A high pressure ridge is over Jamaica, which means considerable heat, no rain and a wind that offers no respite. I am almost hugging the fan right now (and no, air conditioning is not an option for us, although I would like to explore the possibility of solar a/c). We have a thick haze over Kingston, caused by air pollution, dust “subsiding” onto the city, and the Sahara desert blowing all the way across to us. Can’t breathe!
Child abuse and murder: If I hear one more Jamaican cry, “We must protect our children!” … Yes, of course we must. There is still much wringing of hands over the killing of a twelve-year-old girl, and the murder of a young man and his fifteen-year-old lover. As has been the common pattern in all these recent cases, the community apparently knew the nature of the sexual relationships between young girls and older men, although some individuals might say they were unaware. Ultimately – and initially – the community, the family must take responsibility. And simply say: “Nuh guh deh!”
Which reminds me: Please join the exciting and talented Nomaddz along with Mikey Abrahams, Randy McLaren and Sankofa for the launch of Eve for Life’s “Nuh Guh Deh” song and music video – from 6 to 8 pm this Saturday, May 2 at Emancipation Park. We are incredibly grateful for the support of UNICEF Jamaica and the UN team. Eve for Life works day (and often nights) in support of our vulnerable young women and girls.
I’ll take the whole council with me: The embattled former mayor of Lucea Shernett Haughton’s defiant words gave me a shiver of discomfort and also realization. “If I am to resign [as councilor] the entire council is to resign,” said Ms. Haughton. She noted she kept an “official diary” and if she was to go back through it… So we know what the inference is here, and it’s not altogether comforting, is it? What is going on in these parish councils? Where is the oversight? Meanwhile the People’s National Party (PNP) has not made any decision on Ms. Haughton’s fate. Party Secretary Paul Burke (who seems to talk in riddles) pointed to “real issues and challenges,” and there is the matter of “natural justice” – whatever this means. Mr. Burke added that the new Mayor believes Ms. Haughton’s declaration is “fluff and bluff.” Is the PNP ready to call her bluff, I wonder?
One organization that has consistently campaigned for transparency, accountability and good governance (as well as access to information, children’s rights and police abuses) is the human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ). I posted their press release here yesterday. In the face of enormous pressure from the Portia Simpson Miller administration JFJ has reportedly had to downsize, with their office only open two days a week and has been told it must pay huge tax arrears. Under fairly recent legislation (the Charities Act) non-governmental organizations have had to re-apply for charity status. It has been a tedious process for many.
JFJ’s application was refused because it wants laws changed to protect the rights of the people. Does this pose some kind of threat to our political leaders? As I have noted in previous posts, government ministers are regularly heard muttering that they “don’t know where the funding of civil society groups comes from.” Do we know where the funding comes from for their political parties? As we say in social media: #justasking Why the suspicion? We need groups like JFJ more than ever; they are the watchdogs in our still-young democracy. Suppress them and you suppress the people. As the Gleaner’s editorial notes today, “It is poor Jamaicans who are the primary beneficiaries of JFJ.”
A “sweet story” (our local headline writers will probably write something like this)… Our Double Minister (Derrick Kellier is part Agriculture, part Labour Minister) plans to impose a cess (a tax) on imported refined sugar, with the aim of “catching dishonest persons,” according to Chair of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers’s Association Alan Rickards. But really – is this the way to deal with the problem, if indeed it is a problem?
Some manufacturers who import refined sugar allegedly sell it retail and do not use it in food processing. Jamaica Customs says millions of dollars in revenue are lost this way. Manufacturers are up in arms: “Our stance is that you should not tear down one sector to build another,” they say. So, what gives? I do know we probably need to consume less sugar – speaking for myself (I have a terrible sweet tooth). I would love to have details of how this tax would be used.
Another Negril story: Why is the environment of the beautiful (and once cool and laid-back) resort town of Negril under seemingly constant threat? First the breakwater issue (it is to go ahead, despite protests). Now, the Jamaica Institute of Architects and Jamaica Environment Trust are condemning a plan to triple the size of the Grand Lido Hotel. Why? Because it will add another floor to the building, going from 216 rooms to 600. Negril hotels have always been low-rise and this appears to be in breach of the 1984 Negril Development Order – which has now been amended. Also, what about the demand for sewage treatment and that scarce commodity, water? Negril is already way over-developed and has largely lost the charming character it had in the early 1980s when we first visited there. I understand the (banned?) jet skis have been spotted, and horses are back on the beach, also? What a mess.
A Canadian friend of mine has the last word on Grand Lido (they spent hours snorkeling and taking underwater photographs when they stayed there last year): “I really enjoyed the Grand Lido as is; so I am quite disappointed that it will be replaced with a mega resort. The size of the Grand Lido was the first thing that attracted me, the beach never felt crowded…Also building a large resort will only be detrimental to the already tenuous environment in Negril. With more people on the beach in Bloody Bay, the damage to the ecosystem (which is already experiencing a high rate of erosion) will only degrade further and quicker. My husband and I will not return to the Grand Lido if its size or design is changed at all. We will also not be recommending it to any of our Canadian friends.” While the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) is refusing to comment (as usual), a great deal of detail has emerged on plans for the hotel, which the architects claim has already been approved.
Running for cover: Mid-afternoon, mid-week downtown, and commuters and shoppers ran for their lives after gunfire broke out at North Parade. A student and a vendor were injured, and two lay dead at the end of it all (one of the men shot dead by the police). Are we just going to treat this kind of incident as normal? Because it sure isn’t the first time.
Remember the Riverton fire? Surely you do…The Office of the Public Defender is frustrated with attorneys for the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) – why does a government agency need an attorney? – who have not handed over any documents related to the environmental disaster. The Public Defender is giving them another week, following which hearings will begin, and is meanwhile pursuing enquiries with NEPA.
I am behind with handing out bouquets. Here are a few (many more are overdue):
- Christine Staple-Ebanks, who through her Nathan Ebanks Foundation tirelessly advocates for the empowerment of children with disabilities, offering training workshops for teachers, community members and parents. Almost a “one-woman band” with the support of family, she is an example of true dedication to the cause. I can’t see her giving up any time soon, and I wrote about here in my latest Gleaner blog: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2653
- Sandals Foundation, which continues its environmental focus and is partnering with CARIBSAVE, Coral Restoration Foundation, Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on a coral reef protection program. This will include training for fisherfolk and other stakeholders and the creation of coral nurseries.
- Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) recently unveiled its new wetlands and wildlife interpretation centre (not quite complete yet) in Salt River, Clarendon. C-CAM does amazing work in the Portland Bight Protected Area (which includes Goat Islands and is the largest protected area in Jamaica). The new Centre will be a great environmental education resource for schools, providing sustainable jobs in the area, with mangrove boardwalks, a bird observation hut, a classroom and library, etc. The Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund is providing a large chunk of the funding, along with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Sugar Transformation Unit, the Alcoa Foundation and Seacology through CIBC FirstCaribbean. The Custos of Clarendon and Food for the Poor are providing in-kind support. Kudos to all!
- WMW Jamaica had a full house and an exciting, inspirational launch of their PowHERhouse campaign for young women, which I have written about before and had the pleasure of participating in. I will write more!
- Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) held its third annual Living Legacy Awards last week. CCRP is doing wonderful work for senior citizens in Jamaica, offering benefits, assistance, advice and above all friendship and togetherness. It was a warm, happy occasion, and I had the huge pleasure of meeting veteran singer Ernie Smith and his wife Janet. I think they live overseas now, but we have lovely memories of listening to Ernie singing under the mahogany tree at Devon House on Friday evening Happy Hours, while we sipped those dangerously strong cocktails (Devon Duppies and the like!) I will be writing more about this.
While so many good things are happening across the island, with many Jamaicans working together to make the island a better place, there is a dark and destructive force out there, too. So many Jamaicans are mourning the violent deaths of their loved ones; there has been a 12 per cent increase in murders so far this year. My deepest condolences to all.
Gian Brown, West Street/North Parade, Kingston
Kirk Johnson, West Street/North Parade, Kingston (killed by police)
Khadian Webb, 26, Wint Road, Kingston 11
Unidentified man, Eleven Miles/Bull Bay, St. Andrew
Kishawn Miller, 33, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Lucien Simpson, 35, Devonshire Pen, St. Catherine
“Kavin,” Shelter Rock/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Ackeen Glanville, 19, Port Henderson Road/Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Gregory Park, St. Catherine
Milton Phillips, 54, York Town, Clarendon
Pauline Johnson, 36, Thompson Town, Clarendon
Amoya Brown, 15, Drumilly, St. Ann
Demar Smith, 25, Drumilly, St. Ann
Colin Christie, 25, Mulgrave/Maggotty, St. Elizabeth