Another trying week. On CVM Television’s Live at Seven last night, my fellow panelists (Raymond Pryce and Shelly-Ann Curran) and I tried our best to put a lighter spin on the week’s news with host Simon Crosskill, but we barely succeeded. It was impossible to avoid the news of murder, violence and anger, both at home and abroad. It looks like we’re heading for a long, hot summer, to coin a phrase. (The link to last night’s show is here by the way).
The Attorney General has stirred up another storm in the media and among the general public. She stood up and made what I thought was an entirely inappropriate presentation in the Lower House. Ms. Marlene Malahoo Forte told us that some fundamental rights and freedoms “may have to be abrogated, abridged or infringed” in the interests of reducing crime. Such action may be “demonstratively justified in a free and democratic society,” she said. She not only wants to amend the Bail Act, but would also like to tinker around with the Criminal Justice Administration Act, the Jury Act, the Evidence Act, Offences Against Person Act, among other actions – including “We are thinking of abolishing jury trials for murder.” The tone and content of the Attorney General’s speech seemed to me heavy-handed and somewhat political. It didn’t sit well with me. As former Justice Minister Mark Golding remarked, the Attorney General strayed “out of her lane” (in athletics terms). If she was a hurdler, she would have knocked down several hurdles on her run, no doubt.
National Security Minister Robert Montague followed up with a not overly impressive presentation in Parliament, observing that because the justice system was in such a mess (with long court delays) those charged with murder had plenty of time to commit more murders while out on bail (of course he didn’t put it that way – that is my spin). Ha! He seems to be assuming that all those charged are likely to be guilty. He believes the constitution “allows space” for tinkering with the Bail Act. Minister Montague is to stop publishing the national security budget. He also said he will “not be informing the criminal elements of the strategies to catch them” and so police operations will not be announced in advance. By the way, the Ministry is looking for office space downtown; I understand another Ministry will be under construction soon near the waterfront; zinc fences are up.
Minister, may I humbly suggest: How about social interventions, addressing the root causes while starting to fix the justice system (including the police), which is clearly broken? The previous administration’s Unite for Change program seemed to me a very worthwhile endeavor, and was perhaps starting to bear some fruit. I hope it will continue. Jamaican Bar Association (whose website needs updating badly and whose Twitter account is non-existent) seems to agree with me. In a statement the JBA says it doesn’t want to see a return to the mood of the oppressive Gun Court Act and Suppression of Crime Act in the 1970’s. It also points to a ruling by the Judicial Review Court that it was unconstitutional for the State to restrict a person’s access to bail.
Quite a few Jamaicans on social media chirped that they were quite happy to give up a few rights – no worries! Can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, etc. Their suggestion was that it’s a question of “less freedom OR soaring murder rates” – that’s the choice, one or the other. That’s it? I repeat: How about social interventions, addressing the root causes while starting to fix the justice system (including the police), which is clearly broken? Oh, but that would require some (long term) thinking. Something we are averse to.
The Association of Local Government Authorities – headed by May Pen Mayor Scean Barnswell – is not happy with remarks made by Government Ministers accusing local councils of inappropriate or illegal practices. The latest Minister to upset him is Minister Robert Montague, who made some unkind comments.
Huge HAJ losses: How could the Housing Association of Jamaica (HAJ) be losing so much money for the past three years? $609 million for the year 2013/2014, $539 million for 2014/2015, and $849 million projected for 2015/2016. “We found too many things that were really questionable,” said Minister Chang this week, so the senior executive have all been fired. I would think such enormous losses were really questionable, yes! I hope some capable people will be appointed now (and not political appointees either!)
No more downtown sewage leaks? That would be wonderful! For years – decades even – raw sewage has flowed in certain areas of downtown. Now Water Minister Horace Chang says “This Government, and my ministry in particular, will not tolerate a situation where there is a frequent overflow of sewage in our capital. We have to show greater respect for the dignity of our people.” He says work to fix the sewage will begin in North Street. It will probably cause traffic chaos, but who cares. The residents deserve better.
Devious routes: The police seized J$65 million worth of cocaine at Kingston’s port, in a container that arrived from the Netherlands Antilles. Drug smugglers are finding a variety of routes to smuggle their stuff. Why was no one arrested, though?
It’s very hard to police our coastlines and marine waters. We know this. I am talking about environmental crime in this context, not drug/arms trafficking. Is enough being done to ensure that our environmental laws are being respected by everyone – whether locals or not – especially in deep rural areas? We know that the fish sanctuaries have wardens, and the Coast Guard and Marine Police play their part. Is this enough? Are our endangered species, protected by law, safe from greedy people who are engaging in illegal practices? I’m glad to hear that a man was arrested and charged after being caught (by National Water Commission rangers) cutting down dozens of fully grown Blue Mahoe and Sweetwood trees in the watershed area surrounding the Hermitage dam in rural St. Andrew recently.
The teenage student of Alpha Academy, who was allegedly shot in the head by police is conscious, and put out a sweet message thanking the Jamaican public for their support. She has had one operation and needs to have another. Meanwhile, only one of the five policemen arrested by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) was picked out in an ID parade last week. No one has been charged yet.
Our heritage: I am glad to hear that the Government will resume the maintenance program for properties administered by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT). The work will begin with Seville Great House in St. Ann, which I visited for the second time recently. This is well worth it. I think the JNHT should fix up its own beautiful historic headquarters, too.
Goodbye JEEP, Hello HOPE: The Housing, Opportunity, Prosperity, Employment (HOPE) program will be the new umbrella under which several already existing social intervention programs will shelter, it was announced this week. One victim of this exercise is the Jamaica Emergency Employment Program (JEEP) – the 4 1/2 year old program that had actually become a bit of a joke. One thing struck me about State Minister Everald Warmington’s announcement: “Each MP will be allocated $10 million for projects in their constituency. A further $157 million will also be spent on special projects to include things such as manhole replacement and sidewalk rehabilitation that are submitted by community-based groups.” Let’s hope these funds are properly disbursed. Accountability is key.
Congratulations are due…
To Helene Davis Whyte, the newly elected President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) – the first woman in the post. She wants to ensure the needs of workers are taken into account when examining the next budget.
To the Positive Organization, a team of young and energetic volunteers led by Neville Charlton, who do a lot of work with Respect Jamaica. They organized a special tour for members of the Tivoli Gardens Police Youth Club, including the Office of the Prime Minister and King’s House on Thursday. I am sorry I wasn’t able to join them.
To the Caribbean Academy of Sciences at the University of the West Indies, who organized a terrific workshop on the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, which I attended. I will be writing more about this later, but solar radiation management (also known as solar geo-engineering) is a possible way of reducing some of the negative impacts of climate change, still in its research stages. The workshop was really well organized, well attended, and the participants and presenters approached this controversial topic from various angles. The discussions were great!
This is so cool! (Cool Runnings, perhaps?) The Japanese Shitamachi Bobsleigh Project has donated three beautiful sleds to the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, so the team can prepare for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The two-man sleds will be basically custom-made for the bobsledders (who usually rent or lease sleds, due to financial constraints). Nelson ‘Chris’ Stokes, acting president of the Federation, said he is really impressed with the quality of workmanship and the carbon fiber material. See photo above.
There will be no State of Emergency in Montego Bay, limited or otherwise, in response to the crime wave there. This decision may have been made with tourists in mind, but is the town and its surroundings any safer now? Every week, at least one or two Jamaicans are killed by the police; are the numbers rising? My condolences to all those who are mourning the deaths of their loved ones, this week.
Christopher Comrie, 43, Ken Hill Drive/Pembroke Hall, Kingston (killed by the police)
Anthony Panton, 26, Munroe Road/Liguanea, Kingston
Unidentified man, Range Crescent/Mountain View, Kingston 2
Rasheed Rattray, 20, Anglin Lane/Newlands, St. Catherine
Paul Nicholson, 25, Anglin Lane/Newlands, St. Catherine
Donavon Nugent, 35, JUTC Bus Park, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Clive Samuels, 48, Bog Walk, St. Catherine (killed by the police)
Sonia Mitchell, 51, Banks, Clarendon
Eaton Rankine, 23, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Damion Martin, 22, Annotto Bay, St. Mary
Damian Bent, 33, White Horses, St. Thomas
Michael ‘Mal’ Levy, 65, Comfort/Mandeville, Manchester