We had rain and yes – plenty of it, in Kingston. Nights are deliciously cool. Our adolescent dog, perhaps invigorated, is busy destroying everything (she does not want to grow up, it appears). She has a particular love of plastic – we should employ her at one of our growing number of recycling centers.
The tax embarrassment: This still seems to be up in the air, with some commentators mumbling “I told you so” and die-hard People’s National Party (PNP) supporters delightedly seeking to rub salt into the wounds of the new administration. Finance Minister Audley Shaw will present the Budget on April 14, after the ceremonial Opening of Parliament. Will we have to wait until then to find out whether the Holness administration has found the funds for the much-touted $18,000 tax break?
Talking of tax breaks, the head of the Jamaica Stock Exchange Marlene Street-Forest is very pleased by the Finance Minister’s announcement that the Junior Stock Exchange, with accompanying tax benefits, will be maintained. Others, like economist Dr. Damien King, consider it a bad move.
The PNP leadership issue rumbles on, with much conjecture and conclusions being drawn by local media houses. Indeed, former National Security Minister Peter Bunting said recently he will make a serious bid for the party leadership “at the appropriate time” – later this year, one presumes?
“Is it because of my gender?” Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller wondered aloud to the media this week. This was her discomfiting response when asked whether she knew why there would be a challenge to her leadership at this time. Oh, please, Portia. Try to understand.
Nepotism, or not? Now Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie has told media that unknown to him, his son applied for a managerial position at the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), who had planned to hire him (but did not). The Minister ordered that his son should withdraw the application. Not everyone agrees with this handling of the matter; including the Gleaner, which editorialized that Minister McKenzie is “setting a dangerous precedent” and accused the Minister of interference. If the son was qualified for the job, some say (as apparently he was) he should be allowed to apply for it. It’s all a question of perception, perhaps; but bearing in mind our concerns over matters of corruption, I think on balance the Minister did the right thing. Besides, if the media had found out later that his son worked at NSWMA, you can imagine the criticism there would be.
Totally damning report: The Public Defender pulled no punches in her report on the way the NSWMA and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) handled the appalling fire at Riverton City dump on March 7, 2015, which put thousands of lives at risk. DiGJamaica (an online resource I highly recommend) has posted a link to the full report here: http://digjamaica.com/blog/2016/04/05/investigative-report-into-the-march-2015-fire-at-riverton-city/ Meanwhile NSWMA Chair Dennis Chung says the agency is focusing on four priority areas: compliance with NEPA’s requirements to obtain a license (at last); accountability and proper financial reporting; waste collection and disposal services; and importantly, proper security at the dump.
Oh, not another “trade war” – please? Our new Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith is trying to tackle the issue of Jamaicans being turned away at Trinidadian airports; see my earlier blog post about this. “We understand the frustration of Jamaicans on these matters, including those of the private sector, who have made strong pronouncements. We are working to try to achieve a solution and we will update the public as soon as we have made some progress,” says the Minister. Private Sector Organization of Jamaica head William Mahfood has resurrected the ongoing thorny issue of the huge trade imbalance between Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. There’s an ongoing sense of grievance but let’s face it, Jamaica is not competitive. Can we change that? One blogger at commonsenseja.wordpress.com believes – and he is not alone: “Right now the meeting between the two foreign ministers is a grand PR event and is a colossal waste of time and money and will NOT achieve anything.” The Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) has jumped in on the act, asking for more details of the ministers’ discussions – apparently unaware that diplomatic negotiations do not generally take place in public. Perhaps JMA President Mr. Metry Seaga could just hold his horses for a few days, and see what transpires. BUT I hope the Minister will lay her cards firmly on the table and also make it clear to the Jamaican public what the way forward is. We have been down this road several times before.
And sugar? Well, while world demand is slipping, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Donovan Stanberry believes there is still a future for sugar. Why? Because – hey, here in the Region of Diabetes, there is still “huge demand” for sugar in the Caribbean, amounting to over 300,000 tonnes per annum. Well, I would like to see a “soda tax” in place, as has been instituted in Mexico; but I guess that would reduce demand for this addictive substance (I confess to having a horribly sweet tooth myself). Now, the sugar officials are throwing up their hands in shock after the Court of Appeal turned down the Appleton Estate sugar factory’s appeal against an interim injunction taken out by Algix Jamaica, which operates a nearby fish farm. The factory has been pouring effluent into the environment without a care in the world for years, although they say they have been trying to be more environmentally friendly. Jobs are now at risk and the 2016 sugar crop is in jeopardy.
Question: Why cannot NEPA enforce Jamaica’s environmental laws? Warning notices are issued (in the recent case, to the Royalton Hotel – see my earlier blog post) but are simply ignored, according to Jamaica Environment Trust’s Diana McCaulay, who believes: “In the case of NEPA, the entire regulatory and enforcement efforts need to be overhauled.”
Another question: What happened to young Kemeisha Butler, a student of Port Henderson Primary School in St Catherine, who died in hospital recently? The Education Ministry is investigating whether her death has anything to do with “curricular activities,” and says it will foot the bill for the little girl’s funeral.
- To all who participated in this week’s launch of a very important training project for police officers and other frontline workers on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence – a continuation of an earlier four-year program. I wrote about it in my Gleaner blog Social Impact, here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=3242 It’s good that the British High Commission and the U.S. Embassy are collaborating on this. I was most impressed by Chevening Scholar Anika Gray, who hit all the right buttons; and a former Chevening Scholar, now a new Member of Parliament Alando Terrelonge. Deputy Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant and Joyce Hewett of Woman Inc (who have partnered for years on this) are two women I hugely admire, too. But as DCP Grant emphasized – this project is needed, but we need much more! Why aren’t more funds committed to helping our most vulnerable? Why is there still only one emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence on the entire island? I hope Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange will act with alacrity on this one. P.S. Activist Kemesha Kelly wrote an excellent blog post on Violence Against Women. It’s heartfelt and a must-read: http://www.kemeshakelly.com/end-vaw/
- To the Minister of Education and Member of Parliament Juliet Cuthbert – who tweeted a photo of the Minister touring Padmore Primary School this week. The small school in the St. Andrew hills – kept going by the determination and sacrifice of Principal Keisha Hayle – was threatened with closure. I wrote about the school’s predicament here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2949 Plans for an upgrade include a computer lab, proper bathrooms and a playing field. Which is, I think, good news.
- To Fontana Pharmacy, which has donated J$100,000 towards the fight against the Zika virus (concerning which we remain nervous). And here’s a heads up: The Ministry of Health, UN Women and UNFPA are partnering for a public forum on “Gender and Zika – What you Need to Know” on Tuesday, April 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the New Kingston Business Centre.
- To UNICEF Jamaica, who are embarked on a huge public awareness campaign this month, making good use of social media. This week’s Twitter chat (#KeepChildrenSafe) drew many participants. The Storify link is here: https://storify.com/DoGoodJamaica/keepchildrensafe-twitter-chat By the way, at the first public forum in Montego Bay organized by UNICEF, the Office of the Children’s Advocate called for the age of consent to be raised to age eighteen. Do you agree?
- To WE-Change, a very focused and serious group of women for organizing a Remembrance last evening for the Rwanda genocide. As you may recall, Rwandan Member of Parliament Juliana Kantengwa visited Jamaica last year. Her visit was inspiring for all of us – and she said it was for her also. I plan to write more about the remembrance shortly. The sharing of experience – even the deepest and most painful, and what could be harder than genocide – is a hugely important exercise. We are a relatively small world with much more in common than we often think. We are all human, and human rights are universal, the world over. Lest we forget.
- To the wonderful young men of Deaf Can! Coffee, whom I met this week. It was an honor to meet such highly motivated, articulate Jamaicans, former students at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf in Kingston, and their mentors Blake Widmer and Stephen McFarlane. They are not just in one spot, however; they are a mobile unit also and can cater at meetings, trade shows etc. The coffee was delicious, by the way (me: honey latte. husband: cold brewed coffee on tap). Amazing! You can find them on Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter @DeafCanCoffee and their website is http://www.deafcancoffee.com Also, please read my article about them for Global Voices: https://globalvoices.org/2016/04/09/young-deaf-entrepreneurs-are-brewing-coffee-with-a-purpose-in-jamaica/
- The National Youth Service is recruiting for its summer program. Deadline is April 15th. Please do share this information with anyone you know who might like this opportunity.
- We have been talking on Twitter about the huge gap in recognition, pay etc. between men and women. So I’m glad to hear Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange talking about the need for gender equality in sport – citing a case where a girl was recently banned from competing at her school with boys, playing cricket. I hope this is not just words and that action will be taken to at least start to rectify this issue, which is so discouraging for women, whatever game they are playing.
- I have never heard of the Sanmerna Foundation, a community-based non-profit that works in local schools, children’s homes and with senior citizens, as well as juvenile correctional facilities. It has been operating since last year and has received support from the Japanese Government (which always espouses worthy causes in Jamaica). The Foundation’s contact information is at http://sanmernafoundation.org/index.html# but the website is not complete yet. By the way, it’s the charity arm of Sanmerna Paper Products Ltd, the largest supplier of toilet paper in Jamaica! Good for them. I love to see the private sector doing this.
- The Grace Scholars Fund is another great private sector initiative. It is offering scholarships for students who have successfully completed high school and are going on to college, whether at home or overseas. Read details here: http://www.gracefund.org/donation6.html
There is too much bloodshed and too much fear of crime and violence – right across the island. The police say murders are down by 6 per cent compared to the same period in 2015, and that “serious and violent crimes” are down by 32 per cent overall. Let’s continue the downward trend. Meanwhile, in the past six days the following Jamaicans have been killed – by civilians and by police. My heartfelt condolences to their families. Please let us not forget these names.
Robert Jermaine Hinds, 28, Riverton City, Kingston
Stephen Sammon, 30, Hayes, Clarendon
Ricardo Saggie, 53, Comfort, Manchester
Donald Clayton, 57, Belair, Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Romaine Pryce, 25, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Clapham/Moneague, St. Ann (killed by a mob)
“Ziggy,” Runaway Bay, St. Ann
Three unidentified men, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland (killed by the police)