What is Tambrin (Tamarind) Season? It is the time of year when Jamaica changes down to a low gear. After Christmas, businesses don’t do so well. People have no money in their pockets, and bills to pay. Jobs are fewer. Now, the tamarind is a delicious fruit that is not greatly used in Jamaican cuisine, unfortunately – except to make the delicious sweet/sour tamarind balls. There was quite a large tamarind tree near our house, which was cut down years ago to facilitate the building of yet another gated community. It bears from January to March, when other fruits are scarce. So, this is the season.
But in some areas, Jamaica has started its tambrin season in a far from low-key fashion. As I noted last week, the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Ministry of National Security kicked off 2013 with a veritable barrage of press releases, speeches and announcements. Unfortunately, it has been accompanied by a literal barrage of gunshots. The Jamaica Constabulary Force has killed eighteen civilians since the start of the year. This may actually exceed the number of murders in 2013 so far.
The latest was the killing of three men in upper St. Andrew, a mile or so from my house, yesterday morning. The word soon got around to avoid the area as gunshots had been heard. Two of the dead men were from the adjoining “inner city” area of Grants Pen – which has seen many troubles – and one was from an “upscale” area called Smokey Vale; one of the men was apparently his golf caddy. Now, of course all of these men may have been hardened “bad men” and they may have been carrying guns; but whether they were or not, why kill them? Oh yes, it was probably a “shootout” – the usual description of such an encounter between police and civilians (although, interestingly, it is extremely rare for a policeman to be injured, let alone killed in these alleged “shootouts.”) And the men were probably “wanted men.” We are always told that after their blood has already stained the sidewalk and their bodies have already been thrown into the back of a police jeep. They never got their day in court.
I shall leave it at that. Judge for yourself, dear reader. But please, let’s think about where we are going with all of this. If the police continues at the same rate, they will have dispatched 547 civilians by the end of 2013.
It was a sad week all round, actually. An eight-year-old girl was caught in gunfire while standing near a little shop near Duncans, Trelawny on Friday evening; she was killed, and three others injured. When it transpired that the girl was a British citizen, National Security Minister Peter Bunting immediately issued a press release expressing shock and regret. The little girl, a sickle cell sufferer, had been brought to Jamaica by relatives to get some warm weather (the cold affects sicklers very badly). How tragic. And how very sad, too, that Minister Bunting could not express the same kind of heartfelt regret at the murders of a humble, hard-working, middle-aged Jamaican couple who ran a shop in rural St. Mary, a few days earlier.
To me, the loss of each one of these lives is a tragedy: whether man or woman, child or adult, British or Jamaican, good citizen or “bad man.”
Meanwhile, with a remarkable lack of sensitivity in its headline, the Sunday Observer cries out today, “Who would kill this child?” with a photo of the adorable infant killed by her mother a few days ago. The media really needs to explore the issue of mental health in Jamaica. This is another one that has been pushed under the carpet over the years. The mother was likely suffering from postpartum depression and already had some problems. Her supportive partner had always ensured that she took her medication and recognized that her mental health had deteriorated, but it was still not enough. Sadly, many Jamaicans with mental health issues do not seek help, go untreated and are often ignored and/or stigmatized. I think the well-meaning Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is fully aware of the problem, and the current head of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) is a well-known psychiatrist. They need to work together on this one – a public awareness program on mental health would be a good way to start.
Which leads me straight into the next painful issue that I regret I must at least touch on today: the issue of children in adult prisons and lock-ups. I addressed this two days ago in a separate blog post. But last week, another girl at the Fort Augusta women’s prison attempted suicide. A couple of weeks before that, three girls were transferred from the maximum-security Horizon Remand Centre after they were suspected of planning to commit suicide by hoarding pills. In the face of the continued and unrelenting criticism of her performance as Youth and Culture Minister, the glamorous Ms. Hanna is today visiting the two prisons where children are kept behind bars, with the afore-mentioned MAJ head and other psychiatrists in tow. I hope – I truly do hope – that this is not a PR exercise or a photo-op (I am sure Ms. Hanna will be beautifully dressed. She always is). We await the results of this high-powered visit. And I hope this is not her first visit to the incarcerated children.
Another tactic that the lovely Minister Hanna has adopted within her Ministry was the topic of a Gleaner editorial yesterday. In order to counteract declining morale in the Ministry, Ms. Hanna brought in a religious person and many containers of salt. Yes, salt. I understand that salt has cleansing properties, and guards against bad luck. So, with a combination of organized religion and superstition, Ms. Hanna has sought to address the problems affecting her office. Perhaps, instead, she could have brought in a motivational speaker – you know, one of those upbeat people who have you all down on your knees or hopping around on one leg or something to get you inspired and motivated to work harder and love all your colleagues. Or bring in a counselor or two to have an open chat with the employees about the problems they are having. This story may well have been exaggerated – possibly circulated by someone who has a personal animus against Ms. Hanna. But if it is even remotely true, it raises the perennial question of the line between church and state. Why does religion – one particular religion, as we are told Jamaica is “predominantly” Christian – have to enter the workplace, meetings etc; and why, in particular, in a government office? (Oh, and is it true that each employee had to keep a container of salt on their desk?)
By the way, Ms. Hanna has reportedly never got back to Mustard Seed Communities, who immediately offered to assist with providing care and shelter for the imprisoned girls following the death of Vanessa Wint last November, and presented her with a proposal. Not a word.
Goodness me, I nearly forgot to give you a follow-up on the Prime Minister’s televised address, which took place one week ago. As I noted last week, anticipation began to soar ahead of the evening broadcast. I have posted the link again, below. The broadcast was partly a “report card” (that expression irritates me, not sure why) on the government’s first year in office. It was a list of notable (and some not so notable) achievements. But it appears that Jamaicans did not want to be told about how many tourist arrivals we are expecting from Russia; or even how many teachers were trained last year (are there jobs for them?) They wanted to hear about 1) how the talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are progressing; 2) what serious prospects there are for more jobs and 3) what is happening in the economy in general. There was some information (mostly already announced) about major infrastructural projects in the pipeline; an exhortation to “unite and build”; the inevitable Bible reference – Old Testament is always preferable; quotes from the lyrics of a Jimmy Cliff song; and even the oft-repeated platitude that “children are our future.” That was it. And in passing, the Prime Minister mentioned that the Jamaican Dollar slipped, and the Net International Reserves “dipped.” Did this happen all by itself, Madam Prime Minister? They just decided to slip and dip?
Despite party loyalist Delano Franklyn’s valiant efforts to defend the Prime Minister’s address, the fact is that it went down like a lead balloon. Not only among the general public, but in the private sector sphere. Head of the powerful Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Christopher Zacca made a hard-hitting speech following the address, during which he referred to what he called a “seemingly unexplainable lack of widespread public discourse by the Government, Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet” on the details of the IMF situation. And Mr. Zacca believes that going ahead without such an agreement “risks plunging us into the abyss…” You can see the link to the full text of his speech, below.
Poor Portia. Everything about her address was up for criticism – even her yellow attire (daffodil yellow was the “Portia color“ adopted by her supporters during election campaigns). But instead of taking it on the chin, as every politician and public figure around the world has to do, our Prime Minister decided to “fight back” (to use a favorite media expression) at what she called her “naysayers” and “detractors” in her address. And she should not have gone down that road. Next time, perhaps, she will be calling her critics “haters.” Anyway, in a speech a few days later, Ms. Simpson Miller told us that she does not watch the television news; she has others (including her husband) to do that. Why? Because she wants to “remain positive.”
This, of course, made matters worse.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet went into a three-day retreat this week. In a huge effort to communicate, it has been issuing regular bulletins about the excellent progress made. The Prime Minister and other ministers are to inform us all tomorrow on what was decided, and what is the way forward. We eagerly await this press briefing, and the subsequent actions.
By the way, if you have ventured downtown, you may observe that things are pretty chaotic. Not only is the long-running lack of garbage collection a major issue there and around the country; but something has gone wrong with the street vendors. Since Christmas, the seemingly desperate vendors have been throwing down their goods on the sidewalk. They have been playing a cat and mouse game with the police, who have been called in to deal with them. A somewhat heavy-handed approach, one might think, to a situation which has already got out of hand. I can see the thinly veiled desperation in the faces of the vendors when they speak on television. They have pickney going to school, they say. They didn’t do well over the festive season. Nevertheless… there must be some order. A plan. Something, Madam Mayor?
A couple more things: Nationwide News Network reporter George Davis wrote in his regular Gleaner column about the way in which hours are wasted by lazy employees in the public sector. He was, he said, speaking from his own experience and observations as a former employee. The column made me laugh, but had a depressing ring of truth to it. It is all about productivity, a topic not regularly referred to in discussions on the economy. As one caller to a radio talk show questioned, how come we have 37,000 farmers in Jamaica, and agriculture only contributes six per cent to our Gross Domestic Product?
When a country has more weighty political, economic and social matters to address, environmental issues tend to get left behind. But I was most disturbed to hear that an exporter had forty containers full of charcoal ready to ship? The Jamaica Environment Trust has raised the alarm on this, and the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) has, to its credit, stepped in to prevent this ever happening again. I have been quite impressed by comments made by NEPA head Peter Knight, backed by the Forestry Department, on this issue. NEPA has written to the Customs Department asking them to prevent this shipment. Hopefully this is one thing that will be nipped in the bud.
And on a more “positive” note, to quote the Prime Minister:
I am so happy to hear that the dreaded Lionfish, which has been plaguing our waters and gobbling up all our native fish, is now on the decline along our north and north-west coasts. Congratulations to the University of the West Indies Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory and Field Station and Sandals Resorts, who are at the forefront of the battle against this invasive species, supported by non-governmental organizations such as the Caribbean Coastal Area Conservation Foundation (C-CAM).
I like the political commentary of the Gleaner’s Gary Spaulding. Please see the link below. He gets to the heart of things. (And is the Prime Minister’s problem that she is getting bad advice from a multitude of advisers? Astute commentator and former Opposition minister Christopher Tufton seems to think so).
Mr. Usain Bolt says he is not tired of receiving all kinds of awards. On Friday night, he and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce received RJR’s prestigious Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards – predictably, and most deservedly. We are very proud of them both not only for their achievements, but for being such decent, warm-hearted individuals. I totally love them (teenage expression!)
Well, so ends the second week of 2013. I am really, really hoping for better in the second half of this month.
P.S. A deejay called Dillinger did a great song called “Tambrin’ Season,” if you enjoy a bit of dub as I do.
P.P.S. My friend, author, social media expert and businesswoman extraordinaire Marcia Forbes just suggested that I do my weekly blog in two parts. It’s a bit long, isn’t it? I will start doing that next week, I think.
Finally, as always, my deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those who lost their lives violently this week. Words cannot express the grief and suffering.
Larry Chin, 47, May Pen, Clarendon
Anthony Rambalam, 53, Rosemount/Linstead, St. Catherine
Ivey Rambalam, 52, Rosemount/Linstead, St. Catherine
Imani Green, 8, British citizen, Red Dirt/Duncans, Trelawny
Peter Maxwell, teenager, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, Belvedere, Hanover
Killed by security forces (I am sorry, this list is not 100% accurate; any corrections welcome. I simply lost track):
Jermaine Campbell, Whithorn District, Westmoreland
3 unidentified men, May Pen, Clarendon
Agronomy District, Clarendon
Rivoli, St. Catherine
Duncan’s Pen, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Bartons, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Port Henderson Road, Portmore, St. Catherine
Kenrick Morris, 28, Lilliput, St. James
Eucliffe Dyer, Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
“Ratty,” Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
Matthew Lee, Arcadia Drive, Kingston 8
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/The-reality-of-Jamaica-s-debt-crisis_13350521 (The reality of Jamaica’s debt crisis: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/01/11/dennis-chung-avoiding-economic-and-social-decline-in-jamaica/ (Avoiding economic and social decline in Jamaica: Dennis Chung/Carib Journal)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130110/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Human rights just as important as IMF: Jaevion Nelson op-ed/Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42191 (Police kill ten civilians in ten days: Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/lead/lead2.html (Cops kill eighteen in twelve days: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120307/lead/lead3.html (Police killings spark outrage: Gleaner, March 7, 2012)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/INDECOM-jump-starts-cold-case-files_13362585 (INDECOM jump starts cold case files: Sunday Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Grief-in-Rosemount-as-residents-mourn-murder-of-couple_13351587 (Grief in Rosemount as residents mourn murder of couple: Observer)
http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=42182 (Long-awaited Tivoli report ready: Gleaner/Power 106 FM)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/yale-students-file-suit-against-dea-to-release-tivoli-tapes (Yale students file suit against DEA to release Tivoli tapes: RJR News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Gang-feud-puts-Tivoli-Gardens-on-edge_13346079 (Gang feud puts Tivoli Gardens on edge: Jamaica Observer)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/grieving-mother-still-hopes-for-justice (Grieving mother still hopes for justice: RJR)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Melvin-Chung-s-death-goes-deep_13339337 (Melvin Chung’s death goes deep: Letter to Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/How-could-anyone-kill-this-baby- (How could anyone kill this baby? Sunday Observer)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21002359 (Imani Green Jamaica killing: “Happy girl,” eight, shot dead: BBC News)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-still-waiting-_13346061 (“We are still waiting: Government yet to take up Mustard Seed’s offer: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130112/cleisure/cleisure1.html (How much religion is too much? Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32668 (National Broadcast by Prime Minister Simpson Miller: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/letters/letters4.html (Disillusioned by Prime Minister’s address: Letter to the Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Vision-and-strategy-are-still-misunderstood_13358995 (Vision and strategy are still misunderstood: James Moss-Solomon column/Sunday Observer)
http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/23431 (Television Jamaica’s Bite of the Week: Portia Simpson Miller)
http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=591§ion=watch (CVM Television News Watch: January 9, 2013)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32720 (Good progress made at Special Meeting of the Cabinet, says PM Simpson Miller: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Cabinet must be ready to “re-retreat”: Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Political turning points: column by Gary Spaulding/Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/focus/focus5.html (Fumbling Portia should loosen grip of political advisers: op-ed by Christopher Tufton/Sunday Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32704 (Leaders to pray for more love on January 17: Jamaica Information Service)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42216 (Prison officials confirm ward’s suicide attempt: Gleaner)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/youth-minister-to-lead-visit-to-prisons (Youth Minister to lead visit to prisons: RJR News)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130113/lead/lead4.html (Grading the Cabinet – responses: Sunday Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130109/cleisure/cleisure2.html (In the office but not on the job: George Davis op-ed/Gleaner)
http://www.psoj.org/files/s_to_the_Lions_Club_of_Kingston__2013_01_09_.pdf (Address by PSOJ President Christopher Zacca to Lion’s Club, January 9, 2013)
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/ocgs-utterances-could-damage-countrys-image-atkinson (OCG’s utterances could damage country’s image – Atkinson: RJR News)
http://www.og.nr/rbt/11035-dean-of-discipline-at-rusea-s-high-chopped-during-attack.html (Dean of Discipline at Rusea’s High chopped during attack: On the Ground News Reports)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130109/letters/letters1.html (Chavez no paragon of virtue: Letter to the Editor/Gleaner)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/list/32694 (U.S. solar technology company to employ Jamaicans: Jamaica Information Service)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-We-are-going-to-lose-our-forests-_13355374 (“We are going to lose our forests”: Jamaica Observer)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42202 (Environmental group concerned about charcoal exports: Gleaner)