It’s been a funny sort of week. Not particularly humorous, but some positive developments to report.
Obsessed with power: There was a power cut on Sunday evening, which lasted perhaps half an hour for some people, longer for others. It took place across the island; but in some areas (like my mother-in-law’s neighborhood) there was no power cut at all. The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) explained what had happened as soon as they had figured it out. Its CEO Kelly Tomblin appeared on early morning television and explained to the best of her ability. What surprised me was that the media seemed practically obsessed, chewing over the story for at least 24 hours. The Office of Utilities Regulation woke from its semi-slumber and demanded a report, which JPS will no doubt provide. End of story…one would think.
Proper communication is key: The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) seems to have had issues with communications for quite some time. I recall years back when the Constabulary Communication Network (CCN) came into being – in 1999. It was headed by Senior Superintendent James Forbes. He was a pretty reliable source of information, and also a policeman. There were some slip-ups, but SSP Forbes was a good spokesperson – rather a “smooth talker,” hosting a television slot which gave dramatic replays of murders. In January 2014 the CCN was “rebranded” as the Corporate Communications Unit, headed by a civilian; it has various “sub-units.” In that same year, sadly, SSP Forbes fell from grace. Now, radio journalist Cliff Hughes (and others) are very concerned at the contradictory reports coming from the JCF related to a huge cocaine bust (600 kilograms!) in Westmoreland – in particular in connection with the arrest and subsequent release of four men. The JCF appears to be confused. Too many sub-units? Was the first report really a “serious error,” Commissioner Williams? If J$1 billion worth of cocaine arrived on our island, did you not jump in a helicopter to see what was going on? And, please fix your communications strategy!
Questions remain, and I think this incident has been damaging. I would love National Security Minister Robert Montague to make a clear statement on this matter.
More mixed messages? Now the Ministry of Health and the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) seem to be saying two different things regarding the Zika Virus and pregnancy. Perhaps Dr. Winston De La Haye (Chief Medical Officer) is erring on the side of caution, but he still suggests that women should delay pregnancy and not have unprotected sex. But hold on! Outgoing chair of the NFPB Dr. Sandra Knight says Jamaican women are not taking warnings seriously, but then goes on to suggest that to tell women not to get pregnant at the moment “wouldn’t be the best advice.” Who is right? We have six confirmed cases of the Zika Virus in Jamaica so far, but since only one in four people who contract it actually have symptoms (and would therefore not get tested) how do we know how many cases there indeed might be? Be that as it may, one is left with the impression that Jamaicans are not taking Zika Virus seriously because they are not seeing/feeling it; and we may just have to wait and see in another nine months whether it is in fact a problem. By which time it will be too late.
Keeping the tax promise will be a “totally unwarranted shock to the country’s finances,” said Opposition Finance Spokesperson Peter Phillips at a press briefing yesterday, with his customary air of frustration. The Jamaica Labour Party administration needs to speak clearly to the country, he said: “Man up and talk!” Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller added that the JLP is simply planning a continuation of her party’s policies – subsequently noting that the JLP has “no clear plan.” I see! Ms. Simpson Miller added that she would like to see less talk and more work on the ground on the part of the government. “The JLP cannot be trusted,” she said, because they have made promises “they have no intention of keeping.” The former Finance Minister also believes the commitments will not be met, and is clearly annoyed at the “unrealistic” expectations of the electorate, who were taken in. He forecasts additional taxation.
Confidence soars: Notwithstanding Mr. Phillips’ comments, Pollster Don Anderson says business and consumer confidence is at a 15-year high. What are the factors behind it, I wonder? Simply a change of government? Blind optimism?
More onions: The oft-neglected agriculture sector is reporting success with onions, thanks to an import substitution program initiated last year.
Is “bad gas” here again? Energy Minister Dr. Andrew Wheatley is expecting a final report from the Petroleum Trade Reform committee this week; the interim report didn’t tell us much. There have been hundreds of official complaints from the public, and recently a couple of media reports suggest bad gas is back.
No more public peeing? Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie has reminded new municipal police graduates that urinating in public is an offense. He wants us citizens to “make up our faces” at men who do this. He says women do it too! That I have never seen…but men have stood and peed into the hedge at the side of our house a few times. Ugh.
I often express concern about the state of Jamaica’s tourism. However, we must be doing something right. TripAdvisor – about the only travel website I seriously follow – has named Jamaica the third best island in the world, according to visitor reviews, after Maui in Hawaii and Santorini in Greece! Last year, Jamaica was not in their Top Ten Islands list at all. Providenciales in Turks and Caicos came fourth, followed by Bali, Majorca, Mauritius, Phuket, Bora Bora and Fernando de Noronha in Brazil. Read more: https://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Islands
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index places Jamaica at an impressive 10th in the index of 180 countries. This is a slip downwards of one place, but still great compared to the rest of the Caribbean. Costa Rica leapt into 6th place, but generally the Americas fared very poorly – and globally, RSF says “Leaders are paranoid about journalists.” So, we are fortunate. You can find the global rankings here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table
Kudos and thank you…
- To the World Is Our Neighbourhood, a diaspora organization and to Ms. Marva Haye, a former employee of the Savannah-la-Mar Hospital now living in the United States. The organization donated a large amount of new equipment to the Hospital.
- Congratulations too to two high-achievers! Firstly, 20-year-old Toni-Ann Williams is the first gymnast representing Jamaica to qualify for the Olympic Games. She is a sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley and is actually U.S.-born of Jamaican parents. I do hope that gymnastics will be developed more at home in Jamaica; perhaps Toni-Ann will be the inspiration. Good luck to her!
- The second achiever is chef André Fowles, who is the first Jamaican-born and the youngest ever chef to compete in the popular “Chopped” show on Food Network Television. He already won in February, won tonight’s competition and will compete in the finals to be Chopped Champion on April 26. Fingers and toes are crossed!
- GraceKennedy won the award for Most Environmentally Friendly Booth/Product at Jamaica Expo last weekend (which apparently went well). I hope they carry this commitment through all the work they do, on an everyday basis.
- Congratulations to Therese Turner-Jones, the Bahamian national who has been serving as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Country Representative for Jamaica. Ms. Turner-Jones became the first Caribbean woman and the second Caribbean person to become General Manager of the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department. She will remain in Jamaica, rather than moving to Washington.
Tragic stories abound again as we look back over the past few days. A much-loved local businessman, Trevor Meikle, was shot dead during that power cut – the electronic gate apparently did not work, and a robbery was in progress at the house. How small circumstances can change one’s life! Last night, a young man reportedly with mental health issues seized an M-16 rifle from a policeman outside Olympic Gardens Police Station, jumped into a minibus and was allegedly shot dead by the police. A pregnant woman was shot dead. A young policeman got into an argument at a party, pulled his firearm and was shot dead by a licensed firearm holder. We cannot and must not ignore these stories, or sweep them under the carpet. These are Jamaican lives, and the deaths of all these Jamaicans affect so many others. There are ripple effects. My condolences to all the families.
Junior Bartley, 44, Matilda’s Corner, Kingston
Odane Bennett, 23, Olympic Gardens, Kingston (allegedly killed by police)
Tanisha Ford, 26, Portmore, St. Catherine
Shawn Baccas, 37, Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine
Derwin Prince, 58, Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine
Anthony Rose, 37,Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine
Andre Carter, 29, Board Villa/Ebony Park, Clarendon
Kamala “Kayon” Hylton, 29, Long Lane, Hanover (eight months pregnant)
Unidentified man, Kerr Crescent, Montego Bay, St. James
Marion Brissett, 64, Bay Road, Little London, Westmoreland
Constable Shane Francis, 30, White River/Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Kevin Barriffe, Galina, St. Mary
Trevor Meikle, 76, Ingleside/Mandeville, Manchester
Maurice Campbell, 41, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth