It’s August already, and I am writing this accompanied by quick bursts of rainfall and breeze (and a cup of Darjeeling tea). Tropical Storm Earl (which took a while to be named) is passing just to the south of us and getting up some steam for Honduras and Mexico. It has not inconvenienced too many Jamaicans, from all reports (in terms of water, electricity etc). We were quite lucky to have escaped it, and meanwhile our garden is lapping up the rain.
Last week was incredibly packed, with many organizations trying to squeeze in events before the Emancipation/Independence holiday began. Now, quite a few holiday events have been postponed, and the Ranny Williams Centre, where government-sponsored celebrations normally take place, is a sad, lonely (and wet) place. The Government seemed to be quite “on the ball” with preparations for the storm. However, I must ask: Why has the social media presence for the Meteorological Service of Jamaica and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) been so minimal, during a tropical storm? They both have very old-fashioned, cheap looking websites, too – take a look! Please update yourselves, guys. Meanwhile I will continue to rely on Jamaica Weather ,whom you can reach at any time on Twitter @jamaicaweather. And talking of social media, I was glad to see the Jamaica Constabulary Force tweeting a photo of a young boy who was lost. I wish they would do more of this – inform the public about missing persons, wanted men, roads closed, emergency situations etc – via social media! Guys, it doesn’t cost anything…We will share!
Port Authority has some explaining to do: We are used to stories of alleged corruption and lack of accountability in public entities, revealed on a regular basis by our industrious Auditor General. However my jaw dropped when I heard the revelations on the Port Authority of Jamaica. I already posted the response from the 51% Coalition in an earlier blog, which I co-signed. I wonder what kind of explanation the board of the Authority (and its CEO, the eminent Professor Gordon Shirley) will come up with. But there’s no hurry – our political leaders are on holiday now.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has upped the rhetoric on violence. He used Emancipation Day to touch on this, declaring: “We have not, as a society, fully overcome slavery, and one element of slavery that still permeates, pervades, directs, influences, conditions and cultures us is violence.” But can we really blame slavery for our violent modern-day society? What about the inescapable nexus between politics and organized crime? The Prime Minister also focused on violence prevention at the launch of Jamaica’s HeForShe on the lawns next to his office last week. I have some issues with the launch event, though I believe the organizers meant well. I found it to be more negative “pointing the finger at the violent male” rhetoric, which I did not understand to be the purpose of the excellent UN campaign. Not that I think we should downplay gender-based violence; I thought He For She had a different focus.
“Death on crime”: Meanwhile the current and former National Security Ministers attended a meeting organized by the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches called Jamaica Pray, when hundreds of mostly women waved their hands and Jamaican flags to pray away crime. If only one could. Someone noted cynically that Minister Bobby Montague is perhaps following in the footsteps of his predecessor Peter Bunting, who famously called for “divine intervention.” I would actually like to see “The Church” in its many manifestations go out into the communities and work on reducing crime – and I am not talking about programs for its own members, but for the many marginalized and vulnerable members of society.
On the political front, former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller finally declared her finances. This was met with some cynicism. Meanwhile, wearing an orange woolly hat, former Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding easily won his battle with People’s National Party (PNP) rival Colin Campbell for the coveted, comfortable South St. Andrew seat. Senator Golding had the blessing of former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, which irked Mr. Campbell.
Look to China! So says Phillip Paulwell, who to the annoyance of the current administration seems to be taking some credit for the recent sale of the Alpart bauxite plant in Nain to Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO). Mr. Paulwell – who was in China along with Ministers Wheatley and Henry – sees the Chinese as knights in shining armor in agriculture, too. All I can say is that the idea of building a coal-powered plant on our little island is ludicrous. We are having long discussions on this topic on Twiter under the hashtag #saynotocoalJA (Quote from @simoncrosskill: “What a time to want to upsize Jamaica’s carbon footprint,” in response to an article about melting glaciers. Indeed, does any of this make sense?)
“Restraint”: A disturbing video emerged recently, showing two policemen restraining one woman – including pulling her by her hair and kneeing her in the stomach. A policeman allegedly used a curse word at the woman, to which she responded in kind and was arrested. Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry is not happy, but the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) says the police were doing their best. Puzzling. Do the police get training in how to arrest someone properly (without shooting them, of course)? Martial arts would be the perfect kind of training, seems to me. I used to practice judo – it is pretty effective!
Worries over water: President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) Helene Davis Whyte, has an issue with the Government’s planned privatisation of the National Water Commission (NWC) and wants to take it up with Minister Horace Chang. Have we been sensitized to the pros and cons of this plan – or is it just going to happen, without any consultation?
Organic farming: The Denbigh Agricultural Show is a regular feature of the Emancipation Day holiday. I hope Minister Karl Samuda is serious about developing organic agriculture, as it has great economic potential (if done right) and I am all for eco-friendliness. I am disappointed to hear that the 64-year-old Denbigh Show (where, years ago, my small son and I had a near-miss with a huge Brahmin bull) has become increasingly commercialized in the past few years, which has put off many from attending. It needs to get back to its roots (literally).
Sewage, again: How and why, in the 21st century, should Jamaican citizens be expected to endure sewage flowing through their homes and on the street? Well, parts of downtown Kingston have had this problem for years. Now the community of Christian Pen in Portmore, St. Catherine recently protested their own ongoing problem (over several months). Would the residents of uptown Norbrook and Cherry Gardens be expected to put up with this disgusting situation, I wonder? Well, we know the answer to my rhetorical question!
Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) was once a rare disease that none of us had even heard of. Now we are all terribly nervous about it, especially after well-known and politically connected lawyer Delano Franklyn described his struggle with it after contracting the Zika virus. It sounded like hell and he is only recovering now because he can afford the costly treatment, he says. Mr. Franklyn is a member of the PNP, whose supporters are now making some noise about the “crisis” in GBS in Jamaica, complaining that the Holness administration is not providing enough information. Remembering the chikungunya situation of not so long ago, I find this accusation amusing! The Ministry has noted in a press release that it is stockpiling medication and training more personnel to deal with GBS. It’s also advising anyone who has weakness of the limbs during or after having zika-like symptoms to get medical attention. Minister Tufton says GBS patients are actually getting treated for free – at a cost of roughly $1.5 million per patient. It’s amazing to think that Zika has only been officially present in Jamaica for six months and has created such problems. There is a new report on its possible ramifications (even that it may be a form of HIV?) almost every day. It’s unnerving. If you do get Zika (and I had it about two months ago) my advice is: Rest!
Major, major kudos to:
Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, Member of Parliament and former Olympic medallist, who gave birth to baby Zara on Emancipation Day.
I heard great things about Godfrey Stewart High School in Westmoreland at the JN Foundation School Leadership Summit last week. Now it is to benefit from a Teach the Teachers workshop starting today, sponsored by Great Shape! Inc (a diaspora organization) and the Sandals Foundation. The workshop will focus on computer training, behavior management and language arts.
JN Foundation, who did an amazing job with their two-day School Leadership Summit last week. Both the local and overseas speakers were excellent, and complemented each other in different ways. I was one of the volunteer “live tweeters” and have already posted Jaevion Nelson’s column on some of the issues raised. I really do hope the summit will have far-reaching effects, inspiring school principals to take a new look at the way they administer their schools and relate to students and staff. The current model isn’t working, let’s face it. I will be sharing more on this topic soon.
The 51% Coalition, Under the hashtag #WhatDoWomenWantJA, the 51% Coalition, with funding from UN Women, partnered with the USAID-funded Fi Wi Jamaica for a Public Forum attended by a diverse audience of approx. 80 women (and men). The Coalition shared the findings of its consultations with seven groups of women across Jamaica, as well as the results of its research on women’s presence (or absence) on public boards. The findings were interesting and the audience discussion (with women from Kingston/St. Andrew, Clarendon, Portland and elsewhere) was sharp – and revealing. More to follow!
FundRiseHER™ – a ground-breaking initiative of two Caribbean women entrepreneurs -Commonwealth Business Woman Ambassador Valrie Grant and A. Cecile Watson, CEO of pitchandchoose.com, a crowd funding platform; and Arif Zaman, Executive Director, Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network in collaboration with the Caribbean Export Development Agency. I am really sorry I missed the official launch last Friday, but look forward to hearing more about the success of this venture to support Caribbean women entrepreneurs.
Yes, women were busy last week (men, what have you been doing?) Finally, kudos to the group of fantastic young women who have founded the #FaceDepression social media campaign, to raise awareness and to reduce the stigma attached to mental health in Jamaica. That stigma is real. The launch last week was beautifully done and much appreciated. Do support them.
My condolences to the families of those Jamaicans who have died violently in the past week or so. These are their names (all except one in western Jamaica):
Oniel McEwan, 38, Palm Grove Estate, Kingston 13
Bertland Gray, 16, Reading Fishing Beach/Montego Bay, St. James
Leon Gillings, 35, Reading Fishing Beach/Montego Bay, St. James
Owen James, 72, John’s Hall, St. James
Duvaine James, 19, John’s Hall, St. James (mob killing)
Oliver Haughton, 20, Negril, Westmoreland
Courtney Legister, 30, Negril, Westmoreland