I skipped last week’s post, and to be honest don’t feel we have missed very much. No dramatic developments, but a lot of “hot air” – which is not unusual in Jamaica, of course. And Christmas approacheth. Hence the stupor, perhaps.
The most loquacious Minister in the current Cabinet, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, barely paused for breath – or rather, took a deep breath and plunged into a new round of announcements, clarifications and explanations. Very much a mixed bag, these turned out to be. The results of an inspection of 135 primary and secondary schools by the National Education Inspectorate were, to put it bluntly, dismal. Many school boards were also found to be “unsatisfactory.” And while it was disturbing to hear that in one third of the schools “the quality of educational inputs was rated as unsatisfactory,” the report that “safety, security, health and well-being were rated as unsatisfactory in 34 per cent of the schools inspected” is also very concerning. This means that there are, indeed, management issues at these schools; and the boards, often including “politically connected” people, seem to be a major problem. I am not sure how Minister Thwaites is going to deal with this, without serious, and perhaps unwanted intervention by himself personally. But something is deeply wrong, and this is impacting the education of our children.
And then there is the issue of Dr. Doeford Shirley, Director of the National College of Educational Leadership, which is supposed to train school principals (clearly an important task). Dr. Shirley, who gave up a job in the United States to take up the position, has been very vocal in the media for the past several weeks, claiming that Minister Thwaites has overlooked him. Dr. Shirley refuses to shut up or resign.
Now, after a little over a year, Minister Thwaites has declared the ASTEP program, which targets students who have failed the Grade Four Literacy Test, a failure. The program began in September 2011 under the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration, and changes will need to be made, says the former talk show host.
Then, startlingly, Minister Thwaites commented at one of his frequent press conferences that the government will not have any more teaching jobs to offer, apart from those made vacant by retirees, because we “simply do not have the space.” Brows were wrinkled, and then a ministry official murmured, “fiscal space.” In other words, the Government cannot afford to employ any more teachers. What about all the teachers graduating from teachers’ colleges in Jamaica, then? What are they to do? And meanwhile, Minister Thwaites’ senior adviser does not appear to be at all popular with members of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.
Dear, oh dear. There have also been internal rumblings in the Ministry of Agriculture, but I won’t bore you with the details. Politics, personalities… so what is new. A tremendous, perhaps excessive amount of media attention was paid to this, and to other matters of little apparent worth, over the past two weeks. Somehow I feel we are missing the bigger picture.
And I confess to not feeling reassured by comments the Finance Minister Peter Phillips made during the past week; in fact, I am finding his words hard to interpret. In September, as one radio station noted, Minister Phillips told us that there was “no sticking point” during the ongoing, highly sensitive discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Now, from what we can tell, there seem to be a couple of such sticky areas: namely, the issue of tax waivers, and how the government proposes to handle its enormous debt. I suspect I am not the only one who is just…not clear on what is really happening. The print media appears, for the most part, to be pretending that one of those dear sweet elephants in the room does not exist. This week, the elephant has a big sign dangling round his neck, bearing the immortal Clintonian words: “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” We are left wondering a) whether the IMF agreement will be signed before the end of December, as the Minister says it will; and b) whether it will be signed at all. And then, if not signed, then what? one or two journalists are cautiously asking.
Are we enlightened? No, and the media is not helping much. The Sunday Observer, to give but one of many examples, chose to print an article about competitive bird-watching in Peru on its business pages. I mean, that has got to be more relevant, right? And it’s so much easier to tuck the bad economic news away in the business pages, because no one reads those.
One financial analyst on radio (thank God for radio!) observed that the tone of Minister Phillips’ comments, his oblique references to “sovereignty” etc., were “more bluster than reality,” and that the cold reality of the IMF will win in the end. Is this true? I don’t know what to say. The reporting on this entire IMF issue has been, to my mind, so inadequate and the Minister’s pronouncements so infrequent and so vague that I cannot do anything but sit down and wait and see, like everyone else. While the Jamaican Dollar slides to 92 or 93 to the U.S. Dollar. And while public sector workers are restless over the likelihood that their wages will not be unfrozen for the next two years or so. There will be more, much more on this in due course. Hopefully, all will be revealed, clarified and sorted out – but meanwhile, it is all hanging like a very uncomfortable cloud over the new year; and the Minister’s vague, and at the same time emphatic, pronouncements do not help. By the way, what is the Prime Minister‘s role supposed to be in all this – if any? Can we expect her to explain the IMF situation? The answer to these questions sums up the prevailing feeling about the economy: I don’t know. We don’t know.
The horror of the Newtown massacre of women and small children in the United States sparked much discussion on the radio talk shows. One woman called in to say that this event shows that “Jamaica is a God-blessed country, because things like that don’t happen here.” No, my dear, but Jamaica still has the third highest number of homicides in the world. Blessed, indeed. The Prime Minister issued a statement expressing her condolences and regret at the deaths of the innocent young American children. This sparked a flurry of irritation from Jamaican tweeters, who asked why the Prime Minister had not sought it necessary to express regret about the many children murdered throughout the year, almost on a weekly basis, here in Jamaica. Or condolences to the family of Vanessa Wint (who allegedly committed suicide) – an “uncontrollable” child in an adult prison.
One more thing… We all love development, don’t we? And doesn’t our Government just love big projects? Well, the highway linking the north and south coasts – and bypassing the often-treacherous Mount Rosser road – was inaugurated recently with grand speeches, balloons and the Chinese. Now there are voices of concern – namely Professor Simon Mitchell, a geologist at the University of the West Indies, and environmental activist Diana McCaulay. It is all a case of “sloppy planning,” they suggest. The highway, in three legs, crosses a clear and well-known earthquake fault and crosses “weak and fractured limestone” that you can thrust a machete into. The proper assessments of the geology of the area have not been done, says Professor Mitchell. And, in future, he suggests, “for every major infrastructure project, there MUST be an independent geological survey to identify the problems associated with the project and mitigate the impacts.” By the way, the Jamaican Government is making a large piece of land available – that is giving this land to China Harbour for development. This was apparently not included in the Environmental Impact Assessment. And why are we giving large tracts of land to the Chinese to do whatever they want with it?
There are murmurings, now, that the Prime Minister needs to take a good look at her Cabinet with a view to making some changes. The marvelously sharp broadcaster Dionne Jackson-Miller addressed the issue of a “score card” for Jamaican ministers of government in her weekly television show “All Angles” (Dionne can be heard on the evening prime time current affairs program “Beyond the Headlines.” She also writes a provocative blog on topical issues (http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com) and one on legal issues (http://djmillerja.wordpress.com). You can watch the program at the link below. Very interesting. And wonderful to see young Maurice Smith giving his opinion. I first met Maurice when he was a student at Manchester High School and standout winner of one of the U.S. Embassy’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay competitions. He is going from strength to strength and I’m proud of him!)
Do we have to? Self-styled ladies’ man and champion athlete Asafa Powell is determined to stay in the limelight. He is now going to be an advice columnist on “style, fitness and relationships” in the Observer’s weekly All Woman supplement. Is he actually qualified in any way to dish out advice in the first and third of these areas? And can he please lose that beard? Please, Asafa, I beg yuh!
Not to be outdone, the Gleaner’s Flair magazine last week focused on what it called “Media Mummies,” who we are told have all “whipped their bodies back into shape.” I cringed and quickly turned the pages. Yes, you can see I am not a great fan of the women’s supplements.
Congratulations to Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), who last week received a “special mention” as runners-up to the Prix des droits de l’homme de la République Française (Human Rights Prize of the French Republic) for 2012. Perhaps, one day, JFJ might receive a prize from its own Jamaican government for its untiring work on behalf of the citizens of Jamaica. But that would be too much to expect, eh? JFJ held a public forum – broadcast live on the always-supportive Nationwide News Network – on Human Rights Day, and their excellent column on the topic can be read here: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Another-way-is-possible_13216866?fb_ref=storypage. Yes, another way to treat our children in state care is, indeed possible. Do read it.
And someone else got an award! The National Housing Trust (NHT) presented their inaugural award for reporting on sustainable development and affordable housing to Nationwide News Network’s George Davis. TVJ’s Dara Smith and Irie FM’s Natalie Campbell were second and third, respectively. Congrats to all, and to the NHT for this great concept!
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) celebrated its fourteenth anniversary on December 10, World Human Rights Day. I will be writing more about the events of that day in a “soon-come” blog post, but want to raise a toast to J-FLAG. Like other organizations in Jamaica that stand up for the rights of the people, they suffer enormous hostility, threats and utter disdain. I admire them enormously. I hope that one day the “penny will drop” and that Jamaicans will actually understand what human rights – and in particular, the rights of minorities – actually mean. Before it’s too late, and theirs are taken away completely.
Meanwhile, I am not sure if anyone noticed, but Professor Hopeton Dunn launched his book “Ringtones of Opportunity” (clever title) on the enormous potential of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) in the Caribbean, at the University of the West Indies. I must get my hands on a copy. The head of the recently-established Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica, Yoni Epstein, had some strong words to say about the need for Jamaica to provide much more physical space for call centers and other IT-related businesses (one reason why the U.S. firm Convergys has delayed its investment in Jamaica) and for much more robust training in this area. Over to you, Minister Paulwell…
I am handing out some awards – you could call them Dubious Distinctions – as follows:
Special Prize for the Most Appearances on Television Prime Time News: Hon. Ronald Thwaites, Minister of Education
Special Prize for Keeping Its Mouth Shut: The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (with the recent exception of Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw)
Honorable Mention for Reading Out Speeches Very Nicely: Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, Prime Minister
P.S. The op-ed in today’s Sunday Gleaner, by Javed Jaghai, an openly gay Jamaican, is a must-read. Discrimination, bigotry and the endless tirades against and persecution of homosexuals in Jamaica is, again, part of a bigger picture that many Jamaicans choose not to see – especially the fundamentalist Christians who shout in our ears all the time. As Mr. Jaghai puts it, “No Jamaican should have to wait for justice, because every human life is equally valuable.” He condemns not only the stone-throwers, but also those who by their “silence and apathy” allow the situation whereby marginalized groups are treated as less than human to continue. As the African American activist James Baldwin wrote to Angela Davis during the days of the civil rights movement, “If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
None of us are immune. Treat your Jamaican brothers and sisters as you would have them treat you, this Christmas time. Isn’t that the Christian philosophy, or did I get that wrong?
Until next week…
My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the following Jamaican citizens, who were murdered between December 3 and December 16, 2012. I know that there are quite a few “unidentified” but have been unable to find their names – but these were definitely reported. My apologies for this…
Odale Planter, 13, Osbourne Store, Clarendon (student of Vere Technical High School)
Roy Beckford, JP, 67, Molynes Road, Kingston
Ricardo Williams, 26, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Steve Huggan, 35, Clarendon
Kevin Mattis, 40, Constant Spring, Kingston
Tony Jackson, 29, Drews Hill, Hanover
Pauline Israel, 62, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Anthony Robinson, 17, Portmore, St. Catherine
Eric Francis, 50, Portmore, St. Catherine
Dwayne Messam, 30, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Ewarton, St. Catherine
Unidentified woman, Ewarton, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Ewarton, St. Catherine
André Walters, 17, Johnson Pen, St. Catherine (Student of HEART Trust/NTA)
Unidentified man, Lakes Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Lakes Pen, St. Catherine
Jaseth Rose, 24, Montpelier, St. James
Unidentified man, Montego Bay, St. James
Killed by the police:
Chanderpaul Crawford, 16, Yallahs, St. Thomas
Oshane Brown, 28, May Pen, Clarendon
Mark Warren, 40, Nain, St. Elizabeth
Unidentified man, Port Antonio, Portland
Unidentified man, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
http://rjrnewsonline.com/business/jamaica-seeks-partnership-to-increase-ict-space (Jamaica seeks partnership to increase ICT space: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/-BPO-sector-crying-for-help-_13152564 (“BPO sector crying for help”: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/public-sector-not-backing-down-from-wage-claims (Public sector not backing down from wage claims: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/naj-calls-emergency-meeting-to-discuss-wages (NAJ calls emergency meeting to discuss wages: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/businesses-jittery-as-dollar-sinks-to-record-low (Businesses jittery as dollar sinks to record low: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Private-sector-must-play-godfather-role–says-Phillips_13211246 (Private sector must play godfather role, says Phillips: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32474 (Work on Mount Rosser bypass resumes January: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121212/cleisure/cleisure4.html (North-South highway link: should we brace for disaster? Op-ed by Professor Simon Mitchell/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32561 (Prime Minister saddened by Connecticut massacre: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32559 (Citizens and police benefit from youth leadership program: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/ja-civil-society-coalition-steps-up-pressure-on-public-defender (Ja. Civil Society Coalition steps up pressure on Public Defender: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121206/lead/lead4.html#.UMCh_8ASwps.facebook (Tivoli report in two weeks: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/jfj-criticizes-hannas-response-to-children-in-lock-ups (JFJ criticizes Hanna’s response to children in lock-ups: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/JFJ-awarded-French-medal_13203295 (JFJ awarded French medal: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32455 (Justice system must safeguard children’s rights: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads/32543 (Issues affecting children in state care to be discussed: Jamaica Information Service)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/thwaites-announces-overhaul-in-school-board-appointments (Thwaites announces overhaul in school board appointments: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/I-wont-resign- (Sidelined educator defiant, goes to war with government: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32536 (Education Minister says changes coming: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Thwaites–Results-of-NEI-primary-schools-survey-mediocre_13195168 (Results of NEI primary schools survey mediocre: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/shootout-in-port-antonio (Shootout in Port Antonio: RJR News)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/policeman-injured-during-new-kingston-shootout (Policeman injured during New Kingston shootout: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/-Murder-most-foul-_13144663 (Murder most foul: Mark Wignall column/Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121215/letters/letters4.html (Government must protect citizens: Letter/Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/cop-accused-of-corruption-on-million-dollar-bail (Cop accused of corruption on million-dollar bail: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121215/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Those with clean hands, show them: Gleaner editorial)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/police-making-progress-in-corruption-fight (Police making progress in corruption fight: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Gay agenda part of wider fight for justice: Javed Jaghai op-ed/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/ent/ent1.html (Gay rights group bats for reformed dancehall artistes: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121215/letters/letters1.html (A land where pleasure abounds: Letter/Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32524 (Governor General endorses project in Westmoreland to help persons with HIV/AIDS: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Refurbished-Redemption-Arcade-handed-over-to-KSAC_13217393 (Refurbished Redemption Arcade handed over to KSAC: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Hanover-Infirmary-gets-Christmas-help (Hanover Infirmary gets Christmas help: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121216/focus/focus1.html (Don’t mess with the press? Media mollycoddle Big Business and dodge the bullet of regulation: Ian Boyne column/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Journalism-in-the-public-interest_13212093 (Journalism in the public interest: Claude Robinson column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/AllAngles.aspx/Videos/22825 (All Angles on “Assessing the Performance of Cabinet”/TVJ)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121209/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Do some house cleaning, Prime Minister: Gleaner editorial)
Sunday Notes: December 2, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
For Human Rights Day 2012; A Challenge, an Invitation, and an Anniversary (petchary.wordpress.com)
It’s Getting Beta: Young Tech Entrepreneurs in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Great “Dig” for Jamaican Bloggers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Elephants: November 11, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
Tivoli Gardens: On May 24, 2010, The People were “Deading” (petchary.wordpress.com)