I am still catching up and after an absence of a week, I have missed quite a lot in the news. But here are some items that have caught my attention…
Four years ago today… Haiti was shaken by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Here in Kingston, Jamaica, we felt the jolt of it. More than 300,000 died and around 1.5 million were made homeless. Please let us remember those who are still suffering and displaced; I believe 150,000 still remain in temporary shelter. For an excellent update four years later, please read Jacqueline Charles’ article in the Miami Herald here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/11/3865318/four-years-after-the-earthquake.html#
Down at the wharves: I am a bit confused by all the planned infrastructural projects. Please bear with me while I try to sort them out in my head over the next few weeks. There have been layoffs at the wharves, apparently because of a decline in business; I know this for a fact. But reports have simultaneously emerged about plans for expansion at Kingston Wharves, increased profits and the dredging of Kingston Harbour. The Jamaica Information Service (JIS) reports that government approved plans for a public-private partnership in December and will consider requests for proposals from the Port of Singapore; the Terminal Ling Consortium; and Dubai Ports. Incidentally, China Harbour Engineering Corporation did not consider Kingston’s port adequate for a possible trans-shipment port. They want Goat Islands.
Speaking about mega-projects… The planned symposium on the logistics hub was postponed for some reason, but is back on track. The Jamaican Government and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) are organizing it. It will take place at the Jamaica Conference Centre on January 21-22. It’s not for your average Jamaican, at a cost of J$8,500. Representatives of multilateral donor agencies, bankers and logistics experts will be there to “demystify” the hub for local businessmen, according to JCC head Francis Kennedy, who is very gung-ho about it. Will media be invited, one asks?
Not impressed by the Opposition Spokesman on Investment and Commerce Karl Samuda’s recent comments on the logistics hub. He looks tired, by the way (so do many members of the rapidly-ageing Shadow Cabinet that Andrew Holness now has in place). But has Mr. Samuda done his homework on this? He says the government must hurry up and get going on the logistics hub, because the Chinese are looking elsewhere. Mr. Samuda seems to slightly exaggerate the speed at which things are moving elsewhere, by the way. The Nicaraguan President has just announced that construction of the canal to be built through Nicaragua by Chinese firms will not start until December 2014. No work has yet started on the port in Mariel, Cuba to be developed by a Singaporean firm, but President Castro says the first stage will be “inaugurated” this month.
More excitement now, about the possible decriminalization of marijuana (ganja) in Jamaica. Former head of the Jamaica Labour Party’s G2K Delano Seiveright now heads the Ganja Law Reform Coalition (formed in 2010) which seeks to have the government implement a pioneering study by the late Professor Barry Chevannes. The 2001 study was ignored by successive administrations. Again, more exaggeration: Mr. Seiveright claims “half of the USA has already gone over” to legalization (twenty states), and Jamaica is missing out. He wants legalization for both medical and recreational use. Financial analyst Ralston Hyman is equally enthusiastic, noting the “hypocrisy” of Jamaica’s public and private sector leaders, most of whom Mr. Hyman suggests smoke the weed on a regular basis. Both Mr. Seiveright and Mr. Hyman agree on the need for “public education” and “a regulated regime.” Hate to be a cynic, but we all know how well those two things work in Jamaica…
Recent comments by head of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee Richard Byles are balanced and indeed encouraging. Mr. Byles expressed cautious optimism following the passage of some important pieces of legislation at the end of the year (albeit prompted by IMF demands); and urged the private sector of which he is a member to push for economic growth. He noted, correctly, that the Jamaican public cannot “feel” a one or two per cent growth rate. Sure can’t.
On to politics: A former People’s National Party Member of Parliament (MP), Phyllis Mitchell is apparently planning a comeback. Ms. Mitchell served as MP for North West St. Catherine and was ousted by a legal challenge in 2001. She now chairs the People’s National Party’s (PNP) constituency executive; the present MP is the Jamaica Labour Party’s Gregory Mair. I’d like to see some new faces in politics; not the old ones returning, which seems to be the current trend.
The PNP Mayor of the Municipality of Portmore George Lee passed away in September, 2013. But the current administration appears to be in no hurry to hold an election – Portmore is the only place in Jamaica where mayors are directly elected. There are boundary issues, says Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. Ah, I see. Minister Arscott says an election cannot take place until these issues are resolved. Ah, I see. And that a proposal will be sent to Cabinet. Ah, I see. And he will have to consult with the Attorney General. Ah, I see. No rush, then…
The Jamaica Constabulary Force continues to defend itself against skeptics, noting that it has charged five people for murder between January 1 – 10. Is this a record? It has also seized a lot of guns, and even managed to capture one or two high-profile alleged gangsters without actually killing them. The police continue to tell us that “major crimes are down,” except for murder. When they know that the only major crime Jamaicans really care about is murder.
The family of the Canadian woman who was found murdered in Jamaica is upset that the police have not arrested anyone for the crime, yet. I feel extremely sorry for them, but it is a sad fact that most murders in Jamaica are not solved. Since Ms. Shirley Lewis-McFarlane’s murder is a high-profile case, and not one of your run-of-the-mill ghetto youth killings, it will likely get much more attention than the others. Many murder cases, I know for sure, have gone cold within a few weeks.
Speaking of our inner cities, there has been quite a lot more shooting and gang activity in and around Trench Town over the past few months., including very recently. This makes me so sad, when I see the lovely children at the Trench Town Reading Centre. We had to leave there early, last week. Gunfire was heard.
There is much more to be said about the “uncontrollable” girls housed behind bars at the South Camp prison. And about the fifteen-year-old girl raped by three men in Clarendon. Our girls need protection, guidance, and most of all love.
I wondered, too… why the Commonwealth has not seen fit to offer or provide support for the three eastern Caribbean islands badly hit by floods over Christmas. Sunday Observer columnist and former diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders notes that not so long ago, climate change and natural disasters were considered “immediate Commonwealth concerns.” This sense of urgency has apparently dissipated over the last two or three years. Thanks to BBC Channel Four’s Jon Snow, who happened to be vacationing nearby at the time, to raise this issue.
Best and worst-dressed: On the trivial side now, I had fun with my “fashion police” friends on Facebook, where I posted my regular red carpet review as the Golden Globe Awards were handed out last night. I think we were a little kinder than usual. Back in Jamaica, the annual best- and worst-dressed Jamaicans appeared in the Gleaner social pages. I don’t think some of the worst-dressed ones could give a damn about whether they appear on the list – they are busy doing their jobs. But it’s important for the socialites to appear on the best-dressed list. What a world some people live in…
A Sunday Gleaner report noted that most Jamaicans (62 per cent) would actually prefer to stay in Jamaica, rather than migrate, if offered the choice. I am not sure who the sample was (and it was quite small, just over 1,000). I must investigate it further, but suffice it to say many are wondering which Jamaicans the survey interviewed. The well-connected, perhaps? Bankers, politicians, millionaires? Please see the meme of two Gleaner reports, posted on Twitter today (thanks to Ms. Durie Dee). I note that 43 per cent of those who would want to migrate are university graduates (where are the jobs for them in Jamaica, I ask?)
Warm wishes to these young people:
The Positive Organization, a great volunteer group founded by Moya Swearing and Neville Charlton, which is seeking to make an impact. Its 2014 projects include work at Jamaica’s children’s homes. Good luck and more power to you all! (Check out their Facebook page).
Danté Djokovic from Kingston’s Seaview Gardens has an ambition to become an astronaut. The Jamaica Observer has been following his progress. He has returned from three days at the Apollo Astronaut Space Academy (AASA) in Orlando, Florida, calling the experience “some part awesome, some part life-changing, and some part breathtaking”. But where does he go from here? I wish this graduate of Excelsior High School all the best of luck – and hope that he achieves his dream.
This sad list covers an entire week – since it is a whole week since I last posted. Nevertheless, the list is long. The police also killed a young woman along with two men in Clarendon. Perhaps one of the saddest stories is that of two teenage boys who were killed while out catching shrimp in rural St. Elizabeth; I hear that they trespassed on a ganja field. The list is long; my sympathies to all those who mourn.
Rudolph Taylor, 68, Matthews Lane, Kingston
Kirk Nelson, 27, Crescent Road/Spanish Town Road, Kingston 13
Omar Brown, 22, Crescent Road/Spanish Town Road, Kingston 13
Dane Cross, 34, Newlands, St. Catherine
Franklin Robinson, 36, Newlands, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Washington Mews, St. Catherine
Gregory Bryan, Retirement, St. Elizabeth
Unidentified man, Retirement, St. Elizabeth
Desrick Williams, 15, Thornton/Siloah, St. Elizabeth (student of Balaclava High School)
Ashnell Coke, 15, Thornton/Siloah, St. Elizabeth (student of Maggotty High School)
Orville Smith, Junior Crescent/May Pen, Clarendon
Kenroy Morrison, 34, Montego Bay, St. James
Derrick Stewart, 48, Orange District, St. James
Romario Clarke, 18, Salt Spring, St. James
André Tomlinson, Flanker, St. James
Killed by the police:
Gavin Mason, Bucknor/May Pen, Clarendon
Dwight Mason, Bucknor/May Pen, Clarendon
Tracy-Ann Butler, Bucknor/May Pen, Clarendon
Martin Shand, Newlandsville, Clarendon
Chevaughn Foster, 21, Quarry, St. James
Unidentified man, Quarry, St. James
Donovan Sinclair, 44, Clarks Town, Trelawny
“Khaki,” Back Bush/Dam Head, St. Catherine