What’s Happening in Jamaica: June 24/25, 2017

Oh, what a week it’s been, again. More drama. You could never call Jamaica a “sleepy backwater”

“Clear, hold and rebuild”: That is the basis of the Holness administration’s new crime strategy, via the new Zones of Special Operations Bill. Opposition Security Spokesman Peter Bunting – who conceptualised the Unite for Change program a few years back – wants more social intervention and concern for human rights. “We already have a plethora of structures out there” to deal with crime, says Mr. Bunting – including the Citizen Security and Justice Programme and several others. He may have a point. Senators Mark Golding and Marlene Malahoo Forte (the Attorney General) disagreed rather strongly during a parliamentary committee meeting to consider the Bill, which the Mr. Golding says lacks transparency and may threaten human rights. “Every time we have gone down that road, we have had to backtrack,” he said. He may have a point, too. Is the Government trying to reinvent the wheel? As Jaevion Nelson tweeted this week: “What does the bill empower the authorities to do that they couldn’t do before?” Read the full text of the Bill here.

After several murders in and around West Kingston this week, the police scooped up no less than 97 people and “processed” them. Sounds like the same old, same old, to me… Interestingly, the Prime Minister said this week he does not accept poverty as an “excuse for crime” – but it “may be a reason.” A proposed new law now under consideration, the MOCA Bill, provides for the establishment of a statutory law enforcement agency to be known as the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency.

Did any of these Most Wanted Jamaicans turn themselves in on Friday?

Wanted men (and woman): The police posted pictures of 10 men and one woman, who are the country’s most wanted – including the highly elusive Marlon Perry, aka “Duppy Flim,” – and continue to tweet daily.

The latest results of the Jamaica Constabulary Forces “Get The Guns” campaign, tweeted on Friday.

The new head of the Firearm Licensing Authority seems to be putting his foot down. Something was seriously amiss in that agency. CEO Shane Dalling says “it has been revealed that thousands of licensed firearm holders” have been breaking the law by not having their firearms inspected and paying their license fees annually. The penalty is J$200,000 or a year in jail. Wow. Guns may have been moving around freely! Licensed firearm holders have until July 1 to clean up their acts.

A super-short sitting: Justice Minister Delroy Chuck started debate in the Lower House on the Criminal Justice Administration Amendment Bill 2017 and the Indictments Amendment Bill 2017, which are aimed at reducing the staggering backlog in the court system. However, the House of Representatives sat for a grand total of 55 minutes on Tuesday, having started late as usual. I tuned in before 3:30 on the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica’s YouTube channel to see Members of Parliament gathering their papers up! Astonishing. The reason, said a parliamentary reporter on Twitter, was that Opposition MP Ronald Thwaites, who was to continue a debate, was not present. There was nothing else on the agenda after Minister Chuck spoke and Minister Andrew Wheatley answered questions. Wow. No other people’s business to discuss?

Where are the Senators? The Upper House at 10:00 am, its supposed starting time, on Friday. (Twitter)

Things were much more lively in the Senate (which also started late), where Government Senator Kerensia Morrison emphatically declared that she wants to see more “big men” (and women) – including politicians – locked up for corruption.“When they (Jamaicans) see the handcuffs going on some powerbrokers in society, politicians and their friends, that is when they will be convinced that di ting get serious,” said the Senator. Yes. Corruption is definitely back on the agenda.

The ghost of Trafigura returns (spooky noises): Around midday Friday, Nationwide News Network’s Abka Fitz-Henley tweeted news that the local Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal filed by lawyers for five members of the People’s National Party (PNP) seeking to stop them from testifying in open court in the Trafigura matter. Appeals Court President Dennis Morrison cited the Mutual Assistance Criminal Matters Act, which is subject to the principle of open court justice. Supreme Court Judge Lennox Campbell had concluded this back in 2011, but the politicians’ lawyers have been engaged in an eleven-year delaying and obstruction strategy ever since (the allegedly illegal payment to the PNP by Trafigura – under Dutch law – was in 2006). The Appeals Court strongly asserted that the Trafigura issue “is a matter in the public domain in which the public has a legitimate interest.” Yes, it is. Who are the “Trafigura Five”? Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, then PNP chairman Robert Pickersgill and regional chairman Phillip Paulwell, former general secretary Colin Campbell and businessman Norton Hinds.

The endangered Cockpit Country – a treasure house of biodiversity and precious water resources – should not even be mentioned in the same breath as “bauxite mining,” in my view. Is the Government about to announce its decision on “defining the boundaries” of Cockpit Country, finally? (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

Minerals Policy and Cockpit Country go together? What is “classic Cockpit Country geology and ecology,” Minister Mike Henry? The Minister of Transport and Mining mentioned bauxite mining (and the need to expand it) and Cockpit Country boundaries almost in the same breath in Parliament. Is the Holness administration finally going to bite the bullet and declare the fate of Cockpit Country? Public consultations took place years ago, the last Government dithered over it and one suspects an announcement is pending. I am feeling nervous.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (2nd right), and Chairman for JISCO/Alpart Chen Chunming (left), planting a tree at the official opening of the Alumina Refinery in Nain, St. Elizabeth, on June 21. In the background is Minister of Transport and Mining, Mike Henry. The Prime Minister said he believes “the company understands the need for local employment.” I hope so. (Photo: JIS)

The official reopening of the Alpart bauxite plant in Nain took place this week. The Chinese company that owns it – Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) – wants to expand and mine more bauxite. JISCO was given a five-year bauxite levy waiver by the way. The Prime Minister emphasised the human resource aspect of the Chinese venture, and the need for highly trained personnel as well as Jamaican workers. Hopefully he doesn’t consider the two requirements mutually exclusive. Don’t we have enough specialists among our own workforce to be employed at the plant? If not, why not? What will the ratio of Jamaican to Chinese workers be, right now and later on?

CHEC’s labour conditions: One radio station has been following up on complaints about working conditions and pay from Jamaican workers employed by the ubiquitous China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC). The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union took up the workers’ case, and was not convinced by a Labour Ministry report supposedly demonstrating that CHEC did, in fact, provide drinking water and sanitary conveniences on their sites. The Ministry did concede, however, that the workers are paid below specified industry rates. How and why does CHEC seem to get a “bly” on such matters? Don’t they have to follow the rules and laws of the country they are working in? Meanwhile local builders are complaining that they’re not getting a piece of the pie…

Talking of the Chinese, a contractor is here to survey and plan the construction of a Children’s Hospital on the grounds of the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St. James. Let us hope it does not go the way of the Chinese-built hospital in Trinidad, which was apparently built in the wrong place (among other problems) and has not been used.

“There’s no cholera in Jamaica” says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye, on the basis of preliminary reports on blood samples sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad for testing (I thought we had our own testing facilities in Jamaica now?). The test will be repeated and there will be a final report next week. There have been mutterings about the ongoing excavation of an old cholera cemetery site in Kingston. Some fearmongers have been making that connection on social media, but both the Health Minister and Dr. De La Haye have been firmly denying it. By the way, I dislike the phrase ‘fake news’ – perhaps because of its Trump associations – and I would urge Government ministers to avoid it. It confuses people.

Member of Parliament for South West Clarendon Noel Arscott is complaining about conditions there since the heavy rains – especially “the drainage problem.” It’s the third flood there in the last couple of months, he says. At this point, I wish Mr. Arscott would stop whining and taking digs at government agencies in public statements, and get on with helping his constituents.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Norman Grant. The JAS organises the Denbigh Agricultural Show every summer. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Will the show go on? The annual agricultural show at Denbigh has become increasingly crowded over the years. Now the Health Ministry is adamant that it should not be held this year and is bemoaning the Jamaica Agricultural Society’s non-cooperation over health concerns. Member of Parliament for the area Mike Henry is insisting the show must be held. Come on, now. Sewage disposal and food handlers’ permits are issues for concern, no?

“The Parliament does not meet to keep church”: There’s a time and place for everything, suggested the delightfully unconventional Anglican priest, Father Sean Major Campbell, while testifying before the Joint Select Committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act and related legislation. He reminded us that Jamaica is not a theocracy, after fundamentalist Christians had instructed the Parliamentarians in no uncertain terms on matters such as “teenage promiscuity.” Thank you, Father Sean!

JN Plus – the support lobby group for people living with HIV/AIDS – tweeted this message this week.

Some important comments were made this week regarding Jamaicans’ vulnerability to HIV, and I plan to return to this topic in a later post.

The Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) is worried about the sector’s status under the pending Special Economic Zone (SEZ) legislation, and says new investors are holding back because of the uncertainty. Apparently 6,000 Jamaicans obtained jobs last year in the BPO sector, which the BPIAJ claims is the fastest growing sector in the Jamaican economy. Some young Jamaicans sneer at these jobs, considering them to be somehow illegitimate or even “slave labor,”  – but I have spoken to one or two BPO employees and they seemed quite satisfied. It might not be exactly a golden goose, but throwing heavy fees and red tape at this sector does not seem, on the face of it, the way to go.

Selfie time with the Minister: Here’s a great photo of Minister of Education Ruel Reid at Watsonton Primary School in Clarendon (in the background is the Mayor of May Pen, Winston Maragh). Photo: Twitter

Kudos!

The awesome Shirley Pryce (right) with activist Carol Narcisse. (My photo)

Shirley Pryce is a powerhouse woman, whom Jamaicans should all be proud of. The founder and president of the Jamaica Household Workers Union has been awarded the 12th CARICOM Triennial Award for Women for outstanding contribution to Trade Unionism & Women and Development in the Caribbean Community. Well done, Shirley! You are just amazing.

The Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory opened a boardwalk last week! Funded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, this will help to boost environmental education with tours explaining plants and animals along the way.

Did you know there are Drug Treatment Courts for adults and children in Jamaica? It seems quite small scale, but there are five in Kingston and in St. James and Chief Justice Zaila McCalla says they have had good results. The United States Agency For International Development’s (USAID) excellent Community Empowerment and Transformation Project, Phase 2 (COMET II) has been assisting with evaluations, etc.

The Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council is the youth arm of the Jamaica Climate Change Advisory Board. Their blog is at https://ourfootprintja.wordpress.com/about/ and you can follow them on social media @OurFootprintJA (I like this slogan). The Youth Council held a special informational forum last week (#LivingClimateChange), which I sadly couldn’t attend. I wish them all well in their efforts!

Integrity Ambassadors from Cornwall College wait for their turn at last week’s graduation ceremony with Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica and National Integrity Action. (My photo)

National Integrity Action continues to cement meaningful partnerships with community-based organisations such as Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica (YCWJ) and Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC). Congratulations to all the YCWJ Integrity Ambassadors, who graduated last week! I will be writing more about them very soon. Meanwhile WROC/NIA will be launching the skills training component of their program Strengthening a Culture of Integrity in Jamaica at WROC’s office at 47 Beechwood Avenue on Wednesday, June 28 at 10:00 a.m. Do join them!

Stand Up for Jamaica continues to quietly do important human rights work that is not really “sexy” (and therefore doesn’t get much local press coverage). SUFJ advocates for of one of our most vulnerable and forgotten populations – incarcerated Jamaicans. I am so glad they are getting support from the European Union, among others.

And special kudos to Fi Wi Jamaica! A great organisation operating out of the University of Technology and funded by USAID. It has really worked hard over the past two years, partnering with a number of civil society organisations and really empowering Jamaicans across the country (especially women).

There was terrible grief in downtown Kingston on Friday, after an eleven year-old girl was shot dead along with another man on Fleet Street (an alleged gunman) on Thursday night. Taysha Hughes was a student of the Holy Family Primary and Infant School on Fleet Street.

A police superintendent and the police chaplain comforted the distraught mother of 11 year-old Taysha Hughes after her murder on Thursday night on Fleet Street. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner

Also killed was Richard Allen, 26, an alleged gunman. The police believe that the murder of Nicholas Malcolm earlier that evening on Wildman Street may have had something to do with these killings. It is so sad. Fleet Street – where there are many beautiful art works on the walls, and where Life Yard is trying to create something positive – is a community that is trying to keep strong.

In deep rural Portland – Reach District, Manchioneal – 37 year-old Shernette Ferguson was shot dead and her nine year-old daughter injured. A man is in custody.

In St. James, 25-year-old Tevin Campbell, a popular community footballer, and 24-year-old Oneal Gibbs were shot dead while standing at a shop on Wednesday night in Providence Heights.

Police on patrol in Coronation Market. (Photo: Jermaine Barnaby/Gleaner)

Vendors at Coronation Market in West Kingston are depressed after an upsurge of violence that they fear will affect their business. Two vendors – 34-year-old Dane McDonald and 54-year-old Sonia Bennett – were shot and killed in a nearby parking lot on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile the police killed two unidentified men in West Kingston on Friday night – one in Rose Town and one near Coronation Market (where a policeman was injured in a shoot-out).

The police also killed 33-year-old Shenarda Leslie, whom they say was a gang leader, in Green Island, Hanover, on Friday night.

Haile Clacken, 36, was killed by a security guard. (Photo: Twitter)

A former teacher, 36 year-old Haile Clacken, was shot dead by a security guard on Friday evening after reportedly climbing onto the top of their armed vehicle. There has been much grief and anger over Clacken’s death; he seems to have been much loved, but had some mental health issues.

An unidentified man’s body was discovered near Queen’s Drive in Montego Bay.

21-year-old Shelline Heron was shot dead near the Savannah-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland last Monday night.

 


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