Since I last posted one of my commentaries, the election date has been announced (February 25). Today was Nomination Day, with the accompanying rowdiness.
I am not at all impressed with some aspects of the campaign, now in full swing. It seems the usual indiscipline rules, despite all the pronouncements of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the directions of the Political Ombudswoman. Are the police afraid of stopping buses that are driving recklessly, with passengers have half (or even all) of their bodies sticking out of the windows? And why do the political parties ignore Political Ombudswoman Donna Parchment Brown‘s instructions and allow their supporters to continue erecting flags along roads, marking out “territory”? I have written about this before, and for a while the flags came down. However, I hear Mountain View Avenue (a politically divided street if ever there was one) is festooned in alternate orange and green from top to bottom. Who is not getting the memo? Or who simply doesn’t care? A “high ranking” police officer was quoted in the Gleaner: “If we stop one bus we going to have to stop all of them to prosecute. Then you might have the two groups converging and we don’t want that.” In other words: A) we can’t really take on the work of prosecuting a lot of them; and B) we are afraid for the safety of our officers – not for that of “converging” groups or innocent passers by. Oh, well. There you have it.
Ms. Parchment Brown wants to meet with the party general secretaries tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. to discuss a number of “irregularities.”
Are the political debates on or off? Private Sector Organization of Jamaica head William Mahfood tweeted yesterday that he is sure they are on. Interviewed on TV this evening, however, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller hemmed and hawed. What’s happening? It’s not encouraging that the Jamaica Debates Commission website has not been updated since 2012…
Violence is ugly. It dirties up everything, including politics. Jamaica has suffered from this for decades, on and off. We were all disturbed by events in Montego Bay – the so-called “tourism mecca” that has a very dark side. On Sunday night, while the Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was addressing a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) rally in Sam Sharpe Square, gunfire rang out. Two people were killed and two injured. Both political parties condemned the incident. The police report it was related to a feud between the Sparta Gang and the Rebel Gang in Flanker, an inner-city community on the outskirts of Montego Bay. One of the dead was a “wanted man.”
Then, just this afternoon, a JLP motorcade was fired on and stoned as it drove through Flanker; one man was killed. The indefatigable SSP Steve McGregor, who is now in charge of St. James, just said on television that there is a specific concern with Flanker, which he says is very divided politically. I know that much good work has been done in the community, with the establishment of the Flanker Peace & Justice Centre, and more. This is really sad.
Unmasking: Meanwhile, the police, Ms. Parchment Brown and others have expressed concern over the wearing of masks at party rallies. There is no specific law against the wearing of masks. This also raises the question of security at these mass rallies. How can they be more carefully controlled? Should they be banned, at least in Montego Bay? Well, political meetings in Flanker have now been banned by police (who, by the way, pointed out that no permission had been given for the JLP motorcade). Oh, and in the long term – CCTV would help, too. Can we look at this in a serious way?
The positive spin is supporters of opposing parties hugging and posing for their photos together. Love and peace, and all that. We get this every Nomination Day – along with photos of various long-suffering domestic animals dressed in party colors. Déjà vu. It’s the Cynical Me speaking, I’m afraid. Meanwhile, I get the feeling that the “youth vote” is not going to materialize – although there are some young candidates who do deserve support. The amount of negativity expressed on social media – plus the convoluted explanations as to why they won’t vote – is disheartening, if to some extent understandable. I have never not voted in my life, however. It doesn’t feel right to abstain. But if you must abstain, then you need to put your mind to it to effect meaningful change as a non-voter. Of course, you can do that. Everyone can. Here are some thoughts from a young Jamaican woman: http://latoyanugent.com/about/talking-politics/
Speaking of the roads, the news so far this year has been gloomy. Of the twenty (yes, twenty!) motorbike riders killed already in 2016, only one was wearing a crash helmet. Again, the police seem unwilling or unable to enforce the law in this respect. The primary factor, as noted before, is speed. 45 deaths have occurred on the roads in the past five weeks or so. Where do we go from here?
Battle of the hashtags: Meanwhile every media house has a different hashtag for their election reporting: #JaVotes2016 for the Gleaner, #DecisionJa2016 for the Observer, and several others on social media. Take your pick.
Promises, promises: Statements from party platforms have become more and more outlandish. The People’s National Party (PNP) first promised 100,000 jobs; the JLP responded by promising 250,000 jobs. I wish they wouldn’t. Meanwhile, the JLP’s promise of open, digitized government data would certainly impact our society in many positive ways. In fact, it’s a necessity for a democratic society these days. But please – stop making promises you can’t keep. Let’s be reasonable.
Man of the Moment: Finance Minister Peter Phillips is a busy man at the moment. He heads the PNP’s election campaign (it’s a pity his speeches on campaign platforms are not more edifying) and is busy collecting awards, too. He was recently named the Gleaner’s Man of the Year 2015, which the Minister called “an award for the people of Jamaica.” Today the Minister was in New York today for the 2015 International Financing Review Americas Award Ceremony and to accept Jamaica’s award for Latin America Bond Deal of the Year. This was last July’s US$2 billion dual-tranche bond in the international capital markets, most of which was used to retire Jamaica’s US$3 billion debt to PetroCaribe. Now, on to the Budget… Oh yes – after the elections!
Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States. It says Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners (51% owned by the Jamaican Government) will continue mining in St. Ann, but must focus on becoming more efficient. The aluminum industry is facing “challenging market conditions,” says Noranda’s boss.
Zika Virus: Well, many of us have been fogged with chemicals that make humans dizzy and kill bees as well as mosquitoes. Many of us have been frantically cleaning up our yards, so that not a drop of water can harbor an aedes egypti mosquito. The Government says everything is in high gear – one imagines people dashing around with alert expressions on their faces. Many of us have been swapping online articles about ZikV – they are coming thick and fast. “Doctors say…” “Officials are concerned that…” etc., etc. Meanwhile, I would like to ask the Ministry of Health when the Jamaican samples sent to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for testing will be returned? “Approximately” 27 samples were sent for testing, the Minister reported on February 2. Have any more been sent? Let’s hope we hear some news by the end of the week. An update is needed, Minister Dalley!
Short but sweet congratulations to:
Tennis champion a million times over Serena Williams, whose foundation is building the Salt Marsh Primary and Infant School in Trelawny. Ms. Williams was here with a group of volunteers. Well done, all!
Good news: Fatal shootings by the police and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) reached an all-time low last year, says the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). 109 died (including 3 deaths involving the JDF), representing a 15.5% decrease over 2014 and a 42% decrease over 2013. The list below is terrifyingly long but includes many (not all) of those Jamaicans who were murdered since January 8. I don’t want to FORGET them. All the following stories are tragic and my sympathies go out to the families of ALL who lost their lives. The deaths of the vulnerable (an elderly couple in rural Jamaica and a special needs boy) are particularly painful and hard to accept. But then, the level of crime and violence on our island remains unacceptable. And as you can see, Montego Bay/St. James remains the “murder capital” of Jamaica. The police say the “lotto scam” business remains at the heart of the violence.
Rohan Graham, 31, Henley Road, Kingston 11 (shot by police)
Keith Gardner, Regent Street, Kingston (shot by JDF)
Raymond Green, 31, New Haven, Kingston 20
Unidentified man, Matthews Lane, Kingston
Courtney Daley, 40, Donmair Drive, Kingston
Lenny Daley, 57, Donmair Drive, Kingston
Unidentified woman, Water Lane/Orange Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Seaview Gardens, Kingston
Roman Bent, 22, Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Dwayne Harrison, 32, Linstead, St Catherine
Jason Campbell, 28, St. John’s Road, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Juvea Cooper, 10, Portland Cottage, Clarendon (special needs boy; woman and daughter charged with his murder)
Christina Dawkins, 28, Park Hall, Clarendon
Cavena Collins, 25, Pineapple, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Javin Campbell, 22, Sam Sharpe Square/Montego Bay, St. James
Nicholas Irving, Sam Sharpe Square/Montego Bay, St. James
Unidentified man, Barnett Street, Montego Bay, St. James (two killed on this downtown street in 2016, neither identified)
Mark Anthony Tate, Kodak Street, Flanker, St. James
Robert Lundgren, 27, Montpelier, St. James
Unidentified man, Shanty Town/Montego Hills, St. James
Sandrina Samuels, 18, Meggie Top/Salt Spring, St. James
Alphonso Foster, 40, Meggie Top/Salt Spring, St. James
Andre Barrett, 36, Meggie Top/Salt Spring, St James
Unidentified man, Church Street, Montego Bay, St. James (allegedly killed by licensed firearm holder)
Lansil Gregory, 71, Edinburgh/Newport, Manchester
Corita Gregory, 74, Edinburgh/Newport, Manchester
Kimkorn Mills, 34, Great River/Sandy Bay, Hanover
Romaine Jenkinson, 20, Alma, Westmoreland (killed by the police)
Violet Rowe, 70, Litchfield/Wait a Bit, Trelawny
Shamar Elliott, 22, Friendship Pen, St. Thomas