Life seems one great big rush, with Christmas just over a week away. There seem to be a few more Christmas parties than usual going on. Are people spending more money? It’s hard to say. The streets are clogged with traffic and stores in Kingston are getting full, but whether there is much business going on remains to be seen.
Drama in St. Ann: Last weekend, heavy rains fell in St. Ann – and a huge volume of thick, brown water roared down from the hills, leaving chaos in its wake. The result was flooding in many areas (also in St. Mary to a lesser extent) and roads now ripped, torn away and in some cases collapsed – including a culvert/bridge in Dumbarton, St. Ann, on a busy road from Brown’s Town to Discovery Bay – which now has a seven-foot deep, impassable rift valley in the middle. Rural folks trying to get kids to school and themselves to work find their community cut in two. There is great additional cost for local people with increased taxi fares – many people in the country depend on taxis – and a rather dangerous makeshift footbridge.
I discussed some of the causes in my last blog post. It’s clear the construction of highways and more and more houses is partly to blame. The water galloped down the hill and, as water does it found its own way down to the coastal road and thence into the sea, carrying tons of eroded topsoil with it. We can expect more of this to come, if we continue with unsustainable development, fail to plan and do not maintain the infrastructure we have. There is much more “development” to come soon in St. Ann. Brace yourselves, people! And “rains that have never fallen for 20 years”? This was the Mayor’s comment. Well, expect more of that, too! P.S. The beleaguered spokesman for the National Works Agency (at least, he always looks overwhelmed) reportedly said “a number of sinkholes in the area were filled with silt and contributed to the flooding.” And the silt came from where?
Ah! More politics! And why not: Let’s start with the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), and a somewhat surprising announcement this week from someone who had earlier announced his interest in the party leadership. Well, Peter the Younger (Bunting) says he is not going to compete for the PNP presidency. He is going to leave the way open for Peter the Elder (Phillips) to go for the coveted prize. It’s Peter the Elder’s “time” now, it seems. It’s disappointing. Mr. Phillips is indeed an experienced politician, but seems tired; and by the next election, he will be seventy years old. He also mishandled his party’s election campaign quite badly. Where are his leadership skills? Is he dynamic?
Just ONE vote: If anyone gives you the “my one vote won’t count” excuse for not voting, please share this example with them: After a magisterial recount, the Rae Town Division in the local government election was declared won by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), tipping the balance for the JLP to win control of the powerful Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC). Councilor Rosie Hamilton won by one vote. The first sitting of the KSAC and Mayor Delroy Williams’ swearing-in did not go well at all, with arguments breaking out among councilors. Their supporters had set the tone earlier by throwing stones at each other outside the building. Pull yourselves together, people! Get on with the people’s business!
Help! Plastic rice! A video has been circulated of an Asian man feeding plastic into a machine, after another local video went viral on social media of some strange rice that didn’t seem to cook properly. We are buying and eating plastic rice! The cry went up. Industry & Commerce Minister Karl Samuda) has slapped a ban on all rice imports while the matter was being investigated. Despite the ministers’ protestations (the Health Minister says no one has been suffering any ill effects from eating rice) a tiny doubt remained in my mind: Could plastic rice be somewhere out there, still? However, this issue raises questions: Firstly, what does the Bureau of Standards do, these days (it used to be quite high profile)? We see large bags of rice in supermarkets that have absolutely no label on them. Where are they coming from? Apparently, we import rice from eight different countries, including Vietnam and China. Are we testing food imports correctly and properly? Who is importing this stuff, and how are they getting permits to do so? Secondly – a general point: Let’s be really careful about what we eat and how we prepare our food. Having said all that, I am convinced that this is an example of “fake news,” which gets thousands – nay, millions – of “likes” on Facebook daily!
Beating about the bushing: Prime Minister Andrew Holness met with the PNP on December 13 to discuss…yes, you’ve guessed it, the $600 million cleanup program (“bushing”). The PNP has a bit of a bee in its bonnet about this, since before local elections. Actually much less than that has been spent. Anyway, they met up and it appears to have been a cordial meeting, according to PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson (@julianjay), who tweeted: “Good start and a commitment to continue the dialogue,” while sharing Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ (@AndrewHolnessJM) tweeted photo.
The NSWMA again: The National Workers Union (NWU) is unhappy at what it calls the “summary dismissal” of several workers at the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA), and similar incidents it alleges are taking place around the island. Proper procedures are not being followed, the NWU says. Are the firings because of the new, highly political appointment of Mr. Audley Gordon as CEO of the NSWMA, which I am still quite unhappy about? (Was Mr. Gordon really selected because he has “good connections”?) Is there a political tinge in all of this? Yes…there is.
Zika stuff: The rare and sometimes very serious Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is still around. We now have 30 cases, the Ministry of Health says, but only four of them are confirmed as linked to the Zika virus. The Ministry has received 740 notifications of pregnant women with the Zika virus but has only confirmed 77 cases. And so no cases of microcephaly related to Zika, at least – not yet. Meanwhile, we now have 1,000 certified Vector Control Aides – an army against the Aedes aegyptii mosquito! And the good news is that Zika cases have fallen dramatically, according to the Chief Medical Officer (P.S. to Health Ministry: please update your website!)
Tiefs! We need to get a handle on them. Thieves in the New Kingston area, who pop up near traffic lights and rob motorists, have been well known for most of this year and probably last, too. And yet it’s still going on. New Kingston has a police post. Deal with this problem, please! Sadly, students at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville have also been targeted by thieves in recent weeks. You know, it is very annoying when educational institutions refuse to admit to security problems; nine times out of ten this makes matters worse. They should be open about it, talk to the students, police etc., and try to fix the situation. The news will get out anyway (yes, students use social media!)
“Financial inclusion”: Certain banking services will now be available outside banks, at places like supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, money transfer and remittance operations, and lottery outlets. The Banking Services (Deposit Taking Institutions) (Agent Banking) Regulations of 2016 was approved by the Senate – the Lower House is already on Christmas holidays. This is “financial inclusion.” Senator Don Wehby linked the move to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of “shared economic growth and food security” (#8? #10?)
Pottering along: Things seem to be pottering along fairly well on the economic front – at least, some signs are good. The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) is still going – with a new Chairman, Keith Duncan. The new International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement is a different animal from its predecessor (it’s a precautionary standby agreement offering a $1.64-billion line of credit to support Jamaica’s balance of payments in case of “economic shocks”). EPOC signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to continue oversight of fiscal, monetary and financial sector indicators related to the new agreement on November 21. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) representative in Jamaica Therese Turner-Jones is talking up the economy too. I’m glad she is talking about the public sector as a priority service delivery, too.
AirB&B: The always chirpy Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett signed an agreement with AirB&B this week. There are already quite a lot of Jamaican properties on this hugely successful online platform.
The only snag in all of this optimism – a cloud always hovering on the horizon, which the Economic Growth Council has also emphasized – is CRIME. Our murder rate is up about 5 per cent this year.
In the past ten days or so, a woman has been murdered by a male partner (or ex-partner) almost every day. It has been quite horrifying. Women’s advocates have been outspoken; men have been saying they are victims too, and we must feel sorry for them; things have become rather heated at times. I wrote about the issue for Global Voices here, in the context of a fourteen-year-old and the grossly insensitive, thoughtless way in which the police dealt with her after she had reported to them that she had been raped. Please do take a read.
Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange has expressed concern over this spate of violence against women and says the Committee to examine various pieces of legislation (the Sexual Offences Act; Domestic Violence Act; Offences Against the Persons Act and the Child Care and Protection Act) is being reactivated and will meet soon (when is “soon,” I wonder). It has done nothing since 2014, so far as I know. Cabinet will also be reviewing (and is expected to approve) the National Strategic Action Plan on Gender-based Violence (when everyone gets back from their holidays; when will that be?) Well, how are we going to get to the roots of this ongoing violence against women and girls, which continues day in, day out? Because that is what we need to do, instead of endless panel discussions and preaching to the converted.
So, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families, who are mourning the following Jamaicans who have been killed in terrible circumstances in the past eight days. The list is frighteningly long, and it’s clear that St. James is trying to reinforce its reputation as Jamaica’s “murder capital,” (nine murders in three days!) while murders continue unabated in St. Catherine. I am not posting any photographs – I have already posted some of the women’s faces, and it makes me too sad to look at them again…
Kerry-Ann Wilson, 31, Old Hope Road, Kingston
Hermalyn Bell, 45, Point Hill, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Commodore, St. Catherine
Cuban national, Red Cross compound, Central Village, St. Catherine
Durrant Miller, Gregory Park, Portmore, St. Catherine
Two unidentified men, Gregory Park, Portmore, St. Catherine
Desmond McKenzie, Pennants, Clarendon
Cecil McKenzie, Pennants, Clarendon
Margaretta Service, 43, Barrett Town, St. James
Joaquim Coke, 21, Lilliput, St. James
Dalton Vaughn, 32, John’s Hall District/Spring Mount, St. James
Garth Francis, 40, Catherine Hall, St. James
Kenton Hinds, 34, Cambridge, St. James
Christopher James, 35, Cambridge, St. James
Troy Henry, Capital Heights, St. James
“Abba,” Capital Heights, St. James
Chantae Thelwell, 18, Sandy Bay, Hanover
Tremaine Marlon Spence, 26, Claremont, Hanover
Donovan Willis, 47, Halifax, St. Ann
Alicia Garey, 20, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Vassell Granell, 54, Trinityville, St. Thomas
Errol Brown, 60, Sugar Pot Beach/Rio Nuevo, St. Mary
Steadman Sterling, 44, Westmoreland
Joycelyn Gomez, 69, Falmouth, Trelawny