It’s been a quiet(ish) week so far – but that could change at any time, because in Jamaica that’s how it goes.
Although the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) ‘s recent ruling on the electricity rate may come as quite a relief to consumers, looking at it from other perspectives there are concerns. The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) – may I remind you it is basically a monopoly – says it needs $70 – 80 million to invest in new projects (CEO Kelly Tomblin says JPS has under-invested for years). The Government owes JPS considerable sums of money. This debt resulted in US$14 million worth of foreign exchange losses last year. Shareholders have received no dividends in the past three years, Ms Tomblin says. This situation needs to be addressed by our ever-optimistic Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell. He needs to sit down at the table with Ms. Tomblin and work out some kind of deal that will keep everyone happy. Otherwise perhaps the JPS should consider turning off the lights in some Government offices; after all, we householders don’t have the luxury of owing JPS millions or even hundreds of dollars without getting cut off within a few days. The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica has expressed some concerns about the impact the OUR’s ruling will have on potential investors. Ms. Tomblin is mulling over whether to appeal; we should know next week about that.
PetroCaribe debt will fall: Of course, with the falling price of oil, the amount of Jamaica’s debt to PetroCaribe will fall too – that is, future debt, not what has already been incurred. At the end of last year the debt stood at a cool US$3 billion. Co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Richard Byles also notes that the rate of decline of our struggling Jamaican Dollar (now just about the weakest in the Caribbean against the U.S. Dollar) will slow alongside lower inflation. Meanwhile Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis has discovered that the PetroCaribe Development Fund has disbursed US$100 million in unsecured loans to four entities (can we find out which?) for which Cabinet approvals were not obtained. Really now.
Professor Bain in court: Last year the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) dismissal of Professor Brendan Bain as director of the now-closed Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Network (CHART) created what the media like to call a “firestorm” of controversy. Outraged fundamentalist Christians descended on the UWI campus to express their feelings (as they are fully entitled to do), claiming that Professor Bain’s “freedom of speech” had been curtailed. Representatives of the communities that CHART serves had objected to the professor’s testimony in a Belize court (and today, he said in court he had been warned against doing so, but went ahead as an expert witness). And Professor Bain knew full well what CHART’s constituency was. Meanwhile, the court ruled today against extending an injunction the Professor took out against UWI; his contract had already expired in December. The case continues…but I doubt if the “firestorm” will.
Educational leadership: I wrote about the Ministry of Education’s leadership program for school principals recently. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says some principals are reluctant to attend the National College for Educational Leadership’s (NCEL) training (or are missing in action) and he intends to put his foot down. He plans to make NCEL’s certification mandatory for those applying for principal positions. The last official inspection of schools found 43 per cent of schools surveyed were unsatisfactory in terms of leadership.
Frustrated youth: And when our young Jamaicans graduate from high school or university, what future do they see? A recently published UWI Department of Government youth survey disclosed that nearly half of our young people would give up their citizenship in exchange for a job overseas. This is incredibly sad of course, but I am not entirely surprised. I don’t think the Government truly understands the depth of frustration among our young people.
Managing women: The International Labor Organization (ILO) has published a new report on women in management. Forbes Magazine has made much of the fact that Jamaica came out on top, with 59.3 per cent of middle and “even” senior management posts occupied by women (this is a 2008 figure, which seems to be the latest available). You can find an abridged version of the ILO report here: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_334882.pdf and it is well worth a read. There has been some progress, the report notes, but the proverbial glass ceiling “is still there.” Board membership of women in 44 countries surveyed was below 20 per cent. Progress in this respect is “glacial,” says one commentator.
Digital soldiers: The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has a new uniform. The new camouflage outfit has security features to prevent people posing as JDF officers. It looks like one of those optical illusions and would give me a headache if I looked at it for too long. It’s got pixels all over it. As Jim Carrey would say, “All righty, then!”
Chinese firms doing business in Jamaica are at it again (the Jamaican Government likes to call them “investors” but I might choose a different word). They are busy plundering the environment with little regard for those people who might be affected by it. They get away with this kind of behavior all too often in their own country but I believe Jamaicans cannot be shoved around so easily. Here are just two examples: 1) A new housing development in what looks like a lovely quiet spot surrounded by green hills, Caymanas Country Club, now faces the prospect of a highway running very close to, or even across some back yards, just feet away from their houses. The highway, now being built by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) after French firm Bouygues pulled out, is being “realigned” (why?) and residents (many of whom only just moved in, having paid a tidy sum for their homes) say they were blasting the hillside on New Year’s Day. They are very upset with New Era Homes, the developers – whom they allege knew about the plans but kept them secret. Can one protect the homes with sound barriers etc? One hopes so.
2) Meanwhile, another Chinese firm, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, has taken it upon itself to dam a river! There was a television report on this some time last year, with complaints from residents that they could not fish or water their crops. The situation was apparently not addressed and the matter was raised at a meeting of Clarendon Parish Council. Is this the same company that chased away residents bathing at a beach on the Clarendon coast, escorting them off the premises, some time last year?
On Monday morning, construction workers employed by CHEC blocked a section of the North-South Highway in a protest over wage issues. One of my tweeps was inconvenienced by the demonstration, and took a photograph of one of the placards.
- Kudos to the Blood Bank and to those who raised money to donate a new mobile blood collection unit (Angelia Christian, founder of the Angel Foundation; RAFFA/Blood for Life; Grace Foods UK, as well as other partners). The first blood drive with the unit took place outside the Jamaica National Building Society head office in Kingston and collected quite a few units. (If you don’t already donate blood – it is not painful and you will be saving lives!)
Today’s murders in rural St. Andrew brought the number of murders this year so far up to 40 – in just 14 days. The media continue to report it in the usual perfunctory way (some murders hardly get a mention on prime time or in the newspapers, but are reported somewhere online, which is where I often pick them up). Only what they call the “high profile” murders get a headline. And yet, journalists this evening are discussing “Why don’t we report more about what is happening elsewhere in the Caribbean?” on television. It puzzles me that journalists can sit down and talk about what they are NOT reporting on! Well, I would like to remember the following Jamaicans murdered in the past four days. My deepest sympathies to those who are mourning their loss.
Disturbingly, I have noted several police killings this year so far – and also the steady flow of attacks on women by their partners – or former partners.
Kirt Adlam, 27, Woodpecker Avenue/Waltham Park Road, Kingston
André Luthan, 28, Airy Castle, St. Andrew
“Pops,” Airy Castle, St. Andrew
Jermaine Melvin, 35, Linstead Bypass, St. Catherine
Rameish Duncan, 24, Point Hill, St. Catherine (mob killing)
Camille Bell, 29, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Miguel Anthony Campbell, 36, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Devon Palmer, 49, Retirement Road, St. James
Keran Gardner, 18, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland (killed by police)
O’Neil Anderson, Windsor, Portland (killed by police)
Glenda Campbell, 56, Salt River, Clarendon (U.S. citizen)