What a week. The weather is hot – day and night. The White-Crowned Pigeon (“Baldpate”) is coming to our bird bath in the middle of the day, just to drink. When I refill the baths (making sure all the old water is gone, so as not to breed mosquitoes) the birds are just sitting in the trees watching me. As I turn around they are down to drink and bathe. Water is life! If you have a garden, make sure you put out some water. The birds will soon find it and they will be grateful. Meanwhile, two baby birds fell from the very top of our guango tree this week (one miraculously survived and is now being hand-reared at the wonderful Sevenoaks Wildlife Rescue Centre in St. Ann) – blown in strong winds from a rickety nest built by Mr. & Ms. Smooth-Billed Ani. Phew! And then, this week, there was something called Brexit… I will be talking about it with some others on TVJ’s Smile Jamaica on Monday (7:00 am Jamaican time), if you happen to be watching our local TV. I am still trying to make sense of it all…
Limited release: Prime Minister Andrew Holness, very belatedly, “released his financials to the media” on Friday, June 17. I put this in quotation marks because the words “release” and “media” are not exactly accurate. Are his financials now fully in the public domain? Mr. Holness was fulfilling his promise to do so by March 31 – so, he was a tad late. Well, as they say – better late than never, but now the discussion is: Why did he release them to only three media houses – the Gleaner, Jamaica Observer and the radio station Nationwide News Network (NNN)? And why did it take so long? PM Holness told NNN that he was releasing his last ten declarations to the Integrity Commission, and it took time to go over them to make sure they were correct. Currently he has assets valued at just over JMD$151-million, and liabilities just under JMD$35-million, NNN reports.
A question of culture: Reverberations continue following the publication of the Commission of Enquiry report into the West Kingston Incursion of May 2010 in Tivoli Gardens. Apart from the individuals named in the report (are they planning to resign?) the report highlights major problems with the modus operandi of both the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) in their assault on Tivoli. I believe the security forces went in there basically to teach the residents of Tivoli a lesson! I am still convinced the JCF needs a complete overhaul from top to bottom. The culture is all wrong. Is there a long-term plan, I wonder, for the JCF? I see a tall building going up next to the old colonial building housing the Commissioner of Police’s office in uptown Kingston. Bigger and better? Why not try implementing more of the recommendations of the Strategic Review of the JCF of 2008? Commissioner Terrence Williams of INDECOM wrote an important piece in the Sunday paper, here: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/focus/20160619/terrence-williams-west-kingston-enquiry-overhaul-army-police-force
A senior policeman said the JCF is dealing with the implications of the report as best it can, although it lowers morale, etc., etc. This is hardly the point, though, is it? The question is not whether members of the JCF and JDF are upset or embarrassed by the report (but they should be). It is: what are they going to do about it? Nor do the peevish comments of some of the defense lawyers help matters. I understand also that the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has not been generally satisfied with the JDF’s investigative process; it takes a long time for a soldier to be made available for questioning to investigators, for example. Why is this?
Viral nerves: In the middle of the week some of us suddenly felt nervous on news that there has been an increase in cases of the Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), which affects some patients with the Zika virus. There are now thirty cases of GBS, most of which Health Minister Christopher Tufton says are zika-related. Eeek! A former GBS sufferer spoke on radio about his serious illness in 2014 following a bout with chikungunya. The Health Ministry website has lots of information and good advice on vector control and so on – but I just wish they would update it with the latest statistics. We don’t all catch the Minister’s announcements while he is making a speech somewhere. It’s good to have a reference point. Meanwhile, four pregnant women reportedly are confirmed to have Zika, and all pregnant women are now being tested.
Very recently, five workers were injured when a part of the Royalton Negril construction site collapsed. There was a huge fuss, and talk then about Jamaica’s health and safety laws. Now a Chinese worker has died a horrible death on another hotel construction site in Negril, Are overseas investors simply flouting these laws? What influence do our trade unions have? Can companies like Karisma just bring in any number of Chinese – what is wrong with Jamaican workers? Having said all that, I am very sad at the dreadful death of this worker. It is shocking. Can legal action be taken against the construction company (which I understand is Chinese)? Apparently a large, wobbly-looking crane is now hanging over Negril’s main thoroughfare. Is there any space left there for building, now? I remember my first visit to Negril in the 1980s. It was green and peaceful. Those were the days, gone forever.
I’m a little worried about the way in which Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie is handling alleged corrupt practices at parish councils. Early Friday morning, the homes of several employees of the Manchester Parish Council were raided by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and a lot of documents and computers were taken away. Two were arrested but have not been charged. Large sums in U.S. and Jamaican currency were seized. The Council offices were closed for quite a while. Warrants were also executed at the Clarendon Parish Council, making the Mayor a little nervous. Minister McKenzie, are you being a little over-zealous? However, many support his anti-corruption drive. I hope that the motivation is simply anti-corruption, and not an attempt to unnerve the parish councils, which are dominated by the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), ahead of local government elections. If it is anti-corruption, I am all for it. I know the diligent Office of the Contractor General is also investigating the award of some contracts at Manchester over the past seven years. After a typically energetic presentation in Parliament the other day, Minister McKenzie is not now commenting on the raids. I know he is very enthusiastic in his work, but don’t want him to overdo things. Perhaps dawn raids are the only way to deal with alleged corrupt officials?
Trafigura shenanigans: Following a case management conference, it was agreed that the appeal should be put off until the week of January 16, 2017. Well done, KD Knight & Co! As you may recall, Dutch authorities want Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill, and other party officials to answer questions under oath about a 31 million “donation” (or was it a “gift”?) the party received from Trafigura Beheer in 2006.
Highway politics: Now in “local government election mode,” Opposition Spokesman-on-Whatever Peter Phillips says he hopes the fixing up of the south coast roadways will be done properly and will be up to scratch. The “six-star General” in Eastern St. Thomas, Member of Parliament Fenton Ferguson came to life and started rallying the troops to “fight” for the South Coast Highway at a party meeting. The following day, the National Works Agency spokesman – a serious and professional young man – was shouted down by a group of rowdy women at a public meeting (with the two Members of Parliament for the parish present – Western St. Thomas is represented by the Jamaica Labour Party’s James Robertson). The meeting was intended to explain plans for the highway. I was told that the people of St. Thomas – an under-developed parish – are simply “frustrated” and that this was just a genuine, non-politically motivated expression of their anger. I have my doubts; the highway has become a political football, without a doubt.
Talking of roads, I am again disappointed by the JCF Traffic Division. Three people died this week (and one died later in hospital) on the same stretch of road where five were killed in a terrible crash just a week or two ago. They were all employees of the Gran Bahia Principe hotel. When interviewed afterwards, the head of the Traffic Division simply said he wished people would not drive so fast. Moral suasion by the JCF and the National Road Safety Council clearly is not working. This is a notorious stretch of road, where speeding is commonplace; would it be too much to ask the police to have a speed trap there? Not necessarily to catch lawbreakers, but to at least make them slow down. No excuses, now. A little more effort is required, please. Well, a lot more.
Girls’ schools have problems, too: I recently visited the St. Andrew High School for Girls, which has an excellent reputation; it has a lovely, orderly compound. Sadly, there was a stabbing and shooting incident on that same compound, after an awards ceremony, reportedly between a teacher and a parent. Then a fight broke out among students of the Holy Childhood High School (a girls-only Catholic school) on the street this week. Well, the adults continue to set a fine example for the children, don’t they?
Below are the names of the four men killed by the police in Old Harbour Bay in the middle of the afternoon on June 14. One of them was a teenager. The police say they seized three guns. As usual the residents’ accounts differ greatly from that of the police – who always say they were fired on first. One can’t help thinking that these alleged criminals must be really bad shots, because they are the ones who end up dead in almost all cases, while no police officers are injured. The names were released by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Having said all this, the police are doing well with gun seizures in the parish; and there have been a number of murders in the Old Harbour area in recent times. It’s all painful and a tragic waste of young lives. Meanwhile, one man has been arrested and charged with the murder of two American missionaries (a local man, rather surprisingly) and the JCF say the motive for the killings in a sleepy rural area was robbery. They are still looking for one or two other suspects, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I am so sad about the murder of a St. Catherine policeman, and extend my condolences to all the families and loved ones. So many young men, so many.
Javian Watson, 16; Jermaine O’Connor, 31; Carlington Steeling, 22; Kemar Frazer, 26 – Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine – all killed by police
Sgt. Carlton Morrison, 52, Jamaica Constabulary Force, Brunswick Avenue/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Michael White, Fletchers Land, Kingston
Garnett Hall, 28, Flanker, St. James
Alex Parkinson, 22, Barrett Town, St. James
Unidentified man, Sundowner Close/Montego Bay, St. James
Neil Griffiths, Catadupa, St. James
Gwayne Morris, 22, Lindos Hill/Whithorn, Westmoreland
Jason Wedderburn, 31, Lindos Hill/Whithorn, Westmoreland
Stanford Anderson, 56, Whithorn, Westmoreland
Conroy Hay, 34, Windsor Heights, St. Ann
Kevin Dennis, 25, Luana, St. Elizabeth (killed by police)
Cleveland Nairen, 62, Gayle District, Manchester
D.J. Bennett, 29, Mile Gully, Manchester
Desmond Lindo, Plum Valley/Buff Bay, Portland