The rains continue, off and on, and no one is worried about the “water issue” any more. At least, until the next crisis. We are worried, however, about mosquitoes. Health Minister Tufton pointed out this week that he’s discovered most of us have little breeding grounds in our yards, in our bins that we use to save rainwater in. Cover your rainwater tubs properly, my dears! (Minister Tufton, I don’t intend to empty our overflowing tubs…but they are mosquito-free).
I’m just a little preoccupied with security, justice and human rights issues today. Is it just my perception, or is it that only the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is doing its job properly? Here are a few incidents, reported in just a few days, that make you wonder whether we are getting anywhere. It’s a very mixed picture…
- Two police constables in the Fugitive Apprehension Team have been charged with the murder of a man in Westmoreland.
- The police killed three teenage boys – yes, boys aged 16 and 17 – in an alleged shootout in the town of Savannah-la-Mar, also in Westmoreland last Friday. The police seemed slow to reveal their identities – and ages. INDECOM is investigating.
- The police shot and killed an alleged accomplice of “most wanted” Marlon Perry (“Duppy Flim”) in Harbour View, Kingston this morning during an operation that reportedly involved 200 police and security personnel! Perry is wanted for killing two police officers in St. Thomas. Despite all this, Duppy Flim is still at large. Perhaps he really is a duppy. The police did capture another man and seized a high-powered weapon, it’s reported.
- A former policeman, a currently serving policewoman and a relative were arrested in connection with an ammunition seizure in St. Mary.
- Former National Security Minister Peter Bunting exceeded his authority when issuing a certificate in January this year under Emergency Power Regulations, INDECOM lawyers are asserting, and those emergency powers expired in June 2010. The certificate granted immunity from prosecution to the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), which used mortars during the Tivoli Gardens incursion of 2010. The JDF is currently seeking to quash a warrant obtained by INDECOM to inspect documents etc. at the JDF camp. Incidentally, the JDF Chief of Staff under Minister Bunting was (and still is) Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security. He told us at the Commission of Enquiry that 37 mortars were fired into three open spaces in Tivoli Gardens during the operations.
- Constable Lincoln McKoy was today found guilty of the murder of his girlfriend Jessica King in August, 2013 at the Marina in Port Antonio. This is INDECOM’s first murder conviction. It has so far completed five court cases – which shows how slowly the wheels of justice turn.
- A policeman who was reportedly caught having sex with a 14-year-old girl at a police station is out on bail and will return to court on May 19.
- On Friday, the Court of Appeal awarded $1 million to a St Ann resident, who said he was beaten into an unconscious state by four police officers at the Ocho Rios Police Station, sixteen years ago. The Government is paying out compensation to civilians who have suffered at the hands of agents of the State on an almost weekly basis.
- At the forum on children at risk organized by UNICEF Jamaica in Montego Bay last week, pleas to be a “nosy neighbor” and tell the police about neighbors’ wrongdoing got short shrift from members of several communities who were present. Citizens don’t inform the police – not just because of the “informer fi dead” culture, but because they simply do not trust the police. Meanwhile,“There’s no fight against crime – we are managing it,” says SSP Steve McGregor, in charge of the police in St. James. I very much like him, but… see above. He has a very hard task ahead of him, despite his continued belief in community policing.
- Talking about St. James, how were two inmates in possession of a ratchet knife and other weapons in the Freeport Police Station lock-up, which they used on each other? That’s one place where CCTV is a “must.” And in every lock-up in the country!
- The Police Commissioner is sending more police personnel and vehicles to St. James. And drones, and CCTV. So he told a town hall meeting in Montego Bay this week.
- And then there is Dr. Vogel’s murder: Dr. Peter Vogel was a Swiss scientist, an ornithologist and lecturer at the University of the West Indies, who was found strangled to death at his home in July 2007. His helper at the time, Yanika Scott and Kelvin Downer were charged with the murder and have been in custody since 2007. The case has just been postponed until October 3 – that means over nine years and the trial has not started yet! Is this justice?
- And there are just three forensic pathologists on the entire island. The Government is hoping to get two more.
Now I hear that the verbally abusive and aggressive backbencher Everald Warmington – who has upset many of us in the past – has been sworn in as Minister Without Portfolio with responsibility for Works in the Office of the Prime Minister. This came up after the diligent journalist Abka Fitz-Henley asked a question at the post-Cabinet press briefing. The Information Minister sounded vague; it transpired that Warmington had been sworn in about an hour before the briefing. Amazing? Is this transparency? I am unimpressed at the way in which this was done. I am underlining the Prime Minister’s charge to the unruly Warmington: “As a Parliamentarian, you are a representative of the people, but as Minister, you have a higher duty of service and that means humility, respectfulness, honesty and integrity….it is a general theme that I expect of the Government that I lead. It goes for everyone who bears the title Honourable Minister.” Fine. But… Why was the swearing-in not made available to the media, who apparently just heard a rumor about it?
Foreign Minister ups the ante: Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith has been speaking more loudly and firmly on the matter of the denial of entry to Jamaicans by Trinidad & Tobago. She notes the high rate of denial of Jamaicans, compared to the reverse situation. She is also very concerned about the treatment of Jamaicans at Trinidad’s airport and the lack of decent facilities at the airport for those being kept overnight. Minister Johnson Smith has placed the issue on the table for the meeting of CARICOM’s Council For Trade and Economic Development (COTED) next week. Twelve Jamaicans were sent home recently because, according to the Trinidad Government, they were “likely to be a charge on public funds.” The rate of denials has really stepped up in 2016 – over 150 seems quite a lot, but the Minister did point out that other CARICOM nationals are also being turned away in their numbers.
Meanwhile, sugar remains on life support…
Zika and Gender: I unfortunately missed last night’s forum organized by UN Women on the various issues surrounding sexual reproductive health and the Zika virus (and now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has just confirmed a definite link between the virus and birth defects; read more here: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/s0413-zika-microcephaly.html) You will hear more from me on this. Meanwhile, the issue of abortion rights must be urgently revisited. I am glad to hear that the Ministry of Health may be looking into this soon. How much longer can we keep sweeping this issue under the carpet?
The security situation in Jamaica remains very worrying. Police killings seem to be on the rise; the police identified those they killed in Savannah-la-Mar as three teenage boys: Clive Stone, age 17; Shane Nunes, age 16; and Sakeen Satchwell, age 16. The police say they seized ONE gun. I used to think the parish of Westmoreland as a charming (and beautiful) backwater; but stories of crime, carnage on the roads and the somewhat trigger-happy approach of those who are employed to “serve and protect” us are alarming. And what has happened to pretty little Lime Hall, outside St. Ann’s Bay? There have been a series of murders in recent months – and there is still the mystery of four family members, still missing after a house fire there. My condolences to all the families.
Jason Foster, Harbour View, Kingston (killed by police, alleged member of the “Duppy Flames” gang)
Maureen Carter, 40, Jacob Hut, Clarendon
Oral Grant, 28, Race Course, Clarendon
Leon Savoury, 19, Morrison Town/Oracabessa, St. Mary
Chevan Henry, 21, Retreat, St. Mary
Rojay Bender, 20, Lime Hall, St. Ann