With a new month, almost on cue everything feels different. The intensity of the summer is gone, but rain clouds constantly gather. For some reason, however, the storms deliberately bypass our little dry garden. It’s most upsetting. And so is this week’s news…
I am sad about the People’s National Party (PNP). Some very unpleasant stuff has been circulating in the past couple of weeks. It seems to be a bottomless well of nastiness, accusations and counter-accusations. Every day there is a new allegation, a twist and a turn. At the center of it is PNP General Secretary Paul Burke, former Transport Minister Omar Davies – and PNP leader wannabe Karl Blythe is stirring the pot. Plus some other side actors. First there was the fracas over allegations of PNP candidates not handing over donated funds to the election campaign coffers, as revealed first at a July National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in a report from Treasurer Norman Horne (the report was “not accepted” by the NEC, by the way. Which means what, exactly?) Then it transpired that some donations (fairly hefty sums, supposedly) were from foreign entities. Then came the talk of “kickbacks” or “agent’s fees” – whichever you prefer – with suggestions that this is regular practice for Chinese companies (the Chinese Embassy is reportedly “shocked” at such a suggestion). Then Dr. Davies fought back at insinuations that he might be involved in said “fees.” Now Mr. Horne is supposed to be getting police protection because of threats. Ugh! (Question: Was any action taken or concern expressed after the report? Since it wasn’t “accepted” – I guess not?)
Portia’s hellish week: In the midst of it all, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller seemed to be whirling around like a spinning top. She is caught between her bickering “comrades,” continuously snapping at each other; and the media, who are circling like sharks. On Tuesday there was an impromptu interview on CVM Television, which did not go well. DK Duncan’s intervention rescued her. The next day there was a more formal TVJ interview, which did not go well either. Ms. Simpson Miller’s response to questions regarding the issue was to say that it would be handled internally and eventually to cry, “I don’t know!” when asked about five senior party members allegedly involved. Sandrea Falconer – Portia’s loyal retainer – interrupted the “Comrade Leader” and told the journalist he was “muddying the waters” with unsubstantiated allegations. The PNP leader has now requested a report from the party’s Integrity Commission on the matter, which is due by October 3. Will internal reports help?
Needless to say, the private sector is in a tizzy, too. The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica will be holding a meeting on Thursday – not exactly an “emergency” meeting, but they do seem worried. The new President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Warren McDonald wants an independent investigation into the matter; David Wan of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation says there is no law to govern the activities of a “private members’ organization” such as the PNP, so no criminal investigation or legal action can take place. That’s that. The Office of the Contractor General has been quiet; and so has the Holness administration.
The issue of campaign finance has been repeatedly swept under the carpet, despite the advocacy of National Integrity Action. No one has been listening. Now suddenly, it’s a hot topic, and a can of worms has been opened. “Has Jamaica been bought out?” people are asking. “Is Jamaica for sale? Have our politicians sold us down the river?” What do you think?
And over all this, the faint whiff of corruption will not go away. When are we going to breathe in clean air, I wonder? What about the election promises to tackle corruption? Why, people avoid even saying the word out loud. It’s business as usual.
I am sad about the city of Kingston. My beloved home for so many years is under pressure. See below…
What benefits have Chinese “investors” brought to Jamaica, so far? Just asking. Apart from the ongoing protest about the environmental impact of the North-South Highway by influential property owners in Old Fort Bay, there is the question of the pending Chinese hotel development on 1,200 acres of land at Top Fort. Said property owners are already worried about that too, as well they should be, based on China Harbour Engineering Company’s (CHEC) record. Please recall that this land was kindly given to CHEC (or rather, to the Chinese Government, since CHEC is fully state-owned) by former Transport Minister Omar Davies as part of the Highway deal. It doesn’t belong to Jamaica, it belongs to China, although they presumably still have to abide by Jamaican environmental laws. This makes me nervous.
Meanwhile, CHEC wants to push up the highway tolls to almost impossible levels, because the road is not getting the expected traffic! What a nonsensical business decision – if the rates go up, even fewer people will use the highway. Why not reduce the rates, and go for volume? I did predict back in March it would be a “duppy highway” and so it may turn out to be – or at least, a Highway for the Rich and Privileged. Transport Minister Mike Henry seems to be treading carefully on this, trying to buy some time. He says there are “unresolved issues” to be discussed with the Chinese, and hopefully he will be putting his foot down. Meanwhile, CHEC has got the contract to widen the Mandela Highway, between Kingston and Spanish Town. What further environmental damage will be done in the process? Filling in wetlands, perhaps (what is left of them)?
And Zika nerves, again: Opposition supporters are making much of what they see as a lack of information coming from the Ministry of Health regarding cases of the dreaded Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). To date, six Jamaicans have died from GBS. Actually, GBS can be caused by various infections, including dengue, pneumonia etc. It’s been around a long while. Part of the problem Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Winston De La Haye seems to be having is that doctors are not reporting suspected or confirmed cases swiftly enough.
Now, as we know by now, Zika is a very slippery customer. A new report or scientific theory emerges about how it is spread and where it appears. The previous administration made a mess of communicating with the public on the very unpleasant chikungunya virus (Chik V) – but it seems pretty straight forward compared to Zika. We are jittery. So I would beseech the Health Ministry to keep putting out information – not just in media interviews (the Chief Medical Officer has been working very hard in this respect) but online – on the Ministry website and on social media. That way, no one can argue that they “can’t find the figures.” I’m glad to see that a Zika Update (as of August 26) was posted on the Ministry of Health website yesterday. We’ve had close to 5,000 suspected Zika cases and 20 suspected GBS cases; six people have died from GBS, but two of those cases were non-Zika related – we don’t know yet about the others. 31 pregnant women have tested positive for Zika. There is a much better breakdown on Susan Goffe’s blog, which I just shared.
Last week was the Great Power Cut. This week it’s the Great Flow Shutdown. Flow Jamaica (formerly LIME or whatever, formerly Cable & Wireless) has put their customers through hell again, with no Internet service since last night. We had a miserable time with this company, until we switched to their only competitor, Digicel. Now, I realize some Jamaicans have had issues with Digicel too, but I can honestly say that since our cable/internet/phone package was installed last year, we have not had one outage. Meanwhile, Flow are starting to restore services to irate Kingston residents, nearly 24 hours later. Poor dears. I would be so angry by now!
So, Minister Andrew Wheatley is, for the second consecutive week, demanding a report on his desk on Monday. Which utility will it be next week, I wonder?
Big ups to…
- Fight for Peace is a global project (established in Rio de Janeiro in 2000) aimed at reducing youth crime and violence. It was inaugurated in Jamaica last December. It has recently obtained funding from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID)and has expanded into more Kingston communities recently. It has the support of the Jamaican Government’s Community Security & Justice Program (CJSP III), which works in eight parishes. Fight for Peace uses boxing and martial arts, coupled with education and personal development, to reduce youth violence.
- Talking of peace… The Manchester Peace Coalition, a community-based organization, has just been formed. Its vision is “Manchester, a place for peaceful and holistic living.” Find them on Facebook and Manchester residents, get involved! I understand Mandeville is the first International Institute for Peace Through Tourism (IIPT) /SKAL peace town in the Caribbean, with the first Peace Park at Brooks Park – promoting peace and harmony for Manchester. I wish them all the very best.
- Have you bought your tickets for the concert featuring the Guadalajara Dance Company and the Mariachi Band ‘Orgullo de Jalisco’ on September 17 at the Little Theatre in Kingston yet? It’s going to be huge fun for all the family. $1,500 from Edna Manley College, Little Theatre and Chilito’s, or contact the Mexican Embassy.
Despite everything and all the good people…
There was a most distressing incident last night in Crossroads, Kingston. A soldier was getting a haircut in a barber’s shop when an apparent armed robbery began. The soldier drew his firearm and killed one of the gunmen, but was himself killed. I am very sad about my beloved city. Some parts of downtown are struggling with daily (and nightly) violence and gunfire, I hear. For so long we have been worrying about events in western Jamaica, and now it has turned on Jamaica’s capital… On another story, the two men charged with the murders of two American missionaries in rural St. Mary will face a “committal hearing” on February 16, 2017, to see if the prosecution has a strong enough case against them. Meanwhile, they are in custody until another court appearance set for December 1. To be honest, I don’t understand this procedure. Maybe the report got it wrong.
Lance Corporal Ricardo Bennett, 31, Half Way Tree Road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Half Way Tree Road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Johns Lane/East Queen Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Charles Street, Kingston (killed by police)
Andrew Honeyghan, 21, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Akeem Honeyghan, 19, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Eroldo Harvey, 32, Priory, St. Ann