This month feels more like that dust-dry weather we get in March and April, with a strong wind that makes you want to shut up all the doors and windows. The drought has arrived early; Kingston’s reservoirs are getting low.
Starting with a particularly biting Jamaica Observer cartoon. The Chinese have given a nice fat loan of US$352 million to Jamaica. Our Prime Minister is very happy, as some of it is to be used to revive her completely moribund Jamaica Emergency Employment Program (JEEP) program. In the cartoon, Finance Minister Peter Phillips is handing over Goat Islands to the Chinese, while the PM can’t wait to get her hands on the money to create “jobs.”
Limiting our fertility: Last Friday, Opposition Senator Ruel Reid made some remarks that have put the media and the squawking classes (I might be considered a member of the latter) in a bit of a flutter. Senator Reid, who is principal of a well-known boys’ school, said the following:
Of note…we now have 50 per cent of all children on PATH [the Government’s Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education, which offers assistance to the poor]. This means that we are having too many children that parents cannot care for. I am not opposed to a mandatory policy of no more that two children for any male or female for the next ten years until we resolve our socio-economic issues. We cannot continue like this. What is the status of the father’s registry? Poor parenting undermines our education performance and contributes to the high levels of crime and violence and the dysfunctionality of the family and society.“
Discuss. You can read commentator and 51% Coalition member Nadeen Spence’s response here, and I have to agree with her: http://nadzspeaks.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/in-response-to-mr-reid/ I really wish our political leaders would do their homework before opening their mouths.
On Tuesday afternoon the walls of our Parliament building reverberated with loud guffaws, screeches and a strange bellowing sound (which I understand was emanating from at least one Government junior minister). The Prime Minister was answering questions tabled by the Opposition on her overseas travel. She appeared resentful of the fact that she had to read out details of the costs of various overseas trips (totaling close to J$118 million), flouncing out of her seat and then flouncing down again with a scowl. The Opposition twisted the screws a bit, while the larger crowd across the room continued to make an unholy racket. Madam, all that needs to happen is that you report each and every trip in detail, post it online and report on it in Parliament on your return. And of course, any Jamaican can put in a request using the Access to Information Act for such information; it is a legitimate question of public interest, simply a request for information! But of course, our Prime Minister, bristling with indignation, took it all personally. It was so embarrassing.
Moreover, the Opposition alleges that the Prime Minister did not answer the five questions tabled fully. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness said she had only answered 1 1/2 out of 5 questions and that the figure she quoted did not add up – it was in fact higher. So maybe more fireworks next week?
Comparisons, although I know they are sometimes odious: President Barack Obama traveled on 19 official overseas trips in 2012 and 2013, whereas our Prime Minister made 26 official trips. Moreover, details of all the President’s trips are posted online here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidential_trips_made_by_Barack_Obama#2013 and more detail elsewhere. Just after listening to the row in Parliament, I saw a BBC TV reporter grilling a trade minister live about his trip to Singapore, its purpose and what benefit it would bring for the UK.
Remember? But the issue is not how much the trips cost. This is it: The Prime Minister declared in her inaugural address: “The Jamaican people have sent a clear message. They want a more accountable and transparent government which consults them; and they should expect nothing less.” (January 5, 2012).
The Pinnacle saga: The story of the historic Rastafarian site continues with a visit from former Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness (is this becoming the proverbial “political football”?) to the St. Catherine hilltop – gorgeous view up there, by the way. Ms. Grange seems to think that five lots should become a heritage site, as opposed to the one lot currently offered. Meanwhile, the matter has been transferred from Lisa Hanna’s Ministry of Culture to the largely ineffective Ministry of Water, Land and Whatever, due to a perceived conflict of interest issue raised recently in the media.
Can the Church help? Once again, the government is calling on God (or His appointed messengers) to help with the crime problem. I am not sure what success there has really been with the Restorative Justice Project of the Ministry of Justice in the past few years (would love to see some facts and figures on this). But when asked, Bishop C. Everton Thomas said, “At the heart of every crime is evil, and the evil can only be cured by Jesus.” OK then. I wonder if the Minister found this helpful in any way.
Coughing up… Jamaica has reportedly paid up some of the huge debt it owes to the United Nations, in order to avoid losing voting rights and various benefits. We paid up US$423,272, but still owe more than twice as much. As I noted in early December: “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.”
Major headache: I walked out of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies on Monday evening with a severe headache. I attended a public lecture entitled: “Gay and Lesbian human rights in the Caribbean: Would decriminalization restrict religious freedom?” The formidable fundamentalist Christians had girded themselves in full armor and positioned themselves directly in front of the professor from King’s College, London, who was quite nervous. The moderator requested respectful dialogue in the Q&A, but ’twas not to be. Human rights activists were called “neo-fascists” and other names (repeatedly).
What puzzles me is that the fundamentalists cling to the laws imposed by their colonial masters in the nineteenth century, while calling others “imperialists.” And those whose ancestors suffered one of the grossest abuses of human rights in history seem all too willing to deny human rights to other groups who are “not popular” – as Lord Gifford put it. Dialogue was well-nigh impossible; shouting was the order of the day, and the moderator looked frustrated at the end. The poor fundamentalists seem to regard it as some kind of power struggle; nothing could be further from the truth.
Who writes the Gleaner headlines? I swear that they do not read the article they are headlining properly, or else they have a very poor grasp of English. Their headlines are invariably sensational and off the mark. I am not exaggerating. It’s an everyday thing.
Duppy in Dudus’ office? Former “don” of Tivoli Gardens, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, is now on an extended stay in a U.S. prison. But, it seems, his presence lingers in a creepy kind of way in his former domain – at least in the minds of his former subjects, who claim that his old office (now a police post) in Tivoli Gardens is haunted. The police find this amusing. But one dark night, they might hear a shuffling sound, and in the doorway… (scary music)…
Don’t worry, be… happy! If only it was so easy to switch on happiness like that, although Pharrell’s “Happy” (and the Jamaican version especially) did a pretty good job on me. The Jamaican Government has this year decided to celebrate World Happiness Day with an organization called Choose Life International. I will suppress my urge to be cynical and wish them well on their All Island Fifty-Day Happiness Tour. If you want to be a “Happiness Coach” do let them know…
I like very much…
Another new Gleaner columnist: Gynaecologist (and humorous poet) Michael Abrahams wrote a lovely, witty and sensitive column today about the perils of his profession. Great start, Mikey! (You can like his page on Facebook, too…)
The Citizen Security & Justice Program (CJSP) has, I think, been one of the most successful and sustained government programs, initiated in 2001 by Peter Phillips in a previous incarnation as Security Minister. It has kept its youth and community focus and has made a modest impact. I am pleased to see that the Jamaica Public Service Company is now partnering with the CJSP by offering trained inner-city youth six-month internships as work experience. I hope that other companies will follow suit.
Without vision… Not sure if I have recommended her blog before, but do read cucumberjuice.wordpress.com for some thoughtful commentary. This week, she is trying to find Jamaica’s vision, as articulated by our (political) leaders. My response: I’m afraid all our current batch of leaders can come up with is “Brand Jamaica” – to me, an empty shell that no one believes in…And it’s not a vision – one that has to be solid and achievable. But that seems to have slipped through the fingers of our leaders. They’ve dropped the ball. Perhaps the vision could be articulated in a kind of Q&A format, which might help them to focus. I don’t know.
I feel tremendously sad whenever I write this list. I wish it would just not be there, but feel compelled to keep posting it – so that we can at least remember that these are people. These are Jamaicans, not Jamaican statistics. My deepest condolences to all those who are grieving.
Kadeem Sterling, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine
Leonard Plummer, 42, Twickenham Park, St. Catherine
Gordon Davidson, 42, Twickenham Park, St. Catherine
Dennis Ffrench, 56, St. Catherine
Nicholas Whyte, 25, Pavilion Mall/Constant Spring Road, Kingston
Omego Farquharson, North Street/Mark Lane, Kingston
Dahlia Daley, 37, Mineral Heights, Clarendon
On the road: Three students of Tacky High School were seriously injured after the car they were traveling in collided with a truck in Exchange District, St. Ann. A young Kingston resident, Alexander Hugh, crashed his Suzuki motor bike into a shop in rural Orange Bay, Portland after failing to negotiate a corner, and lost his life. 52-year-old Beverley Jackson had just left Petersfield Primary School, where her son was a student, and was walking along the road when she was hit by a speeding car and killed. The driver ran away, and was chased by irate residents, who set fire to the car and a nearby cane field.