Yes, the drought is still on and it’s miserable. Many Kingstonians, uptown and downtown, are without water some or all of the time. We are hanging on by our fingernails, and scouring satellite maps for any sign of clouds. Even more clouds would be nice. We just get burning sun, hotter every day. So, our lawn looks like a country in Africa where it rarely rains, and where people have to walk miles in search of water.
Transparency is a nice word: But human rights group Amnesty International thinks the Jamaican Government does not have enough of it. Its press release today calls for National Security Minister Peter Bunting to “act with full transparency” on allegations of human rights violations by the police (the so-called “Death Squad”). Amnesty calls Minister Bunting’s refusal to answer some questions on the matter in Parliament “a threat to Jamaica’s international obligations on justice, truth and reparation for human rights violations and send the wrong signal on ending impunity in Jamaica.” Every Jamaican is entitled to know the truth, says Amnesty. Yes, and how often are we given the truth? Will we ever know the truth in this matter? I doubt it, although the media might (might) winkle out a little bit of information here and there relating to Police Commissioner Owen Ellington’s sudden resignation on July 2.
The bad guys: Finance Minister Peter Phillips told Parliament this week that several large companies are avoiding paying their taxes. Two pieces of tax legislation were passed to tighten up on tax evasion yesterday. Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw believes the new measures are potentially unconstitutional, giving awesome powers to the Commissioner of Taxes. The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica did not see the draft legislation before it was tabled in Parliament but says it will “review” it.
That plane to Miami: I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke is not well. Like all politicians (without any exception, so far as I know) he has gone to the United States for medical treatment. It is the same pattern with education: which Minister’s child is receiving a Jamaican education at tertiary level? They all take the next flight to Miami (or Toronto, or London). Various ministers’ children return home for Christmas for a nice holiday at home in the sun; then back to college overseas. It seems Jamaica’s health and education systems are just not good enough. Well, I wish Minister Clarke a speedy recovery.
Dr. Ferguson taking some flak: An angry letter-writer stated bluntly that Health Minister Dr. Fenton Ferguson should stop profiling at home and abroad, asserting that in the public health system “doctors and nurses now resort to carrying basics like toilet tissue, paper towels and their own supply of basic medical items to help patients.” We hear such stories almost daily. And on the political front, Dr. Ferguson is in hot water with the Opposition (and others) for stating baldly at a People’s National Party (PNP) meeting that party workers should be rewarded out of constituency funds. Well, many of us are aware of this practice, too. Nothing new there, either. CVM Television (who must have filmed several PNP meetings simultaneously over the weekend and did some serious editing) reported these comments, as well as the Minister “dropping legs” (dancing) on the platform. He is a very tall man, but acquitted himself rather well in that regard.
Boycotting media houses? I also hear that the same Minister is refusing to give interviews to two high-profile local media houses. I hope this is not true!
The trial of Rev. Al Miller, who has pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice while transporting a wanted man (Christopher “Dudus” Coke) allegedly to the U.S. Embassy, has begun this week. It got off to a slightly disconcerting start, but I will write more about it in the next blog. Remind me.
I don’t understand Andrew Holness: Our second shortest-serving Prime Minister seems to communicate in short, intense outbursts, and then lapse into silence. I am not hearing a consistent, well-articulated Opposition platform from him. At all. Last month, Mr. Holness expressed a lack of support for the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) headed by PNP stalwart Vin Lawrence. The Prime Minister set up ESET in early June to handle the procurement process for a 381 megawatt power plant (yes, you remember the EWI débacle). Mr. Holness said it was poor governance and illegal, and the Prime Minister said the Office of Utilities Regulation Act would be amended to accommodate this. Now, oddly, the Opposition Leader has gone quiet and his Energy Spokesman, veteran politician Karl Samuda, has popped up with a contradictory remark on the issue – which he says is the definitive Opposition position. Get your act together, people! Any word on this development? No? “Crickets,” as we say.
Lottery scam arrests: The police have arrested an astounding 41 suspects in Westmoreland and Trelawny in the last couple of days. They seem determined to break the back of this horrible scourge, which has caused so much suffering – murders at home, much grief and suicides in the United States – while the scammers buy flashy cars and build mansions. I just hope the police have sufficient evidence to convict, and that those convicted serve long sentences (I don’t mean two or three years). Recently, rather shockingly, several U.S. citizens (all elderly, I believe) have arrived in Jamaica with large sums of cash ready to pay over. The police have interviewed them. Disturbing.
And Minister Lisa Hanna has established a review committee. Another one.
Doubts over CCJ: Former Attorney General and lawyer Ossie Harding has doubts about the Caribbean Court of Appeal (CCJ), headquartered in Trinidad. As a former Jamaica Labour Party senator, this might be expected; but his comments are worth considering. After ten years, he asks, what has the CCJ achieved, with the large amount of money invested it (US$100 million seed money)? How does it function? If we don’t want to stay with the UK Privy Council, Mr. Harding also asks why Jamaica could not use its own final Court of Appeal – it has a strong cadre of judges? Questions to ponder.
Former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke’s state funeral will take place at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston on August 8, 2014. Sir Howard will be laid to rest at National Heroes Circle.
- Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson, who broke the Commonwealth Games record for the women’s 50 meter breaststroke today in Glasgow, on her way to the semi-finals. Brilliant!
- Young high jumpers Christoff Bryan and Clayton Brown, both of whom have qualified for the high jump finals tomorrow at the 15th World IAAF Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Good luck to all our athletes!
- The excellent Dionne Jackson-Miller for her powerful “All Angles” program last night on the mob killing of a transgender teen, Dwayne Jones, just one year ago in Montego Bay. It was very balanced but sensitive to the issues, and did not make any judgments. Well done.
Only one murder to report, and this is remarkable (again!) My condolences to the loved ones of:
Craig Reary, 44, Lucea, Hanover
On the road: The news is not so good. The number of those killed on the road (mostly pedestrians and motorcyclists) this year now stands at 175 – 19 more than this time last year. Meanwhile today one Coaster bus was trying to overtake another but crashed into it on the Spanish Town Road in Kingston; twelve passengers were injured. Those buses frighten me – the drivers are often speeding, even racing each other sometimes. Another Coaster bus driver was killed in a crash in Moneague, St. Ann yesterday.