The Lawyers Are Busy, The Fire Smolders and a Speech is Interrupted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

Well, what a week it’s been. Blustery weather (figuratively and literally) and our dry stretch continues. And the smoke, you may ask? Smoke? Well, since you asked…

The more things change...A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke. When was this taken? Oh, back in February, 2012. (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)
The more things change…A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke. When was this taken? Oh, back in February, 2012. The headline then: “Riverton Nightmare.”  (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

Rumor has it that the fire at the Riverton Dump is finally out, fifteen carcinogenic days later. It is apparently “smoldering” and some businesses downtown reported smoke nuisance this morning.The air quality test results finally came back, and the anxiety, alarm, and questions began. The report showed record-breaking levels of benzene, from the fire. Plus about twenty other chemicals. Health officials then went on to say benzene is always present in our air to some extent, from traffic fumes. But why, may I ask, did a senior health official tell us there would be “no long-term effects” from the fire (before we even got the result of the air quality tests from Canada?)

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Trying to obtain information from any of the government agencies involved has been like getting blood out of a stone. This week, updates and bulletins on the fire have been almost non-existent – from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) for example, which clearly does not believe that  social media might be useful for this purpose. The last tweet from them was two days ago. Another communication “fail.” After some persuasion, the Health Ministry had the air quality report posted here: http://jis.gov.jm/riverton-city-disposal-site-air-quality-report/it’s a lot of numbers that need analysis and interpretation. The opacity of the Government’s response reminds me of another major health issue that happened a few months back now – chik v. And yes, I know people still suffering pains.

Perhaps, as with the very successful MAJ/Health Ministry Public Forum on Chik v, one on air quality in Kingston might help? As I said, there are still many questions. This would be appreciated by the Jamaican public, I believe.

Fiona Richards of Buff Bay High prepares to launch the shot put during the girls' Class Two final at the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls' Athletic Champio ships at the National Stadium yesterday. Ricrahds won with a throw of 15.21 meters. Another great photo by the Gleaner's Ricardo Makyn.
Fiona Richards of Buff Bay High prepares to launch the shot put during the girls’ Class Two final at the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls’ Athletic Champio ships at the National Stadium yesterday. Ricrahds won with a throw of 15.21 meters. Another great photo by the Gleaner’s Ricardo Makyn.

But the planned (and postponed) GSAT examinations went ahead today, and the Education Ministry says it all went fine apart from “residual smoke.” The Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships also started yesterday at the National Stadium, with Jamaica College currently leading for the boys and Edwin Allen for the girls. 

Trying to obtain information from any of the government agencies involved has been like getting blood out of a stone. This week, updates and bulletins on the fire have been almost non-existent – from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) for example, which clearly does not believe that  social media might be useful for this purpose. Eventually, the air quality report was put up on the website here: http://jis.gov.jm/riverton-city-disposal-site-air-quality-report/but it’s a lot of numbers that need analysis and interpretation. The opacity of the Government’s response reminds me of another major health issue that happened a few months back now – chik v. By the way, I know people who are still suffering pains from the side effects.

Meanwhile, the (much smaller) dump in Montego Bay was also set ablaze. Twice. I am not sure whether the media has really investigated the situation there. Suffice it to say that this was not the first time, either. The Jamaica Environment Trust has posted a lot of past reports on Riverton, air quality etc here, for those who want to delve deeper into all of this: http://www.jamentrust.org/advocacy-a-law/campaigns/riverton-city-dump.html

How about something like this - a hazardous waste drop-off center? (I hear terrible stories about syringes etc. on the dump).
How about something like this – a hazardous waste drop-off center? (I hear terrible stories about syringes etc. on the dump).

Hazardous waste: The issue of e-waste (computers and all kinds of other technology that may contain harmful substances) remains a difficult question – asked by a participant at the recent Green Economy Conference. No one seemed able to address it then, which surprised me. Jamaica has no legislation on storing and treating hazardous waste. There does at least seem to have been a project to process and treat used lead batteries and the Government seems to think people could start a business that way. Meanwhile the University of the West Indies is working on storing and eventually destroying e-waste. We shall see. There is so much talk. If I hear the phrase “waste to energy” one more time I will scream. Don’t talk, let’s get it done, Minister Paulwell! Thank you.

Jennifer Edwards' contract expired today, but she is taking legal action against the Board, it appears.
Jennifer Edwards’ contract expired today, but she is taking legal action against the Board, it appears.

The dump is political (in many senses of the word): Now, the CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) Jennifer Edwards was effectively dismissed when the Board decided not to renew her contract, which ends today. However, bear in mind: As head of the People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement Ms. Edwards has strong support in the party (including, I believe, from the Minister of Local Government and the Prime Minister herself). She may not go without a fight – in fact today she sought a court injunction to block the Board’s action, which her lawyers called “arbitrary, oppressive, unlawful and unreasonable.” The aggrieved Ms. Edwards says she did not know what the “allegations” were against her. The judge refused the injunction but said they could serve documents on the Board and return to court on April 2.

Citizens protested outside the offices of the NSWMA this week. However, another group of supporters of Ms. Edwards also demonstrated and got plenty of air time on local television.
Citizens protested outside the offices of the NSWMA this week. However, another group of supporters of Ms. Edwards also demonstrated and got plenty of air time on local television.

Oh, and don’t forget: The Ministry of Health is suing senior officials of the Local Government Ministry over the fire, and Minister Arscott (he who wore the monstrous gas mask at the dump the other day, while others wore flimsy dust masks) is not amused by this. That court date will be set in the next week or two.

Former Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck, MP resigned immediately after the court ruling. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Former Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck, MP resigned immediately after the Court of Appeal’s ruling. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

And talking of court cases: The inevitable happened yesterday. The Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court’s decision on Andrew Holness’ messing around with Senate appointments. This means that, as the Supreme Court stated pretty clearly in the first place, Senators Arthur Williams and Christopher Tufton always were, and will remain Senators. For those who like the legal stuff, the Appeals Court ruling is here: http://www.courtofappeal.gov.jm/content/holness-andrew-v-williams-arthur Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck resigned from his position immediately after the ruling; he had suggested he would if the appeal was denied.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was thoroughly embarrassed by the Appeal Court's ruling.
I think Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was thoroughly embarrassed by the Appeal Court’s ruling. He jumped into a car to avoid journalists outside the court.

I cannot understand why the Opposition Leader a) did that secretive undated signed letters thing (and why did the senators agree?) b) took legal action and c) appealed the court’s decision, which seemed as clear as daylight to me. It was a series of incredibly bad decisions that make him look like a most unsuitable leader. I still believe Mr. Holness should step down. Most disappointing, as he did set himself up to be “new and different” in the way he went about things, and he occasionally showed promising signs. One had hopes. But he has shown himself to be immature and clearly had incredibly bad (legal?) advice – or was it also mixed with political advice? Was he advised this was a smart move?

The Jamaica Labour Party’s former leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga told the media today that Holness should “not give up this fight” and should take his appeal to the UK Privy Council; he then added “But I’m not a lawyer.”  I understand however the Privy Council is not an option under the Constitution. I feel the Attorney General must be right in his view that “the matter is, in fact, settled.” But then, I’m not a lawyer, either.

Seems to me only the lawyers are benefiting from all of the above; good business for them, and our media houses have  lawyers all lined up to offer their views, ad nauseam. I’ve never known a place to be so fascinated with lawyers and their opinions. How are any of these legal shenanigans helping the progress of Jamaica, and Jamaican citizens? Maybe I am missing something. In that case, please tell me. Is this what governance is all about in 2015? It’s all nonsense, and egos, and distractions. What about the people’s business?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her meeting, which turned out not to be a "town hall" - no questions. (Photo: Twitter)
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her meeting, which turned out not to be a “town hall” – no questions. (Photo: Twitter)

A speech, interrupted: Our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is in New York. She made a nice speech for the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, when the rather beautiful memorial “Ark of Return” was unveiled. This evening she spoke to a group of Jamaicans in a church in Lower Manhattan. A group of LGBT activists interrupted her speech, reportedly shouting “Gay lives matter” and accusing her of breaking her “promise” to the LGBT community to do something about the archaic law against buggery. I am afraid they expected far too much from Ms. Simpson Miller in the first place. The ground is littered with broken promises of all kinds, sadly. I understand the audience was sparse in Lower Manhattan, and no questions were taken.

I nearly forgot: Before she left for the Big Apple, the PM made a speech to close the Budget Debate in Parliament. On the oppression, trafficking, abuse and murder of our women and girls, she said: “We must speak with one voice: It is wrong! It must stop!” Yes, ma’am. It must stop. I agree with you. What is your government going to do about it? Any ideas? Remember, you are in charge. Here is the full speech: http://jis.gov.jm/prime-minister-hon-portia-simpson-miller-20152016-budget-presentation/

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller speaking at the unveiling of the Ark of Memory memorial at the United Nations in New York yesterday.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller speaking at the unveiling of the Ark of Return memorial at the United Nations in New York yesterday.

Oh, by the way, tourism to Cuba increased by nearly 250% this month. But we’re not worried, are we?

Bubbling under… Public sector wage talks have started with the Government after years of wage restraint, and I foresee some snags – as I have noted before. It seems highly unlikely the Government will grant anything near what the likes of our teachers will be demanding. This is going to be a tricky one.

“I don’t watch the news…” About a year ago, our Prime Minister disclosed to a journalist that she gets local news from her husband because she doesn’t watch it herself. More recently, a former Attorney General said she didn’t watch local news either (at the Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre). So I laughed out loud when a Barbadian friend on Twitter shared this quote from their own Prime Minister, Freundel Stewart. Do our politicians really expect us to take them seriously? What if President Obama made a comment like that?

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The residents of West Kingston are not happy. And I don’t blame them. They are going to lose the awesome SSP Steve McGregor (who is always put in charge of the toughest police divisions, and is now being sent to St. James). He has been doing great work in the often crime-ridden community, with regular meetings with residents. He has also settled a lot of problems in the transportation sector there, which was targeted by extortionists. Big ups to him!

What is happening in small rural towns like Steer Town/St. Ann, Annotto Bay/St. Mary, Linstead/St. Catherine? They are struggling with endemic crime, and have been doing so for quite a long time. Our small towns are underdeveloped and lacking in opportunities for young people – and mostly ignored by their political representatives who are busy in Kingston.

There have been a number of murders since I last posted on Sunday. My deepest sympathies to all those who are mourning these Jamaicans who died:

Akeem Stewart, 22, Cheshire Village/Elletson Flats, Kingston (Killed by police)

Ransford Lewis, 38, Collie Smith Drive, Kingston

Jovan Wallace, 20, Hall’s Delight, St. Andrew

Wadeworth Briscoe, 23, March Pen Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Esperanzo Hines, 38, Nugent/Adelaide Street, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Gary McGregor, 46, Porto Bello Meadows, St. Catherine

Unidentified woman, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Marlett Briscoe, 29, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Pantry Pond/Bunkers Hill, Trelawny (mob killing)

Unidentified woman, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas

Akeem Stewart, a student of Excelsior Community College, was killed by the police, sparking an angry protest and road block near the University of the West Indies campus on Monday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Akeem Stewart, a student of Excelsior Community College, was killed by the police, sparking an angry protest and road block near the University of the West Indies campus on Monday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

 


2 thoughts on “The Lawyers Are Busy, The Fire Smolders and a Speech is Interrupted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

  1. Good morning Emma!

    I appreciate your highlight of an effective police chief . . . I hadn’t realized the PM was in town . . . If I may, all murders are “tragic.”

    Rachel Frankel via iPad

    Like

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