Where did the time go? You may be wondering if you would ever see one of my weekly reviews again. The fact is, I have been horrendously busy, running around, writing and reporting – here, there and everywhere, as the Beatles song goes. What a sweet song that was (click on the link!) Also, I’ve had a horrible bout of flu and numerous things at home to attend to. Now I am slowing down and getting “back on stream.” Click on the links for more information.
Politics: For the past several weeks, the mainstream media has been obsessed with politics (even if no one else has). Firstly, local government elections came (on November 28) and went. Police, military and election day workers voted earlier, with a 41% turnout – the general turnout was lower (just over 30%). Low voter participation is quite normal in local government elections; interestingly, Trinidad & Tobago local government elections, held coincidentally on the same day, had almost exactly the same turnout. Not unexpectedly, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won fairly convincingly; but there have been magisterial recounts in several parishes (that is, double-checking the ballot counts in front of a resident magistrate). Two more are actually taking place today. The JLP now has control of eight municipal corporations, including the powerful Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation; the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has five – at last Portmore has a properly elected Mayor. After a magisterial recount today (in which a candidate won by just two votes!) St. Thomas Municipal Corporation (they are not officially called Parish Councils any more) remains tied – but the JLP will have control, since it won the popular vote. Meanwhile, one outgoing councillor is trying to block the man who beat him in the courts, claiming he does not live in the parish. Reminder: the PNP controlled all the corporations prior to the elections.
The JLP win was more a reflection of the Jamaican public’s ongoing disenchantment with the PNP, which lost the general elections so narrowly. There were two major talking points during the campaign: Firstly, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller went on a rant on a campaign platform in St. Ann that startled and upset many. She actually threatened to bring her people from the depressed and crime-ridden Kingston constituency that she has presided over for more than thirty years with her on her next visit, to lick recalcitrant PNP delegates into shape. The media made hay out of this. I seriously wonder if there is something wrong with the PNP President. Be that as it may, she certainly represents the kind of politics that we all hoped we had seen the end of in Jamaica. This kind of talk can incite violence – not just what was said, but the way in which it was said. Her more sensible colleagues (oops, sorry – “comrades”) in the PNP must have cringed; her performance may well have sealed the PNP’s defeat at the polls. Meanwhile, some party members say the ambitious Lisa Hanna has been “disrespectful to the office” of party President (how Jamaicans love this ridiculous expression). If she were a man – well, Ms. Hanna would simply be regarded as…ambitious.
The second issue (which remains a problem, and raises some questions) is the sudden decision by the Government to embark on an ambitious bush-clearing, drain-cleaning program. This was clearly seen as a vote-getting move. I was traveling around the island quite a bit in the week before elections, and did see small groups of men and women in two or three parishes, very busy with machetes on the roadside. There was plenty of work to do, as it had been raining almost continually for weeks. The PNP claimed the workers were all wearing JLP party colors, but we did not observe this on our travels. Well, the Office of the Contractor General is investigating and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
The issue lingers on: Opposition members walked out of Parliament yesterday after demanding clarification, which was not forthcoming. Leader of Opposition Business Phillip Paulwell is complaining that the Government has been shifting the goalposts. He may well have a point. I suspect the Prime Minister has been doing some fancy footwork on the numbers; he said in Parliament yesterday (after the walkout) that of the $400 million allocated (down from $600 million) $219 million has already been spent and the remaining $180 million budget will be used just to clean drains. How has the $219 million been spent, asks Paulwell? Yes, accountability is key.
The Opposition Leader did not, so far as I am aware, officially concede defeat in the local government elections. There was no comment from her. Not good!
Also, Simpson Miller was a no-show at the signing of the “Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica Agreement” at King’s House with the Governor General today. She was expected to speak at the event. She sent no one to represent her. No explanation was given for this at the time; but it appears that the Opposition Leader had written recently to the Prime Minister, objecting to the change in name of the Agreement (the insertion of the word “prosperous,” which she felt sounded like the JLP’s election campaign slogan) – and also complaining about the bushing issue. However, simply not to show up was most embarrassing and disrespectful to all.
Fast forward to this week, and the media are still picking over the remains (ruins?) of a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the PNP over the weekend. At this meeting, Portia Simpson Miller said she would not stand for re-election as Party President at next September’s party conference – although I understand there may be a leadership contest as early as February or March 2017? This launches the PNP into an extended period of campaigning, wrangling, infighting and faction-building, with the media speculating (at least ten times a week) on the burning question of who will be Ms. Simpson Miller’s successor! This year has an annus horribilis for the party. The PNP should just sit down quietly over Christmas for a little introspection, and come back again next year with a fresh vision.
Why can’t Jamaican political parties take a leaf out of the UK’s book? They have no compunction about getting rid of a leader. A failed leader does not hesitate to throw in the towel. Another one succeeds and gets on with the job at hand. There is often a quick turnover. A leader who tries to hang on to power runs the risk of ridicule and a quick loss of credibility.
Crime: The other ongoing, rumbling and often downright terrifying narrative in Jamaica is the crime rate – most notably the stunning rise in murders this year. Since I last posted, the numbers have soared and if I were to list all the Jamaicans who have been murdered since then, it would nearly kill me (and you, the reader). Nevertheless, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has seized large volumes of guns and ammunition. On Monday and Tuesday this week, they seized eight firearms and 200 rounds of ammunition!
A few things I am so pleased about: The announcement that the railway system will be revived. If this is even practicable, considering the almost complete deterioration of what was once an excellent network, I will clap my hands. I have happy memories of a Kingston to Montego Bay trip on the “diesel” (as the train was then called) through the center of the island. The Government says that on Friday it will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Herzog Contracting Corp., a well-established U.S. company that seems to have a good track record – and prioritizes safety, which is important. There was a short-lived attempt to revive one stretch of railway for passenger use by the previous JLP administration, which was curtailed when the PNP came back into power.
The visit of a cruise ship to Kingston this week. Whatever the reasons why the Monarch of the Seas stopped in Kingston – I love this city and would love to see it become a regular stop. I do. We have a lot of cleaning up to do in the Harbour itself (see below) but I think a regular cruise ship would help to revive the immediate environs downtown and perhaps spark a thorough clean-up of the environment too. I’m also happy that Chargé d’affaires at the Spanish Embassy in Kingston, Carmen Rives Ruiz-Tapiador (an incredibly perceptive young woman with a real “feel” for culture) believes that Kingston has a lot to offer cruise ship visitors and that it should be a regular stop. Yes!
Things I am miserable about (apart from the murders): What is the official explanation for the oil leak, which has been seen and photographed in Kingston Harbour, near the Petrojam oil refinery since November 24? Can someone say something, or is no one responsible? I understand it was quietly leaking for a while, from a broken pipe. Has it been fixed? We are told it has been. Where and how? We need a report and details, please!
The rape of a girl: Rape is almost a fact of life in Jamaica, and one that is not taken nearly seriously enough. The latest story, which just hit me over the head like a hammer, is that of a 14 year-old girl, who was kidnapped on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston and taken to Waterford in the Portmore area, where she was raped. She reported the incident to the Waterford police, and took them to the house where the rape took place. They arrested a man and transported him back to the police station in the same car as his alleged victim. While they were at the station, the alleged rapist simply ran away – because of defective handcuffs. What?!! Young lawyer and Chevening Scholar Adley Duncan (I have had Twitter conversations with him before, after the virtually unreported rape of three young women at a fancy guesthouse in Portland) wrote on the topic here for UNICEF Jamaica’s blog). It seems to me that Jamaicans are almost casual about the rape of young girls. Why is this happening? Fellow blogger Dennis Jones saw red here.
One more “miserable” thing: JLP stalwart (indeed, a Deputy General Secretary of the party) Audley Gordon has just been appointed CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), despite having zero qualifications for the job. This position always seems to be a political appointment; in the past, Jennifer Edwards (a disaster) and Joan Gordon Webley (surprisingly rather successful) both had strong political qualifications. I don’t like this tendency, and hope for all our sakes that Mr. Gordon is actually up to the job. This is a critical government agency, with much work to do.
I am going to do a celebratory, happy post in due course. Whatever the pain and misery that lurks in our land, it’s the season to be loving and appreciative; and I have many people and organizations that I want to “give thanks” for (and to). That’s next time. For now, I have to end by extending my deepest sympathies to the loved ones of all these Jamaicans – men, women and children – who have been killed since November 28:
Police Corporal Kemoi Miller, 31, Maxfield Avenue/Kingston
Jarvis Ramsey, 21, Kingston 13 (police killing)
Unidentified man, Half Way Tree, Kingston (shot by a JDF soldier whom he attempted to rob)
Unidentified man, Diamond Road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Barry Street/Foster Lane, Kingston
Jeneta Gordon, 84, Bell Rock, Cockburn Pen, St Andrew
Unidentified man, Bell Rock, Cockburn Pen, St Andrew (mob killing)
Shawn Hall, 29, Twickenham Park, St. Catherine
Unidentified (homeless) man, Old Market Street, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Alexia Brown, Porto Bello, St. James
Ms. Brown’s daughter, five months, Porto Bello, St. James
Chrissy Vaughan, 31, Bogue Village/Montego Bay, St. James
Ronald Gardener, 31, Lilliput, St. James
Mark Evans, 33, Palm Drive, Manchester
Everald Daley, Kingsland, Manchester (possible police killing; INDECOM investigating)
73-year- old Lena Powell, 44-year- old Liseth Powell and 43-year-old Delroy Powell died in a house fire in Craighead District, Manchester, last Friday evening. Spent shells were found at the scene and murder/arson is suspected.
Henrique Jackson, 84,
Jerome Jackson, 35, West End, Negril, Westmoreland
Emeal Gayle, 44, Cave, Westmoreland