Why is summer in Jamaica such a difficult and miserable time? I had an online discussion with the awesome broadcast journalist Cliff Hughes, who is looking forward to the upcoming World Athletics Championships in Beijing. Jamaicans have high hopes for excellent performances from the likes of the wondrous Usain Bolt, et al. Yes, Cliff – I am looking forward to the championships, too. It just struck me that it’s rather sad (even a little desperate?) that this is the only thing we have to look forward to, this summer. And as he said, summer 2015 has been “awful.” Yes, awful!
Cliff challenged me to find something else happy and positive to look forward to, apart from some potential gold, silver and bronze medals. I am really trying, Cliff. I am! Oh, I know… A shower of rain? I mean, it must rain at some point, right? Seriously though, I am looking for the (possible) silver lining…
INDECOM is five years old (as of August 16) and it is doing a pretty good job of justifying its existence and defending its record. In fact, it is doing a pretty good job altogether, in my view. Just a few weeks ago INDECOM’s first case to have been completed in the High Court resulted in a conviction (yes, we know – the justice system crawls along at snail’s pace). INDECOM appears to be working perfectly well in collaborating with the Jamaica Constabulary Force on crime scenes for cases involving possible police involvement.
Yet there are rumblings about INDECOM “protecting criminals” (always a familiar cry against Jamaicans for Justice) and other attempts at misinformation. Chair of the Police Federation Raymond Wilson, riding a wave of emotion at the funeral of murdered policewoman Crystal Thomas over the weekend, lambasted INDECOM, human rights groups and anyone else who might be preventing the police from doing their job (from which I take it that the police’s job is to abuse and shoot citizens? No, surely not). Incidentally, Mr. Wilson also has a beef with State Minister Horace Dalley regarding the long-delayed wage negotiations. Perhaps his frustration got the better of him. But Mr. Wilson, the high murder rate is not the fault of INDECOM, as you well know. Most responses from “vox pops” I have seen have been supportive of INDECOM.
There has been a dramatic decline in the number of police killings since INDECOM started its work. At the end of October 2014 there was a 53.18 per cent decline compared to 2013. We are talking about 200 plus killings a year prior to this – one of the highest rates of police killings in the world. The mandate of INDECOM is simply to hold police officers accountable for their actions. I have not heard any complaints from senior policemen about this, but the Police Federation claims that some of its members have had their constitutional rights breached by being compelled to give statements.
The heat and drought continue to get political people all befuddled. Television newscasts this week have been a confusing mess of bellowing politicians on platforms, over-excited supporters, and a whole lot of finger-pointing and acrimony. Oh!! Did I say finger? Yes, the media darling of the moment, Opposition Member of Parliament Everald Warmington had another rush of blood to the head and, on spotting the media in the parking lot, gave them the finger (a very long one, actually). By the way, Andrew Holness was confirmed as leader (apparently by consensus, not a vote) during another long meeting at party headquarters; he is safe, at least for now.
Meanwhile, there was a minor tremor on Twitter overnight when a member of the Duncan family sought to defend her father, veteran politician DK Duncan, against a perceived threat by fellow Member of Parliament Ian Hayles to DK’s power base in the parish of Hanover. Dr. Duncan has been ill for some time, and I wish him a speedy recovery; but this is politics, isn’t it? Mr. Hayles can challenge him if he wishes, I would have thought. However, I would advise his daughter to avoid using words like “sue” on social media (she is upset with a local media house, which revealed her upset with Mr. Hayles); and Facebook Messenger is not really a very secure method of communication, is it? For a start, you can send group messages, and one member of the group… Well. Now the police are apparently looking into the alleged “hacking” of the Duncan daughter’s Facebook account. I am not too comfortable with the arrogant tone of Ms. Duncan’s tweets. Oh, sorry, Dr. Duncan!
#Askyourprimeminister: The Prime Minister’s PR people have gone into a huddle and come up with a brilliant idea to connect our increasingly distant and figurehead-like Prime Minister with her subjects… I mean, voters… I mean, sorry, Jamaican citizens. You email your question to the PM (but it must be something “positive” – yes, that term is back in vogue again) to Askyourprimeminister@gmail.com – oh yes, very official. Then you have to buy the mass market tabloid Star, which is owned by the Gleaner, to read the most politely phrased questions and the carefully crafted answers thereunto. Really innovative stuff. The Star is well-known for its riveting headlines, such as “Woman burns boy on butt” and many far worse. Yes, the PM is reaching out.
Wow! All this emotion! Calm down, everybody!
Unimpressive: Those students selected to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations – the “cohort” – managed only a 65 per cent pass rate in English (a “marginal slippage,” according to the Education Minister, who is always good with words). Mathematics, Information Technology and Agricultural Science improved somewhat. Other sciences slumped quite a bit, prompting the Minister to set up a scholarship program for trainee Math and Science teachers.
WATER: There is so much to say on this topic I would like to reserve it for a separate blog. The National Water Commission has put further restrictions in place in Kingston this week. One uptown residential area (Hope Pastures) has had no water for eight days, and residents have had a raft of excuses. Now in many areas of the city we are “two days off, one day on.” The Ministry With the Long Name has done basically very little since last year’s devastating drought (apart from mull over possible solutions, of course). Now they are talking about cleaning up the highly polluted wells in Kingston, which will cost millions and may not even work. Last year it was de-silting the reservoirs; that idea has been dropped. What next?
Mr. Byles of the Economic Program Oversight Committee (and the Sagicor Group) is sounding quite upbeat about the economy – tax revenues, the debt to GDP targets achieved, and so on. The PetroCaribe buyback (I think the Opposition lost the argument on this one) is expected to save us just under US$300 million in debt servicing, so Mr. Byles is happy about this, too. He is also talking up the tourism industry, which he claims is offering a much better quality product than, say, Cuba. Well, perhaps, for now (although tourism numbers dropped 2.5 per cent for the April to June quarter). Mr. Byles is wondering why there are still low levels of investment in the Jamaican economy, given all the positive signs from the IMF, Standard & Poors ratings, etc… Does he know about this thing called “confidence”? I am sure as an astute businessman he knows these things don’t happen overnight, and confidence, like trust, takes a long time to win back.
Oh and what about the g-word? Growth, that elusive creature? Well, a team from our IMF Masters is in the island at the moment. Let’s see what they have to say.
Talking of money, eight out of eleven negotiating entities signed off on public sector wage deals with the government this week (the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions). They have accepted the government’s seven per cent wage offer and will be getting some additional allowances. This is excellent news, but the aforementioned police, nurses and teachers – that’s a lot of public servants – have not come to an agreement. Talks continue…
But listen: If our politicians use the word “sacrifice/s” one more time… What sacrifices are they making, by the way?
Poor St. Thomas: The Governor General met with a delegation from our most neglected parish this week, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Morant Bay Rebellion, a watershed event in Jamaican history. Sir Patrick said he was reportedly “disheartened” by the poor infrastructure and lack of development, and wants the anniversary to be more than a “rehash” of the event, but more forward-looking. “While we cannot forget our past,” he said, “we cannot be trapped in it.” So true, but this is what has happened in a sense to this beautiful parish, trapped in some kind of time warp. One of its largest employers, the Duckenfield sugar estate, recently announced that it was laying off 500 workers. What’s the answer? Create employment and growth in agriculture and in light industry, one would suggest. But as Mr. Byles said, investment in Jamaica remains low.
I need to congratulate our Paralympic athletes at the Parapan American Games in Toronto (the regional qualifying event for the Paralympics) who have won five medals so far (two golds, two silvers and one bronze). Media coverage has been fairly scanty as usual, but “big ups” to all six members of the Jamaican team!
In the past four days, these three young Jamaicans have lost their lives to violence. Josephine was a student at Mannings High School, who was shot dead in her bedroom; Akeem was a market vendor; Vinton was driving in a car with three others, all of whom were seriously injured (two of them female foreign nationals) at around 2 o’clock this morning.
Akeem Rose, 21, Cross Roads Market, Kingston
Vinton Campbell, 22, Bitwell, Hanover
Josephine Wolfe, 15, West End, Negril, Westmoreland