A Contract Ended, An Embarrassing Interview and A Presidential Visit: Wednesday, March 18, 2015


As I opened the door just now, the aroma of chemical-laden smoke wafted in. I quickly shut it again, and am now sealed in the house. Yes, as of this afternoon (and a week after it started) the fire at the Riverton City dump is still very much alight. I just posted the statement and recommendations from a very large grouping of private sector and civil society organizations following their press briefing yesterday.

The New Kingston business center in a polluted haze a few days ago. Downtown Kingston is still smothered in smoke today.  (Photo: Gleaner)
The New Kingston business center in a polluted haze a few days ago. Downtown Kingston is still smothered in smoke today. (Photo: Gleaner)

Well, this is what has happened since the weekend…

  • The board of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), the government agency responsible for solid waste disposal – and the dump – has just decided that it will not renew the contract of its CEO Jennifer Edwards, which expired last month. She had been asked to stay on until March 26, when she will now step down. See Do we laugh or cry? below.
  • Eight more schools closed in the areas nearest to the fire just today, after students and teachers suffered the effects of the pollution. All schools in the Portmore area remain closed; smoke levels remain very high downtown this evening – Seaview Gardens, Marcus Garvey Drive and other areas.
  • The crucial national GSAT examinations, scheduled for this week, will now be held on March 26-27;
  • The date for the Kingston City Run, which was postponed last weekend, has been set for Sunday, March 22. Will the air be clear enough by then?
  • The Ministry of Health did two air quality results and sent tests for volatile organic compounds to Canada. The results of the latter are due back today or tomorrow. Meanwhile Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Marion Bullock Ducasse has reassured us that there will be “no long term effects” from the fire. Really?
  • Government agencies have retreated into damage control/information management/denial mode. CEO of the Jamaica Customs Agency Major Richard Reese has denied reports that Kingston’s sea port was closed for three days. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), having roused itself, now tells us to continue staying indoors – but there is “steady progress” in the outing of the fire. No specifics.
  • The Jamaica Fire Brigade deserves a huge medal. The firefighters must be utterly exhausted.
  • We have learned that the NSWMA has failed to table audited financial statements and annual reports for the past ten years, extending back through the four-year administration of the Jamaica Labour Party. This is not a failure of the current political set-up; it’s a failure of successive administrations over the years.
  • We have also learned, via environmentalist Diana McCaulay, that the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA)’s report on the 2012 Riverton fire noted ambient air quality within 1km of the site “very high risk” and within 2km “high risk.” High levels of benzene (a carcinogen) were also found. And this time?
  • Sixty per cent of the dump is organic waste, Ms. McCaulay notes. She recommends identifying several sites in Kingston to take organic waste; to find a place to store waste tyres – all that is needed is a fence and a roof. No tyres at Riverton (and can’t they be recycled?); and finally to step up plastic recycling.
  • I recently met @cucumberjuice, a long-time Twitter friend and fellow-blogger, for the first time. Here is her take on it all: https://cucumberjuice.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/riverton-smoke-signals-a-distress-call/ As she points out, this disaster has affected close to half of the population of Jamaica. Portmore alone (which was severely affected) has a population of close to 300,000.
Jennifer Edwards will step down as head of the NSWMA on March 26.
Jennifer Edwards, who heads the People’s National Party Women’s Movement, will step down as head of the NSWMA on March 26, 2015. (Photo: Gleaner)
  • The Gleaner believed both the CEO and the Chairman of the NSWMA (Ms. Edwards and Mr. Steve Ashley) should step down. So did the civil society/private sector group. What did the Prime Minister of Jamaica think? See below (“Do we laugh or cry?”). What did the Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew think? She has been busy, touring a ganja farm in the United States. What did the Minister of Local Government, responsible for the NSWMA think? Ironically, he has been attending the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. It ends today, so we might see or hear from him by the weekend. Perhaps?
A view from the hills of Riverton City, March 2014. And see my blog posts on the subject.
A view from the hills of Riverton City, March 2014. And see my past blog posts on the subject.

Do we laugh or cry?  Interviewed on CVM Television last night, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made our collective jaws drop (yet again). She seems more comfortable nowadays talking to our intrepid television reporters, who wait for her outside Parliament; she used to back away on seeing a TV camera. She told the reporter,  – leaning confidently on her open car door – she saw no reason for Ms. Edwards to be fired. Now, if Ms. Edwards had set the fire herself, if she was there at the time…“She would be gone!” declared our PM, with certainty. She repeatedly observed, “This is not the first time” (which we are well aware of) and no one was fired on previous occasions. So why now, she asks? Indeed. Why break the tradition of unaccountability?

One of the many great photos of the 44th U.S. President.
One of the many great photos of the 44th U.S. President. What’s not to love?

The OTHER big news: The Prime Minister announced in Parliament yesterday that President Barack Obama will be visiting Jamaica on April 9, en route to the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Panama. The President will meet with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in Kingston (a meeting headed by current CARICOM Chairman Perry Christie of the Bahamas), and apparently will also host a Town Hall Meeting with Jamaican youth, which is a really great idea. It is only the second time since Independence that a U.S. president has visited Jamaica; do you know who the first visiting President was?

Audley Shaw, Opposition Finance Spokesman, railed against "rapacious" commercial banks and urged the Government to hurry up with developments such as the logistics hub. He also suggested the organized export of Jamaican labor overseas - not really a new idea. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Audley Shaw, Opposition Finance Spokesman, railed against “rapacious” commercial banks and urged the Government to hurry up with developments such as the logistics hub. He also suggested the organized export of Jamaican labor overseas – not really a new idea. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Budget debate and Opposition response: Meanwhile, Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw worked himself up in a froth of emotion in Parliament in his response on the budget debate. It seemed to be more politicking than new ideas. Meanwhile, when the aforementioned TV reporter asked our Prime Minister how she responded to Mr. Shaw’s anger over increased taxes, she promptly told the reporter to ask the Finance Minister; she could not answer. Why not?

A worrying report: A continual worry is the way in which our mentally ill citizens are treated. The Bellevue Hospital in downtown Kingston struggles along with few resources. The staff do the best they can but are unbelievably overstretched – with a staggering ratio of one staff member to up to fifty patients! “Unfortunately we have an uncaring society,” says one Bellevue worker. “Most of the patients have been abandoned by their families.” So it has almost become a homeless shelter.

A pair of shoes seized among many, many others in a raid on a wholesale store in Orange Street, Kingston this week - conducted by theCounter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
A pair of shoes seized among many, many others in a raid on a wholesale store in Orange Street, Kingston this week – conducted by the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

On a lighter note… There is such a thing as triple-name-brand footwear: There was a major raid downtown a few days ago, in which huge quantities of fake brand-name shoes were seized. Two Chinese nationals were arrested. Of course, this is a serious organized crime issue – but when the policeman said that some shoes had three name brands, I laughed out loud!

Many kudos to…

The Jamaica Youth Theatre performed at the Anti-Corruption Summit at the University of Technology on Monday evening. (My photo)
The Jamaica Youth Theatre performed at the National Integrity Action (NIA) Anti-Corruption Summit at the University of Technology on Monday evening. (My photo)
  • National Integrity Action (NIA, which inducted 54 new members last weekend – and I am one!) and the University of Technology for an excellent Anti-Corruption Summit on Monday evening. Well attended by a largely young audience, and most inspiring. Chair of Transparency International (TI) José Ugaz was guest speaker, and the interesting and balanced panel moderated by Cliff Hughes. The discussion was lively and productive. I wrote about it in my weekly Gleaner post here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2564 Enormous thanks to for the funding support of USAID and DIFID. Congratulations also to NIA, which is now the official Jamaican chapter of TI. I am very proud to be involved in this effort.

hGOcu8aA_400x400

  • Ms. Davianne Tucker, who was elected the new President of the Guild of Students at the University of the West Indies Mona campus today! This is an important leadership position, sometimes leading to a career in politics. With women being in the majority on campus, and the ongoing concern about gender-based violence there, it is heartening to see a bright young woman like Davianne at the top. Since 1951, there have only been seven female presidents out of a total of 64. Lavern King and Shanice Allen were elected vice presidents and Shanique Austin, treasurer, very much a female-dominated executive. Also many congrats to my young tweep @Germaine_Bryan, the 2015-2016 Commuting Students Representative – who also campaigned energetically for the position on social media, as you can see from these flyers.
Senator Imani Duncan made a passionate speech (also without referring to any notes) on progress made in legislative efforts for women at the recent International Women's Day celebrations. (My photo)
New Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum Senator Imani Duncan made a passionate speech (without referring to any notes) on progress made in legislative efforts for women at the recent International Women’s Day celebrations. (My photo)
  • Congratulations also to the energetic, forward-looking Senator Imani Duncan-Price, who is the only representative for the Caribbean in the latest group of 187 Young Global Leaders selected by the World Economic Forum. This is marvelous stuff!
  • In the past I have blogged about the great community efforts in Jacques Road in Kingston, supported by the Canadian High Commission. I visited there with then CUSO volunteer Kate Chappell, and was impressed by the team effort on the ground. Now solar photo voltaic panels have been commissioned to power the new community computer centre there. Congratulations to all involved in the great efforts to uplift, educate and empower the residents. I hope they will take great care of the new facility and believe it will benefit them enormously.
The installation of solar PV panels on the roof of the Jacques Road Computer Centre. On the right is Julian Robinson, the Member of Parliament for the area. (Photo: Twitter)
The installation of solar PV panels on the roof of the Jacques Road Computer Centre. On the right is Julian Robinson, the Member of Parliament for the area. (Photo: Twitter)

GAY10Q_z

Once again, just in the past three days, several young people have been murdered – young Jamaicans under the age of eighteen, that is. At least two of the four “men” killed while standing on the street in Newhaven/Duhaney Park in Kingston last night turned out to be teenagers. In rural Clarendon, a young mother stabbed her baby to death after losing custody of the little boy, her only child, to her husband. And in troubled August Town, a 14-year-old student of Kingston High School, was shot dead by the police, allegedly during a shootout with gunmen. The grief of Joel’s father on television last night was almost unbearable. My deepest sympathies to all the families and loved ones who mourn. And by the way – this list is far too long. It covers just THREE days.

Cleveland Gayle, 18, Newhaven/Duhaney Park, Kingston

Kyle Poyser, 16, Newhaven/Duhaney Park, Kingston

Two unidentified men, Newhaven/Duhaney Park, Kingston

Gawayne Lincoln, Denham Town, Kingston

Joel Lovelace, 14, Bedward Gardens/August Town, St. Andrew (killed by police)

Jay Nelson, 18 months, Lesterfield, Clarendon

Damain Johnson, 24, Bull Bay, St. Thomas

Rayon Chambers, Norwood, St. James

Trevor Clarke, 27, Tucker, St. James

Denlyn Dunkley, 36, Appleton Estate, Siloah, St. Elizabeth

Josephine Cope, 49, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland

Bertram Lewis, 38, White River, St. Ann

Anthony Wallace, 24, Buff Bay, Portland

Robert Fyffe, 59, Zion Hill, Portland (American citizen)

Donovan Davis, Content District, Manchester

The father of Joel Lovelace, 14, who was shot dead during a police shootout in Bedward Gardens, August Town, grieves for his son. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
The father of Joel Lovelace, 14, who was shot dead during a police shootout in Bedward Gardens, August Town, grieves for his son, who was doing his homework in his house when he was shot apparently by a stray police bullet. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Our environmental rights!
Our environmental rights!

 


14 thoughts on “A Contract Ended, An Embarrassing Interview and A Presidential Visit: Wednesday, March 18, 2015

  1. Congratulations to Mrs. Duncan Price. Hopefully she will think twice before organizing the dinerenblanc in the public park in Jamaica offending thousands of people especially the poor of Jamaica. This event was extremely disturbing.

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    1. I absolutely agree with you – I still feel very uncomfortable about that episode. The justification was that it created employment (for some waiters, etc) and generated business for the suppliers of champagne and caviar. I am still not convinced. 🙂

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      1. That is implying that we should create employment be any means necessary. I can think of a lot of morally wrong ways I could create employment for the Jamaican people- however I would not do so. I think the organizers were in such a bubble they never really considered the social implications of their actions. Hopefully they will reflect. So ironic that this function goes against the grain of socialism. If possible always think about our fellow man. I wonder how many of the “haves not” left the public park that they came to have some refuge in a state of depression and possible anger.

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  2. Does any have the link to PM Simpson-Miller’s brief interview with CVM regarding the fire? I cant find it anywhere…thanks.

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  3. I had forgotten how great (and insightful) your commentaries are. Good job in covering the highlights of the nation’s happenings. It appears to me Riverton need to be closed and an actual landfill created. The response of the nations leaders has been rather abysmal.

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    1. Oh, how kind of you Marc! I really appreciate your comments. It seems that Riverton should be closed and yes, it needs to be turned into a real landfill. As Diana McCaulay suggested, tires should also be stored at a different location separately, and so should plastics (both of these can be recycled of course). Yes, the response is very poor, indeed. What perplexes me most of all is the continued absence of Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott, who has been reportedly overseas since the fire began. Surely he must be back by the weekend? Why didn’t he cut short his trip?

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    1. No problem at all. I try my best – don’t catch everything but I think I try to capture the important things. I must admit I skip over some of the political sniping and arguing! So I am selective but glad you find it helpful anyway!

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  4. Reblogged this on Jamaican Journal and commented:
    My blogger friend Emma today posts a comprehensive summary of the Riverton fire, as well as other political happenings. I also get a shout out in today’s blog- the community of Jacques Road is installing a solar panel system to power its computer lab. This is the lab that was refurbished just over a year-and-a-half ago thanks to the help of the Canadian Navy, the Canadian High Commissioner Robert Ready and Cuso volunteers. Congratulations to all involved!

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    1. Thanks so much for the reblog, Kate! Yes, amongst all the bad news it cheered me up to see a tweet from High Commissioner Ready about the solar power system in Jacques Road. This was a really great team and community effort, including MP Robinson (who is also our MP!)

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