It’s a conspiracy, I swear. The weather app on my phone confidently predicted thunderstorms. We heard rumbles, and a kind of moisture appeared on the ground. No, it wasn’t rain; it was like the ghost of rain. So, on with the drought…in poor old Kingston, anyway. Can we just stop talking about “land of wood and water” please? Water supplies are dwindling, rivers dry, and our forests burning almost daily.
By the way… What has happened to the Climate Change Park, the National Labour Day Project in 2014? (What was this year’s National Project by the way?) I hear that the park, unveiled in May 2014, is in pretty poor shape, reverting to its previous “dust bowl” status. Most of the trees planted last year have died, I understand, because it was not maintained. Where is the solar power, jogging trail, amphitheater? The Park is a joint venture between the German city of Hagen and the municipality of Portmore and reportedly “one of several projects to be completed under the Municipal Climate Partnership Programme.” Is that a Jamaican program – I am not sure? Can someone explain? I hope the German Embassy will give us an update, and perhaps the (still Acting) Mayor of Portmore?
New water restrictions kicked in last week, with many parts of Kingston and surrounding areas getting water in their pipes every other day. This morning, there was a tiny trickle in our pipes. The National Water Commission (NWC) has already spent J$100 million this year to truck water to areas with none – a short-term measure. A billion-dollar Aquifer Recharge Project is also under way in South St. Catherine. Over the years our water infrastructure has deteriorated, with pipes many decades old. The NWC needs to be continuously upgrading its equipment. The problem with wells remains unsolved; basically all the wells in and around Kingston are polluted and useless.
But what has been done since last year’s summer-long drought? Has the rehabilitation of the Mona and Hermitage reservoirs near Kingston been abandoned? Last year there was talk of desilting and fixing leaks. At least the PM took the bull by the horns and made a speech about the water situation. It’s puzzling that there are at least three major projects for western Jamaica and the north coast, which I understand already has a much better supply of water than the south/east. Maybe I am cynical, but are these projects for the benefit of tourists, leaving poor old Kingston, Spanish Town and Clarendon residents high and dry?
On the political side I have no time for him, and the ghost of Trafigura still hovers. But I must commend Comrade Colin Campbell for his work at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC). I heard him patiently explain bus fare concerns, as well as the challenges the bus company faces, to an irate woman on a radio talk show recently. It is not JUTC’s fault that people are so broke that even a J$120 bus fare creates problems. I think Mr. Campbell is trying to be fair (no pun intended!) and is doing the best he can in an extremely challenging sector. Bring back the trains, I say!
Save Goat Islands! Now one of the chief propagandists for the proposed transshipment port (and coal-powered plant) Dr. Fritz Pinnock of the Caribbean Maritime Institute, has spoken up again. He has been quietish for a while. Dr. Pinnock declares, “We have to embrace the Chinese whether we like it or not. By 2020 China will be the largest English-speaking population. The Chinese Exim Bank is larger than the World Bank. Look at the road infrastructure the Chinese are putting in Jamaica. Look at the difference that has already been made in travel time.” The Chinese should give Dr. Pinnock a special medal (or perhaps citizenship) for his consistent lobbying on their behalf. As for highways, Lance Neita has written an excellent and well-researched column in today’s Sunday Observer about what the carving up of our island will mean for the older, traditional routes. I love his idea of opening up the Bog Walk Gorge as a tourist attraction, with less traffic. The same could be done for Fern Gully. (Dam the Rio Cobre? Forget about it).
Having worked in the diplomatic service for sixteen years, I do know that the primary responsibility of foreign missions overseas is to ensure the welfare of its citizens and provide assistance wherever and whenever needed. We were repeatedly reminded of this at work. Last week this was brought sharply into focus when our foot-in-mouth Minister of Foreign Affairs A.J. Nicholson was reported in one newspaper complaining about concerns over the possible release of a Jamaican citizen who has been languishing in a Qatari prison. His alleged remarks (“Is he a king?”) reminded me of an offhand comment the same Minister made in Parliament not so long ago; and prompted a damage-control press release from the Ministry’s long-suffering PR department. The Ministry clarified: “Whenever Jamaican nationals are arrested and/or held in custody overseas, the policy of the Government of Jamaica is to allow the legal processes to run their due course.” This comes against the background of numerous complaints that Jamaican missions abroad have been less than responsive to the needs of their citizens. Has the prisoner been visited regularly by Jamaican consular officials in Qatar for the past two or three years, for example? I wonder. “Hands off” is not the correct approach.
Meanwhile, a Jamaican-born man who served in the U.S. Navy for eight years and was shot by a security guard at the Portmore Toll Plaza last month has hired Jamaican lawyer K.D. Knight to represent him. I hope he gets justice and returns to the U.S. soon. Former Petty Officer Trevor Delano Jones Jr., who is still in Spanish Town Hospital and reportedly paralyzed, made some interesting comments: “I love this country. It’s that I sense the people are frustrated, they are living on edge; you can hear it in their voices, and I think the Government should pay closer attention to what they are saying.” Sad commentary and hard to deny.
Our Police Commissioner is a good and thoughtful man, and his intelligence is not to be under-estimated. So it’s painful to see him handling a recent press conference so awkwardly. He made several rather serious PR errors; he should have deflected the journalist’s question about how he would rate his own performance after seven months in the position. Instead, he fell into the trap and gave himself 100 per cent for effort – which naturally irritated many. Someone must find Commissioner Williams a really good public relations advisor, and fast. He must understand that, whether it is fair to do so or not, the general public rate the performance of our anti-crime officials on whether the murder rate is going up or down. And it is rising steadily, for reasons that are not altogether clear to me.
Struggling: I am very concerned that at least two well-established non-governmental organizations that have worked for many years to uplift and empower youth and vulnerable women of all ages are currently experiencing severe financial constraints. I see so much money being wasted every day in government and the private sector; and these organizations, that have been doing challenging work often on shoestring budgets, receive very little recognition or funding support. NGOs in Jamaica basically pick up the slack in performing social services – since there is virtually no government “social safety net” to speak of. They are dedicated and they make every dollar count. This upsets me, deeply.
New Haven (in Minister Anthony Hylton’s constituency) remains a disgrace. I wrote about it in October, 2013 after a visit there, and I doubt living conditions have improved since then. It is squalid, prone to flooding and residents are also in danger from the numerous illegal electricity connections. I wonder if the Member of Parliament has visited there lately?
Thank God for sports to cheer us up! Big ups to the Reggae Boyz, who beat Canada 1-0 last night in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a last-gasp goal; and to Jamaica’s young water polo team, sponsored for the first time by Consolidated Bakeries (Purity), who won four bronze medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championships recently. The Jamaica Tallawahs have been creating excitement at Kingston’s Sabina Park too, although they lost yesterday to the Barbados Tridents in the Hero Caribbean Premier League. A pity about the one-hour power outage though. Are the newly-installed lights working OK?
Glad to see the Abilities Foundation (whom I visited and wrote about earlier this year) are getting a J$10 million grant through the Japanese Development Grant-funded Economic Improvement Project. Excellent news!
PS. What’s wrong with motorized handcarts? Have any of you bureaucrats tried pushing a heavy handcart up the road in the burning sun, lately? No, I thought not.
Commissioner Williams talked about a new “Get the Guns” campaign in his press conference recently, which will involve a rewards scheme. I look forward to hearing more details. Guns account for eighty per cent of murders in Jamaica – and the police have seized over 2,500 guns in the past five years. Murders have risen by 19 per cent compared to 2014. My deepest condolences to these Jamaican citizens who lost their lives to violence since I wrote last weekend:
Vincent Vicley, 64, Zion Hill/Central Village, St. Catherine
Nakia Nelson, 26, Zion Hill/Central Village, St. Catherine
Adolphus Brown, 21,Zion Hill/Central Village, St. Catherine
52-year-old Gladstone O’Connor, 52, Burnside Hill, Red Hills, St. Andrew
Junie Hamilton, 51, Burnside Hill, Red Hills, St. Andrew
Camella Ledgister, 15, Hartford, Westmoreland
Omar Hillman, 27, Whitehall, Westmoreland
Robert Morris, 48, Salt Spring, St. James
Unidentified man, Railway Lane/Montego Bay, St. James
Erlando Smith, 32, Irwin, St. James
Dominic Dean, 24, Kendera Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, May Pen, Clarendon
Richard Ferguson, 41, Downs District, Manchester
Patrick Beckford, 43, Thompson Town/Albion Mountain, St. Mary