The past couple of weeks have been intense. My apologies for the unanticipated hiatus. We had a fairly major break-in at our yard, which was unnerving, and the repercussions have been painful. We are, however, pulling ourselves back on our feet again and refocusing. As for poor old Jamaica… We are in great pain, I believe. Great pain.
I have left it too long to talk to you about the killing of our children. Last month, I told you about fourteen-year-old, pregnant Santoya Campbell. Since then, four more children have been killed in terrible circumstances – all involving sexual abuse. Fourteen-year-old Kayalicia Simpson was chopped to death early one morning as she prepared for school at her home in St. Thomas. An autopsy revealed that she was pregnant. In Kingston, three children died in a house fire, which was set by their mentally-challenged uncle (who had attempted to molest nine-year-old Abigail Reid and then became angry when she raised an alarm). Abby and her brother Leonardo were regular students at the Trench Town Reading Centre; their friends at the Centre are traumatized and weeping. So much grief lies in the wake of these tragedies; who picks up the pieces? Can the pieces be picked up, or are lives just left broken so?
And our communities are silent: I wrote about this in my Gleaner blog: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2554 This is the story of Jamaica. Nuff said.
On fire…again: Here is our recurring nightmare: The Riverton City dump (it is not/not a landfill) is on fire again, blanketing the city in murky, toxic smoke. This is Day Four. Schools in Kingston and Portmore closed, and several businesses (even the port) closed too. Businessman William Mahfood posted an aerial photograph showing the shocking extent of the fire (which covers approx. half of the 120 acre site). A Gleaner video showed an area of very black smoke, indicating that tires were on fire. We do not live near the fire, but were coughing and sneezing. Jamaicans, mostly children and including many asthmatics, who were badly affected by the fire, overwhelmed hospitals and clinics. The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) has served notice on the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) re: non-compliance with their environmental permit. Has an alternative site been found for the dump? Has anything at all been turn in terms of prevention after last year’s (and previous years’) terrible experiences, which I documented in my blog? Meanwhile, productivity slowed right down on Friday. This happens year after year. What action is being taken?
Off the island: While this crisis was rapidly unfolding, Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott and most of the staff of the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) were on the other side of the world – Japan, in fact, at the UN Third Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Of course, no one has actually used the words “public health emergency” and our Health Minister doesn’t seem to find them applicable. What does it take, I wonder? ODPEM has been largely invisible for the past year or so, anyway, so they might as well be in the Far East…
Oh, the irony! That our Minister of Water, Land, Environment & Climate Change just made speeches about carbon emissions, climate change, deforestation etc. while the dump fire poured poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere and while plans continue to destroy the dry limestone and thick mangrove forest that makes up Goat Islands. Yep. Jamaica is really doing its bit for global warming, folks. (Don’t our Ministers realize actions speak louder than words?)
Fête upon fête: Meanwhile, nothing is going to stop the revelers at the University of the West Indies’ Carnival today…
Budget on fire: Meanwhile, Finance Minister Peter Phillips opened the Budget Debate in the Lower House. We learned there is going to be an increased gas tax and tax on phone bills; and cigarettes will be taxed, in order to help plug the revenue gap. The corporate and individual tax evaders apparently cannot be tracked down and made to cough up the money they owe; so the “small man” must be taxed by having to pay more for gas and phone calls – something he/she can hardly avoid. Very sensible, said one leading academic. Well, that’s a rather cold way of looking at it! Why not go after the corrupt ones? By the way, Jamaica has missed its tax revenue targets for the past seven years. Higher gas prices will likely affect many economic activities and push prices up generally, although Minister Phillips went into a discourse on “hedging” when asked about it. Doesn’t he know hedging is a pretty risky business? The Minister mentioned the “g” word several times, predicting a growth rate of 1.6 per cent for the upcoming fiscal year, and noting money would be spent on large infrastructural projects to spur growth. These will be “catalysts.” What lovely words these are.
e-Questions: How is Minister Phillip Paulwell’s much-touted one-year e-learning pilot project going? Are the children using the tablets distributed properly and taking care of them? Moreover (and importantly) what about the books to be uploaded on the tablets? Are the students using them? Minister Paulwell told us recently his ministry has distributed over 20,000 tablets to 38 schools, which all now have wi-fi installed. Fine. But how many students are reading the books? We are six months into the project now, so a half-time evaluation might be a good idea.
This week, Jamaica’s élite swanned around in Emancipation Park, robed in white. It was a special event called “Diner en Blanc” (things sound so much more classy when they are in French, don’t they?) Now the park remained open to the public, so the less well-heeled could watch the upper classes dining from the sidelines. To me, the affair smacked of classism and colonial-era snobbery. However, I was told that rich people can spend their money how they want to. Indeed, they can and they do. But it would have been nice if it had been a fund-raiser for a worthy cause, instead of in aid of the champagne and caviar producers. But I was also told that local firms, and the people who served the citizens in white benefited from the occasion; and that this event improved the “brand image” of Jamaica. How lovely.
In honor of this, and the subsequent conflagration, fellow blogger Durie Dee posted a fascinating chronology: #RivertonSmokeEnBlanc, a wonderful hashtag a Twitter friend created: http://www.thinkja.com/rivertonsmokeenblanc/ @MizDurie went back to 2004, concluding: “So, whaddaya say…next year again – same time, same place? See you then!” Ugh.
Remember the logistics hub? Our Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton made a big announcement this week at the Jamaica Investment Forum, where a lot of hot air circulated (no, the air conditioning was working perfectly). Minister Hylton said a mystery investor (which the Prime Minister let slip was an Austrian firm) was planning to put US$5 billion into the…yes, you’ve guessed it…logistics hub! A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed. The Minister hopes Jamaica will be transformed into the “logistics hub of the Americas.” Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made a feel-good welcome speech, concluding with a line from the much-overquoted Bob Marley quote:“Let’s get together and feel alright!”
410 Mexicans received permits to work on the refurbishing of the Jamaica Grande Hotel (to be renamed the Moon Palace) in Ocho Rios. So says the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union. The Ministry of Labor says only about half that number received permits as “specialist finishers.” The completion date for the hotel is now scheduled for next month. Jamaican workers have been extremely unhappy and downed tools. Contractor General Dirk Harrison says his office will review the issuance of work permits for foreigners.
The two “D”s: The Jamaica Labour Party saga has taken a back seat for a little while in light of other dramas. The main protagonists now are Delroy (Chuck) and Daryl (Vaz). Mr. Chuck is especially miffed at their leader Andrew Holness. I think I am tired.
A video has circulated of a Jamaican man who apparently resisted arrest for smoking a “spliff” and was allegedly shot dead by the police. The video, if authenticated, is disturbing on many levels. But hold on! The Amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act have not yet been signed into law, I understand, by the Governor General, nor regulations produced. Despite that, haven’t the police got the message that they are not really supposed to harass or arrest citizens for the possession of small quantities of ganja? As RJR reporter Dionne Jackson Miller mentioned in a recent commentary, there is an urgent need for a public education program on the ganja law. I am afraid there may be more cases of confusion and misunderstanding, otherwise. By the way, the police killed 16 Jamaican citizens in the first two months of 2015 – only two in February, which is considered remarkable. There were twelve non-fatal shooting incidents, according to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).
I have not posted a brief since February 27, so this list is longer than usual, obviously. The trail of grief and suffering left by the untimely deaths of Jamaican men, women (seven) and children (six aged 18 years and under) must go all round the island and back again. These are the names. Let us not forget.
Abigail Reid, 9, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston
Leonardo Morris, 15, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston
Bebeto Harris, 17, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston
Rosemarie Ballentine, 45, Hundred Lane/Red Hills Road, Kingston
Donna Daley, 44, Hundred Lane/Red Hills Road, Kingston
Jas Wellington, 30, Constant Spring Road, Kingston
Sanjay Crook, 36, Lorna Avenue, Meadowbrook, Kingston
André Ferrier, Farewell Drive, Kingston
“Duke,” Denham Town, Kingston
Hubert Richards, 42, Elm Crescent, Kingston
Shane Duncan, 29,Elm Crescent, Kingston
Dacianne Calder, 22, Cashew Ridge/Jacks Hill, St. Andrew
Garfield Coburn, 44, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew (killed by police)
Robert Pryce, 46, Fairview Housing Scheme/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Constable Colin Raynor, Hartlands, St. Catherine
Ainsley Campbell, 48, Central Village, St. Catherine
Natalee Gayle, 35, Kilsyth Primary and Infant School, Frankfield, Clarendon
Solomon Sill, 48, Bucknor, Clarendon
Devon Nelson, 18, Stewart Town, St. Mary
Valerina Whyte, 71, Cornwall Barracks, Portland
Nicole Luton, 37, Arcadia Bottom/Spring Mount, St. James
Saskia Mullings, 2, Arcadia Bottom/Spring Mount, St. James
Two unidentified men, Seven Rivers/Montpelier, St. James
Irving Williams, 47, Louden Doe District/Airy Castle, St. Thomas
Anika Rose, 20, Danvers Pen, St. Thomas
Kayalicia Simpson, 14, Newlands, St. Thomas
Wayne Walker, 47, Lancaster/Newport, Manchester
Two unidentified men, Chester Castle, Hanover
Unidentified man, Lances Bay, Hanover
Jermaine Dixon, 28, Ramble, Trelawny
Jermaine Redd, 29, Ramble, Trelawny