Hats or Not, Masks or Not, and Santoya’s Tragedy: Saturday, February 21, 2015

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.

Where are the hats? Come on, now! The Prime Minister leads her parliamentarians down the road. Good exercise for some of them, anyway. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)
Where are the hats? Come on, now! The Prime Minister leads her parliamentarians down the road. Good exercise for some of them, anyway. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

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.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, addresses the 2015 staging of the Hague Agriculture and Livestock show in Falmouth, Trelawny on Wednesday, February 18. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)
This hat doesn’t appeal to me. President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, Senator Norman Grant, addresses the 2015 staging of the Hague Agriculture and Livestock show in Falmouth, Trelawny on February 18. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

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…

Hooray! An elevator that works! Minister Ferguson is gratified. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Hooray! An elevator that works! Minister Ferguson is gratified. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

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.

Board Chairman for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Andrei Cooke (2nd right); applauds the official opening of a telemedicine centre on February 19 at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Also participating in the opening are: Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Robert Ready (right); Wayne and Nigela Purboo (centre) of Quick Play Media; Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank Group, Jacqueline Sharp (left); and Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)
Board Chairman for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Andrei Cooke (2nd right); applauds the official opening of a telemedicine centre on February 19 at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Also participating are: Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Robert Ready (right); Wayne and Nigela Purboo (centre) of Quick Play Media; Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank Group, Jacqueline Sharp (left); and Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

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!

Kelly Tomblin, President and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company. (Photo: Gleaner)
Kelly Tomblin, President and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company. (Photo: Gleaner)

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.

Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington gives evidence at the Commission of Enquiry. (photo: Gleaner)
Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington gives evidence at the Commission of Enquiry. (photo: Gleaner)

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.

Tivoli Gardens, May 2010
Women and soldiers in Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

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?

Mayor George Lee of Portmore
Mayor George Lee of Portmore died in September, 2013. No election has taken place for his replacement.

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.

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), discusses plans to upgrade the Old Harbour Bay Beach with Member of Parliament for South Western St Catherine, Everald Warmington (right), and Mayor of Spanish Town, Councillor Norman Scott.  (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), discusses plans to upgrade the Old Harbour Bay Beach with Member of Parliament for South Western St Catherine, Everald Warmington (right), and Mayor of Spanish Town, Councillor Norman Scott. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

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:

Tanya Chutkan.
Tanya Chutkan.

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.

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.
Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

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.

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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

Santoya Campbell's body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bridge in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland on January 27. A 37-year-old businessman confessed to her murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment this week.
Fourteen year-old Santoya Campbell’s body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bridge in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland on January 27. A 37-year-old businessman confessed to her murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment this week.

6 thoughts on “Hats or Not, Masks or Not, and Santoya’s Tragedy: Saturday, February 21, 2015

    1. In fact, I did come across and read your post about Negril and have not yet commented on it, but I see a heated discussion going on on the page now! I think it is balanced and fair – and seems very accurate to me. The number of security-related incidents has increased and this is a problem. The last time we visited there, last year, we both felt uncomfortable. In the past 20 years or so we have had some wonderful times in Negril, especially when our son was younger. It was relaxed and friendly. But I just stood for a few minutes on the compound of a hotel and had people hissing at me through the fence, offering me all kinds of stuff. Negril is also facing considerable environmental challenges as you will see if you do a search on my blog – I have written about it a few times. I think that if the harassment/security issue can be cleared up, it could be a lovely place again. But…The beach is shrinking… 😦

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  1. The Caribbean and Jamaica especially are hard to fathom, especially how in a ‘crime-ridden’ city like Kingston the nation’s top politicians can just stroll out on any given day. (We don’t have enough security to protect them, so they must feel safe, whatever anyone may wish to say.)

    Go easy on the GG: he’s the Monarch’s envoy and acts and is usually treated like she/he is, so read what you’re given, even though you’re supposed to be ‘in charge’. More quantness.

    Good of you to flag some of the social issues behind the murders. Given how few of them are supposedly not criminal, they may get little attention. But, the ones that are criminal tells a lot about the context of killing.

    Didn’t see a mention on road safety, though NRSC is trying to beef up its campaigns.

    Check your date for diaspora conference 🙂

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    1. But Dennis. We know every government minister has his own policeman/men assigned to them. They don’t need to worry about security, not one jot! (I know, one is our next door neighbor). Oh, I am not having a go at the GG. Actually, I am a big fan of his, I like him very much and he does great stuff with his I Believe program. But he has to read out that speech, just like the Queen does once a year! Crime is so complex…isn’t it? Oh, I thought to mention the roads, and should have as there were a number of fatal accidents last week. Will mention it next time! I will check those dates.

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      1. Yes, they have their details, but if they are on duty during that walk through the streets, I think we’d better sell our security strategy to the US’s Secret Service. Maybe, they’re all wearing bullet-proof vests?

        Thanks for the comments, Emma.

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