It has been a week (or two) from hell for the Portia Simpson Miller administration, it seems. One journalist described the Government’s current state as “drifting.” I would prefer to call it “floundering” from one controversy and faux pas to the other. Is somebody in charge? Some of our Ministers and heads of agencies seem to be wading into deep water, and the waters are getting choppy. Can they struggle back to shore?
Somehow, I feel this floundering all started with the terrible mishandling of the chikungunya virus outbreak. I think Health Minister Fenton Ferguson now realizes the error of his ways – and it is too late. The poor man has not redeemed himself in the eyes of the Jamaican public – which remains very unamused (especially those, like me, who are still enduring considerable pain on a daily basis). There is still the sneaking suspicion that the start of the “chik v” outbreak was downplayed because of the possible impact it might have on the tourism industry.
The most troubling issue for me was Senator AJ Nicholson’s “joke” about gender-based violence in the Upper House last week. I shared his apology (that wasn’t) and some reactions in a previous blog post. But I am increasingly disturbed by two things: Firstly, that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, our first female PM, who has held the Women’s Affairs portfolio for years, has not said or done anything in response, apart from a reprimand (read “slap on the wrist”) at a Cabinet meeting and a warning to other ministers to be careful what they say. Secondly, the Senator’s attitude – his reluctance/defiance in withdrawing the comment in the Senate that day, and his general defensive tone – betray a certain arrogance and suggest that he still doesn’t think he did anything wrong! (But then, a few weeks ago, his fellow Senator Lambert Brown dismissed the idea of marital rape. Can we please get into the twenty-first century or are we still in the Victorian era?)
Senator Nicholson’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade was already in hot water, with the revelation that the well-traveled junior minister Arnaldo Brown had racked up J$1 million worth of phone calls in a year. His boss told the media that he had forbidden young Minister Brown from talking to them on the matter (which I found rather odd and unnecessary) but what is to be done about it? Are there not guidelines on the use of phones, especially when traveling? We all know that roaming is very expensive when overseas. I would like this particular ministry – and ministries in general – to please get their house in order. There are many ways of saving money on phone calls. And when you are in the office…have you heard of Skype, and Google Hangouts (online meetings) which work really well?
“We are going to make mistakes,” said our Minister of Information Sandrea Falconer during a media briefing on Jamaica’s response to a possible Ebola case. What! I gulped. Please, no – no mistakes, Senator Falconer. Not with Ebola. We do not wish to be told that. What IS the matter with these ministers?
And then there is the issue of the National Housing Trust (NHT). Oh, not them again. Yes, ‘fraid so! Former Environment and Housing Minister Easton Douglas has made another strange decision, apparently playing fast and loose with NHT contributors’ money, again. I listened to Mr. Douglas’ long-winded explanation in a radio interview of how/why he decided to spend J$180 million of Jamaicans’ money on a failing tourist attraction called Outameni Experience. Mr. Douglas kept talking about his “holistic approach” – Jamaicans need entertainment, relaxation, culture, heritage, education. But Mr. Douglas, stick a pin. Wasn’t the mandate of the NHT – created by then Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1976 – to build houses for poor people? Isn’t there still a demand for low-cost housing? Puzzlingly, Mr. Douglas went as far as to say he “would not regard it as a commercial entity” (but it is, isn’t it!) and did not appear to know Outameni was losing money hand over fist. He seemed to suggest that Outameni might be almost a philanthropic enterprise, for the wellbeing of the community. Maybe I misinterpreted this interview, but I was very confused by this justification.
One thing Mr. Douglas was emphatic about: The purchase of Outameni was “not a bail out for a friend. It had nothing to do with the operators, at all.” OK, then. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has tabled some questions in Parliament. Let us see what the answers are. To me this is an issue of governance.
Rampant fraud and thievery: I must heartily commend those who head the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), Mr. Colin Campbell and Rev. Garnett Roper – both political appointees, but they are trying really hard to root out what seems to be endemic criminality of all kinds in the JUTC, with the help of the intrepid former policeman Mr. Radcliffe Lewis. The JUTC was packed with party supporters when it was established fifteen years ago and has had a checkered history. I recall vividly the shocking murder of JUTC chairman Douglas Chambers in 2008 at the Spanish Town Depot, and wonder what happened to the trial of a man accused of his murder which was to take place a year ago. And we really do not want to go back to the chaos of the public transportation systems of the 1990s. It is vital that Messrs. Campbell, Roper and Lewis grit their teeth, and stay the course in dealing with these crooks.
And then six young people have been arrested in connection with a J$20 million fraud at the Accountant General’s Office, involving the names of dead pensioners being used. Oh, please…
Question (posed by the 51% Coalition and echoed by me): Why is there only one woman on the newly appointed eighteen-person Labour Reform Commission (Ms. Brenda Cuthbert, representing the Jamaica Employers’ Federation)? This is baffling and…seriously? Women make up roughly 45% of the Jamaican work force, and inequity of pay remains a serious issue. Just a couple of weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund held a highly successful and much-publicized seminar on “Women, Work and the Jamaican Economy.” Why does it seem to me that there are many lovely words, but no action on these matters?
Please do read my latest post on the Gleaner Blogs page. It is about our imperiled Cockpit Country. Here is the link: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2310
Some good things here…Including two creative ladies overseas…
Canada-based Jamaican author, poet and children’s writer Pamela Mordecai has a beautiful new website/blog up and running: http://www.pamelamordecai.com Leave a comment, and enjoy!
Photographer, artist and writer (born in Sierra Leone, raised in Jamaica and the UK, currently out (north) west) Berette Macaulay has written a wonderful article, with very beautiful photographs of her multi-racial family. Here is the link on the World Policy blog: http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2014/10/21/mythology-memory-—-photo-essay
Three Jamaican organizations in the United States – the New Jersey-based Help Jamaica Medical Mission, the Jamaican and American Association of Buffalo and the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations, who have generously donated much-needed equipment to help in Jamaica’s preparation against the possibility of Ebola. The kindness of Jamaicans living overseas knows no bounds. They do care!
The young Member of Parliament Dr. Dayton Campbell must get a pat on the back from me. I like the work he is doing in his constituency of North West St. Ann; this week he has been traveling to some of the deep rural areas to visit sufferers from the chikungunya virus. He seems responsible and caring. Please stay that way, Dr. Campbell! You are winning me over, and frankly some of the other young politicians have been quite disappointing.
As we have noted before, last month was a terrible one for murders, with over 100 recorded. I hope this trend does not continue, but send my condolences to the families and friends who are mourning the loss of these Jamaicans who lost their lives. I am not sure what is happening in May Pen, Clarendon, but hear that gunshots are regularly heard in the town, where a woman and her two sons were shot dead this week.
Alton Ewars, 31, Rema, West Kingston
Sheldon Brown, 30, Burke Lane/Whitfield Town, Kingston
Unidentified man, Bay Farm Road, Kingston
Horace Phillips, 59, Marlie Mount, St. Catherine
Lola Mullings, 63, Portmore, St. Catherine
Nathaniel Thompson, 50, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Shavian Mitchell, 17, Bucknor, Clarendon
Shawn Mitchell, 21, Bucknor, Clarendon
Kareen Brown, 44, Bucknor, Clarendon
Unidentified man, 70, Hillside Land Lease, Clarendon
Javelle Fowler, 27, Exchange District, St. Ann
Dorothy James, 39, Abaco District, St. Ann
Denny Leck, 33, Santa Cruz Market, St. Elizabeth
Aston Riley, 49, Montego Bay, St. James
Unidentified man, Cottage, Salt Spring St James (killed by the police)