This will be my very last news post of 2015! As you can see, I have posted hundreds of articles this year – although not all were written by me, because I also like to share interesting stuff that you might otherwise have missed. In the next week or two, I plan to do a check through the news posts I have done, to highlight the key issues – and to see which are unresolved. A sort of “Where are we now?” I think it might be a useful and interesting exercise.
Murders are up: Homicides have “spiked” (a term I don’t care for – a whole year is more than a spike) by 20 per cent this year. 1,192 Jamaicans were murdered between January 1 and December 26 this year, compared to 997 for the same period last year. To be told that “other major crimes are down” is never very comforting. Somehow, neither the National Security Minister nor the Police Commissioner have sounded convincing this year. They don’t seem to have much to say nowadays, except for occasional references to the lotto scam. Why this leap in murders, when last year recorded a 16 per cent decrease over 2013? Interestingly, larceny cases in Kingston have jumped by 83 per cent – but our capital city, with its reputation for violence, pales in comparison to St. James, Clarendon – and our smallest parish, Hanover, where murders increased by 108 per cent this year.
More gun toters: While the Jamaica Constabulary Force has reaped results with its “Get the Guns” campaign, the Firearms Licensing Authority has reported that up to the end of November this year, it issued 3,980 gun licenses. This is considerably higher than the 489 licenses issued in the corresponding period in 2014. However, I believe the approval process for a license is rigorously bureaucratic and slow. It would be good to get a breakdown of the demographics though – close to 4,000 licenses is pretty high, and I wonder who is applying? I’m guessing anyone who owns a business, some hunters – who else?
Shareholders approve: Simultaneous meetings of the shareholders of the Gleaner newspaper and the RJR Group (Radio Jamaica et al) yesterday resulted in an emphatic vote for the merger of these two major media houses to go ahead. They are convinced it’s a good business move; but how will this affect journalism in Jamaica?
Bad gas: Now there is a #badgasscandal. I’m not sure why everything has to be a #scandal these days. It’s usually a dramatic piece of headline news that our dear media people have decided should be “scandalized.” There are many issues in Jamaica that are really scandalous – child sexual abuse, for example, gender-based violence, human rights, poverty, corruption…but we have got so used to them they aren’t scandals any more. They’re just ongoing. Anyway, on Tuesday night the Bureau of Standards issued closure orders to 17 gas stations – seven in Kingston and St. Andrew – for selling “bad gas.” The police are investigating, also. Our gas stations are supposed to get all their supplies from the national petrol refinery, Petrojam – the only entity equipped to test gas. So how is it contaminated? The Opposition suggests it is illegally imported gas. So far, no one seems to be off the hook – neither Petrojam nor the retailers, nor the marketing companies. What’s up? I think one word is behind this: corruption.
Is there still a government agency called the Consumer Affairs Commission, by the way? If so, what do they do all day?
Talking of gas, the regime of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela is under severe pressure – and PetroCaribe’s future is in doubt. Squabbling and lawsuits have broken out since the Venezuelan Opposition won what appeared to be a convincing victory on December 6. What will this mean for Caribbean countries? We will have to wait and see how the politics works out. An unstable Venezuela means an uncertain PetroCaribe, obviously.
Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an unnamed Chinese company to build a 190 megawatt power plant in Old Harbour Bay, after a planned partnership with a Spanish company, Abengoa fell through. JPS is to meet with the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) next week, after which hopefully the veil of secrecy will be lifted. Why so little transparency around deals with Chinese companies, by the way?
Did you know the first direct commercial flight (Air China) from China to Cuba took off from Beijing on Boxing Day?
More water woes: Meanwhile, the National Water Commission struggles along in its usual shambolic way, with system breakdowns all over the place. Five parishes are affected. Is this the aftermath of the drought – what is the explanation, and can someone please find out what is really happening?
Beach news: The Puerto Seco beach in Discovery Bay that I mentioned in my last blog post will be open to the public, says businessman Kenny Benjamin, the new operator. There will be an entrance fee (it was already J$300 and I suspect that will increase once the property reopens). The beach is currently closed to facilitate refurbishing and to address a sewage problem (oops), and will reopen in February 2016.
It’s a scandal that approximately 200,000 Jamaicans are under-nourished, according to the latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report. This is 8.1 per cent of the population. The actual number of hungry Jamaicans has not changed since 1990, but is now a lower percentage of the population that has grown somewhat since then. There is a dramatic contrast, by the way, between our two neighbors: Cuba has a very low (less than 5 per cent) number of under-nourished citizens, as does Barbados; while 5.7 million Haitians are under-nourished (53.4 per cent of the population). Well, 2016 is the International Year of Pulses (that is, peas, beans, lentils etc) so we probably need to be putting more red peas in our rice and peas – plenty of good protein there. Opposition Spokesperson on Health Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte believes a strong public education program on healthy eating would certainly help. But can poor people afford to eat healthy?
A bus driver from Portmore was shot dead in August Town this week during what seems to have been an attempted robbery on the bus, although the two men took nothing. Nowadays, buses carry very little cash anyway. A group of residents of August Town staged a defiant protest, insisting that they have had enough of crime and violence – and that they will no longer keep quiet about violent incidents in the community. They may have been encouraged by the presence of the Member of Parliament and local councilor; but indeed, the citizens must stand firm. August Town has been through some very hard times, in the past. My sympathies go out to the family of 51-year-old Albert Barnes.