I am unhappy that two drops of rain fell earlier, and then stopped. So, our little corner of Kingston remains warm, sticky – and rainless.
Some interesting developments this week: Ms. Velma Hylton, QC has stepped down (granting my fervent wish) as a Commissioner at the upcoming enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre of 2010. Ms. Hylton stated: “The Commission of Enquiry is important to Jamaica and should not be hampered by politics and petty distractions.” I am glad that you have withdrawn, Ms. Hylton, but the concerns were far from petty. Putting the politics well to one side, your appointment seemed neither fair nor ethical, after the comments you made at another enquiry into an earlier Tivoli Gardens slaughter. The government should appoint someone who hasn’t been involved in any previous investigations. Simple.
Another positive development is the announcement of an adjustment to the Airport Passenger Duty that the United Kingdom had imposed on flights to the Caribbean. This has been a thorn in the side of tourism interests for a long time. Let us hope that it will make a difference to our anemic tourism performance. And at least the Tory Government in the UK has done something right in its new Budget.
A couple of twists in the murder conviction of dancehall star Vybz Kartel. Firstly, a juror has been charged with attempting to bribe the foreman and possibly other jurors to persuade them to return a “not guilty” verdict. Secondly, Kartel and two others are charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and will go to court on August 11. The latter charge arose from a false report by a supporter, Ms. Gaza Slim to a police station which suggested that Clive Williams (whom Kartel and others have now been convicted of murdering) was still alive.
Former Bank of Jamaica Governor Derrick Latibeaudiere is the new chair of the Housing Association of Jamaica, after the entire board of the government agency resigned recently. I find this appointment amusing, in light of a controversy during the last political administration over Mr. Latibeaudiere’s low interest loan to himself to help build a luxury mansion in the hills. This eventually resulted in his removal as Governor. I suppose heading a housing agency is a fitting portfolio for him. (If you need to refresh your memory you can read this Gleaner report: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20091108/lead/lead2.html)
On the topic of government agencies in general, I tweeted today, and I repeat: “The level of political corruption and victimization in government agencies is appalling. I will say no more.”
The dump: Late on Sunday, the government announced that it had “activated its multi-agency Emergency Response Protocol” in response to the fearsome fire at the Riverton City dump. Very impressive. Less impressive were the radio interviews the following morning. The Jamaica Fire Brigade complained that it did not receive any water for over seven hours, and when the chairman of the National Water Commission was asked about this he said something about “the blame game.” Meanwhile, the Acting Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (clearly focusing on the emergency part of his portfolio) seems to have been pushed to the front as spokesman for this awesome coalition of government agencies.
I thought the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) was the government agency responsible for the maintenance and management of the Riverton City dump. Yet, since the five-acre section containing tires (supposedly to be recycled at some point) caught light, Ms. Jennifer Edwards who heads the NSWMA has hardly spoken. Why the reticence, Ms. Edwards? How do you feel about the dump operating in breach of the law?
And what does the Minister of Environment and Climate Change etc have to say? (*crickets*) Any word from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) (*crickets*)
With so much talk/lip service about climate change, you would think we could do better at protecting our forests; but the denuding of our hillsides continues apace. Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley says 350 hectares or so is lost every year in Jamaica. Remember, we are only a small island. She is doing her best, one supposes. Public education and lots of outreach to farmers would help. But it’s not just the farmers slashing and burning. As we noted in a recent Panos workshop, much of the forested land is being taken for large-scale housing developments, especially in western Jamaica.
EWI: Having made it clear less than three weeks ago that it needed a lot more financial and other information before recommending that Energy World International (EWI) receive a license for the 350 megawatt power plant, the Office of Utilities Regulation is now ready to give the green light “by the end of this week.” Yes! That was quite a volte-face, it seems to me. One minute, major concerns; now, everything cool. I know that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell declared on television in January that he wanted to sign EWI’s license as soon as possible. Was there perhaps some pressure exerted?
The dancehall trial: Some of my tweeps have upbraided me on this. If I am not a dancehall “fan,” they say (and I am not, I just don’t like it) then it is my loss, since dancehall is “the most relevant aspect of contemporary Jamaica.” Really? I stand accused of “living in a bubble.” Well, we all have our own bubbles, I guess, some smaller than others. Meanwhile, Dr. Sonjah Niaah from the University of the West Indies is very knowledgeable on the topic, so as a final postscript to the Vybz Kartel trial I highly recommend that you read her latest blog post here: http://dancehallgeographies.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/convicted-the-exceptional-werl-boss-and-the-dilemma-of-social-responsibility/ Social responsibility remains, I believe, a key issue in all of this. And having read more about him, I suspect that Mr. Kartel needs to seek professional help.
While we are still discussing the fire and the murder trial, it may have escaped our notice that tourism numbers are not looking so hot, again – down 3.2 per cent in January compared to January 2013; and that the Jamaican Dollar’s slide has accelerated this month. On Friday, it was J$109.27 to the U.S. Dollar; on Monday it went to J$109.31. The Bank of Jamaica put out a statement on Sunday evening that it stood ready to intervene in the market to avoid anything “disorderly” happening.
The IMF at work: Parliament swiftly passed two laws yesterday that will help restrain public spending: The Public Bodies Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act and the Financial Administration and Audit (Amendment) Act. Me and many other cynics will agree that such legislation would never have been passed without the International Monetary Fund (IMF) breathing down our politicians’ necks – especially an administration that still includes former Finance Minister Omar “Run Wid It” Davies. But anyway, good going, Minister Peter Phillips.
Anyway, André Haughton, who teaches at the University of the West Indies, says Jamaica is “poised for growth.” What, again? How long have we been poised?
Irate and “bex”: Every evening on prime time news we see residents waving placards in protest at – well, it could be one of three things: lack of water, poor roads, or a police killing. On Monday night, the people of Parry Town, in Ocho Rios, were furious, shouting down their local councilor. They blocked the road.
The White Knight: In a nice little PR piece, University of Technology lecturer James McNish tells us that “China evidently is becoming the white knight for many economies of the world.” I am assuming he means a friendly investor. In one of my childhood stories, “Alice in Wonderland,” the White Knight is friendly enough, but one of Lewis Carroll’s strangest characters. Mr. McNish extols the virtues of the huge Baha Mar mega-resort and casino in the Bahamas. It is being built by 3,000 (yes, 3,000!) Chinese workers and with a huge Chinese loan, too. Hopefully there will be jobs for Bahamians at the end of it all.
And the White Knight has come to the rescue of JEEP (our Prime Minister’s Jamaica Emergency Employment Program) – which had broken down by the side of the road some time ago. There have been delays, but an agreement between the relevant ministries and the China Harbour Engineering Company was signed on Tuesday in the amount of J$5.4 billion (more or less) for the revival of the government’s Major Infrastructure Development Program. Some JEEP jobs will come out of that, one expects and hopes.
Drying out: The head of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez notes that water supplies in western Jamaica are drying up, and this will affect tourism. A year or two back there was a water crisis in the tourist resort of Negril that affected hotels. Once when we were staying there the entire morass was on fire; we had to leave the hotel. A lot of this is to do with climate change – the tropics are drying up; and also to do with bad planning, especially in the case of Negril, which is a mess in terms of badly planned developments and hotels.
Big ups to the following, meanwhile:
The Jamaica Fire Brigade, which was on the front line and worked round the clock to bring the horrible Riverton City fire under control. Special kudos to their spokesman Emilio Ebanks (I love that name), who is very straight forward and focused.
Caribbean Producers (CPJ): It’s always a pleasure to eat lunch at their Deli on Kingston’s Lady Musgrave Road. Now I have even more reason to praise the food distribution company, which has announced through its Managing Director Mark Hart that it will be adopting the Glenhope Nursery. I have visited there on more than one occasion and this would tug at anyone’s heart: the sight of rows of cots containing small abandoned babies, and a sad little playground where the toddlers play. These are all abandoned children, most “in need of care and protection” as they say. Muchissimos kudos, Mr. Hart!
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, who spent considerable time on Monday morning discussing some details of the much-sensationalized Vybz Kartel trial on Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte’s morning talk show “Justice.” I was very impressed at her diligence in answering many of the questions about court procedures and the investigative process that had been hovering around after the dancehall star’s murder conviction last week. Ms. Llewellyn clarified a lot of issues for me and other listeners. It was also a reality check on the over-stretched and inadequate justice system. Did you know that more than forty cases had to be rescheduled because of the long Vybz Kartel trial? Anyway, thanks to both ladies!
The first female Custos of St. Ann Ms. Norma Walters, who has succeeded her husband Radcliffe in the largely ceremonial -but influential – position.The office of Custos is a colonial throwback; but Ms. Walters can still play an important role in guiding citizens and their leaders alike, up there on the north coast.
Mr. Zomian Thompson and his Modern Media Services/Dronemaica, who do brilliant aerial photography and post “virtual tours” online. Check them out on Facebook. Their recent postings of tours of Goat Islands (beautiful) and Riverton City dump on fire (fearful) are well worth looking at.
The sad part is that the murders continue, while everyone discusses everything else. My deepest condolences to the loved ones of the following Jamaican citizens, killed since Sunday (but at least the police have taken their fingers off the triggers, and we are grateful for that)…
Unidentified woman, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
Wiggan Bennett, 46, Bel Air/Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Norris Garvey, 70, Gayle, St. Mary
On our roads: Two women, both street sweepers, were run over by a speeding coaster bus that did not stop in Dunbeholden, St. Catherine this morning. One is dead and the other seriously injured. I am so sick of hearing of these hit-and-run incidents. How can one knock down two women and not stop? What kind of conscience do these people have? These street sweepers start work before dawn, very often. It is so sad. And why does the media use this expression “mowed down” to describe the running over of pedestrians? Human beings are not lawns. It sounds awful.