I think Jamaicans will be glad to reach the Easter holiday; some will enjoy the Carnival festivities, others the traditional Easter bun and cheese. But we Kingstonians need a break. We have had enough of this month, which has been wretched. And the rain refuses to fall; our lawn is thickly strewn with dry leaves.
Riverton “updates”: I put that word in quotation marks because there has been a notable paucity of bulletins and updates from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) – all now back from their long overseas trip, one presumes. CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Agency Jennifer Edwards, who is set to step down next week after being elbowed out by her board, is still wringing her hands over a lack of resources – a constant complaint from her. “We need 274 trucks, each doing two trips per day, to collect the garbage that is generated in Jamaica every day. We have 55 broken down old ones,” she complains. But how about this: According to an audit on the NSWMA the media got its hands on last week, very large amounts were paid out for “meals” for those helping put out the annual fire in March 2014. And no receipts for said meals provided. The audit report was damning, showing extreme negligence in book-keeping and proper procedures (including the splitting of contract awards into several smaller contracts, to circumvent procurement rules). What say you, Ms. Edwards (and the board?) An unknown number of unknown people were benefiting from the fires. It was “eat a food” time again, but this year it got out of hand.
Where are the test results? Air quality samples were sent to Canada, and were due back last Thursday – three days ago. Where are they?
The reappearance of our Local Government Minister: Yes, the man with overall responsibility for the dump – the Minister “in charge” – Noel Arscott made an appearance on TV the other night. It was quite disturbing; he was wearing a huge gas mask that made him look a little like Darth Vader. As a result, when a reporter asked him a question you could barely hear the response; I half-expected to hear that hollow, deep breathing. Well, no fear of the man responsible inhaling any carcinogens, anyway. As for us…
Oh. When interviewed earlier, the Minister informed us that Japan is “far away.” Yes, he was far away for almost all the nearly two-week long crisis.
I don’t care about “management styles”: While the fires were still burning, media houses immediately started to focus on alleged personality clashes, who supports who etc. within the NSWMA. At that point I didn’t care. The main point was to get the fire O.U.T. Kudos to Deika Morrison, who campaigned on Twitter and spoke on radio several times about the incredible (and as yet unknown) dangers of the pollution (more than mere “smoke”) which affected the quality of our air, and no doubt water and soil, too.
Should the dump be privatized? The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) led by Christopher Tufton thinks this might be the answer, and I think it’s well worth considering.
Opposition MP Daryl Vaz went to Parliament on Thursday wearing a dust mask on top of his head.
There were fifteen murders in three days, this week. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around this. What has happened to the long-awaited DNA legislation, I wonder?
The U.S. State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) just came out. It notes: “Jamaica is emerging as a transit point for cocaine leaving Central America and destined for the United States, and some drug trafficking organizations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine.” I didn’t know that. Read more here: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2014/vol1/222912.htm
All talk and no action: I have written about the great work the United Nations Environment Programme – Caribbean Environment Program is doing in Jamaica in previous blog posts. Now – rather unusually I think – one member of the team, Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, had some pretty strong words for our political leaders, who stand up and talk about their commitment to the environment but do nothing. On the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) programme that she administers in the Caribbean, Ms. Vanzella-Khouri added: “I have sat in several conferences regionally and internationally and unfortunately Jamaica is one of those countries used as an example of what not to do, especially when it comes to reef fisheries. The reefs have been over fished and this is known all over.” Jamaica signed the SPAW Protocol in 1990 but has not ratified it. Why, I asked in my blog post in February 2013; and I ask again. There are benefits to be had. Meanwhile (see previous post on the Portland Bight Protected Area) our coral reefs are struggling, without any help.
It’s World Water Day, and sadly the National Water Commission (NWC) is often nominated for the (very competitive) spot of the Most Inefficient Government Agency in Jamaica. The NSWMA may well have pushed it off that top spot, at least for now. The NWC struggles with huge debts, aging equipment and pipes, and of course climate change, amongst a myriad of problems. But they are doing their best to rectify things for the citizens of Washington Gardens and Cooreville Gardens in Kingston, who have not only been helping bear the brunt of the toxic fumes but have also had no water running in their pipes. Life in the tropics is hard.
The Moon Palace in Ocho Rios still seems to be in need of skilled workers. Jamaicans with the required skills should hurry up and apply – they have a deadline to meet. Otherwise, they might import more Mexican workers – something which has caused some upset. But the workers must have the right skills! That’s the point, too.
Huge bouquets and thanks to:
- The amazing team of scientists involved in bringing back the Jamaican Iguana from “extinction” (it was actually considered extinct). This is an incredible success story. To date 278 iguanas have been returned to the wild in Hellshire Hills (in the Portland Bight Protected Area). Keep up the brilliant work!
- The Government of Japan, which donated six new ambulances to the Health Ministry through its Grass Roots Human Security Project. The health sector needs all the help it can get, so this is hugely appreciated. (Health Minister Fenton Ferguson may not be very high on the average Jamaican’s popularity list, but the Pan American Health Organization gave Jamaica a thumbs up for “huge strides” in tackling non-communicable diseases, the cause of 70 per cent of deaths). Also many thanks to the Japanese Embassy for their grant to Jamaica AIDS Support for Life to expand their services.
- Chinese Jamaican photographer Ray Chen, who is celebrating fifty years in photography. Amazing! His beautiful coffee table books have been a “must-have” – especially for visitors. We always loved giving them as gifts as they truly reflect the beauty of the land and the people. Congrats, Mr. Chen!
- The awesome Erin MacLeod, lecturer at the Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies, on the launch of her book “Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land.” I am really sorry I missed the launch, but am happy to report that Erin will be doing a reading from the book at Bookophilia in Kingston on April 8 at 6:00 p.m. Do go along and listen in.
- Ms. Maia Chung, who will take over at the helm of the new Mello Television, a new free-to-air station in Montego Bay (there is already a Mello FM radio station). Maia also has her own Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation, and was a stalwart on CVM Television for some years. She’s a bright spark! Congrats, Maia!
The first quarter of the year has seen an alarming increase in murders; last year, as we recall, there was a sixteen per cent decline on 2013. Opposition National Security Minister Derrick Smith has expressed concern that 42 more Jamaicans have been murdered up to March 20 than the same period in 2014 (from 206 to 248), an increase of nearly fourteen per cent. As you may have noticed from my weekly calibrations, these murders are taking place right across the island and are not restricted to one or two urban areas. What is happening, exactly? I am glad the Security Minister visited August Town, where the teenage boy was shot dead by the police; and that the Commissioner of Police, during a visit to Richmond Hill where a little girl and three adults were murdered, condemned the sexual exploitation and killing of children and promised to do something about it. I hope he can.
Two policeman charged: In connection with the shooting death of Garfield Coburn in Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew – one has been charged with murder, and a second with giving a false statement to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). The shooting was captured on video and aired on television news. Compared to years gone by, this is remarkably speedy. INDECOM has made a difference. Thank you.
Meanwhile, my deepest sympathies to the families of the following:
Unidentified man, Tavern, St. Andrew (killed by police)
Damion Gray, 36, Central Village, St. Catherine (killed by police)
Junior Scott, 26, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James
Lois Lorraine Watson, 28, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James
Shaya Riana Prince, 8, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James
Kemali Walker, 22, Bickersteth/Richmond Hill, St. James
Tarrick Bucknor, 30, Montego Bay, St. James
Lincoln Barrett, 44, Duanvale, Trelawny
Unidentified man, Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester