It’s been hectic, and my review this week looks back over the past ten days. I hope it’s not too late to be useful. Please click on highlighted links for more information on these stories!
Building in the wrong places: In the aftermath of the floods, there has been much focus on building. Should there be laws and regulations on who should build, and where (i.e. not in a flood-prone area or in a place called, for example, Bog Hole?) Umm. Yes, don’t we have those already? Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie tells us Jamaica has 754 residential squatter settlements, with a population of over 600,000 (which seems a conservative estimate). Many are close to rivers, gully banks etc. Meanwhile the Building Bill is to be debated in Parliament next week.
The damage: The National Works Agency (NWA) is starting to shore up several bridges and one or two roads are still impassable. And may I once again say that the NWA’s Communications Manager Stephen Shaw is a marvel. As someone said the other day, he is the NWA!
And hurricane season begins: June 1 was the first day of the hurricane season, and to my delight the Meteorological Service of Jamaica sprang to life (with a press conference, too). I will stop complaining about their hitherto conspicuous absence on social media, because they’re tweeting at @MetserviceJA ! I cannot find them on Facebook, however, which is odd. However, they tweeted yesterday: We are diversifying our communications this Hurricane Season to give you the information you need. Sounds hopeful. Their very old-fashioned website (circa 2002) is at http://www.metservice.gov.jm
What’s the forecast? Well, slightly above average for the season is the prediction. However, in this climate change era, what is “average” I wonder? Our weather is becoming completely unpredictable. Meteorologists can scratch their heads, talk about El Niño… but we will have to wait and see. Met Service chief Evan Thompson mentioned “praying” today, which didn’t sound very encouraging to me.
Edible ganja: I wrote a while ago about the potential dangers of eating ganja cookies, which are being sold openly on Negril beach to gullible tourists. Now the issue is on the front burner. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has clarified that eating ganja in any shape or form is actually illegal in Jamaica (so there is no “ban”), while smoking it is permitted for Rastafarians’ sacrament. Two visitors at an event called Stepping High Festival in Negril became violently ill in March. Opposition Spokesman on Health Horace Dalley declared in Parliament this week that he fully supports the Minister’s stance on ganja and the importance of protecting the vulnerable – especially youth. However, ganja lobbyists, many with foreign accents, are still determinedly stating their case for “freeing up the weed.” There is a call for a “national audit” of the (illegal) “ganja edibles,” according to groups like Scarce Commodity. To what end?
Use of force by police: This week an important regional conference took place: The Use of Force Policy Conference. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said all the right things; he does not want any conflict between the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Importantly he also emphasised that the use of force by security personnel has not been effective in curbing our crime rate (true). U.S. Ambassador Luis Moreno mentioned “rooting out corruption” (that word again) and also noted the importance of INDECOM and the JCF working together. INDECOM is currently working with regional and international organisations to draft a model use of force policy for the Caribbean (not binding, but it should be “very persuasive,” noted INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams). Meanwhile, as noted a couple of days ago by fellow blogger Susan Goffe, who attended the conference, police killings have soared this year. Deputy Commissioner Hamish Campbell noted that there were 54 incidents involving the police in the last quarter. A recommendation for prosecution was made in only two cases out of those 54. Why?
Meanwhile – by way of contrast – speaking at a Salvation Army event, Deputy Commissioner Novelette Grant called for “policing with empathy.”
“My police”? As the conference wound up today, Susan Goffe tweeted National Security Minister Robert Montague’s final words: “Dutty criminal, nuh point yu gun at my police!” Really? “My police”? What a very unhelpful note to end on – just as the JCF and INDECOM are finally about to sign a Memorandum of Understanding – after seven years of “differences.” And how inappropriate at such a high level conference. He said much the same thing at the funeral of Constable Leighton Hanson, whose very public murder on busy Constant Spring Road caused great shock: “I want to be quoted correctly when I say to ‘dutty’ criminals, ‘Don’t point your gun at my police!’ The United States Government has recently given us a shooting simulator. We are training our police to shoot straight and to shoot them (the criminals),” declared our tough-talking Minister. Hmm.
I’m not impressed by Commissioner Quallo’s tweets so far.
By the way I shared a few thoughts on corruption in my Jamaica Gleaner blog post this week, following an important forum co-sponsored by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute and National Integrity Action (NIA). The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn defended herself (at length) after it was claimed that her office failed to prosecute some 40 referrals of corruption cases sent to it by the Office of the Contractor General. She says those 40 cases were administrative breaches. Is the DPP out of her depth? Is her office overwhelmed?
Meanwhile the file with information on the firearm license granted to businessman Patrick Powell remains mysteriously missing. Is it going to come to light? Having been acquitted of the murder of 17 year -old Kahjeel Mais, Powell pleaded guilty to the charge of not handing over his firearm. The Firearm Licensing Authority might one day redeem itself.
Venezuela and the Caribbean: After a Senate session in which Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith outlined the Jamaican Government’s position on beleaguered Venezuela (to whom many Caribbean nations owe so much) a meeting took place at the Organisation of American States (OAS) on May 31. It did not go well. Efforts to find consensus on what to do about Venezuela’s endangered democracy failed. Very sensibly, I believe, Jamaica believes in maintaining dialogue at the regional body, rather than posturing à la Ralph Gonsalves (and à la Opposition Party), and does not want Venezuela to leave the OAS. Minister Johnson Smith said at the May 31 meeting she was “gravely concerned by the continued deterioration of the situation in Venezuela”.
Trafigura! That name keeps popping up again and again. A decision on the appeal by former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and other People’s National Party executives against a court ruling last year – due on May 26 – has been delayed. Oh goodness! It’s eleven years now since the PNP received a J$31 million donation from Dutch company Trafigura Beheer. The court had ruled that the hearing should be in open court, but the PNP is fighting this.
Has something untoward been going on at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company? There have been some firings and resignations…
And human trafficking: The Ministry of National Security received a 16-seater bus this week, to transport human trafficking victims. Ms. Carol Palmer, Permanent Secretary in the Justice Ministry and Chair of the Task Force, has been battling away on this front for years. She knows the issue inside out. She says the 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that approximately 5800 persons were trafficked in Jamaica; and that legislation is to be amended to ensure a judge-only (no jury) trial for traffickers.
I never seem to hear much good news about agriculture: There is the horrible beet army worm which is busy munching on vegetable crops (is simply spraying them the answer?) and the news that there have been major declines in coffee (by 65 .4 per cent) and cocoa (by 23 per cent) production in the first quarter of this year. The Prime Minister’s wife Juliet Holness nevertheless celebrated with three women coffee farmers recently and the Japanese Ueshima Coffee Company, which has an interest in one coffee estate. I’m told that last year the price for a box of coffee dropped from J$12,000 to around J$8,000. Two traditional crops did improve last quarter, however, according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ): sugar by 20.5 per cent, and bananas by 18.1 per cent.
Tourism figures seem rather weak: The PIOJ reported small increases in visitor arrivals and expenditure in the first quarter, compared to 2016. Numbers from the United States – our major market – declined. Increases were 0.1 per cent for stopover visitors (who spent 92.1 per cent of the money) and 3.2 per cent for cruise-passenger visitors. Clearly cruise ship visitors spend very little when they are in Jamaica.
Public sector wage claims: The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, led by Helene Davis-Whyte, will present its 2017/2019 Public Sector Wage claim to Government next week. As usual, there are outstanding matters, including transportation subsidies and a loan scheme. Let’s hope all will go well.
Sexual harassment bill creeps along: Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange told Parliament this week that the long-awaited Sexual Harassment Bill is making its way slowly and painfully through various offices and will be tabled by the end of this parliamentary year. I won’t hold my breath.
IGL recently made a donation to the Riverton Meadows Early Childhood Centre, which is run by St. Patrick’s Foundation – a community-based organisation that I am especially fond of. I remember visiting the Centre many years ago now, and being touched by the little children, so sweet and happy in such a degraded environment (right near the dump). Good corporate citizens!
Veteran businesswoman and agriculturalist Rita Hylton, who is now producing a range of products made from breadfruit flour. She competed at the Jamaica Observer’s Jamaica Food Awards recently. This is the way I would like to see agriculture go…
Superintendent of Police Stephanie Lindsay, who gave members of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) a comprehensive talk on security and safety for seniors at CCRP’s Annual General Meeting earlier this week. Kudos too to Dorett Linton, who has just left CCRP. She has been a wonderful coordinator.
National Integrity Action (NIA), which is partnering with CSOs like Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) and Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica (YCWJ) to raise awareness of corruption, governance and democracy issues at community level.
With all the discussion about corruption and the perceived lack of justice in our justice system, one’s head spins. And the murders continue. We’re just not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Murders are up by almost 15 percent for the first five months of the year compared to last year (537 people have been killed between January 1 and May 24). St. James once again leads the table, with 107 murders.
Meanwhile, alleged gang leader Tesha Miller is talking to the Gleaner. He wants to earn a living now, “between welding and music.” He adds piously that he reads his Bible every day: “The Psalms are my favourite in the Bible. I read them regularly and I can recite many of them, and I have learnt a lot from them.” Make of that what you will… My deepest condolences to the families of all those who have died violently, including…
A 65 year-old man was found dead near his home in Campbell’s Land, Cave Valley, St. Ann.
A woman’s body was found with chop wounds in Exchange, Ocho Rios, St. Ann. She has not yet been identified.
And also in St. Ann, 36-year-old Robert Gentles was stabbed to death during a dispute, in Bamboo.
In Alexandria, St Ann, 23-year-old Akeem Berbick was stabbed to death, allegedly by his girlfriend during an argument.
26-year-old Everett Wallace was killed in Mansfield Heights, St. Ann. What is happening in that lovely parish?
Two men were shot dead last night in Johnson Lane, May Pen, Clarendon last night (identities not yet disclosed).
19 year-old André Lawrence was shot dead in a confrontation with a licensed firearm holder on Spanish Town Road, Kingston.
The body of 31-year-old construction worker Otis Patrick was found buried under a house in Lowe River, Trelawny, after he had gone missing in March.
44-year-old Yvette Bailey and her two sons, 24-year-old Mario Burkett and 14-year-old Travis Labbon were shot dead when gunmen kicked down the door of their house in Jones Avenue, Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
Iscar Williams, who police say was a “most wanted” man, was shot dead in Porus, Manchester during an alleged shootout with the police.
The police killed two more men in Orange Hill, Westmoreland during another alleged shootout. One was a “most wanted” – 28 year-old Damion Williams and the other was Kwayne Campbell. According to the police accounts, the deceased gunmen always shoot first. They must be very bad shots.
Angry residents protested, blocking the road in Green Pond, St. James after a reported police killing. Police/community relations really seem to be taking another nosedive at the moment. I am not sure what Commissioner George Quallo has to say about it.
John Davis, 48, construction worker was shot and killed, allegedly by his nephew (a police officer) during an argument in Bailey’s Vale, St. Mary. There was apparently a long-standing dispute between them over property.
43-year-old Juliet Grant, a shopkeeper and her son, 24-year-old Romario Daley, a hotel worker, were shot and killed at their home in Middlesex, Hanover. Police suspect the murders were “gang-related.”