It seems impossible that September is almost over, but there it is. The year is waning, fast. And what a week it’s been so far. Where shall we start?
Back to back Prime Ministerial visits: This is an unusual week. British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Jamaica yesterday with much fanfare, and departs this afternoon. Hot on his heels is Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. Oh, and the Princess Royal (Anne) is also here, so the British High Commission must be pretty busy!
Moving right along… The initial response to Mr. Cameron’s visit among many Jamaicans, and in local media, has been very mixed. There has been much talk about reparations for the iniquities of slavery, and not just among a few individuals; many Jamaicans feel very strongly on this issue, and I believe rightly so. However, in his statement on arriving Mr. Cameron made it clear that he was not here to talk about the past (he actually used the term “move on”), but about the future; he wants to “turbo-charge” the UK/Jamaica relationship. “We’re not doing nearly enough,” he added, although he seemed to be talking about the Caribbean in general from time to time.
And amusingly, Parliamentarians applauded loudly when Mr. Cameron spoke of the need for transparency in the fight against corruption (I know, I have a weird sense of humor). Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader did raise the reparations issue quite directly during this morning’s joint sitting of Parliament. Long time campaigner on the issue, the veteran Opposition Member of Parliament Mike Henry, was not present – perhaps fearing he would become too angry.
Oh, sorry – the gifts (yes, we like those): And there are no strings attached, Mr. Cameron said: a 300 million-Pound infrastructure fund will be set up for the Caribbean (that is, to benefit Jamaica, Guyana, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Montserrat). Additionally, Mr. Cameron announced a 60 million-Pound aid package for the region, half of which will go towards disaster preparedness and the other half to help attract investment and improve governance.
And there’s more! The British Government will build a new maximum security prison at a cost of 25 million Pounds, with a 1,500 – 2,000 capacity, intended partly for Jamaicans serving their sentences in the UK “without the need for their consent,” as the UK Guardian puts it. Around 300 Jamaicans would be eligible at present, it’s reported. 25 million is very close to the annual cost of keeping the over 600 Jamaicans currently behind bars in the UK (70% of them convicted of drug-related or violent crimes). So it’s a no-brainer for the UK Government, cost-wise, and is likely to be a popular move in the eyes of many Britons. The news went down like a lead balloon over here. This agreement, by the way, has been discussed for quite a long time, but was a rather unpleasant surprise for most, and raises a number of issues. No doubt these will be thrashed out in the weeks to come. By the way, the Guardian notes that a similar “deal” has been reached with another former colony, Nigeria; and the UK has prisoner transfer agreements with several other countries.
What does Minister Bunting think? He sees the new prison as a plus. He clarified a few things in media interviews this evening. The prison transfer would not be compulsory, as straight deportations are, but subject to judicial process. The Tower Street and St. Catherine District prisons would be demolished or closed. Details have not been negotiated yet; a general Memorandum of Understanding has been signed, noted Minister Bunting. He did spin it a bit though, by suggesting that Jamaican prisoners at home need better conditions to live in – kind of a human rights twist. No, that doesn’t quite ring true, for me. But more anon, I guess.
Prime Minister Abe’s visit will not be quite so controversial, one suspects. The Japanese Prime Minister, like President Obama earlier this year, included a visit to the Bob Marley Museum in his itinerary; well, the Japanese are very fond of Jamaican music. He brings the gift of energy, one newspaper reported; sustainable development, renewable energy, trade, climate change mitigation and the technology to implement it, as well as more cultural exchanges. This sounds more palatable, doesn’t it? By the way, the first Japan-CARICOM Summit was held last July.
Could it be that both countries are anxious to (re)establish themselves as influential players in the region, in light of the Chinese dominance? I heard David Cameron say the word “infrastructure” several times.
To question, or not? The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) was furious yesterday at the announcement that there would be no interface for local journalists with either of the Prime Ministers, at the request of their respective governments. By the end of Mr. Cameron’s visit, however, three selected journalists were allowed to talk to him. “I don’t think reparations are the right answer,” he told them. Reparations campaigners such as British lawyer Anthony Gifford are not amused.
Water!! As if we are not suffering enough from water shortages and lock-offs, National Water Commission (NWC) employees went on strike today. The NWC is urging customers to store water, as there may be a shortage. Oh! Irony of ironies!
Speaking of water (and hygiene), there is an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease in 53 infant and primary schools across the island. Although this is supposedly common in Jamaica, I have never heard of such a major incidence before. The first two schools affected were in Portmore, St. Catherine – which, like many other areas, is suffering from a water shortage. Is there a connection between climate change (our endless drought), water and infectious disease? I believe so, and perhaps with an inkling of what was to come I warned of this in my recent Gleaner blog, here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2922 I questioned why the Ministry of Health had not rolled out a public education campaign (weeks ago) – at least on social media – on hygiene, washing hands, cleaning, drinking safe water and so on.
So the Minister of Health is now reminding schools to keep their premises clean, and last night’s news showed women washing down little kids’ plastic chairs with a hose. Shouldn’t they be doing this anyway? Do the schools (and children’s homes) have sufficient water for this purpose?
Where’s our climate plan? So far eight Caribbean countries – Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Guyana, Barbados, Haiti, Suriname, Dominica and the Dominican Republic -have submitted their Climate Action Plans to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). I understand from the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change that Jamaica is nearly there but will submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in November, ahead of the COP-21 negotiations in Paris.
More sugar woes: I wrote about the layoff of hundreds of workers at the Chinese-owned Monymusk sugar factory in Clarendon recently (are they back at work now? I haven’t heard). Now another former state-owned factory, Long Pond, which was bought by the Hussey family, is struggling and 200 workers have been sent home, due to large amounts owed to Jamaica Public Service Company. Are large sugar estates even a viable concern, these days? Perhaps some “niche market” sugar by-products are the way to go?
A pyrrhic victory, and two defeats: After the Prickly Pole saga and all the aggression over the South East St. Ann seat held by Minister Lisa Hanna, the former beauty queen triumphed over her challenger, Lydia Richards over the weekend and will once again run as the People’s National Party (PNP) candidate for the seat. It was a strange business, with many delegates apparently not voting and Ms. Richards acquiring just 10 votes. Ms. Hanna and her supporters were delighted, but it seemed a little hollow, amidst strident allegations of corruption of the voter’s list. Over in St. Catherine West Central, the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Dr. Christopher Tufton, a former Government minister and currently Senator, was beaten by local councilor Devon Wint. This upset many Jamaicans. Dr. Tufton is seen as one of the “younger and brighter” politicians, with a lot to offer to the Jamaican people. Mr. Wint had perhaps done more groundwork. Whither Dr. Tufton now? Ms. Sharon Hay Webster also lost in her bid to represent the JLP in St. Catherine North Eastern, with the party treasurer Leslie Campbell defeating her quite decisively. I do hope Ms. Hay Webster, who has not done well politically since leaving the PNP, will be able to serve in some way, however.
P.S. Did you know that the magazine High Times plans to hold its World Cannabis Cup (who knew?) in Negril from November 12 -15? It will be hosted by Rastafari Rootzfest at Long Bay Beach Park and I understand some 10,000 stoned or semi-stoned people will be in attendance. So get your entries ready, folks! (but please note: according to the website, entrance fee is US$269. Wow). Perhaps Negril businesses and hotels will benefit from it. Perhaps.
- I love the Music in Schools program, and was happy to see the Minnesota-based Organisation of Strategic Development in Jamaica donating musical instruments in support of the program, launched recently at the Alpha Institute. Big ups too, to Member of Parliament for Central Clarendon Mike Henry, who has donated J$2 million to Denbigh High School for the construction of a music teaching facility. Music education is always a worthwhile investment!
- Big ups to the Ja REEACH program funded by USAID Jamaica, which helps farmers and other rural dwellers to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. I missed their Youth Conference this year, but USAID Director Dr. Denise Herbol shared some great photos of some of the young people, who designed and created complex and quite beautiful fashions with recycled materials.
- I love the Sandals Foundation’s environmental focus, and applaud its latest initiative with Jamaican marine wildlife artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey‘s Ocean Foundation, in partnership with regional NGO CARIBSAVE. The “Save Our Seas” project in forty schools will introduce a curriculum on marine environmental awareness in Grades 6 to 8. I used to love Dr. Harvey’s T shirts adorned with his beautiful paintings of sharks, marlins and other creatures of the deep. Kudos!
- Congratulations to the winners of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship/Caribbean’s Made of More Entrepreneurs Challenge! Hellen and Averell French of Mount Pleasant Farm Chocolatiers were first-place winners with a loan amount of US$40,000. They also won the Sir Arthur Guinness Social Entrepreneur Award for a US$10,000 grant. Patria-Kaye Aarons of Sweetie Confectionery won US$25,000 in second place. The third place winner was Marie Wilson of DejaFrut and fourth place went to inventor and entrepreneur, Jovan Evans, of AquaFlow Products & Services. Mervin Kerr of Island Integrators came fifth. Does the judging panel have a sweet tooth, by the way?
- Ms. Shirley Pryce, President of the Jamaica Household Workers’ Union (JHWU), has received her master’s in labour law from Penn State University. A former domestic worker, Ms. Pryce received the Order of Distinction, officer rank, in 2014 for her work as an advocate for Jamaican and Caribbean domestic workers. I hope she will continue her advocacy work with renewed vigor! Congratulations!
A senior policeman on television the other night seemed gratified by the fact that there had only been 22 murders in one week, compared to 24 the week before. But ACP Thompson, that still means an average three Jamaicans die each day! We need to do better. My sympathies are with those who mourn – even though, as usual, these murders are hardly reported by leading media houses at all. Which is so sad; but the victims are not forgotten by their families and friends.
Delroy Duffus, 40, Innswood, St. Catherine
Kenardo Beech, 25, De La Vega City, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Burnt Savannah, St. Elizabeth (killed by police)
Kenneth Taylor, 62, Ironshore, St. James
Alton Rose, 25, Bread Lane, Paradise/Norwood, St. James