A quick roundup today…
As I write, a fire is burning at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport. It’s not quite clear how serious, but I am sharing here one of the photos posted on Twitter in the last hour or so.
Lights out! Or…not: Drama erupted this week when the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), the monopoly which supplies us with electricity, decided to take the drastic measure of cutting off power to communities where, in some cases, seventy per cent (yes, seven zero, seventy) of residents did not pay for their electricity. In other words, in Jamaican parlance, they “tief the light.” This seemed to be a desperate measure by JPS – and I think perhaps a strategic move to bring into sharp focus the huge problem of electricity theft, especially in “garrison” communities, and to put pressure on the Government to do something about it. Nevertheless, as a monopoly (which Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell said in October 2012 he intended to break up) JPS has to tread carefully. Cutting off power to paying customers to teach the majority non-paying customers a lesson is clearly a breach of their license, and I thought JPS would have known that.
Sometimes drama is needed: As someone observed, in Jamaica you have to do something dramatic to draw attention to problems – like the almost daily (and also illegal) blocking of roads by residents to protest bad roads or poor water supply. The JPS’ move last weekend certainly sparked renewed debate on the mindset of many inner-city communities loyal to one party or the other, whose residents feel entitled to free electricity (at the moment, those living in People’s National Party garrisons feel they deserve special treatment). But then, their political representatives have facilitated the situation.
The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has ordered JPS to restore electricity to the targeted communities. And JPS has complied, but would like the Government to take action “quickly and vigorously.” And will meet with the Prime Minister today. I think they have done the equivalent of blocking roads and holding up banners declaring “We want justice” ! Meanwhile, a “high level team” to work on the matter of electricity theft has been set up.
Two private sector members, business leaders William Mahfood, Wisynco’s Managing Director and former Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President Joseph. M. Matalon, will join the Enterprise Team chaired by Vin “God” Lawrence to oversee the beleaguered 381 megawatt power project… Which seems to be hovering like a mirage on a desert horizon. (Is it real? Or is it an illusion?) Questions: Will Energy World International challenge the revocation of its license, as it is reportedly entitled to do? Is there a need for an Enterprise Team at all – shouldn’t the OUR be the responsible body? Have the terms of reference for the Team been agreed? When will the license be officially revoked?
The “London Model”: The man who said in a speech recently that Goat Islands, in Portland Bight Protected Area, was nothing but filthy water and deforested vegetation (please just check this and many other photos taken of this pristine area) – Dr. Fritz Pinnock now says Goat Islands should be a “gateway port” – not a transshipment port. Don’t we already have a gateway port – Kingston? Dr. Pinnock points to what he calls the “London Model,” whereby Londoners destroyed a huge ecologically sensitive area to build a port, observing, “Our environmental impact is nowhere near that.” Wow, that’s some justification, Dr. Pinnock. Goat Islands will be a mini-version of London, right?
Our transgressing juveniles are still being shuffled around from pillar to post. After all the debate about girls who were (illegally) held at an adult correctional facility (Fort Augusta) being moved to retrofitted accommodation at South Camp prison, National Security Minister Peter Bunting told Parliament today that they will likely be moved to a school of some sort, since numbers have declined. In that case, the 150-odd adult females housed at Fort Augusta would be moved to South Camp. In that case, perhaps Fort Augusta and the large harbor area surrounding it could be used for – dare I say it – a port – as originally mooted? Just a thought.
When will Portmore have a mayoral election? Since the death of the Municipality of Portmore’s Mayor George Lee last year, the matter of a new election for a Mayor has remained in the doldrums. The Acting Mayor, People’s National Party (PNP) Councilor Leon Thomas, should have stepped down by law at the end of April. But there are issues with boundaries (always a worry for our politicians) and the ruling PNP seems in no hurry to do anything about that. Local Government Minister Noel Arscott seems quite unconcerned. So much for democracy and the rule of law in our country. What say you, Jamaica Labour Party? Speak up!
Major kudos to…
- The joint winners of the Katalyxt Young Innovators’ Competition, Campion College and Guy’s Hill High School; the latter also won the Sustainability Award and Waterford High School won the Big Idea Award. Congratulations to them and to all the schools who competed. I will be writing more about this competition in a later blog post!
- Another recommended blog: Dennis Chung’s blog (at http://dcjottings.blogspot.com) goes back to 2003. His last two posts are very interesting (some of his articles also appear in the online Caribbean Journal): A Cyclist’s Perspective of Jamaica is a reflection on the “on-the-ground” issues that politicians and others never pay attention to as they sweep along in their SUVs. In What Will Man Leave for God? Dennis points to man’s self-destructive habits – and climate change.
- I believe the entrance fees to the newly renovated Hope Zoo are exorbitant and beyond the reach of many Jamaicans – but still, kudos to the Hope Zoo Preservation Foundation, funders World Bank and PetroCaribe Development Fund, and others involved in an Alternative Livelihoods and Skills Development Hope Zoo Landscape Training Project for students, including those with special needs and wards of the state. This sounds like a worthwhile venture that will also generate environmental awareness among the youth.
The good news is that the number of murders has dropped by eight per cent this year so far, compared to 2013. I hope that it will stay that way. Among those who lost their lives to murderers recently was Mohan Bunwarrie, a well-known community activist and mediator who worked at the Spanish Town Dispute Resolution Centre. Just a few days earlier he had participated in a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on the future of the old capital, expressing hope for the future. He will be sadly missed. My deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.