A little late this week… I don’t know where to start. The floods have overwhelmed us, but we are still standing. At least, some of us are. I highlighted some stories in red, this time!
Water, water everywhere: After a pretty rainy April in some parts, the weather gods (and climate change) decided to give us a full dose of it last week. I summed it up in a Global Voices report here. Just as the Prime Minister authorised J$175 million to help those affected in the past few weeks, all hell broke loose. Nightly television reports continue with stark illustrations of the damage done. A little place charmingly named Trout Hall (on the way to Claude McKay High School, which we visited not long ago) now looks as if a Godzilla-size monster has rampaged through, throwing mud, chunks of road and a bridge in all directions. Most parishes were affected. Kingston was uncomfortable for a day or two, but generally recovered quickly. Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams toured Seaview Gardens and looked fairly stunned at the volume of garbage deposited there, where Sandy Gully empties into the sea. Clarendon was once again very badly hit – especially up in the hills of the north, where Cockpit Country water cascaded down from further north. In other places, clogged drains, poor maintenance and simply bad planning were at fault, besides our filthy habits in disposing of solid waste. “Weather man” Evan Thompson did say, however, that we had more than a whole May’s worth of rain in just a couple of days. It was so intense. And the cost? Preliminary assessments are under way. The National Water Commission is not doing well at all, with 77 water systems still down.
Phone bills: Every now and then, the local media obsesses about how much money Government ministers have spent talking on the phone (or tweeting, or whatever, because now we do everything on our phones, don’t we). The Prime Minister’s PR man Robert Nesta Morgan tweeted a careful comparison between People’s National Party ministers’ phone bills (2014) and Jamaica Labour Party ministers’ phone bills (2017), in response to an RJR report, for which they used the Access to Information Act. I am not sure I really care.
Police brutality: Residents of Orange Street were extremely angry after what the police called a “spot raid” on the area, apparently focused on someone recently released from a long prison sentence. The man was rounded up along with several others (including, one woman claimed, a fourteen year-old boy) – meanwhile allegedly pepper spraying residents. A disturbing cell phone video aired on TVJ news this evening showed a policeman kicking away the road block, handgun in hand. When residents shouted at him, he fired his gun. Several residents were charged with obstructing the police. They “became boisterous” according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Firing a handgun seems pretty boisterous, to me.
Remember Carlos Hill? The man who (allegedly) defrauded many Jamaicans through his Cash Plus (or rather, Minus) “alternative investment scheme” had his case put off until Wednesday – when he was freed of fraud charges. Well done, his lawyers! Cash Plus collapsed in 2008. Since then his case has been repeatedly delayed. Mr. Hill was out on J$15 million bail. After nine years several witnesses proved hard to find; only one turned up in court out of 16 potential witnesses on Wednesday, so the prosecution gave up. Hill still owes more than 40,000 Cash Plus investors close to $10 billion.
Thumbs up from BOJ: Bank of Jamaica Governor Brian Wynter seemed rather pleased at his quarterly press briefing on Monday. “Jamaica has made the sacrifice,” said Mr. Wynter, saying that improvements in our current account “are undoubtedly the fruit of the sacrifice.” I do think we need to give former Finance Minister Peter Phillips a great deal of credit for these encouraging developments.
And Opposition Leader Peter Phillips is making his voice heard – or rather, he is on #TheListeningTour, consulting with various stakeholder groups. He’s also taking a leaf out of PM Holness’ book and sharing lots of stuff on Twitter and Facebook. He was planting trees in Papine (much needed) on Labour Day – also shared on social media. That’s the way to go.
Expansion work at the Kingston Freeport Terminal (KFTL) to accommodate larger ships continues apace, adding 200 more jobs. KFTL is a subsidiary of the global terminal operators CMA CGM group. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said divestment is a “good thing” for Jamaica, if done right. IF.
Long Pond sugar factory: Some interesting developments in the chequered history of the Long Pond sugar factory, which has had its ups and downs in recent years. CEO of Hampden Estate Andrew Hussey says his family-owned firm Everglades Farms has signed an agreement with US-based Arrakis Development to transform the factory into a co-generation project, at a cost of some US$38 million. Meanwhile, almost simultaneously some 300 registered cane farmers announced their intention to establish a major facility to manufacture products from their own lands. “We really don’t care” about the owners’ plan, says the cane producers’ representative Alan Rickards. They are tired of waiting.
Honouring Sam Sharpe: From this year onwards, National Hero Sam Sharpe will get an official recognition every Labour Day before work begins, if all goes well; this will have to be approved by Parliament. Sharpe was an educated slave and Baptist preacher who stood up for the rights of slaves working on the sugar plantations in St. James. An originally peaceful general strike he organised in 1831 was violently suppressed, resulting in the Christmas Rebellion. Sam Sharpe was hanged the following year, on May 23.
After much recent speculation, it was announced last Monday morning that Kelly Tomblin will be the new CEO of a U.S. company, INTREN, effective July 10, 2016. Ms. Tomblin has been CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company for the past five years and has been quite high profile. I think she will be missed.
In the wake of the floods, Mr. Stephen Shaw, the communications man at the National Works Agency (NWA) – who possibly did not sleep for several days – is to be highly commended. The NWA worked its socks off to clear blocked roads and Mr. Shaw kept us updated on the status of what he calls “corridors” (the simple word “road” seems to have gone out of fashion). He was terrific. Also, dear Twitter friend @Jamaica Weather kept us informed – in the total social media absence of our Meteorological Office. The Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) did a lot of heavy lifting, rescuing and bring supplies to marooned communities. Caribbean Cement Company has donated 3,000 bags of cement to help in fixing up our infrastructure. Thanks to all!
Mayor Delroy Williams, whose enthusiasm for fixing up the iconic Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston has quite inspired people. Jamaicans are extremely fond of “The Ward.” The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips showed up for the Labour Day project at the theatre on Tuesday, along with an army of volunteers. I am impressed. The theatre needs bucketfuls of “TLC” and this is probably just the start, but a lot of work was done. Congratulations to all! Messrs. Holness and Phillips both worked on the other major Kingston project, the Central Police Station, too. Deliberate show of unity? It’s a good look!
EPOC is the acronym for the Economic Programme Oversight Committee, now co-chaired by businessman Keith Duncan. Mr. Duncan has come up with an innovative idea – “On the Corner” meetings with Jamaicans in various communities, to explain, get the man/woman on the street’s views, and His second meeting was in Swallowfield, Kingston. I think this is a cool and worthwhile idea; many businessmen of Mr. Duncan’s ilk prefer the air-conditioned comfort of boardrooms in which to speak. Meanwhile Mr. Duncan believes the Economic Growth Council (EGC) target of 5 per cent growth in four years is achievable – and in light of the expected costs of the recent floods, needs to be accelerated and the economy diversified.
At last, the Portmore Municipal Council is to get a decent building! Hooray. When I visited their office a few months ago, I was shocked to find it squeezed into one corner of a shopping plaza – upstairs, and not accessible to disabled – for which the Council has been paying a sizeable rent. Construction on the new, accessible and more energy-efficient building is expected to start on June 1 – at a cost of J$190 million.
Commissioner of Police George Quallo, who has taken the plunge on Twitter and is tweeting. You can find him @GeorgeQuallo. Please keep it up, Commissioner! Also, @JamaicaConstab needs to share more – not just PR photos, but pictures of missing people and wanted men.
Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) and its partner in the Dominican Republic (COIN) have developed the Caribbean’s first online database documenting human rights violations. This is an important step that will benefit not only non-governmental organisations but vulnerable citizens, who report incidents and seek redress.
Two Haitian refugees arrived on our shores (in St. Mary) last week. They have been “processed” and are in quarantine. We always treat arriving Haitians as harmful to our health. Do they get legal representation? I expect they will be shipped straight home again. There seems to have been an increase of Haitians trying to leave in the last few weeks, as United Nations peacekeepers are preparing to withdraw. Or perhaps there is some other reason.
I don’t want to give the impression that the Jamaica Constabulary Force is doing nothing to curb the wave of violent crime this year. In the parish of St. James, which has recorded over 100 murders already this year, compared to 85 for the same period in 2016, seven firearms and 200 ammunition rounds have been seized in the past week. Three people (including a teenage girl) were arrested when an AK-47 rifle was seized from a car in Perline Stream. The St. James police chief believes he will have crime under control by the end of the year. One often wonders, though – how many more guns are out there? A question one is afraid to ask.
Can we please think about the many people – families, friends, children, parents, partners – who are traumatised and suffering after the violent deaths of their loved ones? Here is one example.
A young couple – 19 year-old Mekieda Waldoo and Shamar Williams, 24, were shot and killed outside their house in Hyde District, Clarks Town, Trelawny, on returning from grocery shopping.
78 year-old Hyacinthia Wright, the widow of Joseph Wright, a former mayor of Falmouth, Trelawny was found with her throat slashed at her business establishment in the town.
Another senior citizen, Netty Rowe, 88, was stabbed to death at her home in Runaway Bay, St. Ann.
36-year-old taxi operator Dwayne Marrett was shot dead, also in Falmouth, Trelawny.
22-year-old Leon Gary was shot dead outside his home in Crooked River, Anotto Bay, St. Mary.
Delroy Gardner and Stephanie Song were murdered while they were walking in the Salt Spring area of St. James. Police believe this was a gang-related killing.
36 year-old painter Everette Wallace was shot dead on Apple Avenue in Mansfield Heights, Ocho Rios while on his way to the shop.
The police killed two men in New Market, St. Elizabeth last week during an alleged shootout. The men have not yet been identified. INDECOM is investigating.
44 year old Lincoln Sankar, a cane cutter, was riding his bicycle with his four year-old son on board when he was shot dead in Comfort, Clarendon. His son was unharmed.
Last week, a fruit vendor was shot and killed, and his customer injured, along Cottage Drive in Gregory Park, St. Catherine.
Damien King, 31, of Bath, St. Thomas, a higgler, was shot dead at a shop on Windsor Road, St. Ann’s Bay.
Mason Theodore James, 26, was found shot and chopped to death in Gayle district, St. Mary.
Unidentified man who operated a tyre shop was shot and killed (possibly by extortionists) on March Pen Road, near the Spanish Town Shopping Centre.
Krystal Gunnings, age 16, was killed when gunmen on motorbikes fired at the car she was traveling in along the Little London main road in Westmoreland. Her fellow passengers escaped unhurt.