The great thinker and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.
I am afraid to say that our Prime Minister spent quite some time this past week discussing people – namely, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Admittedly, Mr. Holness’ comments were far from inspiring. They may even have included the kind of chicanery that we have come to recognize in the utterances of our political leaders, of whatever stripe. Trying to fool us with words. However, our Prime Minister’s heavy-handed response (delivered in a somewhat raucous tone, including a strange and startling shriek, at one point) seemed like overreaction, to say the least. As one caller to a talk show pointed out, could she perhaps talk about national issues of importance to Jamaicans, instead? Perhaps she could discuss ideas, or even recent events or issues? Those two elephants in our living room, perhaps?
I do feel that we need vision, inspiration, encouragement – and yes, kind words from our Prime Minister, at this time. A leader should be buoying us up, not engaging in a “tracing match” with another politician. She is “Mama P,” who loves us. Just my thoughts.
Our Prime Minister then went away for a few days. Where, or for what reason, was not immediately clear. Rather odd for a head of State, one would think. But it later emerged that she had gone on vacation somewhere and needed rest. Certainly, she has looked very tired recently and rumors have circulated of illness, etc. I am not quite sure if this is of any significance whatsoever; just thought I would mention it.
Meanwhile, the two big news items of the previous week – namely, the sixteen Prados (plus other luxury cars) and the apparent suicide of a teenager in an adult prison, continued to linger like a bad taste in the mouth, for the whole of last week. The Prado issue, in particular, continues to rankle. A caller to Radio Jamaica’s “Hot Line” radio call-in show that “the most important thing in politics is perception.” Whether it is entirely “fair” or not, this is by and large true. The Jamaicans have a saying: “If it nuh go so, it nearly go so” (in other words, if it isn’t exactly so, it’s close enough to it). While some radio talk show hosts have been prevaricating and justifying and talking all round the vehicle issue, the average Jamaica is really angry – and not only those who are so poor that they have no possibility of owning any kind of car. In her Jamaica Observer column and on radio, Barbara Gloudon’s contention is, among other things, that the government did not communicate properly on the issue. That is certainly a part of it; they mishandled it terribly with the press, and have allowed the thing to fester. The Prime Minister’s defiant speech defending the Prados (during which she added, quite gratuitously, that government ministers are entitled to fly first class at all times when traveling) certainly did not help. The ministers now in receipt of the Prados have remained quite silent, so far as I know. The resentment rumbles on. Not only in the media, but in everyday conversations, the Prados are brought up and discussed.
And there is bitterness. The cost of living is soaring; there are no jobs. The pending agreement with the International Monetary Fund is still pending – possibly until early next year. It’s unlikely to be by the end of December, as the Finance Minister had predicted earlier. Even so, it is obviously not going to fix our problems, just like that. And the country’s infrastructure is sinking further into the mire (literally – we have had more rains which have created more problems for rural areas that were already devastated during Hurricane Sandy. Some drains in Port Maria are still blocked, despite the entire town being under water just a few weeks ago. It is pouring with rain in those areas again today…) Mr. Gordon Robinson and Ms. Carol Narcisse in the Sunday Gleaner came out swinging on the topic; links to their columns are below. And the Jamaica Observer’s cartoonist Clovis didn’t pull any punches either...
And even my good friend Jean Lowrie-Chin, who always looks on the bright side in her weekly column, seemed to have lost patience with it all last week, calling the government “uncaring and unresponsive” in the case of sixteen-year-old Vanessa Wint’s alleged suicide at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston on the night of November 21. One paragraph in her column (link below) especially resonates:
“Those of us who have worked hard to reach to a certain level of comfort in life deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labour. But we have duped ourselves into thinking that enjoyment is driving around in locked cars, living behind burglar bars and watching our very shadows. Let us be very aware that the quality of life of each Jamaican affects every Jamaican.”
Yes, as I have said to myself many times – we uptown, middle-class Jamaicans are living in a bubble. When will it burst?
An autopsy on Vanessa should take place this week. Her uncle Javette Nixon says he wants transparency in the process and the family has hired an overseas-based pathologist to oversee the procedure.
Another sad and ironic twist: Vanessa ran away from home in 2009 and was locked up in the Armadale Correctional Centre for girls in St. Ann. She survived the fire there in which seven wards of State died.
Meanwhile, still no public words of condolence or regret from either the Minister for Youth Lisa Hanna or the Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (responsible for Women’s Affairs) on the tragic death of a young Jamaican woman in the care of the State? But there was an offer from the head of Mustard Seed Communities, the marvelous Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon. He has offered to take the twenty girls – girls – in the adult prison and shelter them. Oh, what a good idea, responds Minister Hanna calmly. She is to discuss this possibility with him, this week. Meanwhile so far as I know plans are still going ahead to move the girls from one adult prison to another, the “Gun Court” prison in South Camp Road.
One little question: Are there still any children in police lock-ups? At one point last year, I believe, there were around 100. They were all supposed to have been moved. Any confirmation that there are now no children in these horrible “black holes”?
Another question: What is the status on an enquiry into the Armadale fire? Was anyone held accountable? I must do a little research on this.
I am not generally a huge fan of Jamaica’s church leaders. They often don’t have much to say apart from condemning casino gambling, racing on Sundays and other crucial matters. But another “church man” I do have a lot of time for is the Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Howard Gregory. He has been writing a column in the Sunday Observer for some time, and this time decided to tackle the issue of “preachers on buses” – pointing to an element of intrusiveness, and aggression, in the approach of these so-called Christians. He says he has even seen examples of very sick people being dragged from their hospital beds to be baptized by immersion. Bishop Gregory points to a “spiraling level of invasiveness” by self-appointed preachers in our public hospitals. Then, of course, for some time urban and rural residents have had to endure the amplified bellowing of preachers at all hours of day, often drowning out the screeching of so-called dancehall deejays. There is a time and place for everything! Once and for all, our much-touted religious freedom does not mean screaming and shouting at people, and haranguing fellow-citizens loudly and in public if they do not agree with your beliefs. That is religious tyranny.
OK. Got that one off our chests, I think. I wish all our religious leaders were as compassionate as Father Ramkissoon, and as sensible as Bishop Gregory…
During last week, Mr. Ronald Mason (one of my favorite talk show hosts) raised a very important economic matter: that of the expansion of the Panama Canal and Jamaica’s plans to establish a major transportation and logistics hub in Kingston. We are, after all, perfectly positioned geographically for such a hub. Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton recently returned from a long trip to China and Singapore, where he was seeking investment in this huge $8-9 billion project. I thought he was to give a press briefing on the topic, but I don’t see any word on the Jamaica Information Service website. What was the outcome of those two weeks, Minister Hylton?
James Moss-Solomon spoke to Mr. Mason last week, pointing out that he himself had made a presentation on the opportunities presented by the Panama Canal expansion at a conference in 2002 – a full decade ago. “It has been staring us in the face for the past ten years,” he told Ronald Mason. “I am not accepting the excuse that it has come upon us in a rush.” Some dredging was done, for a different purpose, but “we did know that this was happening,” the respected businessman and former GraceKennedy CEO asserted firmly. And it’s already late. Very late.
Any word, Minister Hylton?
And I am amazed that the government’s information arm has the nerve to publish yet another article entitled “Untapped Opportunities under CBI” (that is, the U.S. government’s Caribbean Basin Initiative). Once again, a U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica has reminded Jamaica of this long-standing trade facility. She has offered the U.S. government’s ongoing support in what she hopes will be “an economic renaissance in Jamaica.” What is stopping the Jamaican government from taking advantage of this, and why has this been a repeated refrain? I know I have seen this headline before – last year, the year before, the year before that…
Meanwhile, the government has launched the “C-Fish Initiative” with funding from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DIFID). This is a sustainable fisheries project, providing funding for several fish sanctuaries. I know that the excellent environmental NGO, the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) is in the process of setting up fish sanctuaries in the Portland Bight area of Jamaica’s south coast. This is marvelous. But after an online conversation with a Facebook friend, who is a great lover of the sea and who has been kayaking around Kingston Harbour for many years, I wonder if this is also too late. My friend told me, after diving around the harbor’s outlying cays recently, there are basically no fish left, except for a few very small ones. No reef, but interestingly he did see a turtle. Over-fishing is the main culprit, he says.
Oh, please… Meanwhile, as if we don’t have more pressing topics to address, our charmingly dreadlocked Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford has been talking about “reviewing” the Noise Abatement Act. He seems to be ruling out the idea of “entertainment zones,” – but there may be “test zones.” Kingston residents like me must be hoping and praying that they don’t find themselves within or anywhere near these zones, where all hell will presumably break loose! But as it is, the police rarely respond to complaints from residents besieged with noise – yes, noise – at 3:00 a.m., as it is. So maybe this is all talk, and pandering to the “masses” while trying to reassure those who suffer and don’t “depend” on noise-making events for their income.
Puleeezzz… And then there’s the US$350,000 Patois Bible, which will be launched in Kingston on December 9 by the Bible Society of the West Indies, a UK-based organization that obviously thinks this a vital necessity for the poor people of Jamaica. Very well-meaning, I am sure. But when it was shown to Jamaicans on the street, they struggled to read it. In fact, the comments were very funny; one Jamaican said it gave him a headache. Oh by the way, it’s only the New Testament in patois; the Old Testament would be a complete nightmare, I am sure, and they haven’t decided whether to translate that.
To flog or not to flog? And then up popped the question of beating our children, again; what one caller to a talk show amusingly called “capital punishment in schools.” The Sunday Observer’s front page reported that one leading state-run primary school still gives its children a “slap” every now and then, to enforce “discipline” (oh, how Jamaicans love that word…) We had the usual arguments: “Well, I was beaten as a child, and it didn’t do me any harm” (yes, it did, now you beat your own children – and possibly others). The fact is that corporal punishment in schools is no longer a government policy. Of course, students still fight each other, and teachers; parents hit teachers; parents beat their children; and so on. Violence is the preferred method. It seems to come naturally, does it not?
My favorites of the week…
The Auditor General, Pamela Monroe Ellis. One newspaper describes her rather oddly as a “gentle giant,” but she is actually quite normal in size. I am also not sure if “gentle” is the right word, either: she is sharp, puts her finger right on the issues. She is highly professional, performing her duties “without fear or favor,” as the saying goes. Her recent report, now being mulled over by parliamentary committees, revealed the Prados. She then moved on to the appalling losses at the National Water Commission (who, in the same breath, requested a rate hike). Ms. Monroe Ellis is puzzled, though. Despite what she considers a strong regulatory environment – the rules are there – there is a strong “culture of non-compliance” in the public sector, she notes. In other words, rules are there to be broken. Or, in an oft-quoted comment attributed to Minister Peter Phillips, “He who plays by the rules gets shafted.” OK, moving on…
The Contractor General, Greg Christie, finally stepped down on November 30, much to the dismay of many Jamaicans. Although his methods were at times a little harsh and his tone occasionally a little shrill, Mr. Christie has been held up (and rightly so) as a champion of integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. Because combating corruption was of course the name of his game. Not universally loved by politicians and other public servants, Mr. Christie doggedly pursued his goals, and once he had the bit between his teeth it was hard to shake him off. He is a very hard act to follow, too… Good luck to his successor.
The 51% Coalition, a growing partnership of women and organizations focused on amplifying women’s voices in society – especially on public and private sector boards – celebrated its first birthday last week. Please see my blog post here for more on the Coalition’s achievements in just one year.
Jamaican bloggers – what an awesome crowd! Almost all considerably younger than myself, this dynamic crowd met up recently at Kingston’s Knutsford Court Hotel, ahead of the Jamaica Blog Awards. I think this gets under way in January, and congratulations to the organizers for this concept. But in many ways the important thing is not the awards. However, the competition does encourage the growing community of local bloggers, which has blossomed over the last two or three years in Jamaica – and what they have to offer. There are fashion bloggers, food bloggers, very serious political bloggers, social commentary bloggers, entertainment bloggers and more. Big ups to them all, and let 2013 be a record blogging year for Jamaica!
UNICEF Jamaica, which has devised a great blogging venture for World AIDS Day (last Saturday). You can read more details of #HashCon2012 at their Facebook page. The theme of the competition is the “SHEroes” in the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can read my entry (“Everyday Courage”) on this blog, and you can vote for it at the Jamaica Blog Awards website from December 8-14. Jamaican bloggers, send in your entries now! And not later than midnight on December 7! Good luck to all…
Last but not least, I must point you to a new and incredibly useful online resource: diGJamaica.com, a great project of the Gleaner Company. It is not only fascinating to browse through; it has all kinds of relevant information on aspects of Jamaican life and society, focusing on different sectors. It includes all kinds of valuable data, a calendar of events, directories, government resources and many other items – all attractively presented with interactive slideshows etc. An excellent research tool. Kudos to Deika Morrison and her team! (And comments/suggestions are welcome).
One final question for our Public Defender: When can we expect to see the Interim Report on the deaths of over seventy Jamaican citizens in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston on May 24, 2010? I believe another deadline was missed, last week. Any word?
The following Jamaicans were murdered in the past week. My thoughts are with their grieving families at this time…
Kurtis Bucker, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Wilbert Gayle, 48, Haughton, St. Elizabeth
Lily May Burton-Anderson, Farm Pen/Gayle, St. Mary
Winston Brown, Farm Pen/Gayle, St. Mary
Dane Peart, 40, Norwood, St. James
Unidentified man, Mineral Heights/May Pen, Clarendon
Marlon McKenzie, August Town, St. Andrew
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/mustard-seed-offers-to-care-for-females-wards-of-the-state (Mustard Seed offers to care for female wards of state: RJR)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Something’s broken in the state of governance: Carol Narcisse op-ed, Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/focus/focus1.html (State-sponsored rape – re: Prados: Gordon Robinson column, Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Patois-Bible-took-four-years-of-research–cost-US-350-000_13096136 (Patois Bible took four years of research, cost US$350,000: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Patois-Bible-not-a-retrograde-step_13096374 (Patois Bible not a retrograde step: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/westmoreland-fishermen-protest-plundering-from-honduran-pirates (Westmoreland fishermen protest plundering from Honduran “pirates”: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Is-the-shop-really-empty-_13094128 (Is the shop really empty? Betty-Ann Blaine column/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22555 (Recipients of the sixteen Prados are… RJR)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/10248-manager-of-dunn-s-river-falls-shot-and-injured.html (Manager of Dunn’s River Falls shot and injured: On the Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead21.html (Transport tycoon dead: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Diaspora-engagement-and-its-possibilities_13055481 (Diaspora engagement and its possibilities: Terrol Graham op-ed/Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cops-bracing-for-Jungle-12-violence (Cops bracing for Jungle 12 violence: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/22480 (Simpson Miller tackles Holness: TVJ Prime Time News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead3.html (The gentle giant: Pamela Monroe Ellis: Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Vanessa-s-death-must-be-a-turning-point_13073768 (Vanessa’s death must be a turning point: Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer)
http://seemydeath.com/suicides/4172-vanessa-wint-16-hung-herself-with-a-sheet-out-of-pure-fear-from-being-molested.html#axzz2E14uGxyf (Vanessa Wint, 16, hung herself with a sheet out of pure fear of being molested: Online Tragic Deaths)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41403 (Foreign forensic expert for ward’s autopsy: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead5.html (Hanover bleeds: murders surge in western parish: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead3.html (Major crimes down island-wide: 49 fewer murders in St. Catherine North: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/lead/lead6.html (Work for idle hands: Simpson Miller says construction boom ahead: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32449 (Untapped opportunities under CBI: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121127/letters/letters2.html (Who are we to believe? Letter to Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121126/business/business2.html (Caribbean ports rushing to meet challenges of Panama Canal expansion: Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32380 (Growth Inducement Strategy available online: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/22497 (Opposition Finance Spokesman speaks on TVJ)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-111/32428 (Mining Minister confident Alpart will be open soon: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121128/ent/ent1.html#.ULbpLei7TYA.facebook (“Cyaa lock off di dance” – Ministers mull over noise abatement and keeping vibrant entertainment going: Gleaner)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/SmileJamaica.aspx/Videos/22544 (Toys for Tots: TVJ)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/brazen-gunmen (Brazen gunmen: RJR)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-103/32432 (Initiative launched for sustainability of the fisheries sector: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/senate-passes-public-debt-management-bill (Senate passes public debt management bill: RJR)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/10284-mexico-lifts-visa-requirements-for-jamaicans.html (Mexico lifts visa requirements for Jamaicans: On The Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead31.html (“They don’t care about the rules”: Auditor General: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121202/lead/lead42.html (Jamaican marries lesbian lover: Sunday Gleaner)