This is my first news update of the year, and the weather is bright and breezy. After a rather long, lazy Christmas and New Year break (for most) it is time for our island to confront some pressing matters. Right at the top of the list is, inevitably it seems, crime – which did not take a rest over the holiday.
So what kind of “monster” is our crime problem? The politicians and media practitioners love to use this term. But what kind of creature is this Crime Monster? Is it a glowering, chained dragon – as in Game of Thrones? Or a crazy, plastic-and-cardboard invention, like those the Power Rangers fought on TV? No, to me it is much more like Godzilla – rampaging, mindlessly destructive, creating panic. Because I do detect a slight note of panic in some of the comments on our crime (i.e. murder) rate, which has got off to a galloping start already this year.
The consensus is that everyone must join together to battle the crime issue. We can’t just leave it up to the politicians and security forces to sort out. We have said this 1,000 times before in the past few years. As I have also said numerous times, though, a really thorough cleaning-up of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is long overdue. How do criminals (especially gang members) manage to get away with numerous crimes, over and over again? The JCF needs a drastic sluicing out of all the rotten, dirty stuff that’s in there. I do feel that corruption is at the heart of it all. Will the next Commissioner of Police have the guts and nerves of steel to do a cleanup? The position has now been advertised and the deadline is January 23). Deputy Commissioner (and now Acting Commissioner) Novelette Grant appears keen to take on the challenge. We shall see. P.S. I wish we would also stop talking about “police morale and motivation.” Of course this is important, but…what about citizens’ morale and motivation? Ministry of National Security Robert Montague says the Government will be “investing heavily in the intelligence network” and expanding CCTV (every street in New Kingston and downtown commercial areas should have CCTV by now!) Only four towns have CCTV.
Police complaints: Meanwhile, the Inspectorate of the Constabulary at the JCF dealt with over 300 cases of “tardiness in responding to reports, jail breaks, inadequate investigation, assault, unprofessional conduct by officers” etc on the part of its members last year, and resolved 61% of them – some of them “informally,” says the head of the Inspectorate. It just takes a phone call, he says, but more serious allegations such as assault must be “properly” investigated. Hmm. I may be dumb, but why is the JCF still investigating itself and isn’t some of this, at least, now under the purview of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM)?
“Fix the justice system!” Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Larry Watson believes that crime will not be solved unless the pernicious and ongoing issues affecting our rickety justice system are fixed. Agreed! Meanwhile, I think Central St. James Member of Parliament Heroy Clarke has made a good suggestion: that the Peace Management Initiative and other agencies get active in the high schools. He believes gangs are being carefully nurtured in schools “under the radar” – so some students “graduate” in more ways than one. The new Mayor of Montego Bay Homer Davis wants drastic measures – perhaps a state of emergency – noting the parish of St. James is “in crisis.” The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica’s Dennis Chung says “general indiscipline” and “lawlessness” (informal settlements etc) – not just crime – is impacting growth, especially in that parish and that strong leadership is needed. Indeed! Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, commenting on the murder of a well-known Justice of the Peace in St. Ann (see below) said this made him even more determined to press on with justice reform. I am sure that the recent large grant from the European Union for budget support in this area will help him in his work.
Violence Against Women, and an Attack on a Police Station: The Head of the JCF Corporate Communications Unit, Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay (who seems rather competent) says 150 police are being trained to deal with domestic violence issues – at least two officers per police station. Last week, there was more shock when an armed man went to the Hunts Bay Police Station in Kingston, apparently to kill someone who had gone there to report under conditions of bail. The man was shot dead in an encounter with the police.
Caricel drama: A lot of drama has erupted around the issuance of a telecoms license to a company called Symbiote Investments Limited, trading as Caricel. The main players in the drama are the Ministers of Technology and National Security, a bunch of lawyers…and the U.S. Embassy. This has been rumbling since last year, after the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), having done its due diligence on the company, recommended against the granting of the license last July. You can find the OCG’s full report here. Opposition National Security Spokesman Peter Bunting also asked some questions in Parliament. Now the U.S. Embassy has revoked the visas of six “prominent” Jamaicans, including three attorneys, all reportedly connected in some way with Caricel. According to Nationwide News Network, the U.S. Embassy says it has presented “hard evidence” to the Government regarding the company’s unsuitability; and the Ministry of National Security has reportedly recommended that the license now be revoked. This has prompted the lawyers to go to court, seeking an injunction against the revocation. The court will rule on Thursday, and meanwhile one can expect all the major players to say nothing more. We’re into Season Two of this drama now, I believe.
Pastor charged with rape of a teen: A 64-year-old pastor of the Nazareth Moravian Church in Manchester has been charged with the rape of a 15-year-old girl. The “man of the cloth” was caught in the act by the police last week, and they are investigating further possible crimes. The church was reportedly awash with tears on Sunday, as the congregation (apparently consisting largely of women, as is usually the case in Jamaican churches) tried to come to terms with the event. Were their tears for the pastor, or for the girl, one wonders? Were these tears of shame?
Teachers’ worries: The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), the union representing teachers, has one or two issues pending with the Government. It has submitted its wage claim for 2017-19 and is waiting for feedback. JTA President Howard Isaacs says it is commenting on the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill, other pieces of legislation and the Ministry of Education’s plans and proposals for 2017. Above all, he wants the rights of JTA members to be protected. He is also concerned about stress and lifestyle diseases among the members (a common problem!)
Those darned oil spills: The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) is considering legal action regarding the three separate oil spills in the Newport East section of Kingston Harbour that took place from November 24-26. Why are the entities allegedly responsible not named? Or have they been? NEPA is meeting with these entities, and I hope they don’t back down; this is after all a breach of environmental laws. We still need more transparency on this issue.
Why is burning sugar cane still an issue? Well, apparently it is, according to Chair of the All Island Cane Farmers Association Allan Rickards. Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda says the practice is “unpatriotic” and the police must deal with it. The Government no longer owns any sugar estates; but the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company has apparently given up on the Monymusk sugar factory in Clarendon and Minister Samuda says there has been some interest from other investors.
Frantic garbage cleanup in Portland: So the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) is engaged in a frantic clean-up of the ramshackle town of Port Antonio in Portland, as a cruise ship is set to arrive in its beautiful harbor soon. Perhaps this could not only be done for the sake of tourists. The town literally stinks. In fact, eastern Portland in general is a shambles, and nobody seems to care much. I know this part of the island very well and it is really sad to see it deteriorate.
Oops. I nearly forgot the New Year Messages. The Governor General’s is most emphatic (much underlining and italics) on the need for Jamaicans to (that’s right) “be kind” as the saying goes, as well as both respectful and disciplined. I cannot argue with that. “We must listen to each other,” says Sir Patrick Allen. Some of us do appear to have gone deaf, it is true. Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller’s message is long, and she cannot resist some political digs (“The transformation of the economy during our Administration from 2012 to 2016…We [the People’s National Party?] laid solid groundwork that now creates the basis for which the Jamaican nation and people can face 2017 with optimism.”) After expressing all this positive stuff, she goes on to say: “The Supplementary Estimates which are expected to be brought to Parliament in January will hold the start of more bad news from the Government for the majority of the Jamaican people.” Oh dear! So how are the Jamaican people supposed to be optimistic, I wonder? As for Prime Minister Andrew Holness, his lengthy message touched on children, education, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, employment, tourism, the private sector…and then: “Crime is the greatest threat to our economic independence.” Nuff said. His televised address was made standing in front of a large still photograph showing a phalanx of uniformed security officers. Yes, Godzilla is kicking down buildings, again.
Marcus Garvey’s youngest son, Julius W. Garvey, will visit Jamaica and present his father’s National Hero Medal to Liberty Hall, Garvey’s former headquarters at 76 King Street in downtown Kingston on Thursday, January 5. If you want to go along, the ceremony will begin at 2:00 p.m. and will include live entertainment. The event is free and open to the public. It will be filmed for a documentary called Marcus Garvey: A Son’s Story, directed by Roy T. Anderson.
1,350 Jamaicans were murdered last year – an 11 percent increase compared to the previous year. All other crimes are down, says the JCF – except for murder. Four parishes (St. James, Clarendon, St. Catherine and Westmoreland) were largely responsible for the increase; many of these murders were gang-related. On New Year’s Day, two teenagers were robbed and killed in separate incidents while walking along the road in Kingston from parties, early in the morning. My condolences to all those who are grieving this New Year, which should be a time of hope.
Stephan McLaren, 17, Hagley Park Road, Kingston
Chadrick Spaulding, 18, Constant Spring Road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Hunts Bay Police Station, Kingston (killed by police)
Jenoi Bruce, 23, Lyndhurst Road, Kingston
Unidentified man, Yacca Avenue, Kingston 11 (killed by police)
Unidentified man, Jamworld/Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, Eltham Park, St. Catherine (killed by police)
Ruel Dawkins, 37, Cooper’s Hill, St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Main Street, May Pen, Clarendon
Richard Anderson, Cambridge, St. James (killed by police)
Unidentified man, Cambridge, St. James (killed by police)
Michael Simms, 30, Catherine Hall, St. James
Keith Robinson, 47, Spring Mount, St. James
Bruce Brown, 39, Johnson Town, Hanover
Tedford Grizzle, 39, New Town/Sandy Bay, Hanover
Beeston Spring, Westmoreland
Terry Bowen, 35, Higgin Town, St. Ann
Orlando Lewis, 25, Higgin Town, St. Ann
Colin Corrodus, J.P., 82, Epworth, St. Ann