Phew! It’s been quite a week, again. Here’s a taste of what’s been happening! I highlighted the “big” stories in purple… By big I mean those we should keep an eye on, in my view. Click on the links for more details.
CHEC land deal: The Office of the Contractor General is continuing his probe. Former Finance Minister Peter Phillips defended the deal at a press briefing (I found Omar Davies’ body language interesting). Former head of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) KD Knight’s comments were to the point. Meanwhile, highlighted by Nationwide News Network: the issue of workers’ rights (or the lack of them?) for employees of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) has (re)surfaced. This is a long-standing issue that has been hovering in the background for years, with anecdotal stories. Now complaints include wages below the minimum, no days off or sick leave, no running water or drinking water on sites, lack of sanitary facilities, and having to pay for safety boots. Since last year CHEC has allegedly dismissed over 200 workers, when they tried to join a trade union. The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the National Workers Union are up in arms. Labour Minister Shahine Robinson must have been aware of this. She and Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith need to investigate further and deal with it, once and for all. This is nothing new. And it’s pretty well known that such disregard for workers’ rights (and human rights in general) is the norm in the People’s Republic of China. So why treat Jamaicans any differently?
More rain and more floods: The hurricane season is not yet upon us, but an increase in rainfall is enough to take some communities over the edge. Some are actually cut off as I write, after continuous rain yesterday into today. The Ministry of Local Government has just approved J$175 million in funds to help the most badly affected, which won’t go far. Attention has shifted somewhat from deep rural areas that often suffer from flooding, landslides etc. to more built up areas – such as conurbations in Clarendon – where poor drainage and bad planning seem to be factors. ODPEM, do you have a voice?
#SlowDown: Following last week’s major international event at the Office of the Prime Minister in recognition of the UN’s Global Road Safety Week (I’ll be writing more about this shortly), the 6th Caribbean Road Safety Congress of the International Road Federation is in Montego Bay this week. At least 120 Jamaicans have been killed on the road so far this year.
Regulating social media? Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid made some rather vague comments in the Upper House last Friday, and plans a press briefing with the Broadcasting Commission on Wednesday. “Content is a big issue,” the Minister said, talking about traditional media “moving into social media.” He seems to be worried about terrorist activity, the glamorisation of criminality, and protecting our children. Hmm. I agree with Opposition Senator Mark Golding about the concern over content – he noted that safeguards are already in place. The Press Association of Jamaica’s antennae immediately went up (as did mine) and PAJ head Dionne Jackson Miller has already written an Open Letter to the Minister expressing concern. In a television interview this evening, however, Minister Reid stressed that he was rather referring to the need for awareness and public education, and that he did not intend to “stymie press freedom.” Let’s wait and see.
NWC owed billions: The National Water Commission (NWC) is considering selling its debt to receivables management companies to raise more funds. It is owed no less than J$20 billion by customers! Upon whom it entirely depends. Think what the NWC could do with those billions!
The dilapidated town of Ocho Rios: Is getting a facelift, focusing on the cruise ship pier and Reynolds bauxite pier renovation; the latter is an ugly, rusty blot on the landscape. The Port Authority, UDC and Tourism Enhancement Fund are spearheading this effort to the tune of US$20 million. I hope the shabby old market, visitor harassment and the plight of craft vendors can be addressed, too. There’s a road renamed “Jack Ruby Avenue” (formerly James Avenue) that is to become a tourist attraction – named after the record producer – partnering with local reggae radio station Irie FM (still the most listened-to radio station in the country).
“Our Past Time,” a long-time hotel in Negril, has been renamed by a developer, who is now being served with a court injunction. He has already ignored two stop orders as he is expanding the hotel without permission. What is it with these hotels in Negril? A kind of madness is taking over.
Health Minister Christopher Tufton continues to find challenges at every turn, but addresses them in a calm, methodical manner. He has the solid (and equally calm) support of Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye. Minister Tufton is taking things a step at a time regarding the issue of specialist nurses, training and exchanges with the UK, while sticking to the Ministry’s ten-year strategic plan.
The Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) reports that 140 rape cases went to the Home Circuit Court in the first three months of this year. Figures for the past two years quoted by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, however, show that the level of conviction is quite depressingly low.
Remember, it’s Child Month: The Child Development Agency (CDA) wants the Child Care & Protection Act tightened to specify places where a fifteen year-old girl cannot work – massage parlours, go-go clubs and so on. Currently only nightclubs are mentioned. The CDA also notes that under the law parents have a duty to ensure that a child is in school up to age 16 – but a child may start working at 15 years old. The CDA also admitted to sometimes putting children “in need of care and protection” (a very broad term) in care along with children who are suspected of criminal offences. Meanwhile, during the parliamentary review of the Sexual Offences Act, Children’s Advocate Diahann Harrison pushed for the raising of the age of consent. Ms. Harrison, how would this change or improve things? Big SIGH!
So now the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn is taking issue with anti-corruption “crusader” (her word) Professor Trevor Munroe, who leads National Integrity Action, for his article in the Sunday Gleaner. Prosecuting is not a trivial “patty shop business,” declares the DPP. Madam, I really do not appreciate this superior tone. There is nothing wrong with being a crusader against corruption. I know you work very hard, but no one wants to “stick it to someone” (her words again) in the absence of evidence and put them before the court, thus ruining their reputation! Frankly, Jamaica’s record in prosecuting corruption is woeful.
Decline in unemployment: Junior Finance Minister Fayval Williams made a presentation in Parliament, and this is good news.
I don’t think MP Fitzroy Jackson should let up on pressuring the banks regarding their exorbitant fees. He has withdrawn his 2013 bill to amend the Banking Services Act, but will be introducing a new bill in the Lower House regarding the banks charging fees on dormant accounts (daylight robbery). His class action suit will continue. “People have suffered, their lives have been made miserable!” cried Mr. Jackson in Parliament. Right!
If you are a Committee Member… Aren’t you supposed to attend meetings? As we say in social media: #justasking Parliamentarians’ attendance record (and punctuality!) in the Lower House remains really poor. MPs Ian Hayles and Luther Buchanan, what is keeping you away? Kudos to Delroy Chuck and Mikael Phillips for their excellent attendance record – and to the Jamaica Gleaner for keeping on top of this issue – including tweeting weekly photos of the largely empty Lower House at the starting time of 2:00 p.m.
Praedial larceny: That means “tiefing” from farmers, basically. Inspector Neville Gordon had a valid point when he urged farmers and their communities to unite and support each other. The police cannot be everywhere, especially in rural areas.
Are cocaine seizures on the increase? I seem to have heard quite a few reports recently. Now police seized J$71.6 million of cocaine at Kingston’s sea port yesterday – attached to the hull of a ship from Spain. Spain?
Violent Crime: Police say they have identified the three gangs whose activities in the Melbourne and Quarry communities of St. James have resulted in several deaths. Last week the police also rounded up dozens of men in West Kingston, where a policeman was shot and wounded last Thursday; the area has been volatile since the shooting of Christopher “Dudus” Coke’s son Leighton – who was released from hospital last Wednesday. There was a gun battle with police in Coronation Market today. This is not good for my dear city of Kingston! Arrests have been made and guns and ammunition seized in the past few days. Retired army officer and businessman Peter John Thwaites says our methods are outdated – law enforcement alone cannot deal with crime. We should be all be familiar with the root causes, by now. Meanwhile National Security Minister Robert Montague urged new recruits to “stand up for what is right,” mentioning the word “corruption.” The problems begin when these new young policemen go out on the streets…
Two men were killed by the police in Zimbabwe, Trench Town during an alleged shootout.
25-year-old Georgeo Thompson was killed on Roslyn Road, Port Maria.
Dalton Daley, 45, was shot and killed and six others hospitalised when gunmen travelling in a Nissan Tiida opened fire at a party in West Kingston (Rose Lane and Hannah Street).
Kirk Morgan, a 45 year-old vendor, was shot and killed this morning in Coronation Market, West Kingston.
22 year-old Romario Smith was shot dead while walking on Dominica Drive, New Kingston on Sunday evening.
29- year-old security guard Lawrence Rowe and 19-year-old Ernie Lawrence were shot dead in Glendevon, St. James. The gunmen also injured a man while driving away.
A young couple – 24-year-old Raheem Morgan and 22-year-old Javanee Park – were shot dead at their home in Freetown, Clarendon (in front of their two year-old child, who was unharmed).
Another couple, 32-year-old Nhakeeva Mitchell and her partner, 37-year-old Richard Morris, were shot dead at their home in Victoria District, Linstead, St. Catherine on May 9.
Glad to see the Government is recognising the importance of education for children with special needs by supporting institutions like the Genesis Academy, which conducts speech, music and art therapy and operates a life skills curriculum for persons 12 to 25. There is now a special needs curriculum, implemented since last September, and the Special Education Policy will be approved by Cabinet in the next few weeks.
Gebbers Farms in Washington State gave grants for the students of Jamaican employees recently – thirteen of them, who are top performers and studying agriculture. Great! In previous years Gebbers has donated to children’s homes and the Golden Age Home.
There were lots of tweets and posts about Read Across Jamaica Day (May 9), which seems to have been very well supported.
And on a lighter note… Bounty Killer (aged 44) left the stage in a temper on Saturday night, during a “clash” with Beenie Man (age 43) in Trinidad. Are they going to grow up any time soon, do you think?
Congratulations to the One Jamaica Foundation, doing sterling work in the education sector. This organisation is celebrating its fourth anniversary today (May 15). Continue the good work, Ann-Marie Vaz and team!
And there was Mother’s Day: Hope all the Moms and families had a wonderful day. It poured with rain in Kingston almost all day!