It’s hard to believe that the month of May has begun and is well under way. In just a few weeks, the dreaded hurricane season will be here. For the last two years Jamaica has been fortunate – untouched by storms. How long will our luck hold out, I wonder?
Thanks, Mr. Mosquito! The aedes aegypti mosquito is such a generous little creature – and we have been having a great deal of rain in recent days, so those little larvae will be wriggling like crazy if we’re not careful. The Ministry of Health has just revealed that many of the 700 cases of suspected Zika virus infection have turned out to be dengue fever! Only 8 are confirmed as Zika, and almost all these cases are in St. Catherine. This is very disturbing, and Dr Sonia Copeland says the Ministry of Health is “very concerned about dengue.” Types 3 and 4 of the dengue virus are circulating; in the parishes of Trelawny, St. Ann, St. James and Hanover it is Type 4. I am trying to figure out which is the most (or least) serious type but cannot find this information. I had dengue fever once (the second mildest form) and it was horrible. We need to hear more details from the Ministry, and we need the Ministry to post regular updates on its website, which is really out of date! (Thanks to Minister Tufton for responding on Twitter to this issue we raised – we look forward to hearing more). Meanwhile we hear Jamaica is one of the countries to participate in a pilot project with sterile mosquitoes – perhaps starting later this year.
U.S. law enforcement has now joined the search for the killers of the two American missionaries, Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols, in St. Mary. The autopsies (performed in almost record time) revealed the two men died from gunshot and chop wounds. Police Commissioner Williams looked nervous at a press conference this week, and Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett went on at some length about this being an extremely rare event. Jamaicans are wincing at the horribly bad overseas press (and not just in the U.S.) – but cannot escape the fact that our murder rate is one of the highest in the world…Fact. And yes, the U.S. has a serious gun violence problem. But let us not get all defensive and prickly when the U.S. press haul us over the coals; Jamaican journalists would do the same thing, if the situation was reversed, wouldn’t they? We cannot, and should not blame other countries for our crime problem.
On the rather grim topic of autopsies, I understand that a former government pathologist, Dr. Rao (unfortunately no longer in Jamaica) managed to reduce the waiting time quite dramatically a few years back. However, people stand to benefit from delays – funeral homes, for example, who get lots of fees for storing bodies. These matters aren’t always a question of scarce resources, as we well know. We have to ask: Qui bono?
Education Minister Ruel Reid has met with Dr. Wayne West and his Love March Movement members (how inaccurately named that movement is, since they demonize whole sectors of the population, loudly and hatefully). He has even appeared with them on CVM Television’s Live at Seven – a repeat performance for Dr. West, who loves this phrase “sexual nihilism” (formerly “sexual anarchism”). These so-called Christians (I say so-called, because they do not fit my definition of “Christian”) have seized the opportunity (and the ear) of the Education Minister regarding the Health and Family Life Education curriculum in schools – which, although revised, still seems to worry them. You see, these people have an obsession with sex, and specifically with homosexuality. “There is no homosexual gene,” they say, and wicked foreigners like UNICEF and International Planned Parenthood are teaching little children to have sex in all sorts of ways. We know Minister Reid is a conservative Christian himself. But please Mr. Minister, do at least listen to other voices in the discussion – not just Dr. West (who behaves quite reasonably on television programs – but in action, he is quite a different kettle of fish, prone to shouting people down and calling them names! Dear me.
Nevertheless, the The National Family Planning Board-Sexual Health Agency (as it’s now called), headed by the marvelous Dr. Denise Chevannes, is holding public consultations on Jamaica’s first Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Policy and the revision of the National HIV/AIDS Policy. The first will take place on Tuesday May 10 in Port Antonio. The final draft revised National HIV Policy is on their website: http://jnfpb.org Do make sure to attend one of these consultations. (By the way, the NFPB’s Facebook page is completely useless; it contains no useful information whatsoever!)
I know – I’m repeating myself, but I still have not heard anything on the Khajeel Mais murder case, which caused such a stir almost five years ago but now appears to be of little interest to our local media. Now I am going to ask about something else – not murder, but another long-drawn out situation, in which someone’s life has been apparently put on hold for roughly two years, pending a judgement. I am talking about the former head of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs Faith Webster, who was interdicted after an internal audit, and who has been pleading her case in the court. What is the matter with our justice system? Why can’t a decision be made, so that at least Ms. Webster can get on with her life, one way or another?
Question: Why are these reckless motorbike riders allowed to flout the law, wearing no helmets? Please tell me, JCF. Anyway, the Transport Ministry launched Operation Zero Tolerance (an overused phrase) targeting breaches of the Road Traffic Act. It will last for three months, six days a week. Sundays off?
Good stuff… The Public Gardens Division of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries held a special event at the beautiful Castleton Gardens – a celebration of Earth Day, with the theme: Trees for the Earth: Let’s get Planting. Somewhat belated, but that matters not – I like this heightened focus on the environment. I was disturbed to hear that the Division receives just J$2 million annually to maintain all its public gardens, though – including Cinchona and Bath. The latter needs a huge revival but I understand they are trying their best with very little. Hope Gardens is run by a non-governmental organization, so is perhaps a little better off. These are all beautiful and historic gardens, many containing rare and unusual plants.
More good stuff: We know and love the Mustard Seed Communities, who care for around 400 vulnerable Jamaicans – adults and children. It’s great that the Canadian High Commission and Universal Service Fund has donated computers, printers etc.
INDECOM recently held a press briefing expressing concern over the general treatment of prisoners in state care. Why have recommendations made by a Cabinet sub-committee last year regarding the safety of inmates not been implemented yet? Let us not forget Mario Deane (another case I am concerned about). Has anything improved in our police lockups since August, 2014? By the way, in the first quarter of this year, the JCF shot dead 24 Jamaicans, and INDECOM recorded 212 complaints against them.
LNG power coming: The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has announced that its 120 M! Bogue Power Plant in St. James has been converted and is ready to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), expected to arrive via U.S. firm Fortress Energy in August. Well – LNG is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. But it is still a fossil fuel, although it produces about 45 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal.
Another question: Why has Minister Karl Samuda, of the above-mentioned ministry, seen fit to reduce the tariff for conch fishers by US$0.25 per pound? To encourage investment in the sector, apparently; but does it still have potential? The conch fishing industry seems to have had a number of “issues” (arguments about quotas, and besides – the Caribbean queen conch is a somewhat endangered species) and there is a closed season. It seems to have expanded considerably in the past 10 to 20 years, and is a big earner of foreign exchange. Do we want to over-exploit our conch resources? I need to know more.
Sugar quagmire: It seems the more the sugar industry struggles, the deeper it gets into the quicksand. Now J. Wray & Nephew are hinting that they will have to lay off some 150 workers, as it is reducing the amount of land farmed on its New Yarmouth estate in Clarendon. Sigh. The Bustmante Industrial Trade Union is suggesting the workers form a co-operative and take over the lands.
A member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force has been arrested in connection with the execution-style murder of Corporal Judith Williams in downtown Kingston – but not yet charged. Another has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend. As I have noted before, there is “something rotten” in the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and the justice system, and there has been for some time. Apart from talking about the resumption of capital punishment, I hope Minister of National Security Robert Montague can do some serious research – starting with a quick read of this article: http://www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/interviews/crime-fictions-why-people-do-bad-things which my friend Helen Williams shared with me on Twitter today. The rants and the populist stuff don’t help. My sympathies, meanwhile, to all the families and friends.
Leroy Blackwood, Red Ground/Old Harbour, St. Catherine – a witness in a murder case
Andrew Williams, 24, Havana Heights, Clarendon
Dominique Parnell, 22, Halse Hall, Clarendon
Kemal ‘Duddus’ Williams, 27, Cedars/Mocho, Clarendon
Unidentified man, Treadlight/May Pen, Clarendon (killed by police)