That Public Sector Wage Bill, Bamboo is Cool, and Why So Many Murders This Year? Saturday, January 3, 2015

It’s almost the end of the long Christmas/New Year holiday. Many employees of private organizations and NGOs that closed on December 24 will reopen on Monday, January 5. New Year celebrations in our area were somewhat muted but the dog was terrified by the scattering of firecrackers and rockets.

A bloody start to 2015: A startlingly high number of murders have occurred in the past few days – at least nine so far in 2015, which is just two days old. National Security Minister Peter Bunting has, however, praised the police for helping to lower the number of serious/violent crimes last year. Whom should we credit this reduction to, however? Is it not as much due to “outside pressure” as anything else? Meanwhile, the police is merging three units (again? This is getting confusing). The merged Organised Crime Investigations Division (OCID), the Flying Squad and aspects of the Transnational Crime and Narcotics Division – to be headed by Assistant Commissioner Devon Watkis. So what about MOCA (the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency)?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

People don’t like that word “sacrifice”: In her New Year message, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller thanked us all (especially public sector workers) for the sacrifices we made in 2014. Her address started off in a very flowery way: “Like the golden rays of warm Jamaican sunshine bursting over our majestic Blue Mountains, a New Year has dawned.” She sounded less than convincing in her 2014 overview on job creation and energy initiatives. However, she did very well on the platitudes, references to the beauty of our island, God’s blessings and the inevitable Marcus Garvey quote at the end, which is almost de rigueur for such addresses. She also urged us poor Jamaicans to “stay the course.” Do we have a choice, Madam Prime Minister?

The Governor General’s New Year message was actually far less cliché-ridden, although of course vague. One of his morale-boosters for the Jamaican people was an interesting quote from Leo Tolstoy: “Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost, but it’s only here, that the new and good begins.” Nice one, Sir Patrick. And yes, “beauty, fellowship and prosperity” are good things to aspire to.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ message was longer than both of the above put together. He talked about health (chik v of course); education (the tuition-free policy his administration initiated), energy (the need to attract serious investment – like now); the economy of course (growth needs to come from the micro level); good governance (“I encourage all Jamaicans to let your voice be heard, whether you are articulate or inarticulate” – ha!); foreign policy; the Caribbean Court of Justice; and the Commission of Enquiry into West Kingston events of 2010. Heavy going. And I often think, when politicians pose in front of a staircase to make a speech, they might be planning to make a quick getaway! Perhaps they all should. Get away, that is. Anyway, all the messages can be found on the JIS website, for your digestion.

A Jamaica Teachers' Association conference
The Jamaica Teachers’ Association is starting to rumble more loudly about wages.

Public sector wages: What is the strategy here? The Jamaica Teachers’ Association has already laid its cards on the table, saying it will not accept another wage freeze this year. The International Monetary Fund, in its recent review, stressed the need for “resolute implementation of broader public sector reforms,” hinting that the Government must push harder on this. The size of the public sector is to be reduced, the IMF noted. Has this happened – or realistically, will it?

Dr. Maurice Smith is Principal Director of the NCEL (has he been confirmed in this position?) Photo: RJR
Dr. Maurice Smith is Principal Director of the NCEL (has he been confirmed in this position?) Photo: RJR

Talking of teachers, did you know the Education Minister has an Aspiring Principals Program? Its National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) – which was, a couple of years ago, embroiled in some political issues – trained forty potential principals last year and will recruit another “cohort” (how the bureaucrats love this word!) for March. The NCEL was set up in 2011. It would be interesting to see how things went last year; a year or so ago the Ministry was upset with already serving principals who simply failed to show up for management courses at NCEL. Is Andrew Holness still concerned about NCEL’s focus? Director Dr. Maurice Smith said last year he wanted to get a “cohort” of 80 – 100 aspiring principals for the new course, but only got about half. Did some drop out?

Bamboo scaffolding in Calcutta, India.
Bamboo scaffolding in Calcutta, India.

Bamboo is in: Suddenly bamboo is the in thing. Yes, bamboo, which has been used in other countries in a myriad ways for centuries. Jamaica is just waking up to this fast-growing tree, which grows on almost every Jamaican hillside. An entrepreneur called Chevaugn Bowen visited China and came back with the idea of Bamboo Tomato Ketchup, which he is now marketing under his Jamdun’ Food Processing label. There is now a Bamboo and Indigenous Materials Advisory Council, spearheaded by the Bureau of Standards. And Jamaica is the new chair of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (how did we qualify?) Bamboo has been in use (especially in construction) for a very long time right across Asia (not just China). When I was living in Japan, scaffolding on high buildings was made of bamboo, which is very strong. So were all kinds of household items. Oh well, better late than never I suppose. Still not too sure about the ketchup…

Harassed and harried: Tourists in Negril are still running the gauntlet of the harassers, pop up all over the place. Since I am white, I am often mistaken for a tourist and believe me – it is not nice to be on the receiving end. I can deal with it pretty well since I have lived here so long, but for someone who really feels and is “foreign” it must be an unnerving experience. “Nobody in Negril can walk the beach safely, even in broad daylight…It is getting so bad, only the all-inclusives will benefit because they will be telling people it is not safe, and in the all-inclusive you feel very safe. So, how are the small hotels along the beach going to manage if people can’t come in and go out?” So says a member of the Resort Board, Elaine Bradley. What is being done about this?

“Human behavior”: That is reportedly the primary cause of so many accidents on the road last year. 327 Jamaicans were killed in crashes (38 just last month) – an increase over 2013 and 2012. Many motorbike riders were killed; they often drive wildly on the road, as if they have their own set of (non)-rules. The first road death of 2015 was a motorcyclist and Westmoreland appears to have a particular problem with bike crashes.

The Caribbean Journal put together a list of “The Caribbean’s 25 Most Interesting People of 2014.” The six Jamaicans listed were three sports figures – Alia Atkinson, Usain Bolt and Winston Watts of bobsled fame; as well as supermodel Jeniel Williams, eccentric reggae man Lee “Scratch” Perry and writer Marlon James. You can find the full list here:

Special kudos to:

The new mobile blood collection unit handed over to the National Blood Transfusion Service. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
The new mobile blood collection unit handed over to the National Blood Transfusion Service. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
  • Another generous member of the Jamaican diaspora Angelia Christian, founder of the Angel Foundation. With the assistance of RAFFA/Blood for Life and Grace Foods UK Ms. Christian donated a new mobile blood collection unit to the National Blood Transfusion Service. There are frequent shortages of blood (many Jamaicans are unwilling to donate blood, and this does not help) and with the demands from accidents alone very high this is a perennial problem. The first drive using the mobile unit will take place on January 10. I hope it collects plenty!

In the past four days, the following Jamaican citizens have been murdered. It was quite frightening to record (as CVM Television did) nine murders in two days. Yes, nine! Why so much violence at the beginning of the year? Is this coincidence? 

By the way, looking back on a post from one year ago (January 2014) I notice that I commented on an extraordinarily high number of murders then. Perhaps it’s a New Year phenomenon. I cannot think why. My condolences to all those grieving, so early in the year.

Unidentified man, Heywood Street, Kingston

Keyon Williams, 21, East/Barry Street, Kingston

Laurence Barnes, Oxford/Drummond Street, Kingston

Ryan Williams, 20, Duhaney Park, Kingston  killed by police

Moyston Dawes, 50, Gutters/Granville, St. James

Melbourne Plummer, 22, Norwood, St. James

Unidentified man, Harbour Street, Montego Bay, St. James

Milton Johnson, 32, Red Ground/Negril, Westmoreland

Michael Clarke, 23, Red Ground/Negril, Westmoreland

Carlton Graham, 34, Swansea, Clarendon

Errol Osborne, 56, Fontabelle, St. Mary

Hyacinth Hayden, 79, Green Park, Trelawny

Lenroy Laing, 40, Lindo Hall, St. Thomas

On the road: Last year was a bad year. I am trying to keep a record of accidents this year, to see if there are any patterns. Motorbikes are already an issue this year:

* 56-year-old Michael Thompson died from injuries he received in a motor vehicle crash in a section of May Pen, Clarendon * 25-year-old Damian Watt was reportedly driving his motorcycle towards Shettlewood when he lost control of the bike, after one of the tires blew out and he crashed into a wall. He died on the spot.

Former Matron at the Falmouth Hospital, Hyacinth Hayden who was stabbed to death in her home in Trelawny, seen in happier times with her husband Ashley. (Photo: Gleaner)
Former Matron at the Falmouth Hospital, Hyacinth Hayden who was stabbed to death in her home in Trelawny, seen in happier times with her husband Ashley. (Photo: Gleaner)

2 thoughts on “That Public Sector Wage Bill, Bamboo is Cool, and Why So Many Murders This Year? Saturday, January 3, 2015

  1. Last year, you did a good job in sharing information in real time!! I look forward to reading and sharing some more.


    1. Dear Claire: Thank you so much for your comment! I am trying to keep it up. So nice to hear from you. Happy New Year and yes, please continue to share! 🙂


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