Today the ruling People’s National Party‘s (PNP) Annual Conference is taking place at the National Stadium in Kingston. The party is also celebrating its 75th year. From my yard (quite a distance away from the Stadium) I can hear those mind-numbing vuvuzelas, much shouting over microphones and snatches of over-amplified music. In Jamaica, the songs played at political party conferences are always carefully selected to reflect the “message.” The conference made it quite clear that it is fully supporting former Junior Minister Richard Azan; one of the tunes I just heard was “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The PNP Twitter account also “blessed up” Mr. Azan yesterday. In my yard, I also heard “three cheers” for the PNP’s founder and creator of one of the Two Tribes, Norman Washington Manley (who would probably be turning in his grave at all this).
In many other countries Mr. Azan’s party colleagues would not even want to be seen with him; with a possible charge of political corruption hanging over his head (as well as his own admission of wrongdoing) he would be sidelined. But in Jamaica, the PNP is celebrating him as some kind of hero, parading him on stage. And our Prime Minister (PM) is dancing around (yes, our politicians dance), while the poor (literally poor) masses of supporters soak it all up. They arrived at the Stadium in government buses, arms and whole bodies protruding from windows and doors. As night falls, the PNP followers are enjoying a lively dancehall session and some free curry goat and Red Stripe, before piling back into their buses and going home.
“I don’t talk until it is absolutely necessary to talk,” said our Prime Minister at the conference last night. She was responding to Jamaicans who have been “running up their mouths” (her words) about her extraordinary silence over the past several months. In fact, she has never – never – given a one-on-one interview since taking office a year and nine months ago. She clearly doesn’t feel that is necessary. This is astonishing arrogance. She speaks only when she feels it is needed; not if or when she is asked to speak. And this is the way she responds to criticism – dismissively, carelessly (and she often takes criticism far too personally).
Meanwhile, Jamaicans have to suffer the embarrassment (and it was embarrassing) of a BBC Radio Five Live report on the Azan affair by Nick Davies. We cringe. Link is below.
But let’s face it, the last few days have been pretty lousy for the PM and her administration…. Hence the defiant tone.
- Firstly, Richard Azan resigned as Junior Transport and Works Minister, three whole days after the Contractor General’s report on his actions in Spalding Market was tabled in Parliament. He has not resigned as Member of Parliament. His lawyers, with whom he consulted extensively while we waited for some word, clearly wrote the letter. Mr. Azan did not resign because he thought he had done wrong, and resigning was the right thing to do, on principle. He did so on the advice of the lawyers and his “comrades” (politicians of the PNP persuasion), who fully support him. At the same time strongly denying that he had done anything wrong.
[As usual, the government is taking a narrow view of corruption, pointing out that Mr. Azan did not personally profit from the illegally constructed shops in Spaldings Market. But surely corruption is much more than that. There is such a thing as political corruption, and this is what the Contractor General referred to specifically. Former Contractor General Mr. Greg Christie shared with me the Corruption Prevention Act of 2001. If you want a clear definition of corruption under Jamaica’s law, just look up Section 14, here: http://www.moj.gov.jm/sites/default/files/laws/The%20Corruption%20Prevention%20Act.pdf ]
- Secondly, late in the week the news broke of a Constitutional Court ruling that Prime Minister Simpson Miller, PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill, Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, former Information Minister Colin Campbell and businessman Norton Hinds will have to testify in open court in another corruption issue – that of an alleged illegal payment to the PNP by Dutch firm Trafigura Beheer. The resulting scandal impacted the 2007 general elections, won by the Jamaica Labour Party. The five had refused to testify in 2010, thus bringing questioning on the matter to a halt, claiming it was a breach of their constitutional rights. The court disagreed. More to follow.
Suggestion from a concerned Jamaican citizen: If it really wants to get to grips with the ongoing issue of rampant child abuse in Jamaica, the Child Development Agency (CDA) should get out of its Kingston office and go into the communities. This government agency needs to truly understand the issues on the ground.
Much, much more to say on the corruption issues, of course. There is always more to say. Meanwhile, I am giving a big “shout out” to…
- Salvation Army, Mannings Hill Road: Just for being who they are. Did you know they have a Seniors Club on Wednesday? Donations are always welcome: food, clothing, old appliances. The Salvation Army deserves our support – just quietly serving the most vulnerable among us. Thank you!
- Fly Jamaica: So pleased that this rather new airline will be starting direct flights to Georgetown, Guyana – the inaugural flight will be on Thursday. I paid a short visit there some years ago but did not have a chance to explore this fascinating country. I would love to go back – and without having to travel to almost every island in the eastern Caribbean to actually get there! Hope to be flying with you soon…
- Former Contractor General Greg Christie, whose tweets continue to provoke me into thinking more deeply on governance. This week, Mr. Christie commented, “Corruption is never voluntarily addressed by those who benefit from it but by pressure brought by those who suffer because of it.” To which I would add, almost all of us do suffer because of corruption in some way; but even more tragically, many of us do not even realize that corruption is affecting us. It is insidious, a bit like one of those hidden viruses.
- Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) Program Director Suzanne Stanley and her amazing young team for their organization and their ability to remain strong and work hard. The International Coastal Clean-Up Day at Fort Rocky Beach surpassed all expectations. Congratulations to all who participated in clean-ups across the island on Saturday – well done!
- Oh, and Arsenal Football Club for their impressive and hard-fought win against Stoke yesterday. You made my day, Gunners! (Sorry… How did that slip in?)
Now, just a mile or two away from the celebrations at the National Stadium, blood was flowing on the streets on a Sunday morning. A triple murder took place early on Sunday – two women and a man were killed. Soon after, a 19-year-old was gunned down by the police in the same area. There is no doubt that our murder rate – and the general level of insecurity in the society – is getting worse. We don’t hear of “crime plans” any more. And the grief and suffering continues; my condolences to all the families and loved ones.
Post Script: 34 Jamaicans were murdered last week, according to official government statistics. That is almost five per day. Over to you, Minister Bunting…
Dorian Francis, Red Rose Market, downtown Kingston
Alrick Gooden, 28, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Randy Collins, 22, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Shantel Campbell, 21, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Marcus Lorde, 32, Church Pen, St. Catherine
Wilton Boyd, Colonel’s Ridge, Clarendon
Alphonso Joseph, 48, Mandeville, Manchester
Trevor Anderson, 28, Berrydale, Portland
Killed by police:
Sanjay Bartlett, 19, Waltham Park Road, Kingston
Related articles and links:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130919/cleisure/cleisure1.html#.UjtfjdkQ2Qw.twitter Another chance for decency, Mr. Azan: Gleaner editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Build-more-shops-_15099787 Support for Azan at Spalding Market: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=48119 Richard Azan resigns over Spaldings Market scandal: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Messrs-Azan–Paulwell–The-way-to-hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions_15095630 Messrs Azan, Paulwell: The way to hell is paved with good intentions: Jamaica Observer editorial
http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/urgently-needed-reform-of-treatment-of-ocg-reports/ Urgently needed: Reform of treatment of OCG reports: newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130920/lead/lead1.html No regrets: Azan shoots back at politically corrupt label
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGa56uOe5b0&feature=youtu.be BBC 5 Live reports on Azan controversy: YouTube
http://thinkjamaica.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/the-writing-on-the-wall/ The writing on the wall: ThinkJamaica.wordpress.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=48113 Trafigura application dismissed, PNP officials to testify in open court: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Trafigura-blow_15111055 Trafigura blow: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=48155 Controversial transshipment hub on Goat Islands may go ahead – Portia: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130920/cleisure/cleisure1.html Did they mean it? Peter Espeut column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130922/lead/lead1.html “JLP betrayed”: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130922/lead/lead2.html Portia safe! PNP MPs support Simpson Miller for another general election run: Sunday Gleaner
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/09/23/are-women-in-jamaica-under-siege/ Are women in Jamaica under siege? Marcia Forbes op-ed/Carib Journal
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=48115 Robust economic growth has to be private sector-led – IMF: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130920/lead/lead3.html Civil servants buckle under economic pressure: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130920/cleisure/cleisure1.html Fingers crossed on Azurest: Gleaner editorial
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-19/jamaica-july-tourist-arrivals-by-country-of-origin-table-.html Jamaica July tourist arrivals by country of origin – table: Bloomberg.com
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-19/jamaica-july-cruise-passengers-by-port-of-call-table-.html Jamaica July cruise ship arrivals by port of call – table: Bloomberg.com
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130919/news/news1.html U.S. cops arrest alleged gang leader Tesha Miller for entering country illegally: Jamaica Star
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Businessman-s-murder-shocks-Mandeville_15117275 Businessman’s murder shocks Mandeville: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Foul-smells-and-ruined-reputations_15106263 Foul smells and ruined reputations: Barbara Gloudon column/Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Legalising-marijuana-would-be-wrong_15118209 Legalizing marijuana would be wrong: Dayton Campbell op-ed/Sunday Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130920/lead/lead2.html Ban advertising of infant formula, UNICEF urges government: Gleaner
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130918/news/news6.html Sixty-two graduates benefit from entrepreneurship program: Jamaica Star