Hot Air, Thieves, Highways, Pollution and Pontifications: Sunday, January 18, 2015

We are moving into what they call a “dry spell” – which could soon develop into “drought conditions.” I can tell, because our wild birds are pushing and shoving each other at our garden bird bath. Birds need water, too; do put some out for them.

Member of Parliament for West Kingston and former Mayor of Kingston Desmond McKenzie. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Member of Parliament for West Kingston and former Mayor of Kingston Desmond McKenzie. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Blowing hot air: Why am I so not impressed by the way the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) goes about things? Here they are now, getting hot under the collar ahead of the resumption of the Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens incursion of 2010. The JLP’s Desmond McKenzie, who represents West Kingston, is now ranting about the Enquiry being “a soap opera” for the benefit of the ruling People’s National Party. How helpful of him. Yes, we know the cost of the Enquiry is  high, but playing politics at this late stage seems wrong. Or has the JLP got cold feet? Why didn’t it do its homework on the Enquiry before it started? Is it deliberately seeking to throw a spanner in the works for the remainder of the proceedings? With all the hard work and good faith that has gone into the Enquiry, it seems unfair (and perhaps a little crafty?) to drag all of this up at this stage; the timing is odd.

A grilling in Geneva: An exciting Instagram account probably won’t help the Minister responsible for our most vulnerable children, Lisa Hanna, when she travels to Geneva to testify to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child about their welfare. The Committee will ask questions about “measures to combat violence against children; the high prevalence of violence in the society and the impact on children; and the situation in children’s homes, including sexual abuse, mental-health issues and overcrowding, the high rate of teenage pregnancy, the number of students who drop out of school, limited access to secondary education beyond grade nine, and the juvenile justice system,” according to the Gleaner. And will take into account the findings of local human rights groups.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis' report on the Child Development Agency's operations was quite critical.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis’ report on the Child Development Agency’s operations was quite critical.

Meanwhile, the Auditor General (AG) is not in the least impressed by the Child Development Agency’s (CDA) management of its affairs. At the time of her audit, Pamela Monroe-Ellis found that 35 of the 48 privately operated childcare facilities were operating without the required licence for periods up to 24 months. Last May, the Ministry was said to be conducting a review of these homes, and awaiting the results of an audit commissioned – um, two years ago. The AG also found that state-run children’s homes were not monitored regularly enough and the CDA has not prepared Annual Reports for the past four years.

I would like to ask Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton who is stealing all this cable for years - and how, and why...
I would like to ask Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton who has been stealing all this cable from LIME for years – and how, and why…

Thieves on the rampage: Yes, we have heard it all before, but the ongoing theft of metal cable from telecoms provider LIME is a disgrace. In the past decade LIME has lost at least J$400 million worth of cable to theft; J$60 million just last year. On each occasion Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton gives us the same spiel…The scrap metal industry is being properly regulated. In that case, Minister, who is buying the cable and why can’t it be traced? Someone must know. Have the police ever made any arrests? Now there is a report (a Ministry of Education internal audit) that from April 2012 to September 2013, 447 pieces of equipment under the e-Learning project were stolen from schools. Moreover, equipment purchased in 2010 is still not being fully utilized. What is going on here? I would love to know more.

Caymanas Country Club with the clearing of the hill in the background. (Photo: Gleaner)
Caymanas Country Club with the clearing of the hill in the background. (Photo: Gleaner)

Chinese companies and the environment: In my last news update, I wrote about a new housing estate which is now threatened by the “realignment” of Highway 2000 by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). The nice houses for middle-class Jamaicans (not cheap either) are now threatened by the road running just a few feet away from their doors. Work has already begun on the lovely green hillside behind the houses, with blasting and deforestation. Well – surprise! It transpires that the work has not yet been approved. But don’t worry, says a CHEC spokesperson; all that unapproved work has stopped now! One guesses that the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) will likely approve it in retrospect. A second development, highlighted on television news, is the heavy pollution of the beautiful Cabarita River in Westmoreland – not for the first, or even the second time, one hears – by the Chinese firm Complant. Hundreds of fish have died. The beautiful Mayfield Falls, a local attraction, is also on the river. Why has this been allowed to happen on more than one occasion? Why are environmental regulations not enforced? The livelihoods of hundreds of local residents depend on this river. It is a gross disrespect and a tragedy.

Children from Portmore communities participate in the cleaning and beautification of the National Climate Change Park (which looks completely brown and bare). The park was chosen as the national Labour Day project last year. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)
Children from Portmore communities participate in the cleaning and beautification of the National Climate Change Park (which looks completely brown and bare). The park was chosen as the national Labour Day project last year. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

A park and a garden: The Climate Change Park in Portmore, funded by the German Government, is still nothing more than a sign, I was told. However, I have learned that 120 trees were planted last Labour Day (May 2014). A grand one-day photo-op, perhaps? How is the Park doing now? How did the trees fare during our summer-long drought? Who is responsible for maintaining the Park? Our benefactors, the Chinese Government, have also fenced off a very large section of our beloved Hope Gardens to create a Chinese Garden. It is a gift to Jamaica, so we have to say “thank you very much.” Maybe maintenance there won’t be such a problem, as I hear there is a great deal of concrete involved. I wrote an article about the need for “greening” our cities in my Gleaner Online blog last week, here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2449

Opposition politicians talk to a member of the Revivalist Church - which was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast for the first time in its 35 years of existence, last week. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Opposition politicians talk to a member of the Revivalist Church – which was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast for the first time in its 35 years of existence, last week. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The National Pontification Breakfast (sorry, Prayer Breakfast), during which movers and shakers and even long-suffering overseas diplomats have to sit through hours of ranting by various Christian pastors, took place last week. One pastor ruffled some feathers by declaring to the assembled leaders that there is no leadership in Jamaica! When asked about this afterwards, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller graciously said she “forgave him” as her grandmother would have done, or words to that effect. I look forward to the day when Jamaica holds a multi-faith breakfast. After all, Jamaica prides itself on its “freedom of religion” but never shows any sign of embracing anything other than (mostly Protestant) Christianity. For the first time, representatives of the African-based Revivalist Church group were invited; at least one pastor objected to their presence. How ridiculous.

Arlene Harrison Henry is a former head of the Jamaican Bar Association and the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights. (Photo: Gleaner)
Arlene Harrison Henry is a former head of the Jamaican Bar Association and the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights. She is a fierce human rights advocate. (Photo: Gleaner)

Arlene Harrison Henry was sworn in as Public Defender on Friday. There is a sentiment out there that the younger former Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu should have been confirmed in the office and that Ms. Harrison Henry was selected because she was politically acceptable. This perception is due partly to the unfortunate and unfair meddling of Mukulu’s predecessor, the embittered Earl Witter in the process; he inserted his unkind views on Mukulu while the Government was deliberating, and the local media seized on his every word. Undoubtedly Mr. Mukulu did a very good job. However, Ms. Harrison Henry has never struck me as exactly tame; her comments on radio this evening underscored that impression. The former head of the Independent Jamaica Council on Human Rights  is quite outspoken, firm and very sharp. I also liked her comment about citizens’ enjoyment of the environment as a human right. Ms Harrison Henry is no “walkover.” You wait and see.

I am sorry I have not handed out any bouquets today… I will do better next time. I will, however, share a photograph a friend tweeted of Hellshire Beach. I should post it next to an old photograph of myself and my son there in the 1980s – a wide expanse of silver-white beach. Now, as we noted on Twitter, it is almost non-existent.

The "beach" at Hellshire. If there is a storm, it will disappear altogether.
The “beach” at Hellshire. If there is a storm, it will disappear altogether.

I am getting increasingly disturbed by the number of young women who are being killed (and often also raped). In my last blog I noted a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl was gang-raped and killed; now another girl the same age was also allegedly raped and murdered and her body found in a Kingston gully. Two other teenagers were killed in the past few days. Also increasingly prevalent are the murders of women by partners or former partners; this past week a policewoman was killed apparently by her common-law husband, who then committed suicide. 

Bryan Belnavis, Benbow Street, Kingston

Tia Warren, 17, Sandy Gully/Washington Boulevard, Kingston

Rayon Bryan, 32, Waltham Park Road, Kingston

Romaine Parks, Rivoli, Spanish Town, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Woman Corporal Pierre-Jay Davy, 28, Fairfield Close/Spanish Town, St. Catherine (murder/suicide)

D’André Broomfield, 18, Bucks Common, Clarendon

Romario Whyte, 25, Bucks Common, Clarendon

Michael Patterson, 16, Palmers Cross, Clarendon

Kirk Baker, 34, May Pen, Clarendon

Milton Dixon, 39, Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland

Tia Warren's body was found in Sandy Gully, Kingston. (Photo: On the Ground News Reports)
Young Tia Warren’s body was found in Sandy Gully, Kingston. (Photo: On the Ground News Reports)

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