Happy Fourth of July to all my readers in the United States! I hope you are enjoying the holiday and that the results of the barbecue have been good, so far. For us in Jamaica, the rain dancing is on in earnest, although I think we need to find a new choreographer; it’s not working. The heat is on, the rain stays away.
On Twitter lockdown: Before going any further I must tell you that my Twitter account has been locked (by Twitter of course) and I have been so far unable to unlock it. So if you follow me (@petchary) then you will not be hearing from me before next week, I fear. I am trying to sort it out – but please respond to my complaint, Twitter people!! Oh, you’re on holiday, right? I am frustrated and so dependent on Twitter. Ugh.
So it’s been an up-and-down week, I would say. First, let me start with the good news.
The biggest and best news for me was the announcement yesterday that the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park has been inscribed on the list of just over 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is a first for Jamaica and interestingly, Singapore had its Botanical Gardens listed as its own first Heritage Site, too. I must congratulate Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, Dr. Susan Otuokon and her team at the Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust – JCDT (careful custodians), Mr. Ainsley Henriques and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and the National Environment and Planning Agency for this terrific achievement. Let’s be careful, though: a Guardian newspaper article this week suggests UNESCO is powerless to prevent the degrading (or even destruction) of its World Heritage Sites, warning: “Where UNESCO treads, the tourist bulldozer is sure to follow.” Let us keep our precious Blue Mountains just the way they are – an incredible biodiversity hot spot, with strong cultural ties.
I was happy to see in a follow-up report on TV that residents in the mega-housing development of Longville Park are now to get a police post – and also stronger window frames. Homeowners have suffered a series of robberies and other crimes and were at their wits’ end. Kudos to the National Housing Trust and the police for taking speedy action.
Some troubling things:
Local Government Minister Noel Arscott (a most unprepossessing Minister, who never really inspires confidence in me) announced this week that local government elections would be postponed, again. They will be held some time before December, 2016. No surprise, really, but not an encouraging development. This has become a bad habit of successive governments. On the one hand we are told how important local government is, and that reform is ongoing (could we have a detailed update on this from someone, please?) – and then the idea of elections is dismissed when/if inconvenient (or, one suspects, politically expedient). This is really not good enough. How can any of us be expected to take local government seriously? Is it, in fact, worth taking seriously at all?
The current raft of excuses from this administration includes that pending legislation is not ready and must be passed before elections; and that the issue of the expansion of the municipality of Portmore’s boundaries has still not been settled. When will boundaries be settled? Wasn’t this supposed to happen by April/May this year? It is clear that this latest postponement is for political reasons. The People’s National Party (PNP), which swept the board in the 2012 local elections shortly after winning back power, has no such expectations now; and is in no mood to seek a referendum on its very patchy performance to date. So, Portmore continues to have an Acting (PNP) Mayor and the people of Jamaica have been disenfranchised on a somewhat flimsy context. Meanwhile, Director of Elections Orrette Fisher believes local elections can (and should) be held at the same time as general elections and that this would save around J$1 billion. I agree, and think we should consider a fixed election date too.
After considerable, inexplicable delays, the PNP has allowed its former Mayor Shernett Haughton to remain as councilor in Hanover, despite the Office of the Contractor General’s (OCG) revelations back in March that she had awarded 22 contracts to 11 relatives and friends. Ms. Haughton will also remain as a member of the PNP, but will not be allowed to run in the next elections on a PNP ticket. On April 23, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to press charges against Ms. Haughton. Is nepotism really not a criminal offense, Ms. Llewellyn? But I am no lawyer. We shall see.
The Untouchable: The OCG is now challenging this decision in court, and (as so often is the case) DPP has taken a defensive, even slightly arrogant stance. Ms. Llewellyn, do you see your position as somehow competing with the likes of the OCG and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM)? Yes, we know (and you have told us many times) that your office is independent and cannot be touched, unlike the others. But can’t you just work with these agencies? They are only doing their job and they know their mandate, as you do yours. Come on, now. Let’s be friends! Lord knows our crumbling justice system needs everyone working together.
The dreary drought story: Radio reporter Kalilah Enriquez followed up on plans to desilt Kingston’s two reservoirs, which were discussed last year. These plans have been pushed back twice now, and now “won’t commence this year” according to officials. In fact, at a press briefing that I found confusing, the head of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez insisted that even if the desilting took place, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference – only a million gallons a day in additional water. But wouldn’t a million gallons daily help one or two hospitals or a community? He and Minister Pickersgill are now talking about “artificial recharge” of underground water supplies; a pilot project is under way. I never heard of this before. Mr. Fernandez was also quite negative about desalination – which many of our neighbors are using, by the way, not just Middle Eastern countries. The Guardian reports that 68 new desalination plants have been built across the Caribbean since 2007.
INDECOM obtained its first conviction for a gun crime last week. It investigated and charged Constable Sherwood Simpson, and the DPP prosecuted the case (you see, they can work together!) Constable Simpson was sentenced to 15 years as part of a group of policemen who took a man into bushes, shot him and left him for dead.
Will INDECOM chief Terrence Williams’ contract be renewed? I understand it will expire soon, but I hope he will be given a new contract.
Security worries, again: A student leader was attacked, stabbed and robbed on the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus at around 9:30 p.m. one evening this week. I was puzzled by UWI’s explanation that he and his companion were in a quiet (?) spot and that since term has ended, students should be careful where they hang out. Is this victim-blaming? Where were the fifty-odd security guards on campus at the time? And how is UWI’s campaign to tackle gender-based violence on campus going, since the incident in the spring of 2014? What actions have been taken?
A touching story: Kudos to Hyacinth Bennett, founder of the Hydel Group of Schools and an excellent educator, who for years now has been quietly awarding full scholarships to needy children to attend her schools. CVM Television recently reported that one of two children whom she assisted in this way has done tremendously well in GSAT examinations and is on his way to Jamaica College. His mother, who has been struggling financially for years, is so proud.
Climate change warning: Every week there are signs. This week, the fishing village of Rocky Point has been flooded by sea water during high tides for weeks now. Would a sea wall make any difference?
With crazy flashes of his dreadlocks, German-Jamaican tennis player Dustin Brown put on a fiery display at Wimbledon this week, beating Rafael Nadal (for the second time, actually). Jamaicans got very excited, with one newspaper erroneously calling Brown “Jamaican-born” (he was born in Germany and plays for Germany). In his early days, Brown was much neglected by Jamaican sports officials, who either did not see his potential or were financially unable to support him. I am not sure if Brown feels bitter about this any more – but he has certainly made his mark, although today he lost to Serbian Viktor Troiki in the third round.
Nationwideradiojm.com is a very good media website: Nationwide News Network’s website, is well laid out and groups clusters of reports on the key topics they are monitoring together, which is helpful. Their reports are interspersed with short audio clips and SoundCloud podcasts are posted. Unlike some other radio stations I could mention, they are tech-savvy! I like that they also credit their reporters with the stories. And they stream live of course; you don’t have to register.
Everybody is “tiefing”: The theft of large quantities of fuel by a subsidiary of the state-owned Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (Petrojam) – the Jamaica Aircraft Refueling Services – is still under investigation. The probe appears to be widening. Meanwhile, almost every evening teachers and church members agonize over thefts from their institutions, and telecoms firm LIME continues to suffer staggering losses from theft.
Multos kudos (I just made that up) to the Digicel Foundation, JN Foundation, and other volunteers who immediately rallied round to help clean up after the devastating fire at the Wortley Girls’ Home. The Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which owns and runs the home, has opened a Rebuilding Fund. Donors are invited to contribute to Account number 48459 at the Scotiabank Group Financial Centre, 132-132a Constant Spring Road, Kingston.
I know it’s been less than a week since I last wrote, but I have decided I would like to recognize two people in each of my blog updates. Why not? There are so many who would warrant it…
OK, here goes with my Woman of the Week: It has got to be the dedicated and brilliant Dr. Susan Otuokon, former Executive Director of the JCDT, for her hard work over more than a decade; it has finally paid off with the inscription of the Blue and John Crow Mountains as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dr. Otuokon is now a freelance environmental consultant specializing in the fields of conservation and protected areas. Often the race is not always for the swift. You have to keep going!
My Man of the Week also works in the environmental field, and he is a very special young man. His name is Kenroy Williams (“Booms”), born in Rae Town and now living in Hellshire, where he has devoted the last seven years of his life to helping protect the extremely rare Jamaican Iguana. This week he posted a photograph of a magnificently pregnant female on Facebook. We are all now looking forward to seeing the baby pics! So, I would like to “big up” Kenroy. Keep up the good work – it is incredibly valuable and important!
The police had a pretty great exchange going recently with a group of Turkish policemen. The Turkish police gave donations to the West Kingston community, now overseen by Senior Superintendent Cornwall ‘Bigga’ Forde, who is making efforts to follow in the footsteps of Steve McGregor with a good community policing program. Meanwhile, the level of murders in western Jamaica is disturbingly high; there have been over 100 murders in St. James, which has the highest murder rate for the year. I thought the police had “got a handle” on the lotto scam – but it still seems to be fueling the murders of mostly very young men in the area. 21 people were arrested in Hanover on Friday during a police operation against the scammers; let’s hope they can get more strong cases to take to court. Commissioner Carl Williams will hold a media briefing on Monday re: the 572 murders committed up to June 30 this year. Meanwhile, my deepest sympathies to all those who are mourning…
Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Sligoville, St. Catherine
Miguel Roberts, 23, Banana Walk/Retreat, St. Mary
Leslie Clarke, 53, Green Island, Hanover
Shamoy Thorpe, 20, Paradise, St. James
Dainton Samuels, 20, Barrett Town, St. James
Fabian Whyte, 32, Retirement District, St. James
Vandriss Gayle, 57, Retirement District, St. James
Orlando Smith, 33, Irwin, St. James
Jeboukie Wynter, 19, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Trevor Wynter, 62 [Jeboukie’s father], Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland