It’s Christmas Eve, and the streets of Kingston have turned into a turgid struggle of humans and cars for the past two weeks. I don’t know whether everyone is simply running around in ever-decreasing circles or whether this frenzied traffic has meaning and purpose; are people actually spending money this year? As for me, I have the strongest urge to retreat to our home, a green haven where white-winged doves coo and the dogs loll around in patches of sunshine. Perhaps we can hibernate, and re-emerge in that “in-between” Christmas/New Year week?
I have been one of those rushing-around people, which is why this bulletin is really late. My apologies! So this post will be a little disjointed. I am just noting a few things here and there, and will have missed some. I will do more catching up in later posts.
Mr. Vaz and Vybz Kartel: You may recall that a young man called Dwayne Vaz was elected Member of Parliament for Central Westmoreland, following the sudden demise of Agriculture Minister and MP Roger Clarke. We didn’t know much about Mr. Vaz at the time; now, during the never-ending election campaign, he has made his mark. But not in a good way. At a People’s National Party (PNP) rally a week ago, Mr. Vaz accused the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of complicity in a fire that had occurred earlier that day at the office of Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay Michael Troupe. The police had not determined the cause of the fire. Mr. Vaz then carefully orchestrated a song by dancehall performer (and convicted murderer) Vybz Kartel called “Wah Dem Feel Like,” which is basically an incitement to violence. Mr. Vaz apparently is fond of the murderer’s songs and uses them at rallies from time to time (music plays a crucial role on such occasions).
This incident has me worried: Will the recently appointed Political Ombuds(woman) Donna Parchment Brown – an astute women of considerable standing – have the power to actually sanction any politician who transgresses during the campaign? Already, she is having some difficulty in convincing political representatives that they should remove flags (and painted sidewalks!) in their party colors. It is not against the law; so is moral suasion the only tool Ms. Parchment Brown has in her toolkit?
And the flags are still a problem: My heart sank as I listened to a recent interview with the two politicians vying for the Eastern St. Andrew seat on radio recently. One (the incumbent Member of Parliament André Hylton) simply pointed fingers at his Opposition challenger, Fayval Williams. A newcomer to politics, Ms. Williams disappointed me by sounding rather laid-back about the green flags and green paint, which her supporters chose to decorate one neighborhood. This is in a constituency where politically-motivated violence has flared up so many times in the past – in August Town, a relatively small but divided community. The politicians’ half-hearted response to the situation was most disheartening. Take down the flags!
The new Minister: One can’t help but be impressed by our new Health Minister, Horace Dalley. Since taking over from Fenton Ferguson last month, Minister Dalley has done everything right that his unhappy predecessor did wrong. He has been communicative, proactive and forward-looking. For example, he has recruited 1,000 youth healthcare workers to conduct a “zik v” prevention program island-wide. Keep going, Mr. Dalley – you are on the right track. (Incidentally, the zika virus is scary. It is spreading fast across Latin America and will likely reach us, come 2016…) I’ve noticed quite a few mosquitoes around, so urge all Jamaicans to be vigilant about breeding sites (and buy a zapper for your home!) Looking back at the damning audit on public hospitals, Minister Dalley believes it is hospital management that must take responsibility for the terrible conditions – not central Ministry officials. He added that some might disagree; yes, they might, Minister Dalley! But importantly he said: “Our people who run the system have no accountability,” and that this has worried him in the five weeks since he took over. Refreshing candor!
Alarming news: Brazil is investigating more than over 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly (brain defects in newborn babies) and 29 deaths of infants this year, according to a Washington Post report. This is a huge increase in the quite rare brain condition over the previous year and they suspect a connection with…you’ve guessed it…zik v.
The planned “rebooted” power plant in Old Harbour Bay has hit a snag. The company selected to undertake the project, Abengoa from Spain, has just gone bankrupt. The Jamaica Public Service Company is now negotiating with a new bidder, which I believe is a Chinese firm. US-based firm New Fortress Energy will supply natural gas for the 190-megawatt Combined Cycle plant. Meanwhile, the link to the Environmental Impact Assessment is on the NEPA website, here: http://www.nepa.gov.jm/new/services_products/applications/eias/index.php
Speaking of the Portland Bight Protected Area, the head of the Port Authority of Jamaica Gordon Shirley spoke to Nationwide News and said the “logistics hub” (which people still often and wrongly conflate with the planned port in Goat Islands) was still a key element of the government’s growth agenda. He was primarily talking about the proposed dredging of Kingston Harbour and development of the Kingston Terminal. The government has a large contract now (around US$7 million) with the French company Soget to implement a “port community system.” Honestly, I’m not sure what that is, but I will try to find out more.
Abuse of inmates: Things seem to have gone downhill at the Tower Street Correctional Centre. There are reports of the consistent and regular beating of prisoners (apparently by a search team known as “The Squad,” which it is alleged also confiscates prisoners’ belongings and does not return them). Jamaicans for Justice and Stand Up for Jamaica, which works on rehabilitation programs in the prison, have expressed great concern, noting: “The severe beating of inmates at the Tower Street prison and the inaction of the Department of Correctional Services have reached an intolerable level.”
The return of the “leggo beast”?: In our schools, too, there are beating problems. A teacher at Melrose Primary and Junior High School reportedly used a PVC pipe to beat a student, who was also dragged on floor. Another teacher at St. Richard’s Primary School has been charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Nevertheless, Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Norman Allen’s remarks in the local media did not impress me. He waffled and prevaricated over the issue of corporal punishment in schools (“it works for some but not others”). Moreover, he seems to prefer secrecy. Don’t discuss the matter widely in the media, he suggests, as children will be listening and will behave even more badly (like “leggo beasts,” one supposes). He is pointing the finger at parents, but meanwhile tells members not to beat students. Please, let’s just ban corporal punishment in schools! What is the problem? The Education Ministry has recommended a lot of “alternative measures” to “discipline” students. So just use those!
The reverse of the coin is the problem of violence in schools. Most incidents are swept under the carpet. I am aware of several cases that have never made the local news, presumably because the schools don’t want that kind of publicity. My fellow blogger (he won a Certificate of Merit at the Press Association of Jamaica Awards) Wayne Campbell wrote about this recently in his blog (at http://wayaine.blogspot.com) and also in the Gleaner here: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20151222/jungle-classroom. We can’t ignore all of this, because it won’t go away.
The usual tourism hype is under way. Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay had 98 flights going in and out on December 22 – “An absolute record,” say tourism officials. 17,500 passengers arrived and departed. There were people kitted out in gold polo shirts labeled “Jamaica, Home of All Right.” This “All Right” phrase is the Jamaica Tourist Board’s slogan, which I consider pretty lame. There is an arrangement with Thomson for passengers to arrive and get on cruise ships; so they won’t be staying. Never mind, we are trying. And is it unfair of me to call it “hype”?
Dr. Kenneth Baugh (a former Health Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister), remains in intensive care at the University Hospital of the West Indies after brain surgery, which was apparently successful. I really hope he makes a full recovery. It is quite unusual for a politician to actually have surgery in Jamaica, I think. Most of them hop on the next plane to Miami. Dr. Baugh is such a charming man, wonderfully well-mannered.
Big ups… So many!
- It’s great to see new businesses springing up, and here is one at the new 80 Lady Musgrave Road commercial complex in Kingston – a place well worth visiting, if you have not done so already. It’s a nice hangout spot with several restaurants, a pharmacy and more. So good to see local entrepreneurs – if you have an eye for fashion you should drop by and take a look at Keneea Linton-George’s newly opened store!
- BirdsCaribbean and the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) partnered in training educators from Trelawny and St. Ann on how to use birds to teach the importance of nature conservation. The project used Cornell University’s specially adapted BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. Special “big ups” to Ava Tomlinson, who taught at BirdsCaribbean’s first ever children’s bird camp at Hope Zoo in July; and the hard-working Deleen Powell of NEPA. This is important work!
- Chairman of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) Dennis Chung is taking things in hand, after this year’s disastrous fire – one in a series. He is working with Local Government Minister Noel Arscott to tighten things up at the 120-acre Riverton City dump, with a fire suppression system installed. All tires at the dump will be moved to an unnamed location within a month, and much tighter security has been established. It’s a good start.
- Children must play. And playing is learning. The JPS Foundation recently donated a complete new playground to the York Town Basic School. It was opened on December 10 and designed by the imaginative and talented sculptor/designer Scheed Cole. It’s also “green,” being made entirely of recycled materials. Lucky kids!
- Note: The U.S. Embassy has issued a Call for Proposals for the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation – for grants from US$15,000 – 150,000 – and the deadline is January 15, 2016. This is a competitive global program. Full details are here: http://photos.state.gov/libraries/jamaica/231771/PDFs/Final-Request%20for%20Proposals-2016%20AFCP.pdf or take a look at the U.S. Embassy’s website.
Many more kudos are due in ensuing blogs…
Electric madness: Members of the St. John’s Road community in St. Catherine were irate recently, accusing JPS of cutting off their electricity. JPS responded in writing that the outages were due to the high level of illegal connections in the area, which results in blown transformers. They have now installed their seventh new transformer there in six months (at US$4,500 a pop). Apparently over eighty per cent of residents obtain electricity illegally. This is crazy!
A “Get the Guns” update: The police announced that after three months of effort, their Get the Guns campaign has yielded 157 illegal guns and 1,960 rounds of ammunition. This is an alarming number of guns – but good going, anyway. There were very few casualties incurred in the process of seizing the weapons. I hope the police intelligence has improved (I see signs of it, I think). Unsurprisingly, the largest percentage of weapons (34 per cent) were taken in our new crime capital, St. James. I’m also impressed that the police have hauled six alleged members of East Kingston’s Burgher Gully Gang up in court, charged under the anti-gang legislation in connection with murders, shootings, robberies, extortion and other crimes. The gang’s alleged leader goes by the innocuous nickname of “Pepsi.” The Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) is working hard. (But what of the Ministry of National Security’s Unite for Change program? How is that going?)
TV news omitted to mention that a well-known businessman, Mark Perkins, who was shot and seriously injured, is on Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna’s campaign team (her “road manager”). He had just popped home in the village of Walkerswood, St. Ann when gunmen pounced on him and shot him five times. They also stole his licensed firearm. Mr. Perkins owns a pleasant little rest stop in the village called Lyming. His wife and children were, thankfully, unharmed.
Another man with political connections, the former Mayor of Spanish Town and JLP Councilor Dr. Raymoth Notice was shot and injured at his home in Bog Walk, St. Catherine in what appears to have been a robbery. I wish him a speedy recovery and hope the shooting will be thoroughly investigated.
Another disturbing piece of news relates to a car chase in rural St. Thomas. The car drove some way into the sea before giving up. It was driven by Rameish Simpson, who caused a stir a few years ago when West St. Thomas Member of Parliament James Robertson took him to hospital after a gun fight he was involved in. Simpson was subsequently acquitted of gun charges (and again in 2011 after a witness failed to show). Simpson’s car allegedly contained an Uzi sub machine gun and some ammunition (his lawyer denies this). Simpson has now been charged.
More drama and tragedy in St. Thomas: Last night, two policemen were shot dead and a civilian injured while they were playing a game of dominoes at Poor Man’s Corner, a somewhat lonely seaside spot which one passes through after descending a steep and winding hill. Corporal Kenneth Davis was a member of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s security detail, but Mr. Seaga believes his death has “nothing to do with any politics.” Constable Craig Palmer was attached to the Kingston West Police. The aforementioned MP Robertson suggests this was a “reprisal,” and that there have been “open threats against the police” in the parish. Was this a contract killing? Let’s see how the police investigation goes. They are seeking Marlon Perry as a prime suspect.
Many Jamaicans have died violently since I last wrote. Here are just some of those I would like us to remember. Many families will be sadly missing brothers, sisters, husbands and wives this Christmas. My heart goes out to them. Meanwhile, Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith says our children are “in crisis” – murders of children have increased by 36 per cent up to December 12 this year – and that the Government is simply not taking this seriously. It has not reconvened a committee set up to review four pieces of legislation to protect children for a whole year. 60 children have been murdered this year, 35 of them in the 16 – 17 age group and 44 of them boys. Despite protestations by the Prime Minister and Youth Minister Lisa Hanna – are our children really a priority concern?
And where are the four family members who disappeared in St. Ann after their house was burned down? I have not heard any news at all… What a sad world.
Danjay Robinson, 22, Fleet Street, Kingston
Dwight Gillespie, 30, Foster Lane, Kingston
Christopher Birch, 33, Harbour View, Kingston
Eric Morris, 16, Grants Pen, Kingston
Ray Charles Brown, 52, Willowdene, St. Catherine
Verona Clark, 33, Linstead, St. Catherine
Raymond Reynolds, 44, Bridgeport, St. Catherine
Christopher Thomas, 41, Green Crescent, Linstead, St. Catherine
Phillip Richards, 33, Mitchell Town, Clarendon
Lloyd Riley, 76, Frankfield, Clarendon
Pastor Audley Coleman, 57, Toby Heights, Clarendon (geography teacher at Glenmuir High School)
Shevaughn Chambers, 18, Cornwall Courts, Montego Bay, St. James
Teenage boy, 17, Adelphi, St. James
Benjamin Stephenson, 21, Spring Mount, St. James (killed by police)
Delores Vernon, 61, Barnett Street, Montego Bay, St. James
Corporal Kenneth Davis, 52, Poor Man’s Corner/Yallahs, St. Thomas
Constable Craig Palmer, 33, Poor Man’s Corner/Yallahs, St. Thomas
Deandre Vanhorne, 2, Frome, Westmoreland (died in an alleged arson attack)