After a day or two of grey clouds and drizzle, an energetic breeze is livening us up this morning. Our little dog has been racing up and down the yard. There is a shift in the season, and all around us there are depressions and burgeoning storms. Hopefully they will avoid our little island. We are cozy here and hoping to ride out the hurricane season.
Things are not so cozy for the People’s National Party, who are at sixes and sevens over the recent revelations from their Treasurer, Norman Horne. It’s starting to boggle the mind, a little. A Sunday Gleaner article alleges that five senior party members (but not PNP President Portia Simpson Miller) are believed to have collected campaign donations and used them for the benefit of their personal campaigns, rather than handing them over to the Treasurer. Several aspects of this story worry me: Firstly, why has the party President been silent on the matter? Does she have nothing to say? Secondly, some very large sums were mentioned in Erica Virtue’s report. Did a “foreign entity” really donate US$20 million (U.S.!!) to the party, which a senior official did not hand over? Would there not be some criminality involved here (fraudulent conversion)? What about money laundering, etc? I’m no legal expert, so I am just wondering. Is it OK for political parties to receive large donations from overseas? (Oh, but I am now remembering Trafigura!) Thirdly, did the donors give funds for specific candidates’ campaigns? Perhaps this was the case. Anyway, it’s becoming clear that this situation is part of the picture of a divided, fractious PNP, which we have been hearing about for months.
“It wasn’t me!” Meanwhile, one or two PNP members, such as Vice President Noel Arscott, are declaring their innocence; but Mr. Arscott is blaming the Treasurer himself, for not dealing with these issues at the time. He may have a point. Meanwhile, poor Peter Phillips is a picture of exhaustion and disappointment. His tone of voice is heavy and his demeanor is weary. The former campaign manager for the PNP’s failed general election campaign bemoaned the state of his party – allegedly beset by infighting – over the weekend. Was this erstwhile leadership contender powerless to stop the rot, throughout the campaign? Did he not require regular updates on the status of campaign funds? Now Dr. Phillips, a brilliant Fulbright Scholar, recently referred to the media (and other critics on social media) as “the enemies.” No, they are not; not at all. I think Dr. Phillips needs to take a long vacation, somewhere far away, and return refreshed and reinvigorated.
Well, there’s politics for you. Norman Washington Manley must be turning restively in his grave. How sad it is. More revelations to follow. (STOP PRESS: The PNP Leader has told one journalist that she knows nothing about the matter. As they say: “Face Palm”!)
Meanwhile, our law enforcement officers have been pretty effective lately, on land and sea, in seizing guns – and drugs. A huge quantity of ganja (over 2,000 pounds) was found on a boat in the early hours of the morning off the south coast, in care of “three foreigners.” Are go-fast boats to and from Colombia still a thing? Is the “guns for drugs” activity with Haiti still continuing, I wonder? Recalling the days of the then-controversial “ship rider agreement,” it would be good to get an update. I wonder how much the drug trade is still a catalyzing factor in organized crime in our region. I understand our local gangs get their income from extortion and fraud. I always wonder, though: Who are the “Big Men” in all of this?
Oh, and then we had a power cut: It was early Saturday evening, the day after pay day. Kingston was buzzing. People were dashing up and down, buying school supplies, getting haircuts, paying bills, eating out, etc. Then the lights went out. Everywhere, all over the island, and for over four hours in our area. The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has not yet got to the bottom of it, but there was said to be a “procedural error” during a routine maintenance at one substation, which triggered a shutdown of the entire system in order to protect it. Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley demanded, and received, a preliminary report from JPS yesterday. This is the second island wide blackout this year, and one doesn’t feel quite reassured that it won’t happen again. There’s a problem somewhere. Meanwhile, many businesses suffered major losses, some had damage to equipment – and for the retail, services and entertainment sectors small businesses in particular lost money on what should have been an especially profitable evening. Not good enough!
A new parliament building – is it really going to happen? I wrote in my weekly Gleaner blog (Social Impact) last September about Gordon House, our seat of Parliament (Why Can’t We Have a Parliament Building To Be Proud Of?) here. Please do read it, and the enlightening readers’ comments too! I wrote that our Parliament building is “one of the ugliest buildings in Kingston, both inside and out.” So, I’m delighted to hear that perhaps we might be moving ahead with plans for a building, possibly at the northern end of National Heroes Park. Yes, good location and lots of unused space…since it has never really been a “park.” Let’s get on with it, though. And let’s make sure (of course) that it is accessible for the disabled.
Our sprinting hero Usain Bolt arrived in Jamaica yesterday, rather quietly. He probably did not want a big celebration on his arrival at Norman Manley International Airport – although I would have thought Sports Minister Olivia Grange would have wanted at least to give him a nice little welcome in the VIP Lounge, or something. I wrote on the topic of Mr. Bolt for Global Voices this week; you can read it here.
Is this corruption? Educator Dr. Dennis Minott may have a point. He went one step further than Jamaica Association of Principals and Vice-Principals President Linton Weir by saying that the practice of picking some students, and not allowing others the opportunity to sit external examinations is “corrupt.” It has always seemed somehow not right that schools – or rather, teachers – have the power to do this. “More than 50 per cent of schools are allowing teachers to choose who take exams,” says Dr. Minott. The students selected to take examinations comprise the so-called “cohort” referred to when exam results come out. That way, a school that puts one student forward and that student passes could be said to have 100 per cent passes! There are some schools, Dr. Minott adds, where up to 30 per cent of students are not allowed to take Mathematics exams (such an important subject). If a teacher takes a dislike to a student… Well. Corruption is perhaps not far off. This issue has been raised before, mind you; but nothing has been done to correct it.
No tattoed teachers: Education Minister Ruel Reid is a conservative man. Well, we all have our likes and dislikes; but I felt uncomfortable with Minister Reid’s recent comments at a back to school conference. Principals’ assessment of potential new teachers should include vetting them for tattoos, he says – and also “what they wear.” Jamaican institutions and officials are obsessed with “dress codes” – even in a dire emergency, one must not enter a hospital wearing spaghetti straps or “merinos,” for example. What nonsense. A teacher with a tattoo might be the best teacher in the school. Perhaps rather than a preoccupation with dress and “looks,” we should focus on character and competence, first and foremost. In a radio interview, the Principal of Calabar High School said he would never hire a teacher with tattoos. Not even if it was the school motto, Sir? Or “I love Jesus”? It’s all to do with “Values and Attitudes,” one is told. But whose values and attitudes?
The Factories Corporation of Jamaica is seeking to make amends, after a thoroughly damning report from the Auditor General. The new board, headed by Lyttleton Shirley is taking some actions (and legal advice). The police are investigating the matter of funds that were not fully handed over to the FCJ from the sale of one of its properties.
Thanks and bouquets:
A decent road: Happy to see a proper concrete road under construction down to the Riverton City garbage dump, thanks to a donation from the Mexican Embassy. The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has been responsible for carrying out the work. This will make life much more bearable (and healthier) for those who live and work in the community, which is extremely deprived.
1,000 congrats to the eight Jamaicans who have been selected for the First Class of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, which was announced by President Barack Obama during his visit to Jamaica last year. A special shout out to Latoya West-Blackwood, and the four other women entrepreneurs and three men who will be going to the United States for six weeks of training; immersion at an incubator, accelerator, non-governmental or civil society organization; a summit to facilitate mentoring, networking and attracting investment; and a summit in Washington for participants to showcase their initiatives and attract investment, learn from others, network with leading figures in their field, and hear from the president and top business and civil society leaders. Read more here.
To all the private sector organizations, companies and individuals who are providing scholarships, bursaries and back to school assistance as the new school year is about to begin! I hope the students who receive assistance will all do their very best in the upcoming year.
I am glad the police have two suspects in custody regarding the murder of two-year-old Demario Whyte in Luke Lane. I hope they have the right people, and can bring them to trial. Demario’s family deserves justice, as do all those affected by the violent deaths of their loved ones. My condolences to their families and friends.
Oscar Fothergill, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Adrian Lemard, 64, Great River, Hanover
Rusheen Gordon, 19, Back Hatfield, Westmoreland