Playing Mas on a Sunday: April 7, 2013

Yesterday, the tremor of Carnival shook the air. As the tired afternoon faded, the sounds continued, although more muted than earlier. Yes, it was party time again, and my Twitter feed was replete with photographs of festooned and feathered bodies, pouting faces with glitter attached to cheekbones and eyelids. Yes, it’s only once a year…

Carnival revelers get ready for the road in a Liguanea parking lot. (My photo)
Carnival revelers get ready for the road in a Liguanea parking lot. (My photo)

So on to the week’s shenanigans:

Stop press: The International Monetary Fund has just issued a statement on Jamaica, indicating that all documents are now in order and it is ready to submit Jamaica’s case to its board, which will meet by the end of April. You will find the statement here (note final paragraph): http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2013/pr13107.htm

The villa in San San, Portland, where the robbery allegedly took place. (Photo: Everard Owen/Jamaica Observer)
The villa in San San, Portland, where the robbery allegedly took place. (Photo: Everard Owen/Jamaica Observer)

The mystery of it all: Last weekend, a burglary took place at a well-groomed villa in the lush and secluded San San, Portland. Depending on which report you read, a laptop, jewelry and cell phones were stolen – give or take a few items. Depending on which report you read, the stolen goods did/did not belong to National Security Minister Peter Bunting. Depending on which report you read, Minister Bunting was/was not with a female companion/two female companions. They were/were not held up at knife-point while sitting by the pool. The first reports that floated through Twitterland over the Easter weekend told one story. It seemed to be from the San San police, who are but a stone’s throw away from the villa. This report was seemingly quickly overridden by the police High Command, after the Minister himself dismissed the knife-point version of events. Now the local police and residents have reportedly taken a vow of silence. Will we ever know what really happened? Meanwhile, on Friday a man was charged with a “lesser offense” – housebreaking/larceny. The stolen goods were recovered, somehow; many theories about this, too. And where were the minister’s security men? The Gleaner calls it a “lack of clarity” involving, of all people, our National Security Minister.

A “flood tide of disrespect for the nation’s leaders”? This is how veteran journalist Barbara Gloudon described the public and media reaction to the murky “burglary” affair. Respect, as we have noted, is one of those two-way things. When did our politicians last show the people “true respect for all,” as noted in the Jamaican national anthem? Just asking.

Vale Royal, the official residence of the Prime Minister. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Vale Royal, the official residence of the Prime Minister. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Austerity begins at home: One of the intrepid journalists of Nationwide News Network managed to catch the Prime Minister outside a meeting one day last week, and asked her about U.S. President Barack Obama‘s five per cent pay cut. He had the temerity to ask our nation’s leader whether she might be willing to follow the President’s example. After being told that “this is not a press conference,” (?) Ms. Simpson Miller informed the young reporter that she was already making sacrifices. Of what nature, one might ask? Well, she lives at her private home and not at the old colonial Prime Minister’s residence in Vale Royal, Kingston (which already had some $14 million allocated for its upkeep in the new budget). So tell me now, does the Prime Minister not receive allowances for living in her own home, also? Maintenance, security (which is on the public purse – policemen?), wages of household workers etc? Someone, please correct me if I am wrong.

What a pleasure to fly first class, indeed! (Photo: JohnnyJet.com)
What a pleasure to fly first class, indeed! (Photo: JohnnyJet.com)

…and in the air: The Prime Minister also informed the reporter that she has foregone attendance at many conferences that she has been invited to, thus saving a packet on overseas travel – which, of course, is always first class. (“I don’t fly econ,” our leader announced during a speech recently. Her Ministers and Government agency heads are still “not flying econ” to Miami and beyond, though?) I would like to know how much has been saved by not attending these conferences?

Can we tone down the tone, please? That aggressive/defensive tone of voice is aggravating and comes across as arrogant. Please talk to us like human beings. Even the media are human beings, although that may be hard for politicians to conceive.

Nuh Go Deh: I don’t usually listen to the pulpit  rantings of churchmen on television news, but Pastor Joseph Rose of the First Born Assembly put it succinctly. He told dons and older men: “Leave the pickney alone!” The non-governmental organization Eve for Life has been campaigning for some time about sex with children. Older men watch young teens grow up, discuss them among themselves, and literally prey on the girls. We need to change the hearts and mindset of these men, who encourage each other in this “macho” pursuit. We need to tell them, “Nuh go deh!” (Don’t go there). I fail to understand how forcing young girls – children – to have sex somehow enhances your manliness and your prestige. And make no mistake, very many of these sexual encounters are forced. It is in any event statutory rape and thus punishable by a prison term.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen delivers the Throne Speech. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen delivers the Throne Speech. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)
Eve for Life's message for Jamaican men: "Nuh Go Deh" - leave the young girls alone...
Eve for Life’s message for Jamaican men: “Nuh Go Deh” – leave the young girls alone…

Sitting on the Throne: Our Governor General read the Throne Speech at the official opening of Parliament last week. As usual, the female politicians wore nice dresses and matching hats, and were duly celebrated in the Trivial Pages of the newspapers. Sorry, I mean the Social Pages. The gaggles of supporters of each party outside Gordon House were reduced in numbers and more subdued than usual. But please…may I remind Jamaicans that the Governor General represents the Queen of England? He, and not the Prime Minister, is our Head of State. He simply reads out the speech that is written by speechwriters at the behest of the political administration and handed to him by the Prime Minister. The Queen herself does the same thing in England; she reads out whatever meaningless nonsense the Prime Minister hands her. So why did people say they “expected more” from our GG? The speech is an overview of the Government’s plans and policies for the upcoming year. That’s it.

Vague platitudes? What concerns me, however, is the insubstantial nature of the speech. It starts and ends with platitudes (“The bright colors of our National Flag continue to fly in the face of all our difficulties; constantly reminding us that: ‘The land is fertile, the sun shineth and our people are still strong.’…) There is very little in between. Below are the main points:

  • The Government wants “long-term concessionary funding” to fight climate change from the “international community.” 
  • The Government is worried about violence against women and children, and about car crashes. “We have to work much harder” to reduce the bloodshed, it says.
  • The Government will go around the country trying to find out why we are not being nice to each other – an attempt to resuscitate the Values and Attitudes program instituted by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. The website, http://www.valuesandattitudes.info is under construction. Indeed.
  • Having “terminated” the Liquefied Natural Gas program, the Government will look around for renewables etc. and “let the market determine” fuel costs.
  • The Government is going to use more computers and be more friendly to the public.
  • Aha! Net billing. That’s a good thing. Thanks, Minister Paulwell.
  • Remember JEEP? Well, 18,000 Jamaicans were employed under the program last year. They tended grass verges, mended fences and generally tidied up the place.
  • The Government has fulfilled all the “prior actions” required by the IMF (see Stop Press above).
  • The Government has agreed with said IMF on a minimum level of support for social intervention programs for the more vulnerable members of our society.” How minimum is that? Who are the vulnerable?
  • The Government will try to be more efficient.
  • The Government will do a bit more privatization of state assets. It will also try to pin down that nebulous creature, “The Growth Agenda.” Oh, here it is. Some Chinese projects. And aren’t we way behind with the logistics hub? Sounds like it.
  • The meaningful part: More reliable and less expensive electricity. 
  • The Government is going to try to get more Russian tourists (like it tried to get more Chinese, Indians, Latin Americans…)
  • The Government will launch eight agro-parks. What is an agro-park?
  • Second meaningful part: The legislative agenda. (What is the Charities Bill all about? Taxing charities? “Regulating” them?)
  • The JDF will train 500 youth at risk. And offer them jobs?
  • The Government will especially strengthen ties with the almost-failed state of Venezuela, where the Chavez candidate told electors that he has put a curse on all who vote against him in the upcoming elections. But it will continue to hug up its “traditional partners” and seek to “enhance the free movement of Jamaican nationals in CARICOM.” 
  • Education and health: Nothing much.
  • The End.
Health Minister Fenton Ferguson tours the Kingston Public Hospital during the doctors' sickout. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)
Health Minister Fenton Ferguson tours the Kingston Public Hospital during the doctors’ sickout. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

On Health: Or “‘Ealth” as our Minister would pronounce it… This sector gets a few lines in the Throne Speech. And yet, a few days ago, our doctors fell “sick” in protest at their reclassification exercise, which will result in some doctors being paid less than nurses. The ‘Ealth Minister says he is going to review the no-user-fee policy, after consultations. Well, I am glad he is consulting with the public, but hasn’t the decision already been made on that one? As for the Nurses Association of Jamaica, its tirade on radio Friday night left me open-mouthed. The nurses’ president got so carried away she even suggested that we could do without doctors altogether, because nurses are so much more highly qualified and important! Listen, don’t be silly. We need both. And is the government going to shoulder the cost of anti-retroviral drugs for Jamaicans living with HIV for at least the next two years or so, since overseas funding has now ended?

Is it true? Activist Betty Ann Blaine of the New Nation Coalition is calling for an investigation into the alleged purchase of two luxury bullet-proof vehicles at a cost of $30 million. I really don’t want to believe this and trust it is not true. OK. The Minister of Information says it’s NOT true.

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)
Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

How cool is that: Mr. Dennis Chung, the fresh-faced, straight-talking financial analyst, is the new CEO of the highly influential Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica. Many congratulations to the always cool, unpretentious and all-round decent Mr. Chung. I hope he will still have time for his cycling. I am also hoping this will mean the PSOJ focuses more on energy issues. I know renewable energy is a passion of his, and of crucial importance for our economic development. I understand Mr. Chung is himself almost totally “off the grid” at home.

Good works: Food for the Poor paid the fines of 81 prisoners in Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana and Honduras – 37 in Jamaica, just before Easter. These are inmates who were imprisoned simply because they were unable to pay their fines for non-violent, non-drug offenses. This is something Food for the Poor does regularly at Easter and Christmas. Huge kudos to them.

A passionate advocate: I met with the General Counsel of the U.S. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) last week. Her name is Kim Keenan and she is passionate about standing up and garnering support for important causes, pressing them forward. In the face of some “ifs” and “buts” from her audience of community activists and students at the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Law, Ms. Keenan said “You have to make up your mind to be unpopular…It is never popular to challenge the status quo.” I will write more on this. Thank you so much to the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section for organizing Ms. Keenan’s visit to Jamaica; it was very timely.

NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan speaks at the University of the West Indies' Faculty of Law. (My Photo)
NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan speaks at the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Law. (My Photo)

My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the following Jamaican citizens who were murdered in the past week, including one man who was shot dead as he drove in Half Way Tree, as Carnival revelers were preparing to hit the road in Kingston this morning. The man injured a pedestrian and crashed into a light pole, cutting off electricity in the area. I am not sure whether Carnival participants had to dance through or around the yellow crime scene tape.

The pick-up driven by a man who had just been shot dead crashed into a business place in the middle of Kingston this morning. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)
The pick-up driven by Wayne James, who had just been shot, crashed into a business place in the middle of Kingston Sunday morning. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Wayne James, 42, Half Way Tree Road, Kingston

Unidentified male, age 15 approx., Rockfort, Kingston

Everton Mills, 54, Red Pond, St. Catherine

Kirk Porter, Bog Walk, St. Catherine

Unidentified, Nain, St. Elizabeth

Edgar Clarke, 74, Bogue Village/Montego Bay, St. James

Devoney Morgan, 34, Whitehouse, Westmoreland

Vincent Brown, 42, Negril, Westmoreland

Related articles with local blog posts in purple:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXMPL0zflGM&feature=youtu.be People and Power: Island of Murder and Music – al Jazeera English

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130402/lead/lead1.html “Don’t judge victims”: Violence Prevention Alliance head calls for training of police in dealing with abuse complaints: Gleaner

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Understanding-the-right-to-life_14009738 Understanding the right to life: Shawn Wilkinson op-ed/Sunday Observer

http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130406/news/news9.html Teacher traumatized by alleged police harassment: Jamaica Star

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130407/cleisure/cleisure2.html Out of the closet, out of Jamaica: Dadland Maye op-ed/Sunday Gleaner

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Killed-for-naseberries-_13987226 Killed for naseberries? Jamaica Observer

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/childrens-advocate-steps-in-following-assault-on-ward-at-fort-augusta Children’s Advocate steps in following assault on ward at Fort Augusta: RJR News

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130407/news/news1.html Sick doctors get better: Sunday Gleaner

http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/health-ministry-reviewing-no-user-fee-policy Health Ministry reviewing no-user-fee policy: RJR News

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130407/news/news2.html Cash crunch grips universities: Sunday Gleaner

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130402/cleisure/cleisure1.html Does Bunting get it? Gleaner editorial

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Portland-police–residents-clam-up-about-robbery-of-villa-where-Bunting-was-staying_14013025 Portland police, residents clam up about robbery of villa where Bunting was staying: Sunday Observer

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130407/cleisure/cleisure1.html Outstanding questions on the villa break-in: Sunday Gleaner editorial

http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130406/news/news3.html Files show security minister wasn’t robbed: Jamaica Star

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Playing-politics-and-crime_14004987 Playing politics and crime: Barbara Gloudon column/Jamaica Observer

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130402/letters/letters1.html Letter of the Day: Don’t make MPs ministers: Gleaner

http://www.jis.gov.jm/images/pdf/throne%20speech%202013.pdf The Throne Speech: April 4, 2013 – Jamaica Information Service

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130407/focus/focus1.html Benchwarmers all? Lawmakers as quick as snails: Martin Henry column/Sunday Gleaner

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12 thoughts on “Playing Mas on a Sunday: April 7, 2013

  1. I’m glad to see the good works from Food for the Poor. I switched my giving from FFTP to Cross International about 2 years ago. In the end, I had to choose. I really admire that Cross International does a lot of the same work with local and established groups to cut costs, and under a CEO who makes under 30k a year. Now THAT is impressively charitable. 🙂

    Like

    1. Ah. I do not know Cross International. I know that Food for the Poor do wonderful work, week after week, here in Jamaica. They make their mark. They also collect and distribute for other very trustworthy charities such as Mustard Seed Communities, who are another of my favorites.

      Like

  2. A lovely balance of humour and gravity in this post. Your blog is a welcome light in the pervading murkiness of our society. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for your comments Nadine! There is always humor – which I am thankful for! I really appreciate your comment. Murky is a great word, isn’t it! Please keep reading… Thanks.

      Like

    1. I know. The story of the villa is what they call “a mystery wrapped in an enigma”… 🙂 We may never know the truth!! Thanks so much for your comments… All the best.

      Like

  3. Great review as usual, Emma. I could not help but feel angry about the insensitivity with which this administration continues to govern(?). The PM talks about sacrifice. Sacrifice? She can afford to turn down conferences (a drop in the bucket) after the purchases on those high end SUVs. The posture of this leader is sickening, especially since she will give NO consideration of the impact that the symbolism of a salary cut would have with the people. After all, she did take an increase upon election and increased cabinet. Would she consider a reshuffle? At least such will resonate more with the people than the platitudes (throne speech) we all sat an listened with confused looks on our faces.

    “You have to make up your mind to be unpopular…It is never popular to challenge the status quo.” ~ a timely reminder to civil society actors and I hope Madam PM would also take heed because something deep down in my “Know-er” says to be that she’s held ransomed by the more “qualified” boys and is afraid to act decisively.

    Thank you for this…
    Your BIGGEST fan.
    Damien

    Like

    1. Damien, you are a sweetheart. I think the concept of symbolism is lost on her (and most politicians would understand the value of it, at the right time, wouldn’t they?) A reshuffle might help, but what material does she have to draw on? Fresh faces…might help, but she already brought one or two in and what difference has it made? I don’t know what other kind of gesture she could make – but I sense that the Jamaican people want something. That word “sacrifice” keeps getting thrown around. Yes, Ms. Keenan was trenchant in her remarks. She cut through all the negative comments, “But we can’t do that… What if…? But…but…” Very good. And I suspect your “Know-er” is right… 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind comments and support!

      Like

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