It’s been a week of trying to pull themselves together for the Portia Simpson Miller administration, after the disastrous neonatal episode. And it’s been a couple of weeks of me trying to get my act together, after some long diversions. But I’m back. Sort of. Still although the following may seem a little out of date, most of it is still worth mentioning. So, here goes.
“Political suss”: I am sick and tired of the so-called election campaign at this point (I say “so-called” because it is just a lot of empty noise, to me, signifying nothing). I am weary of the barrage of political tweets (go ahead and support your party, but don’t expect me to retweet any of it). Then there are the ridiculous antics at party rallies (the embarrassment of octogenarian Mike Henry, for instance, doing a sexy “wine” on stage). It’s all too much. The “he said, she said” atmosphere is really getting to me. In a way it’s not surprising, then, that the Gleaner has started a Saturday feature called “Political Suss” – a vacuous, ill-conceived attempt to spin something exciting and “gossipy” out of the current shenanigans in various constituency selection processes. Who knows, they might be able to dig up some juicy scandal along the way – an extra-marital affair, a dubious business deal, a relationship breakup…? No, this is not TMZ, Gleaner editors, and our politicians are not the Kardashians; this is actually a serious election, with much at stake. So why encourage tittle tattle? I know Saturday papers have low readership, but please!
In any event, what is really happening on the election date front? While the frenzied (and largely ineffective) social media activity continues (why not try engaging Jamaicans on the issues, dear politicians?) it is not at all clear, after all, that the elections will be held this year. We are running out of time. Did the People’s National Party (PNP) not like the results of its internal opinion polls? There seems to be a lot of contentiousness over several PNP seats, with gaggles of supporters protesting about one proposed candidate or another, on an almost daily basis. Does the PNP want to wait until things settle down? And what if they don’t settle down? While the party’s campaign manager Peter Phillips has been insisting that the elections will take place this year, it seems less and less likely.
Let’s have a fixed election date: Last Sunday, our Prime Minister told us (via a political rally): “You will be appropriately informed when my master touches me and she ‘my daughter go nigh'” regarding the election date. So, no worries, God will tell her when. I find this, actually, quite offensive. It is trivializing a serious matter (again) – playing with the election date, while the nation holds its breath (including investors, businesspeople and security forces, among others). The Electoral Commission of Jamaica is in favor of it. Why should we be subjected to this nonsense?
EU to the rescue: The European Union (EU) quickly stepped in with a contract signing worth J$253 million for the design and equipping of maternal and neonatal high dependency units in several public hospitals. The EU’s Head of Delegation Paola Amadei said at the signing that the contract signing is “in a wider context…supporting the worldwide efforts in attaining the targets set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are completing their cycles this year.” As I have noted before, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Jamaica reported that Jamaica is well behind on the two MDGs related to maternal health and child mortality. Curiously, UNDP Jamaica also noted on its website that “data collection in infant mortality faces significant administrative challenges.”
Why this lack of good, available data? That is a question that the World Bank is tackling now with its project in support of the Open Data in the Caribbean, the benefits of which are many. More anon on this.
Health audits released: At last, the health sector audits ordered in May by the Minister were released – one for each region. They do not make for comfortable reading. Links to all four reports are on the Ministry website: http://moh.gov.jm/regional-health-authorities-audit-reports/ in case you missed them. Take a deep breath! I have expressed concern over how well the decentralization of the Health Ministry has been working. This is something that should be revisited. Is the Ministry simply in need of a huge administrative overhaul? Although not among recent concerns, the report on the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston (which delivers around 8,000 babies annually) is utterly alarming to me.
A “firing” or a reshuffle? The Prime Minister announced that Health Minister Fenton Ferguson would be relieved of his post. But…hold the applause…he was appointed Minister of Labour and Social Security, instead. Key officials at the Ministry – Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse and Permanent Secretary Dr. Kevin Harvey – remain firmly in their places. The jovial former State Minister Horace Dalley, who has been very busy with public sector wage negotiations, has taken over at the Health Ministry while still keeping an eye on negotiations (he’s not out of the woods on that one yet either, since civil servants are very disgruntled about the non-payment of promised overdue allowances). Minister Dalley has been doing a bit of “housecleaning” and meeting with the parents of the babies who died, which is commendable.
It must be a relief for Derrick Kellier, who has been juggling two ministries and can now focus on Agriculture and Fisheries. And a relief for Minister Ferguson! Wow. He has just been moved out of the line of fire. A Jamaica Information Service release said: “In announcing the changes, the Prime Minister said she has listened to the recent discussions and expressions of concern, some of which could have the effect of distracting from the very important focus of economic and social reforms.” Madam, I would not characterize the babies’ deaths and extremely worrying revelations on our health care as a distraction.
All the damage control was far too late. Timing is everything in public relations. The Ministry should have released the audits months ago, and fired the Health Minister weeks ago. Yes, fired. Now he just has a less stressful job! I suspect Minister Ferguson will be rather quiet for a while, now, but he had to have the last word…
Minister Ferguson on the defensive: I don’t know why he bothered; people are so fed up with him. But the former Health Minister decided to defend himself and his record. He was “bold enough to take on big tobacco” through the Tobacco Controls Regulation legislation of 2013, he said. Bold? Jamaica ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 and legislation was somewhat overdue. And to complain that when something goes wrong, it’s the Minister’s fault? “Everything that happens, is Minister Fenton…CHIKV come, is the minister; hand, foot and mouth disease come, is the minister,” Ferguson whined to the press. Oh – please. The buck stops with the Minister. It does. It does, whether you like it or not. I suspect his political career is now on the wane.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is getting angry. His performance on the campaign stage has been infused with passion recently. Yet, why am I not convinced? Half of the time, he is slightly off the mark. He did not endear himself to the “Articulate Minority” of Jamaica (I count myself as a proud member) by telling us to put down our cell phones etc. and vote. What makes him think that the growing Twitter army does not habitually vote? I know that many do. But perhaps they think about their vote a little more carefully before putting their “X” on the ballot sheet. You got a bit carried away there, Mr. Holness, and I for one did not appreciate these comments. With the ruling party mired in internal disputes and public relations débacles, is the Opposition going to make a mess of things again? I would not be at all surprised. Mr. Holness’ recent tweets have also been – well, childish and shallow.
Youth Minister Lisa Hanna has spoken up about the violent deaths of so many young people, reflecting on the recent murder of Shanique Walters in uptown Kingston. It is Youth Month, and the Minister is doing a school tour called #IamConnected. I’m not getting this hashtag. Who is connected, and to whom (or what)? After a meeting with at-risk youth in May Pen I attended recently, I am convinced – the connectedness is barely happening. Much more needs to be done, out there on the street.
“Take your hands off our heritage sites!” If Dr. Roosevelt Crooks of the Ocho Rios Resort Board had been in my living room this evening, I would have jumped up and hugged him. Dr. Crooks is furious at the activities of the infamous China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), which has got carried away again as it finishes the North-South Highway and has diverted from its planned route, thus endangering (and indeed damaging) an eighteenth century waterwheel. Dr. Crooks spoke about heritage tourism (good). In my last bulletin I expressed concern at the disrespect for, and downright thieving of Jamaica’s heritage. I hope the situation can be rectified. This is not the first time CHEC has played fast and loose with regulations and the Jamaican environment, and been reprimanded.
Talking about highways, we were shocked recently to learn from the Auditor General (and how often are we shocked by her reports!) that the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC), which operates Highway 2000 has accumulated huge debts in the past six years, amounting to J$71 billion – not the $300 billion first reported! The Auditor General’s office apparently made a ghastly error there, but it’s still pretty high, isn’t it?
What has the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) been doing for the past ten years? No wonder Education Minister Ronald Thwaites is annoyed. At least 2,494 early childhood institutions in Jamaica have been operating illegally without a registration certificate, says another Auditor General report. I thought the idea of the ECC was to raise and maintain standards in basic schools. However, one hears that it is woefully understaffed. What a pointless exercise. Sadly, this kind of thing happens quite often. A lovely government unit is set up with specific and laudable goals, only to be run into the ground and unable to fulfill its mandate due to lack of resources.
Kids in the trunk?! I did not know about this, but the Transport Authority is “cracking down” on illegal taxi cab drivers, who put children in the trunk of their car so they can fit more passengers in. Whatever next…
I am glad for the following…
- The new Rhodes Scholar is amazingly “well-rounded.” She is a “Reggae Girl” (in other words, a member of the national women’s football team), she has a First Class degree (a double major in Economics and Statistics) from the University of the West Indies (UWI), where she also obtained a Distinction in her Master’s degree in Economics. At UWI she also captained the women’s basketball and netball teams! She is a remarkable young Jamaican – I am sure she will do very well at my alma mater, Oxford University.
- I am also happy to see a new Political Ombudsman appointed (or Ombudswoman). Her name is Donna Parchment Brown, a lawyer and dispute resolution specialist. She was appointed Custos of St. Andrew in February this year; she will step down from that position now. After her predecessor, the largely incompetent Bishop Herro Blair resigned in 2013, there was talk the position might be abolished. I hope the new appointee will keep a close eye on the conduct of our politicians, before, during and after the elections.
- Kudos to all those Jamaican individuals and organizations who are really seeking to provide guidance and to address the many complex issues affecting our youth head on. There is a new youth group called #yklick that held some interesting youth forums this week. Today’s discussion, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and UNICEF Jamaica in partnership with Respect Jamaica, was streamed live on YouTube. The former head of MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, political commentator and activist Jehmu Greene – the daughter of Liberian immigrants by the way – and a number of Jamaican youth speakers gave the young people excellent tips and wise advice on advocacy.
- Finally – kudos to the Marine Police, who have been rather successful in the past two weeks; this week they seized a 32-foot vessel, hundreds of gallon of marine fuel, and arrested five men, one of whom is wanted for murder. I wonder if they are using their new boats.
It has been ten days or so, so I expected to garner a long list, but this is so sad. My deepest sympathies to the families of those who have died – I am afraid some of them are not named in the media, although perhaps in subsequent police reports.
Two unidentified men, Peter Lane, Kingston
Two homeless men, Orange Street, Kingston
Ernest Dunbar, J.P., 58, Knollis/Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Romaine Williams, 20, Monk Street, Rivoli/Spanish Town, St. Catherine (killed by police)
Unidentified man, Spanish Town Police Station, St. Catherine (killed by police)
Dawn Doyley, 50, Thompson Town, Clarendon
Naseive Binger, 33, Old Paisley/May Pen, Clarendon
Kirk Fisher, 44, Cherry Tree Lane/Four Paths, Clarendon
Daniel Anderson, 6, Belair/Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Two unidentified men, Melrose Hill, Manchester
“Benjie,” George’s Plain, Westmoreland
Garfield Allen, 43, Hartford, Westmoreland
Onecka Samuels,Hartford, Westmoreland
Travaughn James, Seaton Crescent/Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland (killed by police)
Eugenie Moody, Norwood Gardens, St. James
Angella Scarlett, Railway Lane/Montego Bay, St. James
Damian Miller,Railway Lane/Montego Bay, St. James
Tisha Sterling, 25,
Roy Burry, 61, Morant District, St. Thomas (October 22)
Rohan Hamilton, 45, Long Bay, Portland (killed by police)