“Di Guy,” Political Footballs and The “Tiefing” of Our Heritage: Friday, November 6, 2015

The weather has been cool, damp and low-key – rather unusual for the tropics, but I like it. The garden, which has had to endure some harsh weather this year, likes the frequent showers of rain, too. Nothing low-key about happenings in Jamaica though – in particular, the politics. The party rallies are becoming ever more frenzied and shrill, and Parliament is at times verging on meltdown.

Well, of course they’re “politicizing”: National Security Minister Peter Bunting (whose portfolio is struggling) feels that the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (and its leader in particular) is “politicizing” the soaring crime figures. Well, Mr. Andrew “Di Guy” Holness would be falling down on the job if he did not talk about the crime, wouldn’t he? Murders have increased by between 50 and 150 per cent in some parts of the island, this year. Remember, Minister Bunting… Politicians “politicize”! That’s what they do! Everything (even, sadly, the deaths of babies) is fair game in the pre-election period. It is what Jamaicans call the “silly season.” 

Opposition Leader Andrew "Di Guy" Holness.
Opposition Leader Andrew “Di Guy” Holness.

I am calling Mr. Holness “Di Guy” because that is how our Prime Minister referred to him at a weekend party rally. She is going to “thrash” (or “trash”?) him politically, she said. Meanwhile, the JLP’s Audley Shaw needs to be careful with his voice and hold the mic a little further away from his mouth. I can’t handle the distortion!

The ridiculous guessing game continues over the election date, which may be announced soon, one suspects. Peter Phillips, who is the People’s National Party’s campaign manager, says the party is “95 per cent ready,” but is cagey about when, or even whether, elections will be called soon. Why we should have the excitement and tension of electioneering so close to the Christmas season, I don’t know. It’s possible, though, that the Prime Minister may announce the election date next week.

The health audit (edited?) will be out on Friday 6th, we are told. Initially, Health Minister Fenton Ferguson had announced a press briefing on Sunday, adding that the audit report would be released some time after that (it was not clear when). No rush! Now, the Minister has really under-estimated how seriously the Jamaican people are taking the issue of the 19 babies who died as a result of bacterial infections in public hospitals over a period of four months. But…

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)
Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

Who says civil society doesn’t have a voice? After a meeting of the Partnership for Jamaica National Council today (it’s a group comprising Government, trade unions, the private sector and civil society groups that meets regularly at the Office of the Prime Minister) Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s office issued a statement that the audit would in fact be released tomorrow (Friday). Unfortunately, the statement included the phrase “while expressing confidence in Ferguson’s ability to lead the activities of the Health Ministry…” But no. The partners were not “confident” at all, and the PM had to issue a second statement retracting the first one, a couple of hours later this afternoon. National Integrity Action head Professor Trevor Munroe says the PM clearly mistook their politeness at the meeting for “endorsement” of the Minister’s performance – how could this be, when the audit has not even been published yet? What a mess!

One thing is abundantly clear from all this. As a former Public Affairs Specialist, I recognize that the Government has absolutely no sense of public relations and is in fact completely out of touch with the public it supposedly serves! This is not the first time (there have been several occasions) that this administration has made enormous blunders and compounded them, over and over, through poor communications and PR. Repeatedly, it makes every error in the book of “How Not to Conduct Public Relations.” All its PR advisors should be fired, along with the Health Minister! What incompetence.

Chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Richard Byles. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Richard Byles. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Meanwhile, numbers are looking good as Jamaica approaches its tenth International Monetary Fund (IMF) test, according to the head of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Richard Byles. He says “all the fundamentals are pointing in the right direction” and commends Finance Minister Peter Phillips for his “outstanding” leadership. Tax revenues, says Byles, are much better than last year. By the way, diGJamaica (an incredibly useful online resource from the Jamaica Gleaner) has all you need to know on EPOC, including all their quarterly communiqués, here: http://www.digjamaica.com/imf/epoc

North vs South? Richard Byles highlighted an economic gap between the north and south coasts of Jamaica. The north coast, he notes, is thriving – including small businesses. The south coast, where most of the population is concentrated, is quite a long way behind, he says, and feeling the pinch of IMF strictures. He compared the two sections of the island’s growth rates as 2 – 3 per cent versus 0.1 per cent. Interesting.

William Mahfood (right), president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, in conversation with Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association. (Photo: Gleaner)
William Mahfood (right), president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, in conversation with Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association. (Photo: Gleaner)

As usual, I completely agree with comments by President of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) Mr. William Mahfood. He has pointed out that to be discussing the Caribbean Court of Justice in Parliament during an election campaign, when everything is “politicized,” is bad timing. I agree; the debate has been a complete disaster. I also agree with the PSOJ’s statement on the health audit issue; it joined the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association in calling for accountability and transparency. The time has come for us to stop pushing things under the carpet and to ensure that accountability and proper governance is the order of the day for us going forward,” said Mahfood this week. Check out the PSOJ’s website, where the organization addresses a number of issues of national importance: http://psoj.org

The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry is something that I have not reported on much. I am not sure why, and I do apologize for this omission. It really needs an entire blog post to focus thoroughly on the sad parade of witnesses and lawyers. This week has been particularly depressing – dead bodies and more dead bodies. What happened to them, where they ended up; 23 badly decomposing bodies dumped in the May Pen Cemetery; and so on. The marvelous policewoman Gladys Brown’s testimony on her inability to eat barbecue chicken and rice (which reminded her of the bodies and maggots) was nauseating. The police now say “only 69 were killed” in Tivoli Gardens in May, 2010. ONLY.

This is my photo of Great Goat Island, which the "Jamaica Observer" used without asking my permission.
This is my photo of Great Goat Island, which the “Jamaica Observer” used without asking my permission or giving me credit, for its report on Special Economic Zones by Balford Henry.

#SaveGoatIslands: I am surprised that the planned destruction of Goat Islands, in the Portland Bight Protected Area, has come up ahead of the elections. This time it is about “new export free zones.” A Special Economic Zone Authority (SEZA) is to be set up under a new Bill tabled in Parliament to regulate free zones – those already existing and those in the future. One of the zones will be “the Goat Islands project,” according to a Jamaica Observer report. “Project”? Other planned free zones (at least 16) will include Kingston Container Terminal, Norman Manley International Airport and Vernamfield in Clarendon. Of course, there will be the one in Spanish Town, to be administered by an unknown company owned by a cannabis campaigner from Colorado (see earlier blog post).

The pillaging of our heritage: I have been learning recently about the damage that has been done to Jamaica’s national heritage, without anyone being held accountable. Perhaps not that many Jamaicans really care. I do. A case in point is the fascinating ruin of an 18th century sugar mill and cane chute on the Potosi plantation in Trelawny. Many cut stones have been stolen from the mill building, presumably to adorn someone’s house. I understand there are many other examples of this happening around the island. I hear an aqueduct from the same period in Duanvale, Trelawny was literally demolished and the stones carted off. I wonder what the Jamaica National Heritage Trust has to say about this? I also understand that some pieces of beautiful Jamaican antique furniture were stolen from a home in St. Ann recently. There is apparently a big market for Jamaican antiques in the southern United States; dealers are paying very high prices, and someone in Jamaica is supplying them. How terribly sad; we seem to have no respect for our heritage. Oh, and by the way, there is a Facebook page for Stolen Jamaican Art. Take a look. I can only hope that karma will get all these thieves, sooner rather than later.

The former Grand Lido Negril, which closed in April this year. The Royalton Negril will expand it by 500 rooms, but the development is not being done in accordance with regulations. (Photo: Carib Journal)
The former Grand Lido Negril, which closed in April this year. The Royalton Negril will expand it by 500 rooms, but the development is not being done in accordance with regulations. (Photo: Carib Journal)

NEPA shuts down Royalton Negril:  Blue Diamond Resorts, which is building a huge hotel in Negril, has gone on building when the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) told it to stop. They started building without the required approvals. The lovely and popular Grand Lido hotel was torn down almost overnight, and from that moment the company has ignored rules and regulations as it triples the size of the hotel. According to local business people, the contractors “dumped their rubble before being granted permission for the site in Orange Bay and got away with no fines.” I will be keeping an eye on this matter. Negril has enough environmental problems already.

Good work here…

Actress/singer Bella Blair (left) with online comedian Rushaine "Dutty Berry" Berry at the launch of International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015. (My photo)
Actress/singer Bella Blair (left) with online comedian Rushaine “Dutty Berry” Berry at the launch of International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015. (My photo)
  • Bella Blair, actress/comedian and singer, has released a song (using the tune of the popular Adele song “Hello”) on the deaths of the babies in Jamaican neonatal units. It is the voice of a premature baby, and she sings soulfully and movingly. Well done, Bella! Here’s the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXGOzdObBfg
Nadeen Spence is the clear-headed, outspoken representative of women's groups in the Partnership for Jamaica. (My photo)
Nadeen Spence is the clear-headed, outspoken representative of women’s groups in the Partnership for Jamaica. (My photo)
  • Nadeen Spence (as a representative of women’s groups on the Partnership for Jamaica National Council) and Kemesha Kelly did themselves proud today in a radio interview. Civil society groups were insistent at today’s meeting of the PfJ Council at the Office of the Prime Minister that the audit of the Ministry of Health (completed in early summer but never released to the public) should be released. Ms. Spence made an incisive presentation at the meeting, I hear. The OPM has reportedly instructed the Ministry to release it tomorrow – instead of some time after the Minister’s press briefing scheduled for Sunday. Thank you for listening, Prime Minister. Hopefully now you do understand the seriousness of this matter, which has as much to do with transparency and accountability as it does the sad deaths of the babies.
Edward Dixon of Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica. (My photo)
Edward Dixon of Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica. (My photo)
  • Dedicated Jamaican youth workers Miguel ‘Steppa’ Williams and Edward Dixon, who were among 14 worthy people nominated for Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards 2015. And “Steppa” won! He does great work with Empressz Golding’s “Talk Up Yout'” program and founded the Forward Step Foundation, which uses music and other creative forms in prisons and among gangs to promote youth empowerment. I love his dub poetry too – always with a positive purpose. Edward does great work in mentoring and violence prevention among at-risk youth with Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica, a program launched by former U.S. Ambassador Sue Cobb back in 2004, which has gone through several evolutions since but has maintained its focus.
  • Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna (front row, fourth right) National Youth Service (NYS) chair Maureen Webber (third left-back) with the newly named ambassadors. They are (front row, from left) Kemesha Kelly, Sharifa Green Gordon (Hanover), Theona Thomas (St James), Shauna Thomas (Kingston), Peta-Gaye Walker (St Ann); Keisha Dyer (Manchester); Sheldon Owen (St Elizabeth) and Monique Lynch (St Catherine); and (back row, from left) Odain Dempster (Kingston and St Andrew); Christopher Brown (St Mary); Kadeem Channer (Clarendon); Prince Harvey (Portland), Romain Redman (St Thomas); and national ambassadors Krystal Tomlinson and Aubrey Stewart.
    Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna (front row, fourth right) National Youth Service (NYS) chair Maureen Webber (third left-back) with the newly named ambassadors. They are (front row, from left) Kemesha Kelly, Sharifa Green Gordon (Hanover), Theona Thomas (St James), Shauna Thomas (Kingston), Peta-Gaye Walker (St Ann); Keisha Dyer (Manchester); Sheldon Owen (St Elizabeth) and Monique Lynch (St Catherine); and (back row, from left) Odain Dempster (Kingston and St Andrew); Christopher Brown (St Mary); Kadeem Channer (Clarendon); Prince Harvey (Portland), Romain Redman (St Thomas); and national ambassadors Krystal Tomlinson and Aubrey Stewart.

    And speaking of youth, many congrats to the three national Youth Ambassadors (this month is Youth Month) named by Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna – youth advocates Kemesha Kelly, Krystal Tomlinson and Aubrey Stewart. You can pick them out from this photo, which includes Parish Youth Ambassadors. I know they will all do a grand job. There is much work to be done!

Miguel "Steppa" Williams gives us a poem at th National Integrity Action training session in September. (My photo)
Miguel “Steppa” Williams gives us a poem at th National Integrity Action training session in September. (My photo)
  • “Uptowners” were deeply shocked this week by the murder of a University of Technology (UTech) student in medical technology. Ms. Walters and a fellow student were walking home after evening classes when a car pulled up and the occupants told them to hand over their handbags. Ms. Walters refused to do so, ran away and was shot in the head. Many of us live in fear of robbers (especially on motorbikes) who seem to prey on young people (men and women) walking on the street. This also raises the issue of safety and security for our university students in certain areas. But meanwhile, a young man and his infant son were murdered in St. James. It has been a horrible week, again, and I grieve for all the families who have lost loved ones. 

Shanique Walters, 22, Hope Boulevard/Hope Pastures, Kingston

Oshane Fowler, 20, Sandy Bay, Clarendon

Leonard Nanco, 70, Little London, Westmoreland

Fabian Allen, 23, Little London, Westmoreland

Kemoy Green, 31, Jackson Road/Flamstead, St. James

Alljay Green, 1, Jackson Road/Flamstead, St. James

University of Technology, Jamaica students, dressed in black, discussing the brutal killing of their colleague, Shanique Walters, Wednesday evening by gunmen. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)
University of Technology, Jamaica students, dressed in black, discussing the brutal killing of their colleague, Shanique Walters, Wednesday evening by gunmen. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

One thought on ““Di Guy,” Political Footballs and The “Tiefing” of Our Heritage: Friday, November 6, 2015

  1. One observation on civil society moving the government is that NIA missed the boat during the current health sector issues, only making a comment a day or so ago. It’s window was wide open when MOH didn’t issue the audit. Not sure why, but it adds to the feeling that it’s not a mover and shaker on material things to deal with accountability.

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