Untangling the Web, More Sewage Flows, and an Apology: Friday, November 21, 2014

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”

It was Sir Walter Scott – not Shakespeare – who wrote this, and the words ring true. Some of us are perhaps starting to feel that the confusion and obfuscation surrounding the Outameni issue could (must?) be deliberate. No one could so thoroughly muddy the waters unintentionally. Here are a few more developments in this increasingly murky issue, which is turning into a bit of a nightmare for the Simpson Miller administration, although they won’t easily admit it:

The current Board members:  Some are digging their heels in, while others are giving in to the pressure. Not surprisingly perhaps, the People’s National Party Treasurer, Norman Horne, remains on board. Trade unionists Kavan Gayle and Helene Davis-Whyte jumped ship on Monday, followed by Jamaica Employers’ Federation representative Brenda Cuthbert today. Ms. Cuthbert’s departure means that there are not enough board members left.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Gleaner)
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Gleaner)

The Prime Minister, who has portfolio responsibility for the National Housing Trust (but told Parliament she knew nothing about the Outameni purchase until she heard it in the news) has remained completely silent since then, along with all her ministers. A release from her office today informs us she will issue a statement following the regular Monday Cabinet meeting. Other ministers who, one would have thought, would have something to say might be the completely un-engaged and disconnected Minister of Information (there have been no press briefings for weeks, it seems), and the Minister of Tourism – who surely must know or have some thoughts on the Outameni attraction.

Sandrea Falconer
Missing in action: Minister of Information Sandrea Falconer (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Ex-board members who resigned earlier this year have been speaking on radio – and one almost wishes they hadn’t. They give conflicting reports, hemming and hawing and contradicting themselves and each other. In an interview with Nationwide News Network on October 30, board chair Easton Douglas said that the decision to purchase Outameni in May 2013 was unanimous, but one board member said on radio, “I know I didn’t approve.” This is puzzling, because records obtained by the Observer indicate the decision was, in fact, unanimous. Was there a clique within the board? What on earth was really going on?

And why does the NHT still have no Managing Director since Ms. A. Cecile Watson was fired over a year ago? Ms. Watson has clearly moved on and this week successfully spearheaded the launch of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in Jamaica – a worthy cause. A quote that she tweeted recently may be apt, though:  An old man once told me: if you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.” Touché!

Rev. Gary Harriott. (Photo: RJR)
Rev. Gary Harriott. (Photo: RJR)

And yes, even the Church has expressed concern over the Outameni issue (and it’s not about homosexuality, abortion, flexible working hours or gambling!) Things must be bad… The head of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches Rev. Gary Harriott believes the entire NHT board should be replaced.

In all of this, where is the truth? It seems to be slipping from our grasp, despite the best efforts of the media. Were you aware? Were you not aware? “I am/was/was not aware” seems to have become a stock phrase. Lord deliver us from this madness!

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.

Two things that we must keep on the front burners: The Mario Deane case, and the chikungunya virus. On the latter issue, do we know how many chikungunya-related deaths there have been? I am increasingly hearing stories (not rumors – actual accounts) of people falling, and people dying who were diabetic or with some other condition, but were fine before they contracted chik v. Can we not stop pretending, and hushing things up? Our Health Minister tells us he expects the worst of it to be over by December. Clearly he is worried about the tourist season – which one suspects motivated him and his minions in the Ministry to keep it quiet in the first place, thus depriving us of a much-needed public education campaign. Am I right or am I right? As an actor said in an old Hollywood movie.

And as for the “cleanups” (if any are indeed taking place), the sewage continues to flow happily in parts of Kingston. I am not sure whether the situation in Riverton Meadows has been sorted out, where it was flowing in residents’ yards. Now it is a fish market (rather inappropriately named the Red Rose Fish Market) off Spanish Town Road which has a river of sewage. It’s not coming up smelling like… Oh well, you know the rest. I will not be purchasing fish there any time soon. Get your act together, National Water Commission! Are we serious about public health?

Now the delays have started on the case related to the tragic death of Mario Deane after he was beaten in a Montego Bay police lockup. We need to watch this one carefully, please. Sadly, we are not surprised any more when cases are postponed, and postponed, and postponed.

26-year-old mason Anthony Richards was shot dead by the police in Alligator Pond, Manchester.
26-year-old mason Anthony Richards was shot dead by the police in the small seaside town of Alligator Pond, Manchester on New Year’s Day, 2010. His friend Roshaine Dixon was injured. Residents protested angrily, damaging police cars and blocking the road, for two days after the shooting.

Policemen held accountable: Some time ago I mentioned a former policeman who was arrested in Toronto in connection with the alleged “death squad” operating in Clarendon. Constable Whitney Hutchinson was charged by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) in connection with the May 5, 2011 murder of Sylvester Gallimore, and assault occasioning bodily harm of another civilian. His lawyer claims there was no extradition request for him. Meanwhile Detective Constables Tyrone Findlay and Leonard Lindsay were found guilty of the New Year’s Day 2010 killing of a man in Alligator Pond, South Manchester, sparking a furious, two-day protest by residents. They were sentenced to 25 years. Jeffery Peart, a police constable, and his sister Roxanne Peart were found guilty of the murder (and beheading) of a taxi operator in St. Ann on Wednesday and will be sentenced on December 12. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police praised the police investigations and prosecutors; in the case of the Pearts, cell phone data, DNA and other forensic evidence was used to convict them. Good going.

Why did the Lower House only sit for two hours on Tuesday? Where was everybody? Off overseas? Campaigning? Where was the PM? Andrew Holness tabled more questions on You-Know-What, but apart from that… Was there really nothing to talk about, and why did the House seem 3/4 empty? And the people’s business…?

What’s going on with sugar? Private sector leaders met with Industry and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton on Friday about the sudden announcement that only the Sugar Industry Authority would be allowed to import refined sugar (yes, we do import sugar). Did any dialogue with the private sector take place before this announcement?


PetroCaribe: We know Venezuela’s economy is facing serious challenges. Against the backdrop of declining oil prices, energy officials from the eighteen Caribbean countries benefiting from the concessionary oil arrangement heard that PetroCaribe “is an energy agreement that is perfectly sustainable over time,” at a meeting in Caracas on Thursday. We’ve been getting a little antsy about this and the International Monetary Fund has been monitoring the situation quite closely. Here’s an article with more information: http://www.argusmedia.com/News/Article?id=951290

The Bank of Jamaica and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (who always seem to echo each other at consecutive press briefings every quarter) announced this week that there has been a 0.8 per cent decline in Jamaica’s economy. They put this down entirely to the summer-long drought (yes, it lasted all summer) which cut agricultural production drastically.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator A J Nicholson.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator A J Nicholson.

Thank you, Senator Nicholson for properly apologizing in the Senate for his appalling remark about rape. I have published his apology in full (which he read out in the Upper House today) in an earlier post. Three weeks after his remark in response to Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, it was about time. The Foreign Affairs Minister’s earlier press release and his expostulations in the media really just did not cut it. But this was done correctly, at last. The Senator’s offer to participate in activities related to the upcoming International Day Against Violence Against Women next week is welcome. It was hard going, but he did do right in the end. However a fellow blogger whom I greatly admire wrote a cogent response, stating simply that we must remember: Men are raped too. And rape is rape, against whomever. The Senator (and many others in Jamaican society) do not wish to recognize this. Rape is far too narrowly defined. Here is the blog response: http://dmarcuswilliams.blogspot.com/2014/11/senator-aj-nicholsons-apology-sexual.html

A Maroon blows an abeng in Trelawny, Jamaica.
A Maroon blows an abeng in Trelawny, Jamaica.

Maroons on the radio: Abeng 88.7 FM, a radio station dedicated to highlight the maroon culture, will be launched in time for the annual Accompong Town Maroon Festival in January 2015. Abeng FM is being funded by the UNESCO. There will then be 36 radio stations operating in Jamaica – quite a few!

An opportunity: The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica has issued a Request for Proposals for the 2015 Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation Program. The Program provides grant awards to preserve cultural heritage around the world, ranging from the renovation of historical monuments and restoration of artefacts to the documentation of traditional cultural expression. Deadline is tight: December 1, 2014! Apply today! Full details are here: http://kingston.usembassy.gov/pr_11212014b.html

Here is a whole family of nurse sharks seen off Tern Cay, in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) where Goat Islands are situated – tweeted by the group of scientists, funded by the Waitt Foundation, which is conducting a survey of the area’s coral reefs. By the way, nurse sharks are slow-moving and seen as a docile species – which makes them more under threat.

Nurse sharks in the threatened Portland Bight Protected Area.
Nurse sharks in the threatened Portland Bight Protected Area.

 And I must, must, must applaud…

Spoken word performer Randy McLaren, the "Kriativ Aktivis." His heart is in the right place.
Spoken word performer Randy McLaren, the “Kriativ Aktivis.” His heart is in the right place.

UNICEF Jamaica and the EU for marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Convention was ratified more quickly than any other international treaty in history. The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity. The CRC spells out the basic human rights that every child under age 18 has: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. Thanks to Randy McLaren for supporting this. Randy’s heart is in the right place – and he expresses things in a way no one else can!

Boyz celebrate!
Boyz celebrate!

The Reggae Boyz, who beat regional rivals Trinidad and Tobago in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw, and won the Caribbean Cup in Montego Bay. Stay on this positive track!

Trainee dentist at work at UTech's College of Oral Health Sciences in Kingston. (My photo)
Trainee dentist at work at UTech’s College of Oral Health Sciences in Kingston. (My photo)

During the summer I blogged about the work of the University of Technology’s College of Oral Health Science. Now, Jamaica has become the first country outside of the U.S. mainland to be a member of the American Board of Dental Examiners. This was a collaboration with Jamaican-born dentist Dr. Maurice Miles, head of the Maryland Board of Dental Examiners in the U.S. Excellent progress!

A teenager accused of a local robbery was attacked by a mob in Montego Bay and killed. His two accomplices ran into a nearby church, where the choir was rehearsing. The startled singers called the police and probably saved the men’s lives. My deepest condolences go out to the boy’s family, and the families of those listed below. Two are unidentified men killed by the police.

Samuel Blake, Victoria District, Linstead, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Linstead, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Unidentified man, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Ricardo Anderson, 26, Frankfield, Clarendon

Everton Rickard, 43, Frankfield, Clarendon

Kerry-Ann Powell, 30, Horizon Park/Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Unidentified man, Freeport/Montego Bay, St. James (killed by police)

Jevaughn Wilmot, 17, Montego Bay, St. James (mob killing)

Madness on the roads continues: There has been a lot of rain in the past week and many motorists don’t seem to understand that you need to go carefully on wet roads. Here is an example below:

A woman died in this crash near Gutters, St. Elizabeth, on a wet road. (Photo: jamaica Observer)
A woman died in this crash near Gutters, St. Elizabeth, on a wet road. (Photo: jamaica Observer)

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