It’s the Easter holiday weekend, it’s hot and our neighbors have apparently all fled the city. They are likely sweating it out on a beach or on one of Jamaica’s famous new highways, now. Meanwhile, all I can hear is our wind chimes (the wind is fierce) and the birds. It’s been a long while (since before the elections, I believe) since I posted a news update. So here we go. Please note – I will have skipped over a large chunk of Jamaican happenings, and will only focus on the past week or so. Otherwise this post will be ten miles long…
Get your kicks on the highway…while you can: Well, the new and incredibly convenient, time-saving North-South Highway is now open; but how many Jamaicans can afford to use it? Only occasionally, perhaps. There was considerable shock when the new toll rates were announced, and over 300 submissions from the public on the matter. Minister of Transport Mike Henry rushed into “negotiations” with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to see what could be done. The Government managed to secure a 25 per cent reduction, for the next month, as of midnight on March 23. It is hoping to find an “equilibrium rate” in the months to come. I still fear most of our stretches of highway will become empty spaces, where only duppies roam in the night mist. Having said that, there are apparently plans for economic zones along the highway and Minister Henry is pushing for that to actually happen. We’ll see.
High school time to be extended: One of the first things the new Minister of Education, Youth and Information Senator Ruel Reid announced was a new Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education Programme, to begin this September. This will mean children will spend seven years in high school and will apparently have more choices, including technical education, in sixth form. How much will it cost to keep them in school? What about the already overcrowded classrooms – will more have to be built? I am glad Education and Youth are back together again in one ministry. Information has been tacked on; I only hope Senator Reid will not start lecturing journalists, as his predecessor did.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck also wants to shake things up a bit, it seems. He is asking judges to consider dismissing cases that are more than five years old (this would be quite a few, I imagine).Minister Chuck says the Jamaican Constitution provides that a person charged with a crime should have their case dealt with within a reasonable time. Earlier this year, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla asked for cases over four years old to be put on a special list for consideration. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has been forced to move from an office building where I once worked myself, now deemed a health hazard. This will be costly!
We hate the aedes aegypti mosquito (and the flu): I have been posting notices from the Ministry of Health on developments regarding the various diseases hovering over us. Chikungunya has taken a back seat for now (I believe there have been one or two cases). The Zika virus is still scary – mainly because of its reported connection with pregnancy and birth defects. It is in 15 Caribbean countries. We’re also a bit nervous because it can apparently be sexually transmitted! Jamaica has had five cases to date, the Health Ministry reports (samples have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Puerto Rico for re-confirmation). If you did not see the latest updates, this CDC web page will probably give you a headache: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/ Meanwhile, Dr. Denise Duncan Goffe was the second doctor to die from H1N1 influenza recently; she had other chronic medical conditions. As of March 20 we have had six H1N1 deaths. There has been quite a rush to get vaccinated and the Health Ministry is trying to get more supplies in, though it’s late in the flu season. The Ministry says 90 per cent of its front line medical staff are now vaccinated (I read that the vaccine is 51 per cent effective for H1N1 – rather low?) I recommend the Ministry’s website: http://moh.gov.jm It is up to date and informative. Follow on Twitter: @themohgovjm.
…But we can test locally, now: We don’t have to send away samples of blood tested for the horrible triad (triumvirate? trilogy?) of chikungunya, dengue and zika any more. The Virology Lab at the University of the West Indies was recently upgraded. Up until recently, we had to send the samples off to Trinidad – a time-consuming process. Now we can get results within hours instead of days.
Water oversight needed: We are apparently retaining the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team but I agree with William Mahfood of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica: we need a similar body to oversee the critical water sector. There is so much waste and mismanagement. And speaking of water, when is the sewage-on-the-street issue in downtown Kingston (around North Street) going to be resolved, if ever? It has been going on for years, literally. The residents protest; no one seems to listen and clearly no one takes action. It is sheer incompetence and disrespect. Minister Chang?
That darned breakwater: Minister Without Portfolio in the mega-Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz, who is responsible for environmental issues, says a decision will have to be made soon regarding the proposals to build a breakwater to prevent the erosion of the famous Negril beach. Tread carefully, Minister Vaz; make sure you weigh up all the arguments, for and against, and that you get good advice from real experts – not people with ulterior motives. It’s a very technical and complex issue. Similarly, you will have to make a decision soon on the much-disputed “boundaries” for Cockpit Country. Tread very carefully on this one, too. It’s a minefield – and not just the bauxite kind. Oh, this is a serious matter and the pun was unintentional – but I’ll leave it!
Sugar is dying slowly: The Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (owned by a Chinese state-owned firm) has not produced good results at all. One of the three sugar estates it owns, Monymusk in Clarendon, is likely to lay off its remaining 230 workers once the current crop is in. I really wish Jamaica could shrug off sugar and bauxite – both of which are subject to world commodity prices – and go for value-added “green” industries. Sugar and bauxite are industries of the past. This is just my view!
Cuban competition: Cuba is rapidly opening up and becoming the hot new place for Americans to travel. Hotels, airlines, even ferry boat companies are beginning to rush in. However, Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett says he’s not worried. Perhaps you know something I don’t, Minister Bartlett.
Gender affairs: I welcome the renaming of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to Bureau of Gender Affairs, and the re-establishment of the Male Desk in the near future (one hopes). I would like to know, however, what is going to happen regarding the former Bureau head Faith Webster, who was interdicted two years ago after an internal audit. Is her case still in the courts? Is her life still on hold?
Cryptic words: Vice President of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) Ziyu Sun, the parent company of CHEC, says CCCC will build its regional headquarters in New Kingston (Where? Can’t they just rent some of the empty office space?) Mr. Sun also said that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is a fast decision-maker. I’m trying to read between the lines, here. Perhaps I have a suspicious mind.
Rev. Miller back in court: Nearly six years ago, the police stopped Reverend Al Miller in his car on the Mandela Highway, heading for Kingston. The pastor of the Fellowship Tabernacle Church was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. Why? Because the then fugitive Christopher Dudus Coke, wearing a woman’s wig, was sitting next to him in the passenger seat. Rev. Miller said he was driving Coke to the U.S. Embassy to turn himself in, as an extradition request had been filed for him. Those were very difficult times; it seems the Tivoli Gardens massacre will forever haunt us, as well it should. Let us see what transpires.
Used cars for the police: People don’t seem to like the idea of used cars being purchased for the police, as proposed by National Security Minister Robert Montague – but if they are properly maintained, why is there a problem? At least we will have more cars.
McKenzie on tour: Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie is out and about. I always have the feeling he doesn’t care to sit behind a desk. He was out at Riverton City landfill (which is looking better, I think, since it came under new management) and I agree with him. Burning trash is a no-no. I thought there was a law against it but the Minister seems to think public education is the way to go. Good luck with that one…
Throwing bouquets to…
- Singer Orville “Shaggy” Burrell, who recently donated J$55 million (no small sum) to the Bustamante Hospital for Children through his Make a Difference Foundation. William Mahfood of Wisynco also appealed for funds and the firm donated an additional J$8.26 million through a special WATA promotion. Many thanks, too to Stewarts Automotive Group, who contributed J$1.5 million.
- Food for the Poor who, as is customary, secured the release of 256 non-violent prisoners in several Caribbean countries for the Easter holiday. These are usually prisoners who cannot afford to pay their fines and are imprisoned.
- USAID has a good program calledJamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change II (Ja REEACH) – yes, a bit of a mouthful. It has donated 36 weather stations to farmers. We will have to try and predict our weather better. Somehow.
- Kudos to Grace Kennedy for their March 23 tweet chat on the lovely topic of trash. We need to make all possible efforts to raise awareness – and private sector efforts are especially welcomed. You can find the conversation at #gktrashtalk. Did you know about 500 million plastic bottles are thrown away annually in Jamaica?
- Kingston-born Bella Issa is a junior studying media production at Pepperdine University in the U.S. Her short film recently won awards at the university’s Reelstories Festival. It is described as “a thought-provoking and emotional image of the deaf community through two friends and their journey through life.” A film-making talent for the future, one hopes! Congratulations, Bella.
As life continues, so the murders continue relentlessly. As you can see from the names below, the past week has been really bad. Two men were killed and another injured at a roadside stall in St. James on Good Friday, and a man and woman killed in the same parish on the same day. A couple in their sixties were shot dead at their Clarendon home. Police Commissioner Williams says the number of murders in Westmoreland has declined “appreciably” from last year’s record high of 110. Good, but western Jamaica still seems to be riddled with crime. I live in the notorious capital city of Kingston – but in terms of murders, it’s actually safer! Having said that, parts of West Kingston (in particular Denham Town) have been affected by increased gang activity of late. Do the residents ever get used to the sound of gunfire, I wonder? All these deaths leave behind families and loved ones in mourning. My condolences to all of them.
Unidentified man, Asquith Street, Denham Town, Kingston
Unidentified man, Maverly Avenue, Kingston
Zena Biggs, 62, Green Bottom/Nineteen Miles, Clarendon
Leroy Mckenzie, 61,Green Bottom/Nineteen Miles, Clarendon
Mark Duncan, 45, Frankfield, Clarendon
Victor Kerr, 49, Stone Mill/Anchovy, St. James
Tino Thompson, Stone Mill/Anchovy, St. James
Baldwin Oates, 26, Upper King Street, Montego Bay, St. James
Rose Marie Green, 28,Blue Hole/Montpelier, St. James
Douglas Tinglin, 41, Blue Hole/Montpelier, St. James
Ricardo Dunn, 29, Mango Walk, St. James
Dwayne Mc-Growder, Grange Hill, Westmoreland
Mofolumeso Adunfa, 27, Ashton District, Westmoreland
“Abdul,”Ashton District, Westmoreland
Colin Porteous, 23, Knightsville/Yallahs, St. Thomas
Omar Bennett, 33, Lincoln, Manchester
Edward Omoregie, 64, Bamboo, St. Ann (Nigerian citizen)