A grey cloud has descended over much of Jamaica. Literally, that is, although in some respects the cloud is a bit more than a weather phenomenon. Everything seems to be a bit of a struggle. Where are we heading? Jamaicans seem uncertain and not entirely hopeful. Or maybe that’s my mood. There is no doubt, however, that with ten days to go before General Elections, things are getting a little murky.
#HoldTheDebates: As noted in previous posts, the People’s National Party (PNP) had issued a list of demands (if that is the correct word) which, if not met, would result in its non-participation in the planned televised debates. The Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) has now proposed the debates be held on February 19, 20 and 21, after being obliged to cancel the first proposed date because of the PNP’s prevarication. Will these dates go ahead? The JDC gave the PNP until 5 p.m. yesterday to confirm whether or not it will be participating; at the time of writing, the JDC says it has not received any agreement from either party on the dates, nor from the PNP on its participation. It will also not be able to have an “empty chair” debate, according to its rules. So, does this situation set a precedent? If one of the two major parties refuses to join debates in future campaigns, debates are off? The PNP also had issues with the proposed format of the debates, by the way – but may have stepped back. Be that as it may, the prospect of debates seems to be fading.
Targeting the Holnesses: Now, inextricably entwined in this is the issue of the Holness mansion. A large part of the PNP’s argument is that the Opposition Leader must respond to a series of questions about his large house in the hills. Where did the money come from – illicit means? asked the campaign manager and Gleaner Man of the Year (GMOY) Peter Phillips in a belligerent tone. The GMOY has been dropping dark hints about the house for months, now. The rumor and innuendo machines operated by those with political agendas ramped up into high gear on social media, thanks to the GMOY. This became very unpleasant, personal and nasty – targeting not only the Opposition Leader but Holness’ wife Juliet, who is running for the seat of East Rural St. Andrew – so much so that her parents had to put out a statement defending one of the horrible rumors, yesterday. Shame on you all!
So, the PNP demanded that Andrew Holness declare his assets and respond to questions over the purchase of the land and building of his house, which it is suggested cost around J$200 million to construct [see below]. Huge issues of accountability and transparency loom (and must not be ignored). Have all our political representatives declared their assets? In the past, no. Was Holness one of the bad guys? Well, it’s hard to tell as, according to National Integrity Action, the relevant annual reports of the Integrity Commission for 2011, 2012 and 2013 are languishing in the Office of the Prime Minister, which should have tabled them in Parliament.
No apology… Meanwhile, Andrew Holness’ lawyer has fired back, also claiming defamation of his client’s character and demanding an apology within three days. Holness himself he is not going to apologize for allegedly calling the Prime Minister a “con artist,” as he does not consider it defamatory. Yes, the lawyers are indeed happy!
My feeling about the whole disgraceful muddle is: Hold the debates (please!! In the interests of the Jamaican people) and that all politicians – all – should “come clean” and report their assets in accordance with the law. Among the PNP’s demands, I don’t understand the big deal about meeting with the Jamaican imprisoned in Qatar (I had completely forgotten that incident); but agree with the GMOY that Holness’ calling the shooting at the JLP rally an “act of terror” was over the top (although I am sure some of those in the vicinity were pretty terrified). Meanwhile, everyone is consulting their lawyers, who are rubbing their hands with glee. Just now, Holness has fired back at GMOY with a set of questions involving FINSAC and the Trafigura scandal. Nationwide News Network journalist Abka Fitz-Henley tweeted the two-page letter last night. In current Jamaican slang, politics “tun up.”
The Gleaner Man of the Year may be on the right path with the IMF, but he has stepped onto the wrong road in this campaign. There’s no turning back, now.
Rough stuff: Now Juliet Holness has written to the Political Ombudsman to complain about intimidation in her constituency. Quite apart from all the back and forth and threats of lawsuits, there are other things going on that are very worrying and if true, completely unacceptable. There are reports of vote-buying ($5000 wrapped up in a party T shirt) and intimidation of voters on the ground. Now, the Organization of American States (OAS) will be monitoring the elections. It’s a pity they don’t monitor the weeks of unpleasantness leading up to elections, rather than just touring polling stations. And by the way, Citizens’ Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), the local observer organization, is currently training volunteers across the island. A session in Kingston will be coming up soon.
Expecting a Zika update today! It is two weeks since the last press briefing on the Zika Virus and I understand there will be an update today on the matter. Stay tuned…(Hint: Dengue seems to be a factor again, folks…)
So the Chinese are to take over the Alpart bauxite mining and alumina processing plant from the Russians, who seem not keen on remaining in Jamaica. Owners of UC Rusal have signed an agreement with a Chinese firm for the purchase of Alumina Partners of Jamaica (ALPART) in Nain, St Elizabeth – which was shut down six years ago. The rumored buyer is the state-owned Jiuquan Iron & Steel Group Co Ltd (JISCO). Now we are hearing that the Chinese are also eyeing Noranda Jamaica (whose parent company recently declared bankruptcy in the United States) with the possibility of them taking over its 49 per cent share in the company, which is 51% owned by the Jamaican Government. This does not bode well for the environment; Noranda is already encroaching on the borders of the Cockpit Country, and we know what a dismal record the Chinese have in this respect. It scares me a little to think of the Chinese Government having control of a chunk of our bauxite industry.
Motorbike madness: Complete insanity continues to reign on the roads, especially where motorbikes are concerned. A few days ago, a Canadian tourist and a senior citizen was killed by an out-of-control bike in Negril, Westmoreland as he walked along the main road where all the hotels are. Meanwhile, two motorbikes collided in the same area (Red Ground, Negril), killing two people.\
It is very sad that the trial of three police constables charged with the murder of 16-year-old schoolgirl Vanessa Kirkland, due to start today, was postponed apparently due to the absence of three attorneys (where were they?) Vanessa was shot and killed in March 2012 in Greenwich Farm, Kingston after the policemen reportedly shot at the vehicle in which she was a passenger. Nearly four years ago. Now the case has been put off until June 7, 2016. What about human rights and justice?
Speaking of human rights and justice, the LGBT rights group J-FLAG has started an online petition which I would like to draw your attention to. Please do share and sign – this is a detailed and heartfelt petition on human rights and our progress (or not) towards Vision 2030. You will find the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/votejustice-protect-and-promote-human-rights-economic-and-social-justice-for-all-jamaicans?tk=HpUdqilo-A-_Ta_cF6GHiCdaHdjYlSBXDJJvhZtIyr8&utm_medium=email&utm_source=signature_receipt&utm_campaign=new_signature
- Jamaica Observer printed the photographs of ten children (aged two upwards) missing as of February 14, here: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Missing-children—Feb-14_51733 This is an excellent move.
- A million congrats to: Rhodes Scholar and law student Kamille Adair Morgan, winner of the Winter Williams Prize at the University of Oxford, is now embarking on her D.Phil, based at Mansfield College. Congratulations and good luck, Kamille!
- Colour Pink Group (CPG), and in particular founder Jessica Burton and new Executive Director Kendra Frith, who launched CPG’s new project (funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation) this week, and I am so sorry I could not attend! CPG addresses the needs of homeless and “sofa-surfing” gay men, men who have sex with men and the transgender community in Jamaica. Great people!
The awesome Senior Superintendent of Police Steve McGregor says crime is not rising in St. James but it has already had around 25 murders this year, more than 2015. My sympathies are with all the families of the deceased.
Raymond Green, 31, New Haven, Kingston
Kelvin Hodge, 30, Chatham/Adelphi, St. James (killed by police; prison escapee)
Jefette Johnson, 38, Red Ground/Flanker, St. James
Mark St. Patrick Bernard, Hatfield, Westmoreland
Deon Bennett, 44, Bryan’s Bay/Port Antonio, Portland