My Wednesday Post: December 4, 2013

Time is galloping along, the uptown (and downtown) Christmas party season is gathering speed, and (in case you were wondering) I have not written one Christmas card yet. I am living dangerously.

The CARICOM tiff: After much blustering on the part of our Minister of Foreign Affairs and hysterical ranting on talk shows and elsewhere, Trinidad’s Minister of Foreign Affairs arrived on Monday. The matter of the denial of entry to 13 Jamaicans, the two ministers agreed, was not, after all, profiling; and the vast majority of Jamaicans are happily accepted by Trinidad. The two signed a trade agreement. So, a lot of smoothing over went on, although both Ministers were careful to assert their respective countries’ interests. Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves (never a man to stay quiet for too long) noted in a Jamaican radio interview that yes, there was some prejudice against Jamaicans in other CARICOM countries; and I think he is right. Now, all Caribbean leaders need to keep cool heads and discourage over-heated rhetoric that is based on very little fact. They also need to put their respective houses in order (including Jamaica) in terms of implementing all the requirements for the free movement of persons. (Read the Gleaner’s “No time for blame” – Nicholson, Dookeran Say Ja-T&T Meetings Fruitful.”)

Good question, scary answer: On the matter of international relations, a question from Opposition Senator Robert Montague prompted a disturbing response from Minister Nicholson. I did a quick count and it appears Jamaica owes approximately US$1,319,00 to the United Nations, including over $860,000 for peace-keeping operations (?). We will soon lose voting rights if we don’t pay some of it (so the Chinese and others might stop courting us). We have already lost voting rights in a couple of Commonwealth bodies and we are in arrears with all the international bodies we are members of.

Opposition Senator Robert Montague.
Opposition Senator Robert Montague. Glad he asked that question about UN dues.

Meanwhile, a woman named Shirley Richards wrote to the Gleaner asking the question, “Is Jamaica under UN rule?” The United Nations is our “new colonial master,” she suggested, with UNICEF incurring her wrath for referring to “sex” and “condoms” in relation to its reports on the desperate state of the nation’s children. OK, Ms. Richards, we will continue burying our heads in the sand. Let’s pretend sexuality is not a concern. Maybe doesn’t even exist. She concludes, “Forgive me, then, for asking, is Jamaica now under the rule of UN agencies?” No, I don’t think I will. Forgive you, that is.

A. J. Nicholson (left), Jamaica's minister of foreign affairs, engages Winston Dookeran, minister of foreign affairs, Trinidad and Tobago, at a press briefing held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)
How expressive: A. J. Nicholson (left), Jamaica’s minister of foreign affairs, engages Winston Dookeran, minister of foreign affairs, Trinidad and Tobago, at a press briefing held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Photo: Gladstone Taylor/Gleaner)

Is it really a shock? I had the pleasure of meeting the Registrar of the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) last week at the launch of Eve for Life’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign. I wondered how he must feel about the reports of child abuse that arrive at his office in a continuous wave (or tsunami perhaps). Between January and August this year the OCR received over 8,000 reports (probably the tip of the iceberg). 1,730 children went missing, ten of whom were found dead (where are the others – did they all return? I have asked this question so many times in the past on my blog).  Read the Observer: “Child abuse shocker – 8,030 cases reported between Jan & Aug.” (But is this really a “shocker” to us now? We know the enormity of the problem, don’t we?)

The Registrar for the Office of the Children's Registry Greig Smith speaks at the launch of Eve for Life's "Nuh Guh Deh" campaign last week. (My photo)
The Registrar for the Office of the Children’s Registry Greig Smith speaks at the launch of Eve for Life’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign last week. (My photo)

At a recent focus group on corruption, we struggled to find solutions to the tangled web we have been weaving for so long in Jamaica. I see “we” because, although I would hope that I have not engaged in a corrupt act of any kind, it is such a complex web that one could get unwittingly caught up in it; a cog in the corruption wheel, quite innocently. Meanwhile, Jamaica has not moved on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index since last year – still sitting pretty with a ranking of 38.  Barbados ranked as the least corrupt Caribbean country – and came out pretty high on the list at 15th with a score of 75.

Former Contractor General Greg Christie. (Photo: Gleaner)
Former Contractor General Greg Christie. (Photo: Gleaner)

To quote former Contractor General Greg Christie on Twitter: “No country, region or community is immune to corruption, a serious crime that can undermine social & economic development in all societies.” He believes (and I agree) that this government has done nothing whatsoever to tackle the issue  – in fact, it has done the reverse on occasion – despite the pious promises of the Prime Minister’s inauguration speech.

Richard Azan in his office. (Photo: Gleaner)
Richard Azan in his office. (Photo: Gleaner)

And on that subject, I am irritated (but not surprised) that the reinstated/reborn Junior Minister Richard Azan still wants to try to convince us all that he is squeaky clean. He has been granted a judicial review of the Contractor General’s investigation of his allegedly building and collecting rent for shops in contravention of the rules. Mr. Azan is “seeking a declaration from the court that he’s not politically corrupt, whether as defined by Transparency International or otherwise.” But I guess he doesn’t realize that, whatever the outcome of this legal move, corruption has a lot to do with perception, as TI will tell you. And I think the verdict has been reached on that one in the popular court. (Read more in the Observer: “Azan seeks judicial review of Contractor General’s probe”).

By the way, is Azan’s boss, Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies still in hospital? Have we heard any updates on his health? 

ATF-Logo

Pleased to hear about improvements in forensic facilities – so essential for the Jamaica Constabulary Force. And especially, to hear from Police Commissioner Owen Ellington that Jamaica is now tapped into the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) eTrace program for tracing guns. This should hopefully make a real difference in the investigation of crime – and organized crime, at that. (Read the Observer: “Ellington points to significant upgrade of police forensic capabilities”).

I know the police have a tough job. Yes, I know. But somehow my heart does not bleed for those who have to cough up legal fees to defend themselves when they are accused of wrongdoing. And I do not think that taxpayers should foot the police officers’ bills; we already pay their salaries. Don’t they have a union? (Yes they do). My suggestion: start a legal fund. And don’t put yourselves in situations where you know you are breaking the law. Just like the rest of us. (Read the Observer: “Legal Woes”). This is perhaps more not-so-subtle police propaganda against INDECOM – the Independent Commission of Investigation set up by Parliament to investigate allegations of police abuse. Tired of it now. Just do your job and do it professionally. Thanks.

The Minister of Dancehall, Damion Crawford.
The Minister of Dancehall, Damion Crawford.

Brian-Paul Welsh wrote a very good letter to the Gleaner, regarding the Rasta Yute’s (Minister Damion Crawford) stout defense of dancehall music. The Minister is even encouraging lobbyists to oppose the anti-gang legislation, which includes a clause relating to lyrics that incite violence; this seems rather odd to me. Mr. Crawford needs to decide whether he is still a student who organizes dances at the University of the West Indies; or a government official to be taken seriously. At the moment he is an odd hybrid, and a very disappointing one at that. (Read the Gleaner’s Letter of the Day: “Crawford Off-Key on Dancehall“).

(Mis)understanding indeed: I have always enjoyed Grace Virtue’s columns and was sorry when she appeared to stop writing. Grace is the sister of Gleaner journalist Erica and she is based in the United States. This does not prevent her from writing insightful and balanced pieces, such as “(Mis)understanding Media” in the Observer – on the matter of the RJR reporter, the mike, the PM and the security guards. Which has not really gone away, by the way.

Grace Virtue, an overseas-based Jamaican with interesting perspectives.
Grace Virtue, an overseas-based Jamaican with interesting perspectives.

I’m worried about Vybz Kartel. As I tweeted this evening, his appearance has changed dramatically since he has been languishing in prison (for nearly two years, no less) on two murder charges. He is now in the middle of the second trial (and if a journalist calls it “high profile” one more time I shall scream!) and – well, he has gone from skinny and weedy-looking to strangely bloated. What are they feeding him on in prison? Does he have an exercise regime? He seems very pale, still (the cake soap that he bleaches his skin with must have been smuggled into prison, some surmise). But his hair stylist seems to have gone AWOL. Oh, one does love the trivia sometimes!

Mr. Kartel in his skinnier days.
Mr. Kartel in his skinnier days.

If you want to read a lame editorial, try the Observer’s “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” for size. NO, the murder of eighteen-year-old Kimberly Simpson was not a case of “enraged jealousy” on the part of the man who had impregnated her when she was still legally below the age of consent (statutory rape) – and who had been abusing her physically ever since, according to her family (who appear to have stood by and done nothing). It was just that: domestic abuse; and initially child rape, which should have been reported to the police three years ago.

I am puzzled and confused by some of the facts paraded in the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s latest public relations effort – this time, comments by Deputy Commissioner in charge of crime Carl Williams on the so-called “clear-up rate” for murders. I will have to return to this at some point. (Read the Observer –  “Police vow to improve murder clear-up rate.”)

I often try to imagine the horror and grief of those left behind when their loved ones are killed violently. But I really cannot. All I can do is offer my condolences to the families and friends…

Herbert McKail, 70, Mandeville, Manchester

Gary Pinnock, 43, Hanover

Christopher Buddan, 22, Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Brandon Hill, St. James

Omar Brown, Montego Bay, St. James

Kimberly Simpson was chopped to death and a man who is the father of her child has been charged with her murder.
Eighteen-year-old Kimberly Simpson was chopped to death and a man who is the father of her child has been charged with her murder.

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