Bus Fares, A Boat Trip and Ice Buckets: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Despite the weather forecast today (which predicted we would be “high and dry”) we actually had some refreshing rain. Another great stress reliever was the arrival of… Yes! A garbage truck! I like to think that my photo of our piles of garbage posted on Instagram did the trick. We feel very fortunate, as a street close by is still knee deep in the stuff.

Mario Deane died in custody after suffering severe injuries at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay.
Mario Deane died in custody after suffering severe injuries at the Barnett Street police lock-up in Montego Bay.

Predictable: Just as I expected, our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller chose a partisan political meeting on Sunday to finally say something about Mario Deane, nearly two weeks after his death. This was the wrong platform; and the tone of her response was also inappropriate. Her remarks on the tragedy, which has deeply disturbed so many Jamaicans, turned into a diatribe against the Opposition. She had not commented on the Deane case “because it was under investigation” and her Ministers of Justice and National Security had already spoken, she added.  As always, the PM seemed to take personally the criticisms of her complete silence while all sections of society were expressing anger at Mario Deane’s death (and the complex and painful ramifications of it). She does not seem to understand the nature of her position as Prime Minister. This means she should speak out on matters of national concern. This is called “leadership.” She must cover all bases.

The PM did, however, acknowledge the importance of human rights. That phrase is rolling off the tongue of some politicians a little more easily, these days. Jamaicans for Justice has commended her for this. By the way, an autopsy on Mario Deane by an overseas pathologist will likely take place next week.

Minister of Transport & Works Omar Davies
Minister of Transport & Works Omar Davies.

Great timing: Minister of Transport Omar Davies announced an increase in bus fares for the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) today – effective Sunday, so we have just three days’ notice. The timing could not have been worse, as the new school year approaches. Adult fares will increase by 20%; children, students and the disabled will see a 50% increase; and senior citizens a 200% increase. Minister Davies said the JUTC is seeking to run a “first world service” with hugely increasing expenses. It doesn’t seem likely at this time that the government will back down on this – unless there is a huge fuss (and there is a faint possibility that there may be demonstrations and civil unrest on this matter). The Minister says he would have to find another funding source to keep the JUTC afloat if the increase was withdrawn. He waffled over the major increase for senior citizens, even appearing to question the journalist’s description of this demographic as “vulnerable.”

Ironically, the People’s National Party (PNP) fiercely opposed a proposed fare increase in 2010. Portia Simpson Miller, then Opposition Leader, called the move “wicked and uncaring”. Now it’s Andrew Holness’ turn (he called the fare increase a “travesty of grave injustice, inconsiderate and wicked” and threatened street protests). He does have a point about the last Auditor General’s Report, which highlighted many inefficiencies in the JUTC. Minister Davies says some of these will be addressed by year-end – in particular, the lack of a mechanism to track the operations of its buses. They will get GPS. Oh, and they will issue schedules!

Passengers board a JUTC bus. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)
Passengers board a JUTC bus. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

In the scheme of things bus fares may not seem high. But a Twitter friend calculated that for a Jamaican earning the minimum wage, taking one bus to and from work will mean transportation will take up 21% of his/her income (thank you, Alexis Goffe!) If that person has a child, then bus fares will be 27% of income. Bear in mind that July inflation was higher than expected (mainly due to much higher food prices caused by the drought).

Passengers embarking a Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus at North Parade, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)
Passengers embarking a Jamaica Urban Transit Company bus at North Parade, downtown Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)

The JUTC’s history has been a rough and rocky one. Eleven years ago, then Finance Minister Omar Davies gave it a huge (J$3.45 billion) to clear its debt. By that time, it was racking up losses of billions of Jamaican Dollars.

Fourth consecutive quarter of growth: This has to be good news, doesn’t it. The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) reported growth of 1.2% for the past quarter – especially in agriculture. The PIOJ, as always, put a positive spin on it all, but only projected a maximum one per cent growth rate for the next quarter. Nothing to crow about, after all?

 

Mayor Shernet Haughton with members of her team after the first sitting of the Hanover Parish Council in 2012. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)
Mayor Shernet Haughton with members of her team after the first sitting of the Hanover Parish Council in 2012. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)

What is the story behind the resignation of Mayor of Lucea Shernet  Haughton, after just over two years in office, and her Deputy? I understand that there were party machinations; we may never know details. I also see this as the triumph of the Patriarchy. I cannot forget the extremely unpleasant, misogynistic (and perhaps racist) attack on her by local Member of Parliament Ian Hayles, who said the Mayor was “not his type” at a party meeting.

Bring your own water: Back to school is upon us, and Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says some schools may ask students to bring their own water for drinking and sanitary purposes to school each day (the image of small children staggering down the road with their heavy bag of books and a few gallons of water is not a happy one).The drought has not lifted, despite a few showers here and there. It’s worsening in some areas. Bush fires continue. I am still hoping that the National Water Commission will do a better job of responding to the many calls regarding leaking pipes – and fix them! Incidentally, when did the NWC last do any customer service training? Their staff do not know the meaning of the word “customer,” I swear. Re-training urgently needed!

Most schools “ineffective”: Six out of every ten schools surveyed (129 of them) by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) are failing to provide quality education. NEI reports are generally as gloomy as the PIOJ’s reports are optimistic. I am not sure I am happy with Education Minister Ronald Thwaites “calling out” specific schools in his speeches. How does that help? There is no doubt, however, that leadership and management of schools is a major concern. As it is in most sectors, one might add. The NEI report will be published next month.

The Victoria Jubilee Hospital.
The Victoria Jubilee Hospital.

You’re in labor? Well, just shut up!  This has (allegedly) been the attitude of some nurses at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, the public maternity hospital in downtown Kingston. We have been hearing these stories for years. Now an extremely damning report from a mother (who lost her baby) in the Jamaica Observer prompted other mothers to come forward with tales of woe, focusing on unprofessional behavior by the staff. At last the Minister of Health has taken action. He recently ordered an investigation into the allegations, suggesting perhaps staff need “customer service training.” Methinks also the Ministry fears lawsuits…

This is what Great Goat Island looked like on September 14, 2013 when we traveled round the islands. (My photo)
This is what Great Goat Island looked like on September 14, 2013 when we traveled round the islands. (My photo)

“There’s nothing there!” The Government’s chief propagandizer for the transshipment port at Goat Islands, the Caribbean Maritime Institute Dr. Fritz Pinnock, took a much larger group of media and Jamaica Chamber of Commerce members on a lovely boat trip to the area on Sunday. He told financial analyst Ralston Hyman on radio (Mr. Hyman is already gung-ho on the project so was an uncritical listener) that he took the group to Greater Goat Island. This was not apparent in the Facebook photos I saw. Clearly Dr. Pinnock took them to a degraded area, in the middle of the day. I doubt the group were impressed as to the ecological value of Goat Islands after that. Dr. Pinnock said they could see there was “nothing there” (what does “nothing” mean in this context?)

Sprinter Usain Bolt challenged Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna to the icebucket treatment.
Sprinter Usain Bolt challenged Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna to the icebucket treatment.

The IceBuckets: Never one to shy away from self-promotion, our Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna sat at her desk, waterproof makeup applied, for someone to pour a bucket of ice water over her in the cause of ALS research. Critics said the water damaged her computer and government documents, but Ms. Hanna’s office denied this. I just hope that all these people seeking a nice PR opportunity will actually donate to the cause – and the Minister did promote the cause, too. Ms. Hanna is a bit of a video star these days. Having conquered Instagram with her glamorous photos, she is now on YouTube. Her PR man tweeted a video of the birthday celebrations at her office today, complete with a large cake (hopefully not purchased on the public purse). Happy birthday, Minister!

Another “big man” charged with fraud: A member of the PNP’s National Executive Committee (on the party executive for the Prime Minister’s South West St. Andrew constituency) Donovan Bisasor and an employee have been accused of fleecing the National Water Commission of over 7 million dollars was granted multi-million dollar bail this week. This is the work of the new MOCA (the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency). The two return to court on September 29.

Chikungunya cases are increasing: As of this evening there are seventeen confirmed cases. People, arm thyselves with mosquito zappers! They are very effective. If we have more rain, numbers of mosquitoes will go up rapidly. Also keep checking possible breeding grounds around the house. Mosquitoes can breed quickly in a small amount of water – even that contained in a leaf, or a bottle-top…

Fab at forty: National Gallery of Jamaica
Fab at forty: National Gallery of Jamaica

Happy Anniversary!  To two great institutions: The National Gallery of Jamaica (forty years) and the Gleaner newspaper (180 years!) Celebrations are in order!

My next overview should be on Sunday, all things being well…

The Gleaner is 180 years old!
The Gleaner is 180 years old!

4 thoughts on “Bus Fares, A Boat Trip and Ice Buckets: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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