We have had an amazing two weeks with family, exploring various corners of the island, eating too much jerk chicken and drinking too many sodas, while dandling our small grandson on our knees. It has been quite a long break, and I won’t attempt to go back over the past two weeks or more; I will just bring you (and myself) up to date with current stories. Here goes:
Disheartening news on the environment (when do we ever get good news in this area?): Firstly, we learned from the Finance Minister’s latest Letter of Intent (posted on the International Monetary Fund’s website) the following, and I quote: “Regarding the development of a transhipment port and industrial and commercial zones in the Portland Bight area by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), technical feasibility studies have commenced. This is a prerequisite for determining the construction methodology and for obtaining the terms of reference from NEPA for the Environmental Impact Assessment. The project will be executed in phases with the first phase projected to be completed in the last quarter of 2016, pending the necessary approvals in each stage.” I don’t think our Government communicated this to any of the stakeholders directly, let alone to the Jamaican public. Thank you for letting the Jamaican people know, IMF – it’s transparency, something our Government lacks.
Secondly…Embracing the past: This is essentially what bauxite firm Jamalco is doing by commissioning a US$500 million coal-fired plant for its refinery, to reduce costs. It has been ten years since the firm toyed with the idea of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and the Government dithered over the cost, etc. So now Jamalco (55% owned by the Hong Kong-based Noble Group and 45% by the state-owned Clarendon Alumina Partners) is going to use the energy source that countries across the world are turning away from – even the G7. Even China. And where is the coal going to come from, I wonder? Also (in this time of drought) remember that coal plants consume huge amounts of water.
Is our Environment and Climate Change Minister happy with the two developments above? Is this what they call “mainstreaming” climate change considerations into each sector, a task his tiny Climate Change Division is working assiduously on? A typical coal plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 (the primary cause of global warming) per year. How will this help Jamaica reduce emissions? And don’t – please don’t – talk about “clean coal.” It is a myth.
Speaking of Minister Pickersgill, this week he intoned in a gloomy voice that Jamaica is approaching yet another drought. Well, I never! A wave of “déjà vu all over again” swept over us, as we recalled the raging bush fires, children told to bring water to school, etc. That was 2014, when the Minister spoke of “recharging aquifers.” Now he tells us that hey – the aquifers in the Kingston/St. Andrew area are almost all polluted and unusable. There was also talk of fixing our clogged and leaking reservoirs. The Opposition even spoke of desalination. Throughout last summer, our leaders said to each other, “What about…? Could it work?” Nothing was done. Now a few weeks ago, the Drought Management Committee has decided to hand out money to Members of Parliament (J$500,000 each) in drought-stricken areas, for them to purchase water truck deliveries in their constituencies. The best they can come up with. For 2015, that is.
It was an amazing week for LGBT rights in the United States (see below). The fundamentalists girded up their loins once more, with Dr. Wayne “Sexual Anarchy” West expostulating in a radio interview in his usual way. Can these people please readjust their blinkers? The issue of same-sex marriage has never been seriously debated or considered by anyone in Jamaica, so far as I know; it’s a non-issue, but WW and Co. are bursting a blood vessel over it.
Perhaps the religious zealots could turn their attention to a very disturbing report that came out this week from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) – which has been very low-key since the departure of the impressive and outspoken Superintendent Gladys Brown Campbell. Eve for Life and UNICEF Jamaica have, for at least the past two years, stepped up their “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign, seeking to raise awareness of the extent to which young girls are having sex with older men, often with family members involved and/or facilitating the trafficking of the girls. Now, if I was to use such a phrase, that would be a great deal closer to “sexual anarchy.” And yet our Moral Police don’t bat an eyelid at 278 reports of people having sex with underage girls – in the Kingston area alone. Forty-six of these young girls were found to be pregnant. We know this is the tip of the iceberg. Reminder: To report a case of child abuse, call 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328). Under the Child Care and Protection Act (2004), it is the DUTY of every adult to report all cases of known or suspected child abuse.
Housing and crime: On television this week, residents of Phase Three of a huge National Housing Trust (NHT) development called Longville Park in Clarendon protested against a plague of crime, mostly in daylight hours. Houses are frequently broken into and last Friday a woman was allegedly raped by an intruder. The residents want the NHT to replace all the windows; the frames appear to be made of flimsy plastic. There is no perimeter fence of any kind. The houses are just set down in the middle of the dry, thorny bush that is the typical landscape in the area. The residents are paying J$4-5 million for a one-bedroom house. A few weeks ago they complained of the poor workmanship – large cracks in the walls, leaking roofs and a smell of sewage. What a terrible, raw deal for Jamaicans who just want a nice house of their own.
And yet, the NHT had lots of money to spend on the Outameni attraction (while traveling through Trelawny earlier this week, I pointed out the bent and toppling roadside sign to the failed attraction; I think a car had crashed into it). Now the new NHT Chair, Carlton Davies – a solid and sensible civil servant, in my view – indicated this week that he will be putting the property up for sale or lease, but he is not optimistic he can find a buyer. He wants to “move on.”
The “Crown and Anchor”(Krauck Systems and Anchor Finance) débacle: Minister Anthony Hylton’s situation has gone from bad to worse. Initially, the Industry Minister looked uncomfortable and unwilling to make eye contact, and we all wondered what the hell was going on. On Thursday the Office of the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet had decided not to go ahead with the venture (announced with such confidence by the Minister) on the recommendation of the National Logistics Initiative Council – but that the Minister could continue to pursue negotiations on his own if he so wished. I beg your pardon! We are all puzzled. Let us hope the Minister, his fingers having been quite painfully burned, puts lots of salve on them, brushes himself off and pursues a deal elsewhere, while properly observing due process and putting the logistics hub deal up for competitive tender (why was this not done in the first place?) His credibility has taken a knocking. He has a lot of repair work to do.
Is there now an “official boundary” for Cockpit Country? We should know soon… I understand decisions have been made.
I regret to say that, as the Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens incursion continues, I have not been able to keep track at all. I am very grateful to human rights activist Susan Goffe (who posts blow by blow live tweets on the proceedings) and to blogger Dennis Jones, who regularly comments on the interactions of lawyers and witnesses in his blog, jamaicapoliticaleconomy.wordpress.com. I need to do some homework on this one.
Now comes the hard part. Murder figures continue to move upwards. 572 is an increase of eighteen per cent compared to the first half of last year. National Security Minister Peter Bunting attributes the scarily high numbers in St. James to ongoing issues with the never-ending lotto scam (which I had thought we were making some progress on – I would love to get an idea of how widespread and how deeply rooted this organized criminal scheme is). Clarendon, Westmoreland and northern St. Catherine are the other problem areas. Minister Bunting says there is no direct relation between crime and poverty, and I believe he is correct; but this does not take us any further, except to say that there are dozens of contributing factors in different parts of the island. Meanwhile, I continue to wish Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor all the best in St. James. It is tough. Please look at all these names and please keep the families of all these Jamaicans in mind. They are people, not statistics.
Clarendon: Keline McKenzie, 21, May Pen; Rohan Bent, 49, Glenmore Housing Scheme; Fitzroy Peart, 18, May Pen.
Hanover: Marlon Chisholm, 23, Hopewell; Richard Hamilton, 23, and his brother Oraine Pringle, 20, Logwood; Ramone Scott, 23, Ramble; Mark Jones, 23, Lucea.
Kingston: Marshall Small, 26, Waterloo Road, Kingston 10; Tamar Davis, Lincoln Avenue, Kingston 13; Oneil Carnegie, downtown; Dean Airy, 29, Love Lane; Mark Champagnie, 51, Padmore Drive.
Portland: Christopher Anderson, 38, St. Margaret’s Bay; Samuel Lindsay, 63, Long Road.
St. Ann: Karel Stennett, 33, Content District; Malika Smith, 27, Claremont.
St. Catherine: Cedric Maxwell, 27, Spanish Town; Gerald Serage, 22, Old Harbour Villa; Damion Ellis, 35, Old Harbour Villa; Alpha McQueen, 44, New Harbour Village.
St. James: Usain Grey, 26, Tower Hill; Tevin Grey, 20, Norwood; Greg Campbell , 33, Norwood; Theo Brissett, 29, Mt. Salem; Jervis Ricardo Lawrence, 31, Providence Heights; Jermaine Jackson, 22, Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay; Sheldon Dennis, St. Mary’s Preparatory School, Montpelier; Rohan Reid, 44, River Bay.
St. Mary: Headley Thomas, 54, Islington; Kemar Clunis, 38, Port Maria.
NOW, on a positive note. I’ve decided to “hail up” a Man and Woman of the Week in my blog. My first two are African Americans, and it was easy to choose them, too. A “no-brainer”!
My Woman of the Week: Thirty-year-old youth activist Bree Newsome scaled the thirty-foot high flagpole in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina in the early morning of June 27, and removed the Confederate flag. She must have thought, “There’s been enough talk – let’s just do it.” She and her assistant were immediately arrested. Her action inspired the #KeepItDown hashtag and a fund has been set up to ensure her release on bail. I loved the way she recited some beautiful lines from the Psalms, while the police handcuffed her. She is “badass” – a word I have decided I like a lot.
My Man of the Week: President Barack Obama has had an extraordinary week. He is an extraordinary man, and will in my view be remembered in history as one of the most effective presidents of the United States. On June 25, the President declared, “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” after mighty battles with right-wing Republicans seeking to topple “Obamacare” (and in the process, Obama himself) failed. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states was celebrated across the country on Friday, and was especially momentous for the 12 states that had hitherto banned it. What a week, indeed. Three cheers!