It’s been an interesting week. Rain has fallen. There was a holiday in the middle of it (Ash Wednesday) when we took a little pause. The weather remains “cool” by Jamaican standards, and we can’t complain.
Parliament officially reopened yesterday. The annual colonial-era parade of the two parties striding down Duke Street, while their little groups of die-hard supporters cheer and shout slogans and “dissed” each other. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters were especially vociferous this year, mobbing their somewhat beleaguered leader Andrew Holness. The People’s National Party (PNP) followers were contemptuous: “Dem nuh have nuh leader,” said one. Women parliamentarians usually dress to the nines in snazzy outfits, but there were very few fancy hats this year. The Governor General read out a speech (the so-called Throne Speech) handed to him by the politicians. He has a nice voice. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness gave a short critique of the speech to a TV reporter; quite respectful and balanced. When asked for a response, Prime Minister Simpson Miller once again disappointed with her angry and disrespectful tone. Don’t take any notice of what Holness says, she retorted; he never has anything positive to say (in fact he did say one or two positive things). The PM said something about the Opposition’s “head gone somewhere else.” I didn’t get that. But the overall impression was coarse and aggressive.
But here’s a hat: It is traditional at agricultural shows that officials wear a ridiculous hat. The late Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke had a full range of them. It is supposed to show that you are at one with those who till the soil. I have never seen a farmer wearing one like this Senator, however…
An elevator is actually working! With much joy and ceremony, Health Minister Fenton Ferguson unveiled (?) or rather re-energized an elevator at Kingston Public Hospital. The complete lack of functioning elevators had resulted in many surgical operations being postponed over the past seven months, because patients could actually not physically reach the operating theater. But guess what? There are still at least two other elevators not working…as yet.
No doubt, our public health facilities are stretched to the limit, with persistent stories of supplies running out and equipment not working. I wrote about this (and possible solutions) recently in my Gleaner Online blog here: http://blogs.jamaica-gleaner.com/socialimpact/?p=2511 One solution is, of course, more private sector support and Scotiabank along with Sick Kids International and Quick Play Media opened a telemedicine center at the Bustamante Hospital for Children this week. Great!
Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) did not have a good week. Again. Ms. Tomblin’s stoicism in the face of apparent adversity is quite admirable. Last Monday the Office of Utilities Regulation directed JPS to repay over J$973 million to customers, noting that it was unilaterally imposed as foreign exchange adjustments on fuel supplied by Petrojam Limited from March to December 2013. Customers should receive their full refunds by mid-August. It’s not clear whether JPS will appeal.
There is a campaign to make sure Jamaican children are up to date with their measles vaccinations, in light of reports and controversy in the United States. I had measles as a young child, and was very ill for weeks. It is “no joke ting” and causes thousands of death worldwide every year. I happen to know that some Jamaicans, too, refuse to have their children vaccinated. In my view, this is selfish and grossly unfair.
The 6th Biennial Diaspora Conference (June 13 – 18 in Montego Bay) was launched with a flourish on Friday. The theme is “Jamaica and the Diaspora: Linking for Growth and Prosperity.” Did any growth and prosperity come out of the 5th Conference? I would love to know the concrete results coming out of it. A list of them?
Industrial relations looking shaky: As I had mentioned in earlier blogs, the specter of public sector cuts looms large just behind Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ shoulder. I shouldn’t think he is very comfortable. The agreement with unions representing public sector workers (essentially a wage freeze) expires on March 31, and after that one is not clear what will happen. There are rumblings from various quarters.
The Tivoli Commission of Enquiry has taken a break until April 8. Today, former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington trotted out those stories we have heard several times before: the “don” of Tivoli Gardens, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, “escaped” from the area via “tunnels” (what/where were these tunnels, exactly? Were they drains or gullies?) It is with a wearying sense of déjà vu that I listened to the former Commissioner repeating that 300 “criminals” had gathered in the community, etc, etc. (Where did they all go?) He also said 75 per cent of police weapons tested showed they had not been used to kill anyone (what about the remaining 25 per cent?); the guns were returned to service. Ellington said that subsequent to the event, 115 guns were found; I understand they were not found in Tivoli itself (and nor was Dudus, of course; was he ever there, at all?) No police wore masks, said Ellington, who also denied a suggestion that any of the guns recovered came from an alleged stockpile of police guns.
Earlier in the week, Former Attorney General/Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne responded to a number of questions in an exasperated tone, her voice raised higher. The déjà vu feeling was even stronger; Ms. Lightbourne had testified at the Enquiry into the Manatt débacle just four years ago that she did not know how to send an email. Her secretary sent them for her. This time, she told us all that she does not watch the news or read the newspapers. Because it’s too depressing, she added, going on to tell us, quite cheerfully, that she does keep up with the international news. So the horrors of ISIS, Syria, Ukraine and so on are not as depressing as Jamaica? I feel a headache coming on…
Ms. Lightbourne is not the only one: Last week former Prime Minister Bruce Golding said he did not follow local news. And some time last year our current PM Portia Simpson Miller retorted during an interview that she did not watch the news, either. Rather worrying, I think.
Documents are important: Human rights activist Susan Goffe pointed in a Gleaner column to the importance of documents being available to support the questioning of witnesses. The Public Defender’s office has requested quite a few, and most are…unavailable. How did this happen? There is an issue regarding the original document containing the security forces’ operational plans. And surely a crucial issue in the entire enquiry is how was this all planned?
Puzzling Portmore: Months ago I asked what is happening in Portmore (a dormitory town with a population of around 300,000) the only municipality with a directly elected Mayor. Now, the People’s National Party (PNP) Mayor of Portmore George Lee died in office on September 29, 2013. Since then, there has been no election, and an “acting” PNP Mayor took over. He should have stepped down and an election held by the end of April, 2014, I understand. However, the local PNP Member of Parliament said we might as well wait until local government elections, which are due to be announced soon. The Portmore Citizens’ Advisory Council has not existed since February 10, 2014 and is still to be reconstituted, according to Howard Hamilton, a local resident. Meanwhile the Electoral Office of Jamaica is conducting an exercise to expand the boundaries. Wow. Democracy in action!
Corruption convictions: Two police constables were convicted for soliciting and accepting a bribe from a motorist and are now awaiting sentencing. It has been all of six years since the case first came up… Too long.
Just curious: While controversy surrounds the possible creation of an offshore breakwater of boulders in Negril, and opposition is growing to the destruction of Old Harbour Bay and its environs, including Goat Islands, our Minister of Tourism is busy visiting both locations. Negril is getting a pedestrian and bicycle lane, which might help. As for Old Harbour, Minister McNeill was seen on Old Harbour Bay Beach discussing its “multi million dollar” rehabilitation. He stressed recently at the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” launch that he was keen to see more beaches fixed up and accessible to the Jamaican public (that will be the day). Is there something I am missing here, though? I thought Old Harbour Bay was slated for destruction at the hands of the Chinese?
Wonderful stuff! … from two Jamaicans in the United States:
Jamaican Tanya Chutkan was sworn in as a judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia on February 6. Born in Kingston, she received an Economics degree at George Washington University and a degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She worked for a number of years in the DC Public Defender’s Office.
Kingston-born Dr Chad R. Ritch has joined the faculty at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in the UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Dr. Ritch, a graduate of Duke University and University of Chicago, specializes in urologic oncology.
A few years ago in Mandeville I met a bright and energetic young woman, Lanisia Rhoden, who had just founded a mentorship group called Young Women O Purpose. It is now Young Women and Men of Purpose. The group obtained funding from the Nairobi-based UN Habitat Urban Youth Fund and with support from Mandeville Mayor Brenda Ramsay, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and the Youth Information Centre organized a successful entrepreneurship training and mentoring program. Congratulations, Lanisia and Project Manager Shamoy Hajare!
A tragedy: A 37-year-old businessman who turned himself in for the murder of teenager Santoya Campbell in Westmoreland last month was convicted and sentenced to life in prison this week. The student of Frome Technical High School was pregnant when she was killed, a post mortem revealed. Her mother had arranged for the man, who had known the family for years, to pay for her lunch, following which he began a sexual relationship with her. This situation is not uncommon and this terrible tragedy points to a number of major social issues. At the heart of it is poverty and the vulnerability of our young girls to trafficking, of all kinds, even by their own families. My sympathies to all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones at this time. They are not statistics; they are people.
Mark Smellie, 37, Deanery Road, Kingston
Everton Wilson, 62, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Junior Bailey, 48, Wagonwheel District, St. James
Unidentified man, Greenvale, Trelawny
Jermaine Bartley, 29, Wakefield, Trelawny
Javar George, 21, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas