This week has been a hard slog, but out in the yard there are puffs of wind, and the lawn is green after several showers that all city dwellers (except the homeless) welcomed joyfully. So now we need to take a deep breath and enjoy the long weekend; Monday, May 25 is Jamaican Labour Day.
I think there are two main issues with the current political administration (and to a lesser extent the Opposition, because of course they don’t call the shots): Trust and Transparency. Two “t”‘s. Oh maybe Talking is an issue, too! Too much of it, and not enough action. And people are truly at the end of their tether – that is the message I got from the fracas at the Passport Office this week (see below).
Environmental stress: It has been a worrying week for all those who care about this island’s fragile environment. Firstly, there was the appearance of bulldozers, courtesy of Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners, cutting a swathe in our precious Cockpit Country. Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill reiterated at a public meeting that there will be no mining there (and doesn’t think this has taken place, anyway) but will talk to the Ministry of Energy and Mining about it. Julian Robinson, the calm and steady Junior Minister, visited the bulldozers and people in hard hats this week, and has since declared that there is no problem: The work is not within Cockpit Country. Or rather, the Government’s definition of Cockpit Country; because there is a convenient “grey area” over how large it is. Hopefully we will be able to untangle the issue and sort out the boundaries; if Government had not dithered over that issue, this stressful situation might not have occurred.
Yesterday, Transport Minister Omar Davies, during a press opportunity with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), noted with some amusement that the Chinese are moving with “alacrity” (the Minister’s word). What are they in a hurry about? CHEC plans to build three hotels with over 2,000 rooms and 600 houses; and to develop commercial properties on prime land in St. Ann. Reminder: CHEC is a Chinese state-owned entity, so the Government of Jamaica has effectively given a chunk of the island (1,200 acres) to the Government of the People’s Republic of China free (and anywhere they choose) – since they will not be able to make enough money out of the North-South Highway tolls over the next fifty years. Now the agreement with CHEC is to be amended to allow them to plough ahead with the development before they finish building the Highway. So, my question is: What about environmental impact assessments and permits? Or is it just full speed ahead?
More on roads: Surprisingly, I am now thanking CHEC for doing some road fixing – in particular, the Rio Grande Valley road in Portland, which must be one of the worst in Jamaica. It is truly a nightmare. Good stuff, and much needed.
The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) is reminding the Government that two weeks have ended, with no reply from them! This was the period during which the Finance Ministry was to consider the JTA’s response to its paltry offer of a five per cent pay increase. The JTA flatly rejected this; it thinks its members should get 25 per cent, and most importantly wants to get on with pay talks. The teachers are feeling “frustration,” says JTA head Doran Dixon. It’s nearly the end of the school year, but there is no guarantee they will not take action. A few weeks ago the minister responsible for the Public Service, Horace Dalley, said he would not be frightened by angry teachers. Is he spoiling for a fight?
“Endure a little longer”: The rather odd photograph I am posting here is of Minister of Agriculture, Labour and Social Security (the Double Minister) Derrick Kellier making a speech this week, in which he told the Jamaican people: “Given the present dispensation in which we are forced to operate as a nation, we have no option at this time but to endure a little longer, the stringencies and fiscal discipline imposed by the administration’s Economic Reform Programme.” Girls and boys, take the “bitter medicine” our current Opposition Leader Andrew Holness spoke of some years ago. Down it goes! Don’t make a face. There – not so bad, is it!
Passport pandemonium: Things got ugly at the Passport Office this week. After an announced steep increase in fees for Jamaican passports (currently ranked rather low in value at http://www.passportindex.org but still a needed item for most Jamaicans) it seems half of Jamaica turned up at the Kingston office. Well – some 3,000 yesterday, a mere 700 today. There were emotional scenes when the Passport Office, most unwisely, thereupon decided to impose a quota of 1,000 a day and on Wednesday closed almost as soon as it had opened, after the quota was reached. They turned away people who had been waiting since four in the morning, resulting in a large number of angry, sweating Jamaicans outside. We were then told we should feel sorry for the office workers, who were doing so much overtime. What about the poor people, who were desperate to beat the incredibly (and deliberately, I suspect) short deadline? A passport is an emotional thing; and people simply cannot afford it. The deadline has now been extended until June 1. What an unnecessary mess. Isn’t this an effort to fulfill some IMF directive? Am I right?
News about courts: I am glad to note that Jamaica is set to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). We should have ratified the Rome Statute, which governs the Court, years ago in my opinion, but better late than never. You can read more about the ICC at http://www.icc-cpi.int The other bit of news is that, as expected, legislation for Jamaica to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was tabled in the Upper House today. Although passed in the Lower House with the required majority, the Senate situation is a little different; at least one Opposition Senator would have to vote with the government for the bills to be passed. I wonder… Well, we shall see what we shall see!
Hurricane season begins on June 1, and the U.S. Government is taking it seriously. President Obama is going to visit the National Hurricane Center next week, their Hurricane Preparedness Week. Is Jamaica taking it seriously? I have heard very little on the topic in the media so far. We are usually bombarded with Government information, PSAs and the like. No money for that, I guess.
Why do I know our leaders don’t care about corruption? One small recent example: A woman was fined $10,000 for stealing milk powder (and she probably needed it to feed her family – you don’t steal milk powder unless you’re desperate do you?) On the other hand, a certain Mayor was fined $5,000, one year after repeatedly breaching the Corruption Prevention Act for five years. If you browse my blog you can find many more instances. Corruption comes in many forms, too…
Our vulnerable girls: 12.4 per cent of the 44,456 visits reported to accident and emergency departments across the island were as a result of sexual assault, according to the 2014 Economic and Social Survey. The largest single group of persons seen was girls aged 10-19 years, who accounted for 649 cases. Eighty-seven girls aged 5-9 years reported for emergency care after being sexually assaulted, and 42 girls below the age of five years also sought emergency care for the same problem. I can’t wrap my brain around this. Please support Eve for Life’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign against the sexual grooming and assault of our young girls, supported by the wonderful UNICEF Jamaica team. Support our young girls who are the victims of predatory men. Not “sugar daddies.” They are “cradle snatchers” as they say.
The group calling itself the Love March Movement is upset about gays again. Not child abuse, teen pregnancy, nor even our spiraling murder rate. Nope. Anal sex is their thing. I watched human rights activist Yvonne McCalla Sobers valiantly debating a very ill-informed woman who seemed more interested in tweeting on her phone on television this evening. Last night, I listened to a very irritated U.S. Embassy official on radio trying to explain the visit of the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons, Randy Berry and United States Agency for International Department (USAID) Senior LGBT Coordinator Todd Larson to Jamaica. His antagonist, Dr. Wayne West, predicted “sexual anarchy,” New York style, if the colonial era anti-buggery law is lifted. He also believes HIV/AIDS is a “gay disease.”
Remember when we got upset about the Prime Minister never giving a one-on-one interview with the media. Right… Well, I guess we have given up on that one!
I have been missing out on the “big ups” to many people and organizations out there who are doing great work, despite the myriad challenges. The list is growing and I think I will have to devote a whole blog post to them all! Meanwhile, over the past week many Jamaicans have lost their lives to crime and violence. My deepest sympathies are with all those who are mourning their loss…
Unidentified man, Aldington Avenue/Richmond Park, Kingston
Rudolf Foster, Orange Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Kingston Harbour
Jermaine Campbell, Barry Street/Matthews Lane, Kingston
Fernando Young, 23, Barnett Lane, St. James
Orlando Reid, 25, Bogue Village, St. James
Floyd Grant, 56, Norwood, St. James
Hu Gow, 41, Spring Gardens, St. James (Chinese national)
Unidentified man, Spring Mount, St. James
David Thomas, 24, Granville, St. James
Marcia Chantiloupe, 39, May Day, Manchester
Shad Smith, 21, Melrose Mews, Manchester
Roy Frederick-Coley, 30, Beecher Town/Ocho Rios, St. Ann
“Money Tree,” Steer Town, St. Ann
Alvin Allen, 63, Bath, St. Thomas (killed during an alleged police shootout at a ganja field)