Apart from bouts of insomnia (is it the heavy, humid weather?) all is well. Our old dog has been taking refuge in our back verandah on a daily basis as thunder rumbles around (bringing little rain). It’s been an interesting week in journalism, actually – and lawyers have been very busy! I very much enjoyed talking to Nadeen Spence (an inspiration, to me) and the organizers of the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation summer camp about blogging and activism, this morning at the University of the West Indies’ Mary Seacole Hall. Now…
Investigative journalist Zahra Burton has set the cat among the pigeons. Her report aired on Television Jamaica (TVJ) for her 18 Degrees North investigative journalism program (the first in a new series) revisited Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ home – and other properties, as well as property tax arrangements. The PM immediately sought his lawyers and categorically denied the allegations. According to Kate Chappell’s blog (read more here: https://jamaicajournal.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/18-degrees-north-receives-legal-threat/ ) the program was vetted by TVJ and Ms. Burton’s lawyers.“I am steadfast in my commitment to investigative journalism,” says Ms. Burton, “There is nothing to apologize for. We stand by our story.” Through his lawyer Gordon Robinson, the Prime Minister has demanded a retraction and apology within a week, threatening legal action if this is not done. The program was due for a repeat airing on Sunday morning, but a court injunction has just put paid to that. I did not watch the program, so cannot comment; but Ms. Burton would surely have been aware of the “atmospherics” in Jamaica, especially immediately after a closely fought election. The timing seems rather off, and TVJ is now in hot water.
Then the Jamaica Star came out with a rather baffling story about Opposition Member of Parliament Julian Robinson and his wife, who have apparently put down a deposit on an expensive house in Beverley Hills (valued at around J$70 million). So what? “I just think it’s a lot of bad mind, because nobody can point to any activity with me that is illegal or nefarious,” says former state minister Robinson, who says he has always made his integrity declarations to Parliament on time.
DJM and the PM: Leading broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson Miller (often known as DJM) sat in a posh setting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness this week for a one-on-one interview, also televised on TVJ. As usual, Ms. Jackson Miller did an excellent job, questioning the Prime Minister in her incisive but fair and balanced manner. She is naturally skeptical – a good trait in a journalist. She quizzed the PM on his promise to make a full declaration of his finances, as the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Peter Phillips had demanded during the election campaign – and as Holness had promised to do. What’s keeping you, Prime Minister? Note: Mr. Holness has done two such interviews before, as Prime Minister and as Opposition Leader. Former PM Bruce Golding did one. Portia Simpson Miller did none.
Trafigura hearing postponed: Yes, I told you the lawyers have been busy! Lawyers for former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, PNP chairman Robert Pickergill; PNP Region Three chairman Phillip Paulwell; and party member Norton Hinds about a J$31 million donation to the PNP in 2006 from oil trading firm trading firm Trafigura Beheer have appealed the hearing set for Monday in open court. They have somehow obtained a postponement. The Dutch Government is operating under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. I don’t quite understand the legal details at all, or what happens next; but I do know the lawyers, led by former Senator K.D. Knight and former Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, have done a masterful job in blocking the case so that their clients do not have to testify, for the past ten years. They’re smart. But…why is Ms. Simpson Miller so reluctant to testify in court? So Trafigura continues to loom.
More disheartening news of alleged police criminality and corruption: The owner of the minibus that crashed, killing five passengers and injuring nine others, last week in St. Ann is, in fact, a policewoman. She has not yet been charged I understand. The minibus was defective, was not licensed or insured, and the conductor who was driving did not have a driver’s license. Secondly, Constable Gladstone Williams and an alleged accomplice have been charged with the murder of Corporal Judith Williams in downtown Kingston on April 28. And thirdly, two police officers have been charged for fraudulently using government advance cards to obtain goods and cash. Ugh.
“Jamaica must never consider itself too poor a country to help,” said the Prime Minister on the subject of the beleaguered Venezuelans. He says he is going to try to find a way to assist – ironically, perhaps through the PetroCaribe Fund. Ah, well.
The North-South Highway has only just been completed, but already there has been a landslide that blocked one or two lanes in St. Catherine. The earth is apparently saturated by recent heavy rains (and the rains are forecast to continue this weekend). Were the developers in too much of a hurry to complete the highway? Are there other vulnerable points? Perhaps blasting their way through the hills wasn’t the best method for China Harbour Engineering Company to adopt. And if there is a hurricane…?
Sporting news (not good): Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter, who ran the first leg in Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team in Beijing, has tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, which was found in his ‘A’ sample. If it is confirmed by his ‘B’ sample test results, then he may be banned and may even lose his gold medal. Michael Frater, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell also ran in the relay. Will they possibly lose their medals too?
And “Flippa Mafia” (what a name) – or Andrew Davis got a 25 year sentence and a heavy fine in New Jersey for helping to distribute cocaine via the U.S. mail service. His two brothers had already been sentenced. Why didn’t he just stick to dancehall music?
Take the mote out of thine own eye: Derrick Kellier made what I thought was a rather sad speech about the political party he serves, the PNP. Why was it sad? It was a regretful, nostalgic look back at the idealistic days of “democratic socialism” in the 1970s. Ah, those days are gone, lamented Mr. Kellier (who, it was revealed not long ago, had two of his daughters working in the ministry he was in charge of). Perhaps, Mr. Kellier and PNP, you could think about renewed standards. Perhaps you could reflect on what you have (collectively) done to strengthen governance over the last two or three decades when you have been mostly in power.
Back in Twitterland, I have to agree with these sentiments: “The green and orange wings of the ‘articulate minority’ have become truly tedious now. When will the state of perpetual election mode end?”
Purgatory: I ask again… When will Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs (now Bureau of Gender Affairs) Faith Webster have her life taken off hold? Isn’t it about time?
It’s been a great week for interesting discussions: One on the “dehumanizing” aspects of social media with Arnaldo Brown on Newstalk 93 FM’s Fresh Start morning drive time show; I was a panelist at an amazing Skype discussion with graduate students from across the region at St. George’s University in Grenada (led by Jamaican Dr. Leo Douglas) on diversity in conservation; and thirdly, I had a very stimulating talk on social media advocacy, with Nadeen Spence and the organizers of the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation summer camp, as they prepare for this important event. Lots of food for thought – and lots to write about, too.
Special kudos to Health Minister Christopher Tufton, who has gone the extra mile this week in terms of communication. What a refreshing change from his predecessor, who one recalls dismissed the Chikungunya Virus with a wave of the hand (literally) and kept us in the dark as much as possible. I attended an excellent G2K forum on Health Sector Reform at which Minister Tufton gave an informative, clear and intelligent presentation for half an hour without referring to any notes at all. Environmental Solutions’ Eleanor Jones and former head of the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association Dr. Shane Alexis also provided us with great insights. Then on Thursday, Minister Tufton gave us a pretty thorough update on the current state of the Zika Virus via a press briefing; you can find the text on the Ministry of Health website. Strangely, neither the Jamaica Information Service nor the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica saw fit to air a briefing on such an important topic live. The Minister told us there are only 16 confirmed cases (two of them pregnant women), but noted doctors have reported around 2,000 suspected cases this year – mostly in Kingston & St. Andrew and St. Catherine. He also told us the Ministry, with the assistance of Food for the Poor, will be obtaining thousands of mosquito nets and mesh to secure water in our drums – because as he keeps telling us, three quarters of the mosquito breeding sites are water storage tubs around people’s homes!
Meanwhile, the Instagram Queen apparently has Zika… and of course, posted a video on Instagram. I am speaking of the spirited Opposition Member of Parliament and former beauty queen Lisa Hanna, who is currently trying to insert some much-needed energy into her party. Stay in the limelight, dear! And keep on pushing your party towards change.
Hailing up Zanj Radio! Orrin Carr (aka Zanj Rrac) is the founder of this online radio station with a difference. Zanj, who started broadcasting from his University of the West Indies dorm room in 2010, has been accepted for a Masters degree in Media Management at the prestigious Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). However, he badly needs funds to make it possible for him to take up the offer. His crowd-funding site is here: https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/send-zanj-to-the-royal-institute-of-technology–2/ Do help this young creative Jamaican if you can! I wrote an article for Global Voices, here: https://globalvoices.org/2016/06/02/zanj-radio-jamaicas-online-music-station-with-a-social-message/
Congratulations to William Mahfood and the staff at Wisynco, who are already starting to bounce back from the major fire on their Lakes Pen compound. Mr. Mahfood sounds upbeat and morale seems high. I wish them all the best. Doing business in Jamaica ain’t easy.
Congrats to IT pioneer Ingrid Riley, who has been appointed as Chairperson of StartUp Jamaica! Ingrid posted on Facebook: “Being asked by the Government of Jamaica to serve is an honour. I’m eager and excited to get started working with fellow board members and the Tech Community. Our Entrepreneurs are awesome and deserve our support.” Big ups to Ingrid for her hard work and focus!
How about giving back a little? Every two years, the Calabash International Literary Festival parachutes into the sleepy town of Treasure Beach. A bunch of great writers from all over the world enjoy being “rootsy” for a weekend, and then leave. Middle class Jamaicans (mostly women) flock down to the south coast for a weekend of socializing, being entertained by said writers, and posting photos on Facebook. They are the fans. Many other Jamaicans go down to Calabash for a day, for a bit of profiling; it’s a great place to be “seen.” That’s all fine, and great fun. But I honestly wonder what Calabash contributes to the island in a lasting way. It’s something nice for the calendar on the Jamaica Tourist Board website. For a week or so every two years, the small enterprises in Treasure Beach do booming business. In its earliest years Calabash held free workshops for local writers and poets, and I hugely benefited from one of these (I wouldn’t have minded paying). Those workshops are now defunct, I guess for financial reasons, and no one has time. But how about sponsoring a group of students of English from the inner city to spend a day there listening to great writers and maybe meeting one or two? Hold some literary competitions for budding local writers? Surely a little money could be set aside to do something like this every two years. Well. It’s just a thought.
It’s very sad that I do not know the names of some of these Jamaican men who were killed. I don’t know why so many are unidentified, although that often happens with police killings. However, my deepest condolences go out to all the families. A middle-aged couple who ran a business in Southdale Plaza were shot dead as they closed their shop a few nights ago. All these are sad stories.
Helen McGoo, 50, Southdale Plaza/Constant Spring Road, Kingston 10
Gordon Davis, 60, Southdale Plaza/Constant Spring Road, Kingston 10
Junior Elliot, 27, Rodney Road, Kingston 13
Unidentified man, Innswood Estate, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Commodore/Linstead, St. Catherine (killed by police)
Unidentified man, Colbeck, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Montego Bay, St. James (killed by police)
Ricardo Kerr, Hartford, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, Balaclava, St. Elizabeth