barbara Gloudon this week on her “Hot Line” talk show, about the “slum and chaka-chaka” growing all around us, on hillsides, roadsides and every last little bit of green space. Our watersheds are under serious threat. Barbara, please keep the pressure on, and continue to “rant” on these environmental/developmental issues. It is worrying, troublesome, and I don’t hear anyone else talking about it much. A telling example was the sudden invasion of baby crabs on the famous Negril beach (or what’s left of it, thanks to erosion) recently. It’s apparently caused by the crabs, who are hatched in the sea, not being able to reach the Morass. This wetland area is beyond a mass of concrete hotels and of course the main road, where many are crushed. Thanks to Janet Silvera for this significant story.
Our persistently rising murder rate. Last week, the body of a Jamaica Defence Force major was found at his Kingston home. He is a middle-class victim, a former President of the Kiwanis Club of Liguanea (the area where I live) and President of the Jamaica Association of Quantity Surveyors. But oh, there were other victims across the length and breadth of the island. Two bodies were found yesterday in St. Ann – that of a farmer and an unidentified man (unidentified because he was headless). A thirteen-year-old stabbed another thirteen-year-old to death. And the grief-stricken faces of relatives, streaked with tears and sweat, appear on television every night…
Jamaica’s missing children: I wrote about this several weeks ago, and the Gleaner has reminded us that hundreds are still missing. On this small island of ours, a child goes missing every four hours. Almost three quarters of these children are teenage girls; we see their faces after the TVJ news every night. The girls are reportedly running away from their broken, fractious and conflict-filled homes; but I suspect that there is more to the story than this. Why can they not be found? Where are they?
But… “All is not lost”… As my father always used to say. There are definitely some little bright spots…
Firstly, congratulations are due to the new Anglican Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory, a man of insight and with a strong focus on corruption and “doing the right thing.” I wish him well. At his enthronement (consecration? Not sure of the word) he warned that Church members were also caught up in corruption, which permeates our society; and that they are not there to “just to parade up and down as persons who are holier than thou, but to be a people committed to love and unity…” If I were a “religious” person, I would say “Amen” to that. OK, then… “Amen, and you hit the nail on the head, Bishop Gregory.”
I don’t care much about deejays, but they are always big news. And this time I must pat Beenie Man on the back for the video he posted on YouTube, in which he “asks gays for forgiveness” for his past homophobic lyrics. This received a cynical, mostly negative response from the Jamaican public; but he sounded quite sincere to me – and talking is much better than a written press release crafted by his PR firm. I hope it was sincere, although I hear that his career is suffering from a loss of revenue (partly as a result of this issue) and he’s a little desperate? We shall see. If no more anti-gay lyrics slip out in Beenie Man’s performances, it will be a positive move – whatever his motives.
On the same topic, I must salute U.S. Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater and her diplomatic colleagues for their statement on IDAHO (that’s right…International Day Against Homophobia), which only the Gleaner printed (the Observer’s cartoonist, meanwhile, still produces horribly distorted caricatures of homosexuals, as it did again this week). The headline was simply “Human Rights for All.” The op-ed calls for an “inclusive and open dialogue” on gay rights. The online reactions were predictably dismissive and negative. There is a long way to go…
My favorite government minister is still… Minister Phillip Paulwell, who is fighting back against the Jamaica Public Service Company and speaking out about that company’s “monopolistic arrogance.” It’s going to be a tough battle if you take on JPS, Minister Paulwell… I will hold your sword for you, while you get your armor on!
Good for CaPRI for seeking to offer practical solutions to the long-standing issue of the scrap metal industry, which remains on hold while the Government considers reinstating exports of scrap metal. CaPRI is a think tank (the Caribbean Policy Research Institute), which held a forum on the topic last week. It’s a pity there was not more publicity on the forum’s findings.
Big ups to the Women in ICT: Yes, besides being IDAHO, last Thursday was World Telecommunications and Information Society Day and this year the focus was on women and girls in ICT. Jamaican women like Ingrid Riley, Lorna Green and other pioneers are definitely doing their part. A non-Jamaican fellow blogger reposted an article on the dynamic women of LIME! See the link below. Please also see the great Facebook group Caribbean Women in Technology, which I belong to.
I love Robert Lalah’s new weekly column in the Gleaner. Mr. Lalah is known for his gentle/sharp humor and he adds a little touch of it to his discussion of serious issues. A must-read for me on Mondays, now – along with Jean Lowrie-Chin’s column in the Jamaica Observer.
Well done to the St. Ann’s Bay Improvement Committee, parish council, JNBS Foundation and supporting private sector donors for getting the fingers on the town’s clock moving again, after they had remained still for eight years. It is a splendid clock, built in 1814 – older than London’s “Big Ben.” I hope that the citizens of other parish capitals will be inspired by these efforts, as there are many splendid clocks that need renovation.
Mr. Kirk Wright’s reporting on the issue of asbestos was excellent on TV Jamaica this week. I hope that the fire stations and other buildings that still have asbestos roofing will take action.
And cheers! To Jamaica’s new ice hockey team… following in the footsteps of the “Cool Runnings” bobsled team of some years ago. The International Ice Hockey Federation has just added Jamaica as a member, along with Qatar (which seems an even more unlikely country to pursue this sport). The more the merrier…and good luck! (Couldn’t find a picture of the team, but hope to share one another time).
Footnote: One of the highlights of my week was listening to Barbara Gloudon’s interview with the Head Boy and Head Girl of Half Way Tree Primary School in the middle of Kingston. They were confident, articulate and aware. I felt proud of these two eleven-year-olds and wish them all the best of luck as they go out into this confusing, complicated and challenging world…
Have a wonderful week!
Related links and websites:
http://www.psoj.org/?q=news/private-sector-working-group-pswg-tax-reform Private Sector Working Group on Tax Reform home page
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120515/lead/lead3.html Incoherent governance stifling Jamaica – JCC
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120517/lead/lead5.html Jamaica’s fear of change hampering tax reform, says Matalon
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Forum-focuses-on-homophobic-bullying-in-schools Forum focuses on homophobic bullying in schools
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/J-can-youth-tells-of-struggles-with-homosexuality_11494417 Jamaican youth tells of struggles with homosexuality
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Courageous-leadership-an-absolute-imperative_11452656 Courageous leadership an absolute imperative
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120520/cleisure/cleisure5.html Balancing the gay rights debate
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JTA-defends-sex-offender-teacher_11503192 JTA defends sex offender teacher
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CISOCA-to–unmask–influential-persons-who-sexually-abuse-children_11464436 CISOCA to “unmask” influential persons who sexually abuse children
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JFLAG–JFJ-condemn-sexual-abuse-of-children J-FLAG, JFJ condemn sexual abuse of children
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/westernnews/Ellington-bats-for-amendment-to-Evidence-Act_11490194 Ellington bats for amendment to Evidence Act
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120518/business/business5.html 23,0oo jobs lost, unemployment spikes to 14.1 per cent
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120517/lead/lead8.html Negril developments lead to crab invasion
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120517/lead/lead3.html Unlocking a mystery: Hundreds of missing children unaccounted for
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/where-are-they-now/ Where are they now?
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/innocence-and-loss/ Innocence and loss
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Church–beware- Church, beware!
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120517/lead/lead7.html Human rights for all
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120518/business/business1.html Paulwell accuses JPS of “monopolistic arrogance”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120518/lead/lead94.html CaPRI offers scrap metal solutions
http://ladyromp.com/2012/05/18/women-in-the-news-61/ Women in the News: LIME women making a difference
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120514/news/news6.html St. Ann’s Bay clock ticks again
World hockey adds members: Jamaica, Qatar (espn.go.com)