It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Here’s an update of the week’s news and issues. I hope you find it useful! I am adding more links so you can read more about these stories. I’ve highlighted one or two “big stories” in purple.
P.S. Happy Europe Day! That is actually tomorrow, but the Head of the EU Delegation in Jamaica Malgorzata Wasilewska celebrated with a reception this evening at Mona Visitors Lodge. This year is also the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. Sadly, with a beautiful program planned, a huge shower of rain immediately after the toast with Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith sent us all running for cover! I really hope the beautiful tiered cake didn’t get ruined! But I would call it “blessings” in the Jamaican tradition…a good omen. So sorry for the EU delegation though, because I know how much work goes into these events.
The HOPE Programme: The value of apprenticeship cannot be under-estimated (so long as it’s not an excuse for low-paid labor). Prime Minister Andrew Holness launched this training program for 18 – 24 year-olds, who are unemployed and not enrolled in any training or educational program, in his Budget presentation. The focus is on the BPO and tourism sectors (are these expected to be the high growth sectors?) Jamaica Defence Force Lieutenant Colonel Martin Rickman, is the programme’s National Coordinator.
Jamaica National Service Corps: The Senate passed the Act to Amend the Defence Act 2017 on Friday. Senator Pearnel Charles Jr. said the Act is aimed at “unlocking the full potential of our youth” and steering them away from violence and crime (both victims and perpetrators). It seems to go hand in hand with the above-mentioned HOPE Programme.
Early Childhood Education: Opposition Senator Mark Golding complained last Friday about the “minuscule” amount allotted to early childhood education (J$1.2 billion per annum), bemoaning the fact that 2,700 out of some 3,000 Early Childhood Institutions (ECIs) are not yet certified. It’s a lack of prioritisation, Senator Golding said, and Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid agreed that more resources are needed in the area. The Minister announced recently that the Government aims to take over half of the ECIs (it currently has around 12 per cent) and is consulting with former Education Minister Ronald Thwaites on the matter, he says. The Government also plans to instal infant departments in some thirty primary schools. Hasn’t this been an ongoing issue across administrations? I know the Early Childhood Commission (founded in 2005) is working extremely hard to have these institutions brought up to standard and certified. You can follow their efforts on Twitter @ECCJA.
Fire at Westwood High: There was a pretty big fire at Westwood High School on May 2. It’s a challenge for the girls’ school, which takes boarders as well as day students. Estimated cost of repairs is J$50 million, $25 million of which will be provided by the Government. Hopefully alumnae and others will contribute!
Town Hall Meetings: The Prime Minister and a few other Ministers held a Town Hall Meeting in Ocho Rios, St. Ann on May 4. All kinds of issues were raised by residents, from murky water in the pipes to road conditions (“no self respecting donkey will travel on that road”) to the stigma attached to a volatile community, Steer Town. The Prime Minister seemed to be putting some pressure on the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to step up its work in some of these rural communities.
Transparency and Chinese Investment: Nationwide News Network are onto something in their investigation of the 1,200 acres of land given to China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) – a company fully owned by the Chinese State – as part of the deal for CHEC (providing US$720 million in cash) to build the North-South Highway. Last week Ivan Anderson, Managing Director of the National Road Operating and Constructing Company (NROCC) told a parliamentary committee that there was no valuation of 850 acres of the land, supposedly located in Caymanas, St. Catherine and Mammee Bay, St. Ann. Fingers are being pointed at then Transport, Works and Housing Minister Omar Davies, who signed the 2011 deal and is now seeking to shift the blame for what seems to be an apparent lack of due diligence. The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) is currently investigating the deal, after Dr. Davies unsuccessfully sought to block the OCG from doing so. Meanwhile, Dr. Davies says he will be retiring shortly – he won’t say when. Listen to a recap of the highway lands issue here. More on this later. All I can say is that any deal between the Chinese and Jamaican Governments is, as a rule, shrouded in mystery. Why? N.B. The Highway is not financially viable, as Mr. Anderson suggested at the time.
Rains Mean Mosquitoes: The Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas is anxious about mosquitoes. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and Mr. Thomas reminded us that the first case of the Zika virus was found in Portmore (in January 2016). Mr. Thomas says the mosquitoes are currently “as big as a fly.” The Health Ministry is, as usual, concentrating on reducing breeding places for mosquitoes. At home, I zapped an aedes aegypti mosquito the other day. I’m truly not convinced about the effectiveness of fogging; has any study been done to look into this? I know it causes me to cough violently for hours afterwards; and it kills bees and other beneficial insects.
The Health Minister made a pretty thorough contribution in the Lower House sectoral debate on May 3. He announced seven major projects, upgrading the health system. He also thanked former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller for facilitating the building of a new children’s hospital in western Jamaica by the Chinese – a “gift” for which ground will be broken in this financial year. He said the Jamaican Government will contribute to the “pre-construction expenses.” What will they add up to , I wonder? Is this a real “gift horse” this time?
The Starbucks Syndrome: I wrote an article for Global Voices two months ago on the possibly entry of Starbucks into the Jamaican market, and whether Jamaica truly has a “coffee culture.” Now a consortium led by Margaritaville Caribbean Group and Sandals International, called Caribbean Coffee Traders, will manage Starbucks’ arrival in Montego Bay. Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett thinks it’s a plus for the sector – especially American visitors, obviously.
Preferential treatment? Opposition Leader Peter Phillips raised a question over the Government’s decision to suspend the collection of the bauxite levy from Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) for five years. Why? Because, says Finance Minister Audley Shaw, the plan is for the company that took over the Alpart refinery at Nain to “more than double” aluminium production and begin processing of intermediate aluminium products brought from China to manufacture some 80,000 tons of aluminium foil in Jamaica, creating 400 – 500 jobs at a minimum. What will the power source be for this processing and what is the timeline?
Police cars: Opposition National Security Spokesman Peter Bunting and Minister Robert Montague have been locking horns quite regularly in recent weeks. Last week, the preferred bidders for the supply of secondhand cars for the police was the issue. Minister Montague maintains that all regulations were complied with. This argument seems to have been dragging on for weeks. Has there been sufficient transparency over the award of contracts?
Impersonators! The Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) says 73 people have been taken to court for identity fraud since the introduction of facial recognition technology in biometric software used at border controls. I totally agree with the Ministry that focus on border security is critical in the fight against crime. No doubt about it. Guns, drugs, illegal fishing – all kinds of activities will be affected if our hundreds of miles of sea borders are controlled.
Scammers! All eight of the Jamaicans extradited to the U.S. recently pleaded not guilty in a North Dakota federal court on May 2. The alleged leader of the lotto scamming cartel they belong to, Lavrick Willocks, pleaded not guilty in January. They are in custody awaiting trial dates. Meanwhile remarks by the Counsellor for Public Affairs at the United States Embassy in Jamaica, Joshua Polacheck about the pending and probable prosecution of some Jamaican lawyers in connection with the lotto scam have not gone down very well among some in that profession. Veteran attorney Frank Phipps is especially upset.
The Backlog and The Fines: I realised recently (at a Facebook forum on crime organised by the Gleaner) that the situation in our courts is untenable in terms of the backlog of cases, especially in Montego Bay. That’s one issue. The other is the ridiculously outdated legislation, which we have found in several cases recently to be completely inappropriate in terms of penalties (alleged gang leader Tesha Miller – a somewhat slippery character – got away with a J$100 fine for making a false declaration to Jamaican immigration officials). Justice Minister Delroy Chuck says his ministry is reviewing some 600 pieces of outdated legislation.
Another pastor has been charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor (a 15 year-old boy). He is 27 year-old Presley Smith of the New Testament Church of God in Bunker’s Hill, Trelawny.
Violent Crime: We know murders continue unabated. St. James is still a major hotspot, with around 100 murders recorded already this year. I will start my list of those Jamaicans who have lost their lives again. Below is a list for the past week, and it’s sad indeed. The police are doing some good work, though: Three illegal weapons and ammunition were seized on the Mandela Highway from two men on a motorbike; and a police constable and two other men charged with the murder of taxi driver Carl Armstrong, 33, outside Grant’s Pen Primary School, St. Thomas, are also charged now with participating in a criminal organisation. There was some panic when Leighton “Livity” Coke, brother of the erstwhile, now incarcerated Christopher “Dudus” Coke, and a female companion were shot and wounded in Hellshire, St. Catherine on April 30.
Kristan Pearson, 31, entertainer, at Farros Lawn party spot in Trinity/Port Maria, St. Mary, May 7. (killed by police; INDECORUM investigating).
Avian Irving, 28, whom the St. James police say was a wanted man, was shot dead in his Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland community on April 30.
Chef Jonathan Bailey, 32 and Asher Barnett, 20, were shot dead when walking along the Farm Heights Road in St. James on May 1.
Two brothers, 33-year-old Omar Smith and 34-year-old Odane Smith, were shot dead while walking through Top Hill/Anchovy, St. James early on May 5. Construction worker 26-year-old Aldrin Moodie was shot dead in Top Hill/Mt. Salem in St. James
The body of Adrian Gordon, 34, was found in the Martha Brae River in Trelawny with chest wounds on May 7.
Octavia Leslie, a 16 year-old student of Muschette High School, was shot dead along with 35 year-old Lerude Heartley (her uncle) while on their way home from a wake in the early hours of Sunday, May 7 in Linstead, St. Catherine.
38 year old Anthony Jackson was found in a pit on the Salt River Road in Longville Park, Clarendon, chopped to death.
Two men were killed and three injured in a shooting on Maxfield Avenue, Kingston on May 7. The dead are cabinet maker Neville White, 57 and a 25 year old man known only as Fabian.
Simon Singh, 29, was standing on the street looking at his phone in Waverley, Kingston when two men on a motorbike shot him dead.
55-year-old Baldwin Walsh, who allegedly chopped his nephew, Robert Douglas, to death with a machete almost two weeks ago and was on the run from the police, was chopped to death by a mob in the normally peaceful parish of Portland on May 6.
Tavan Rowe, 27, was shot and killed while selling his goods in Coronation Market, West Kingston on May 6. There has been an upsurge in violence in the area since the shooting of “Dudus” brother Leighton Coke. 45 year-old Dalton Daley and Rushawn Davis, 27, were also shot dead in the area last week.
Keniesha McKenzie-Gayle was shot dead at her New Green/Mandeville home on May 3. The police are questioning her boyfriend.
Labourer Jovane Simms, 23, was chopped to death in Stewart Town, St. Mary on May 2.
The police held a vigil for their slain colleague Constable Leighton Hanson, who was shot dead with his own firearm during a tussle with a man on a bus on Constant Spring Road, Kingston on April 28.
Kudos! There are so many things to welcome and congratulate – things large and small…
Father Sean Major-Campbell, Rector of Christ Church in Vineyard Town, is one of my favourite priests. On Sunday he held a special service for the congregation and their pets, who brought their animals in for a blessing – from turtles to pythons to cute fluffy dogs. There were some truly ignorant comments on social media: Snakes, for example, are evil and should never be blessed, this was obeah/voodoo, etc., etc. I’m not a Christian but I do know about St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favourites – and aren’t animals all innocent creatures of God?
Net Zero Energy! I’m excited about the new Net Zero Energy building on the University of the West Indies campus (it’s the first in the Caribbean and hopefully a model for many more). Find them at @BuildBetterJA and https://www.buildbetterja.com
UNICEF’s blog is always worth a read – well written and relevant. The latest post is for Education Week (this week): https://blogs.unicef.org/jamaica/dream-teacher-principal-community/ Kudos to Ross Sheil, Allison Hickling, Rebecca Tortello and the other great writers.
Kudos to this policeman in St. Ann’s Bay – these photos have been shared on social media quite a bit. We are not all miserable so-and-so’s – we like the heart-warming stuff, too!
Mayor Delroy Williams has a growing band of Twitter fans, thanks to his delightful tweeting. President T**** could learn a thing or two from him! Sometimes, too, it really sounds like him tweeting and not a social media manager. Good going – and I especially liked this photo of beautification downtown, near the children’s monument. You can follow Mayor Williams @MayorWilliamsJA (and read my article about the Dub Club/noise abatement issue for Global Voices here).
Strawberries! Yum. Now trained farmers growing strawberries in East Rural St. Andrew, with a new crop due by the end of the month. How wonderful to eat locally grown fruit! Although not “traditional,” there’s quite a bit of local demand I would think.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force is trying. It has much more of a social media presence now, which is good. Find them at @JamaicaConstab. The JCF also has a new program on Roots FM – a great community radio station. See below.
We’re all very proud of Kamilah Taylor, a leading tech engineer at LinkedIn, who was recently named one of the most powerful engineers in the United States. Taylor participated via Google Hangout in the Girls in ICT Caribbean hackathon, staged simultaneuosly in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados last month on International Girls in ICT Day.
The Kingston & St. Andrew Development and Homecoming Foundation was launched on May 3. It is an initiative of the Custos of Kingston, Steadman Fuller; Custos of St. Andrew, Dr. Patricia Dunwell and former Custos of St. Andrew, Donna Parchment Brown. It is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that aims to leverage the human, economic, educational and cultural resources to foster development and improve the quality of life of the residents of Kingston and St. Andrew – which are, of course, two separate parishes. I hope they do well and reach out to the Jamaican diaspora in a meaningful way! Custom Steadman Fuller had some interesting things to say about the City of Kingston’s many unsafe and derelict buildings, among other issues.
Big ups to the European Union, Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition for their public meetings in Kingston and Mandeville, focusing on their research on Constitutional Reform, with a strong human rights perspective.
Last but not least, big hugs… to U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Kevin McLellan, who before he left Jamaica raised enough funds for a bus to transport students of St. Alban’s Primary School in St. Elizabeth, where he worked as a literacy teacher. So kind.