Our yard seems to be creeping back to life with the arrival of a few rain showers, recently. We are grateful.
Politics and Prickly Pole: The death of a child – a student of the quaintly named Prickly Pole Primary and Infant School – has sparked an odd chain of events and a heated, highly politicized argument. Who even knew Prickly Pole existed before? The story (or rather stories) are confusing, with snippets being added here and there; but at the heart of it is politics – divisive politics in a small community in St. Ann represented by Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna. We have been hearing her name quite a bit lately, and clearly she is facing challenges in her constituency. As for the child… Eleven-year-old Akella Lewis died, reportedly of a heart attack while getting into a bus to attend a political protest against Ms. Hanna on September 18. That is one story; but her mother and the school board chair Vinnette Robb-Oddman deny this, saying she was just going to greet a friend who was in the bus. The problem is the school yard, at times dusty and at other times flooded, which the chairperson said was to be paved (the MP having allegedly set aside J$3 million for it, although she says the money was never allocated). This apparently had not been done, and is the source of disgruntlement at the school.
The issue was badly handled by the start, in my view, with both Ms. Hanna and Education Minister Ronald Thwaites acting hastily. Ms. Hanna (as Youth Minister) asked the Child Development Agency (CDA) to enquire into the matter; the CDA says its officers “personally witnessed children in uniforms holding up placards with political slogans,” identified as Prickly Pole students. Now, this is not against the law; but it was enough for Minister Thwaites to dismiss Ms. Robb-Oddman (who is now taking legal advice). The dismissal prompted an angry demonstration by some residents (with more tree-felling). Opposition Spokesman Andrew Holness called it a “sordid affair.”
Now, here’s the catch: Ms. Robb-Oddman is a People’s National Party (PNP) councillor. Yes, Ms. Hanna has challenges, indeed. This also highlights the undesirable practice of appointing politically aligned people to school boards, which backfires on the school and the community in many ways. As the Jamaica Teachers’ Association commented, “persons so appointed should have the education of the nation’s children as their sole agenda.”
Furnishing Clan Carthy: It is surprising that, three weeks into the school year, a large Kingston high school, Clan Carthy High, has been keeping hundreds of students home on rotation, because there is not enough furniture. They have had the whole summer to fix this problem, no? The Minister of Education has promised the school more furniture, to be delivered on Monday. What kind of back-to-school system does the Ministry have, and how does it communicate with schools prior to the new academic year on such practical matters? There is also a disciplinary issue; it’s known that some students willfully destroy and damage furniture. They must learn to respect and care for it.
“Special guests”: In the midst of all the little political tussles, the Portia Simpson Miller administration will, it seems, be welcoming not one but two Prime Ministers to Jamaica next week. British PM David Cameron will be taking a break from the media-manufactured silliness of “Piggate” and will reportedly address a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament next Wednesday. Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe will also be escaping the much more serious controversy and anger over his recent security reforms, to visit Jamaica; this is not confirmed, however. The Office of the Prime Minister has been a bit cagey about the visits, without naming names. Will more roads be fixed and flowers planted, as for President Obama’s visit?
Plus a “Royal”! Her Royal Highness Princess Anne will be on a working visit to Kingston (she is one of the few members of the royal family who does meaningful work, in my view) from September 30 to October 2, for the closing program of the Caribbean-Canada Emerging Leaders’ Dialogue, of which she is patron.
Could water be the source of future conflict? The National Water Commission (NWC) seems to be knocking down virtually every suggestion there is to solve the water crisis. How can building another reservoir be a lousy idea? I must be missing something. Meanwhile the NWC (and other possibly shady entities) are trucking water at great expense all around the island. Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill may have taken over from Health Minister Dr. Fenton “Chik V” Ferguson as the most unpopular minister in Jamaica – not an enviable feat. I heard from a reliable source that water is becoming an issue in the politically divided Mountain View area of Kingston, where there was an alleged shootout with the police this week that killed two men. I understand the water problem did not spark the conflict; it was a police raid on a dance, as part of the Commissioner’s “Get the Guns” campaign. But residents in the community where this happened – which is aligned to the Jamaica Labour Party – are complaining that they are not getting water. It is quite possible that water (or the lack of it) may become “politicized” in the run-up to the election in this and other communities, and may even lead to unrest. If the politicians have not considered this possibility… Well, they should.
Remember Lloyd B. Smith, the People’s National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament who recently burst into a bitter rant about corruption and “skulduggery” after a seemingly dubious selection process that did not go his way? He has now withdrawn altogether from the process, which means that he will not be running in the next election. So, I am curious. Now that he has backed away, will he make good on his vow to “tell all” about internal corruption in the PNP? I am not holding my breath. Meanwhile the selection exercise in Damion Crawford’s East Rural St. Andrew constituency has been postponed until next month, for some reason; and that for South East St Ann (Ms. Hanna’s constituency) will take place on Sunday, September 27, postponed by one day.
Another large tree was chopped down to block the road, during a protest about the lack of water in rural Trelawny. Please, protesters – stop cutting down trees! If you think that is going to help your water (rain, drought) situation – well, have you heard of watersheds?
Cayman remittances headache: A problem has developed with the pretty large flow of U.S. Dollars ($110 million last year) from Cayman Islands to Jamaica, after Cayman banks implemented a new policy restricting access to U.S. Dollars. The policy allows only account holders access while resident workers, who can only wire funds to their homelands in U.S. Dollars, don’t have access. This is related to new U.S. regulations on money transfer providers, and has resulted in a shortage of U.S. Dollars in Cayman Islands (the currency is being shipped off to the U.S.), as well as untold stress and anxiety for Jamaicans working there. Despite attempts to fix problem by Jamaica National and others… Something’s got to give.
The “God Squad” (as my father used to call religious fundamentalists) is on the warpath again, and this time it’s the completely irrelevant (to Jamaica) issue of same-sex marriage that has got them upset. Yes, folks, those evil, Nazi-like gay “rights” people (the Christians always put “rights” in quotation marks) are about to force same-sex marriage on Jamaica. A group called C.A.U.S.E. (Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation) will hold a rally on Sunday evening in Half Way Tree. The leaflet urges Jamaicans: “Get enumerated [good]. Use your vote to protect family values [pardon?]” Which party are they suggesting? I wonder if Opposition Leader Andrew Holness will drop by, as he did at one of the group’s anti-gay rallies some time ago?
Negril on horseback: The resort town of Negril has so many issues it’s hard to keep track of them all. A year or two ago we were worried about accidents caused by dangerous jet skis in our tourist areas; now many Negril hoteliers (and tourists) are increasingly concerned about the fairly recent phenomenon of horse rides on the beach. These are unregulated and illegal. Apart from the obvious health risks (and these are many, since horse manure – at least in the tropics – does contain parasites and tetanus bacteria) there is the very poor treatment of the horses by the men who make money from them. They are not given sufficient water and most do not have proper saddles. Besides this, the horses are a hazard to the tourists – and children in particular; like the jet skis, they are a disaster waiting to happen. One kick from a horse can be lethal! I am sure that the Member of Parliament for the area, Dr. Wykeham McNeill (who’s also Minister of Tourism) must be aware of the health risks. He is a medical doctor, after all. So please, let’s do something about it before something bad happens.
Speaking of tourism, I heard Director of Tourism Paul Pennicook sounding quite upbeat about the growing interest in Cuba. He sees the gradual “opening up” of our closest neighbors as a good opportunity for Jamaican tourist interests and businesses; he thinks Cuba is not really geared up for a leap in tourist arrivals, anyway. Really, Mr. Pennicook. With over 2,000 Air B and B listings in Cuba already, numerous airlines starting flights from the United States, and at least two ferry operators all set up to establish high speed service from Miami to Havana, it sounds like the Cubans (and the Americans) are “ready to roll.”
- The Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) – now in its third phase – was set up as a community-based crime and violence prevention programme and developed by then National Security Minister Peter Phillips in 2001/2. It has been really effective and has been successful in attracting substantial funding from overseas besides local partners. In the current phase it is serving fifty communities across the island – including inner-city Waterhouse, where an impressive solar-powered community center has been built, in partnership with the Environmental Health Foundation, the Universal Service Fund and the Waterhouse Community Development Committee Benevolent Society. I am happy to see something positive happening in Minister Anthony Hylton’s constituency!
- Flow Jamaica – yes, the newly merged entity. Those of us who depend on the Internet (and who doesn’t these days) are complaining on a daily basis about the sudden unreliability of the service, which is often slow and sometimes non-existent. It is utterly frustrating and this has happened since the merger – the deadly hand of LIME (former Cable and Wireless) has affected it. So the new entity is losing friends fast, but I must “big them up” for a lovely playground that the firm recently donated to Port Maria Infant School. Now please, Flow – we are begging you to fix your service!
- The citizens of Cockpit Country – Gibraltar, Madras, Elderslie, Point, Cambridge and Windsor, in three parishes – who have united in opposition to the very present threat of bauxite mining. The citizens came into Kingston this week to present letters to the relevant Government officials, and held a vibrant and powerful press conference that ended with fierce Maroon drumming. The residents, including the Maroons, will have to stand firm against the destruction of their homes and livelihoods.
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) says police killings are still declining, compared to the last two years; but I notice the police have been killing at least one or two Jamaicans per week. I hope the figure doesn’t creep up again. However, the good news is that over 450 people have been charged for murder so far this year, and 26 guns and ammunition have been seized during the police “Get the Guns” campaign to date. Meanwhile, 13 firearms, an assortment of rounds and 2500 pounds of ganja were seized in a town in southern Haiti said to be a shipment point in the Jamaica-Haiti “drugs for guns” trade, which continues; Jamaican and Haitian police are reportedly co-operating well on trying to crack this trade.
Two unidentified men, Jacques Road/Mountain View Avenue, Kingston (killed by police)
McGooty Johnson, Jones Town, Kingston
Kevin Sylvester, 26, Mud Town, St. Andrew (killed by police)
Brent Watson, 17, Town Head/Burnt Savannah, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, 41, Salt Spring, St. James
Joseph Whitaker, 18, Salt Spring, St. James