It has been a very busy and somewhat turbulent week – rather like the weather, which is sunshine in the morning and rain in the afternoon, with a bit of thunder and lightning thrown in. We are remembering that one year (and two years) ago, we were already deep into drought conditions. I for one am not complaining. And it’s looking like a bumper mango season!
Budget on our minds: Finance Minister Audley Shaw opened the parliamentary Budget Debate on Thursday, and you can read the whole thing here: http://jis.gov.jm/opening-presentation-20162017-budget-debate/ Minister Shaw’s delivery was generally good-natured, even humorous at times, and there seemed to less bickering and shouting in the House than usual. That is, until the Minister reached the topic of the “One Point Five,” as it has come to be known. One Point Five, you ask? I am referring to the promised tax break for those earning J$1.5 million and under annually, who pay taxes under the PAYE system. The Minister numbered these at 251,000 workers, a little over half of the total on PAYE. He will implement the much-debated election promise – in two phases, he announced (July 1 and April 1, 2017). I think this will impact a lot of civil servants.
The poor, the poor: Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, and those who support her party, have started talking about “the poor” again. “The JLP hates the poor!” one comrade tweeted. As journalist Dennis Brooks said, what’s wrong with loving the middle class, too? They’re struggling. But as I write, a minor battle is erupting on Twitter, led by the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Julian Robinson and the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Senator Matthew Samuda. Head of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Economics and Co-Chair of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) Dr Damien King has been tweeting a great deal on the topic, including this observation: “The $1.5m plan, as financed, is not after all a tax cut. It’s a shift to other taxes of equal value. That’s precisely why it’s good. No debt.” By the way, many are muttering that, if we are talking about going after tax evaders, perhaps the Minister of Finance could start with some doctors and lawyers (I am not saying all). But there are so many lawyers sitting in Parliament – so maybe that’s a no-go area!
A lot of whining is going on about the substantial increase in the gas tax. I would like to suggest, wherever possible, that we might find ways to save and conserve gas? Ease up on the gas guzzler cars, for example; do some car-pooling; plan your trips around town, etc. Perhaps Government officials could set an example in this regard – a highly visible “conservation culture” among politicians and civil servants (not only on gas but in other areas). Just a thought…
NOT GOOD! I quivered when I heard Minister Shaw mention “the Goat Island shipping project” as a medium term investment, and something to the effect that it was “on the horizon,” during the budget speech. So once again, the threat not only to Goat Islands but to a major part of the Portland Bight Protected Area has been revived. It all sounds, as usual, rather vague. But we have always been kept in the dark on this proposed destruction of a valuable and important protected area. I am deeply disappointed that it was mentioned. Think again, Minister Shaw. Think again! You will lose much support, including from international donor agencies…
But good, I suppose… Meanwhile Prime Minister Andrew Holness posted photos on Facebook of his meeting this week with a group of environmentalists. They all looked very serious, and the PM a trifle nervous, I thought. I would love to have been a fly on the wall. Was this meeting just a social media PR stunt, to show that Mr. Holness is consulting with groups…or will something really meaningful come out of it? Dialogue can never be a bad thing, however – and I like the way the new administration is using social media. But I want to see meaningful action on the environment.
A collapse waiting to happen: There fuss and bother over the collapsed Royalton Negril hotel continues. Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie says he will not comment until a proper report is completed on what happened. While they are checking the “integrity of the structure,” there are other issues. How many floors up is the hotel going? Is it the required distance from the shoreline? There have been numerous breaches from Day One with this hotel, as noted in my previous blog posts. And while there is supposed to be a 30-day stop order, nearby residents in Negril are still complaining about jack hammer drilling on the site, 24/7! What madness is this? It’s all about greed and money.
Meanwhile, the intrepid Office of the Contractor General (OCG) has recommended two members of the Hanover Parish Council to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), for suspected nepotism in the award of contracts. The OCG says a special investigation conducted by his office has raised questions of misconduct and breaches of government laws and procedures by People’s National Party (PNP) councillors Lloyd Hill (Sandy Bay), and Anthony Walker (Cauldwell). I am sure we all remember the Mayor had to step down from her position for similar reasons: nepotism, conflict of interest and favoritism in the award of contracts, the OCG noted. I am guessing the DPP will not pursue this though – as she did not with the former Mayor, who remains a member of the PNP and Councilor for the Green Island Division (at least until the next local elections, when the PNP has said she will not be allowed to run as a candidate). I am sure we now know also that the collapsed hotel falls under this parish council’s jurisdiction. Now Minister McKenzie has told the Council to employ two engineers to oversee the Royalton and also the Karisma Hotel construction site in Negril. Ugh.
Thumbs DOWN, The Queen’s School: This school, for reasons unknown, decided recently to chop down a large guango tree (near JET’s Kingston office). I mentioned it in my blog post here: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/climate-change-in-the-caribbean-talking-planning-and-what-not-to-be-doing-after-the-paris-agreement/ Well, one immediate casualty was a juvenile Barn Owl (there was a nest in the tree) which fell into one of JET’s recycling bins! Here is a photo, with JET’s comments.
The Electoral Commission of Jamaica tabled a report in Parliament last week, the details of which I cannot understand from the media reports I have seen. I read about “anomalies” regarding polling division boundaries and parish boundaries – in 153 polling divisions, across 33 constituencies – and a lack of agreement among the two political parties in two constituencies (St Andrew North Eastern and Trelawny Southern). So those two appear unresolved. I need to understand more about this. Is a copy of the report available yet?
Corrupt police: Minister of National Security Robert Montague did not mince his words when he addressed the Police Federation this week. He focused on corruption (which, in my view, is at the heart of many of the problems we are having with our police force). Minister Montague rightly pointed out that corruption is not just about taking a bribe; he went on to list all kinds of practices (many of which I never knew of). He vowed “fulsome, total and unrelenting” pressure on corrupt police. All lovely words, Minister. Let’s see what action follows.
Be careful out there: I read an unnerving report about a woman who jumped from a moving taxi cab in Portmore, St. Catherine, after the driver did not stop where she asked him to drop her. He drove onwards and “looked at me with a strange look,” said the woman. I can imagine the fear she felt. She was injured, took a great risk throwing herself out into the road, but is thankfully recovering. Please be careful, folks..
Kudos and congratulations…
- My personal “thanks a million” to SSP Millicent Sproul-Thomas of the Half Way Tree Police Station for her assistance and sheer professionalism! It was greatly appreciated!
- To Hon. Douglas Orane, former CEO of GraceKennedy and now its somewhat more laid-back chairman, who still has a sharp focus on the future of Jamaica, in particular on youth and education. His book, The Business of Nation Building: Excerpts From the Selected Speeches of Douglas Orane, was launched this week. Although the Governor General and his wife attended, the event was not in the least pompous – but that is Mr. Orane’s style. It also began right on time – most refreshing! The book is in stores now, and half the proceeds will go to GraceKennedy’s Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation. Do go and get yourself a copy – and watch out for my review!
- To the Arsenal Ladies (yes, you know I’m a Gooner, don’t you?) who beat Chelsea to win the Women’s FA Cup today for the fourteenth time! Proud of you!
- And to Arsenal FC (men) – it’s been a rough season, with many ups and downs, but I am happy that we ended up second and above Tottenham Hotspurs, our arch rivals in North London! I am so proud of you! #GoonerForLife
- To the EU-LAC Foundation, headed by Paola Amadei, that continues to give support to Jamaica and the region. Its current exhibit and auction of photographs from the JN Foundation (in aid of Eve for Life) is on at Hamburg Town Hall. Read more here: https://eulacfoundation.org/en and follow them on Twitter @eulacfoundation.
- Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which held a public forum on plastic waste this week that was standing room only, I understand. I am sorry I was not able to be there but I gather it was a very useful and informative session, with some pointers for the way forward. Kudos to Senator Matthew Samuda, who spoke at the event and who has really put the issue on the map; and to William Mahfood of Wisynco, a firm that has been making tremendous efforts in the area of recycling. Yes, I know improving the system for solid waste management has a long way to go. But let’s stop complaining and get something done! Got to start somewhere, haven’t we!
- The wonderful educator and trainer, Ava Tomlinson (Senior Public Education and Community Outreach Officer at the National Environment and Planning Agency – NEPA), who continues to train teachers and students and inspire excitement about Jamaica’s amazing birdlife through the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. Today she was in Spring Garden, Trelawny with the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, celebrating the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival. Did you read my article about a fantastic teachers’ workshop at Seville Great House two weeks ago? You can read it here: http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2016/05/rural-teachers-make-bird-connections-in-seville-jamaica/ Keep up the good work, Ava. I know you really love it!
- The Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) has started a new plastic recycling project, which sounds very promising indeed! They are building an eco-friendly park, to be built with 80% recycled materials. You can drop off plastic bottles, with caps, at the St. William Grant Park (8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Mondays to Saturdays) or at Tile City, 114 Constant Spring Road (10:00 am – 6:00 pm, Mondays to Saturdays). For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; KSAC Family Park on Facebook; KSAC_FamPark on Instagram. 24 Church Street, Kingston. Tel: 922-2587; 922-4320; 922-8647.
- The Caribbean’s first Net Zero Energy Building on the UWI Mona campus will be under construction soon! This is one building I am happy about! Kudos to the academics and to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as well as to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for funding. Kudos to all!
I’m really not sure why the Jamaica Constabulary Force still has no suspects or motives for the murders of the two American missionaries in St. Mary. Their colleagues are now expressing concern that Jamaicans may take the law into their own hands, if they find them before the police do. CVM Television had a very thorough interview with the leader of the Pennsylvania-based mission the other night. There was no trace of bitterness or anger. I am glad to see the police have arrested three men in connection with the brutal rape and murder of 21-year-old Dominique Parnell in Clarendon. One of the “men” is only 17.
Kevin Miller, 42, Gibraltar Hall Road, Mona, Kingston 7
Tanya Williams, 33, Linstead, St. Catherine
Devontae Haughton, 12, Tucker, St. James
Yvette Mclean, 49, Tucker, St James
Davian Brown, 22, Salem, St. James
Fabian Cooper, 38, Grange Hill, Westmoreland
Jeffery Richards, 29, Wakefield, Trelawny (killed by police)
Rushane Murray, 16, Oracabessa, St. Mary
Jermaine Lakeman, 21, Fort George/Annotto Bay, St. Mary
District Constable Lewis Robinson, Lacovia, St. Elizabeth