It’s the weekend after Independence Day. I have had an unproductive and somewhat miserable week, struggling with allergies – brought on, I suspect, by the endless drought. Only the lignum vitae trees in our yard seem to be thriving. I am not, and the yard is now undergoing a desertification process. Even Arsenal Football Club disappointed on their opening match of the Premier League, which they played with their feet on the handbrake, throughout. Most of them are also sporting awful new hairstyles (perhaps that is the problem).
Come to think of it, this week has been a bit of a mess, altogether. The extended Emancipation/Independence Day holiday seems to have fuddled some political brains. Looking at the political scene, both parties suffered embarrassing scenes at their headquarters, since I last wrote. First there was the PNPTireSlashingEpisode, during which supporters of Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce allegedly slashed three out of four tires on the car of his challenger Evon Redman (who reminds me strangely of the actor Christopher Walken), and all the tires on an independent auditor’s car (mistaken identity). PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill was very grumpy about it all.
Then there was the WarBoatAtHisWorst débacle at Opposition HQ on Belmont Road, where a very long meeting was taking place to consider Andrew Holness’ future as Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader. Member of Parliament Everald Warmington stalked through the parking lot with his neck in a brace, looking like a thundercloud. As press cameras followed him, he turned on journalists and allegedly lunged at a young woman intern at the Gleaner, who had the nerve to take a photo of him. “When we want you, we’ll call you!” Warmington shouted, in between expletives; by his words betraying a typical attitude of politicians towards local media (only useful sometimes). The Press Association of Jamaica (not for the first time) protested the man’s behavior. CVM Television recalled a previous occasion when Mr. Warmington told reporter Kerlyn Brown to “go to hell” and hung up on her during an interview.
Mr. Warmington appears to be the Jamaican equivalent of the loose cannon presidential candidate Donald Trump. He likes to pick on women, too, it seems. He did post an offhand and unconvincing “apology” on YouTube some time later, accompanied by a sarcastic half-smile and dismissive hand gestures. This was not good enough; but I understand he did visit the Gleaner offices last night, where he hopefully delivered a proper apology in person.
And then there is young Member of Parliament Damion Crawford (or “Uncle INDECOM” as he calls himself on Twitter). He has written a piece in today’s Gleaner that defies logic and plain common sense. He has supported his stance with a Twitter dialogue that makes even less sense. Read and reflect on this paragraph: “Based on my own paradigm, I find even the concept of INDECOM unacceptable. Please note, I did not say I find the stated objective/s that led to the formation of INDECOM unacceptable, instead, I find the strategy of an independent oversight body for the police force unacceptable.” Well, he is the Entertainment Minister, after all.
Proud and free? Shameful petty politics in Portmore: What an extraordinary display of political tribalism in Portmore, where an Opposition councilor was booed by residents and councilors during the reading of Andrew Holness’ Independence Day message at a civic ceremony. Some tribalists even walked out. They ought to be ashamed of themselves; Independence Day is not about partisan politics. By the way, when will Portmore hold mayoral elections? Since George Lee passed away in September 2013, there has been an “Acting Mayor.” So much for democracy in the Municipality of Portmore. And what about those boundaries?
Minister of Finance Peter Phillips will hold a press conference on the PetroCaribe US$1.5 billion debt buyback deal tomorrow morning. The Opposition JLP has been huffing and puffing about the arrangement, but most other analysts appear to think it is a good deal (including, of course, the Government’s regular echo chamber, Ralston Hyman). Our Inter-American Development Bank representative called it a “game-changer” (a catch-phrase that is becoming rapidly over-used). There has been so much analysis and discussion that it has been quite befuddling. But to his credit, Minister Phillips has opened a Twitter account (@PDPhillipsJa). In a series of tweets today he asserts that the buyback will lead Jamaica on a “low interest rate path” and also “places the country on a path and trajectory for accelerated economic growth, employment creation and employment.” I hope he will continue tweeting.
Enough of politicians. A friend in Puerto Rico told me this week, “We have three days without water, one with, three without, one with. We expect the rationing to get worse.” Despite some spots on the island getting rain, Kingston remains parched and we are likely to get tighter restrictions, one fears.
An “exciting” move? Another “game-changer”? Well, only from the business perspective, perhaps. I’m not sure how many of us saw this one coming. The revered Gleaner newspaper and the RJR Group announced they were merging, the day before Independence. To many it resembled a takeover by RJR. The two men in charge, RJR Chair Lester Spaulding and Gleaner Chair Oliver Clarke, both used the word “exciting.” These two men (and their two male counterparts, who will be CEO and COO respectively) will control about 80 per cent of our “media landscape.” I am pretty sure this so-called merger (I am not very business-minded, I confess) will inevitably incur layoffs. And it just seems sad to me. The Gleaner is the oldest company in the country (since FINSAC destroyed Mutual Life in 1998) and the oldest media house in the western hemisphere, having celebrated its 180th birthday last year; I don’t like the idea of it being “merged” at all. This deal may have been necessary for both companies’ survival (I don’t know), but it in no way enhances our current media industry. I hear rumors that another possible media takeover is in the works, too…
This, of course makes it even more important for more independent journalists (and online peeps such as myself) to assert themselves. Our traditional media might end up consisting of one or two big conglomerates; a depressing thought. In the media context, competition means quantity as well as quality. I shuddered when I heard that RJR is to take over the Gleaner’s online operations. The RJR website has been a non-user friendly nightmare for years. Its subsidiary Television Jamaica’s new subscription arrangement, 1spotmedia.com (wow! The Lotto Draw is free!) is also a complete non-starter. Help needed!
Are we serious about water, and public health? Here are a few recent stories: Manholes in Montego Bay opened up, allowing gallons of sewage to flow freely on the streets in the center of town. Restaurants, businesses, the public library, the main post office and even the Resident Magistrates Court were badly affected; only the Court managed to stay open. The pipes were “very old.” Things will be back to normal on Monday, until the next crisis (where did all that stinking sewage flow to, I wonder? The sea?) Most public swimming pools in Kingston are not certified by the Ministry of Health. The Amateur Swimming Association says the National Stadium Pool has not yet satisfied the Ministry’s requirements (!) and is among the 30 public pools (out of 37) not approved. Yikes! Most importantly, is the Health Ministry in the least concerned about the fact that many homes and businesses in the city now have very little or no water? Is this not a health concern, especially in densely populated areas? Correct me if I am wrong, but I have not seen or heard any public announcements re: the importance of clean drinking water, washing hands, etc.
Good things have been happening, too. Shout outs to:
Our fabulous swimmer Alia Atkinson, who is collecting medals at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Kazan – a bronze in the 100 meter breaststroke and a silver in the 50 meters. Atkinson, who is based at Texas A&M University says, “They [Jamaicans] are all getting ready for the track and field, but some of the headlines are going my way.” And so they should.
“Rags to riches” stories are always great, but that of University of Technology lecturer and mechanical engineer Yolanda Silvera is extraordinary. Take a look at today’s Sunday Observer for details. Ms. Silvera’s peers ridiculed her for studying under the street light at her mother’s sweetie stall in the rough inner city area of Dunkirk. But I would suggest Ms. Silvera, now pursuing her doctorate, has had the last laugh. Congratulations to her.
The “Sunshine Girls” – our netball team, who are battling it out at the World Cup championships in Australia. Netball is a rather obscure game played by former colonies and doesn’t get into the limelight much. I was once in my school netball team; it always irked me that when you get the ball, you have to stand still! Anyway – keep going, girls!
Good move: The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has just signed a deal with the US-based New Fortress Energy, who will provide JPS with Liquefied Natural Gas for its 120-megawatt power plant at Bogue in Montego Bay. The plant is being converted to run on gas instead of automotive diesel oil. Not renewable energy – but a positive move by the company under the positive and decisive leadership of Ms. Kelly Tomblin.
And last but not least, a warm thank you to all the local sponsors of the BirdsCaribbean International Meeting, which ended on July 29, at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston. You were awesome! We had over 220 delegates from 33 countries – lots of energy, hard work and fun, too. See the Birds Caribbean Facebook page for more information, conference feedback and tons of photos!
Recently, National Security Minister Peter Bunting said that Jamaicans would be equally violent, with or without guns, because we have a “culture of violence.” I am not at all comfortable with this remark – are you? In fact, I find it offensive and it is certainly not true. And is it really helpful at this time of high murder rates and insecurity? Please, have a rethink, Minister Bunting. Meanwhile, my deepest condolences to the families of these Jamaicans, who were murdered so far this month. There has been a 77 % increase in murders in the parish of St. James in the first six months of 2015.
Lloydel Pennant, 20, May Pen, Clarendon
Nigel Simpson, 20, May Pen, Clarendon
Kemar ‘Nagus’ James, 25, Farm/May Pen, Clarendon
Unidentified man, downtown Kingston
André Parkes, 43, Denham Town, Kingston
Oraine Gilmore, 18, Bond Street, Denham Town, Kingston (possible police killing)
Jamar Anderson, 20, Market Level, St. James
Shasha-Kaye Williamson, 21, Retreat, St Ann
Patrick Campbell, St. Mary
Unidentified man, Cousin’s Cove, Hanover