Weekend Review – What’s Happening in Jamaica: July 1/2, 2017

Phew! It has been oppressively hot again this week, and the mosquitoes have gone into overdrive. I am afraid to venture into my front yard, where the grass is getting too long. Our dogs are silent during the day. I know how they feel…

June was a horrible month for murders. 141 Jamaicans were murdered up to June 29. Most of the murders were still in western parishes, especially St. James and Westmoreland. Nevertheless, a large number of guns were seized – to date the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has seized over 100 more weapons than in the first half of 2016. (How many guns are there out there, I wonder? Thousands?) No matter how National Security Minister Robert Montague wants to present it (“a five per cent reduction in crimes overall”) it is deeply depressing and worrying.

Alkaline (Earlan Bartley) was questioned by the police earlier this year, but it’s the police themselves who are really in trouble, this time around.

It was not a good week for the JCF. They are investigating the participation of JCF members (with a patrol car) in a music video (After All) by dancehall DJ Alkaline (who seems to be trying to step into Vybz Kartel’s bleached shoes). The video portrays gun violence (where did all those guns come from, or were they fake?) and reportedly even a sex act by a policewoman (I haven’t seen the whole thing, only snippets of it). This is so shameful it almost boggles the mind. How could these people who swore to “protect and serve” the Jamaican public have thought it was OK to participate? Were they paid, and if so how much? Did they think they wouldn’t be identified in the video? Who facilitated all of this? Why haven’t the police officers been fired? One wonders if this was all done to embarrass the new Commissioner George Quallo – who hasn’t said anything about it, so far as I know.

And on the theme of glorifying violence, I was disheartened to see that UK actor Idris Elba’s directing debut is a film called Yardie, based on a book all about Jamaican gangsters, drugs and guns. Elba is currently filming in downtown Kingston. When are we going to stop making films that buy into this stereotype? There are other stories to tell about Jamaica, Mr. Elba.

Elvis Malcolm (right) who was murdered in Montego Bay last week, was apparently involved in peace-building initiatives in his community. The police say he was a gang leader. (Photo: Gleaner)

I constantly worry about corruption in the JCF (see above) and now the mother of Elvis Malcolm, who was leaving the St. James Parish Court last week when he was shot dead, is claiming “rogue cops” killed her son. She swears he was no gangster. The police deny her allegations. But…

The Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Community Development Measures) Act, 2017 was passed on Wednesday evening in the Lower House with 18 amendments – and less rancour than perhaps one expected. To my surprise, however, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips produced a series of tweets, declaring at the outset: The PNP Amends the Special Zones Bill to Protect the Jamaican People. Oh! Really? Dr. Phillips has his own Tumblr blog. You may read for yourself, but there is a lot more to say about this legislation. I have to re-read it first. It’s online.

The de-bushing: If you recall, just before local elections the Holness administration embarked on a huge “de-bushing” and drain cleaning operation, at a cost of over J$600 million. A tidy sum. There were many questions raised – the timing seemed a blatant vote-getting and job-creating ploy – and The Contractor General’s report on the matter, released this week, is pretty damning. Proper procedures were not followed regarding the award of contractors (and the sub contractors who benefited quite considerably). I still don’t understand Jamaica Labour Party General Secretary Horace Chang’s assertion that the report “vindicates” his party.

An 80 MW power plant will be built for the former Alpart bauxite plant, now run by Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO). There is some talk from Minister of Mining Mike Henry about refining caustic soda (??) and making aluminium products. What will the fuel source be for the power plant? Minister Henry, in his usual dramatic way, says the total investment will be around US$2 billion and there will be 1,000 jobs (for Jamaicans?)

The Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) says Jamaica has met all the benchmarks for the precautionary standby agreement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Growth is a bit wobbly though, and the flood rains certainly were a setback.

Architect Clifton Yap.

The Parliament Building and the Chinese MoU: Clifton Yap, the chairman of the Jamaican Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows, is angry at the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in March between the Jamaican Government and China Construction America – South America Division (CCASA). Among other things, the MoU gives “exclusivity” to the Chinese company to draw up the master plan for the Jamaican Parliament and a much wider area too – and will pay up to US$1 million to the company for doing so. I am also asking: Why is the Government accepting unsolicited proposals? Why not put a huge project like this out to tender? Oh, I forgot… We’re in a hurry. Let’s see – I hope something can be patched up, somehow.

The bust was intended to portray Garvey as a young student. (Photo: Gleaner)

That Garvey bust: After the outcry over the bust of National Hero Marcus Garvey – unveiled just a few weeks ago – the University of the West Indies (UWI) has decided to remove it (and to commission another one – from the same sculptor, Raymond Watson). How much did the bust cost? Ah, a journalist just asked that question! I wrote about it all in my latest Global Voices post here. My next piece will be about Portia Simpson Miller’s departure.

No need to be nasty: So, our former Prime Minister (who is to be named an Honorary Distinguished Fellow of the UWI) stepped down this week. The media was awash with tributes to her. Some of it appeared quite “over the top,” and likely insincere. Many comments indeed have been politically motivated and this is also to be expected. I myself have been completely underwhelmed by Ms. Simpson Miller’s two stints as Prime Minister. For me, her leadership has been extremely disappointing for the most part. Many others have said so, besides me.  Tanya Stephens, a singer of note, decided to lambast Ms. Simpson Miller, her supporters and those in the media who (perhaps with a certain amount of hypocrisy, yes) have lavished praise on her. On Facebook. However, Ms. Stephens’ ad hominem outburst sounds like a spiteful personal attack, à la Tambourine Army. We are all free to express our views and I firmly believe that. But it’s often not what you say – it’s how you say it. Besides, personal attacks on social media remind me too much of Donald Trump: self-serving and attention-grabbing.

Dr. Omar Davies has now retired, too. (Photo: World Highways website)

Dr. Omar Davies (Dr. “Run Wid It”) also walked out of the Lower House for the last time this week. People’s National Party members lauded him, also (I did a “double take” at some of their words). I regularly visit his South St. Andrew constituency and would not describe it as “transformed,” Mr. Julian Robinson! And as for the disastrous FINSAC of the 1990s, when Dr. Davies was Finance Minister – it is still quite hard to draw a veil over that.

CVM News is a muddle: I’m not getting along very well with the new format for news on CVM Television, which used to be an excellent program. It’s all over the place. Half way through the news now, they have a mini-panel discussion. No, I just want the news at a certain time, in case I’ve missed something! Can you please “wheel and come again,” CVM?

Cornwall Regional Hospital is struggling to get back to normal. There are issues with the air conditioning, a chimney, a boiler, and mould. “Something is still happening, which is what concerns us,” says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye.

Why can we never qualify for a pay-out from the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Fund (CCRIF)? I agree with Dr. Wykeham McNeill that the threshold is incredibly high. If the recent roughly J$3 billion worth of damage from floods was turned down (as it was – CCRIF valued it far, far lower), Dr. McNeill says we would have to sink into the sea before we can get compensation. Hmm.

A bag exploded at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston on Friday evening and caused much consternation. Tweeters were tweeting and there was considerable alarm until a notice went out that it was a “simulation exercise.”  By this time, of course, news of an airport explosion in Kingston had gone halfway round the world… Was this really very smart?

What is the population of Jamaica? It was a bit over 2.7 million at the end of 2016, says the latest Economic and Social Survey, growing by just 0.1 per cent.

Dr. Peter Vogel was a kind and gentle man. His murder in 2007 was a tragedy, not only for his family and students, but for the entire scientific community. (Photo: Gleaner)

A sad and bitter time was revived this week, when two people were convicted for the murder of researcher and lecturer Dr. Peter Vogel, a 60 year-old  Swiss citizen, who worked in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies. Dr. Vogel. I remember he gave a lovely lecture on birds at the U.S. Embassy, years ago. Many of his Jamaican students suffered after his murder at his home in Mona Commons and their research projects were derailed; the ornithologist community continues to mourn him.  An account of his trial, ten years after Dr. Vogel’s murder – is here.

Kudos!

Patricia Watson is an amazing woman. The Executive Director of Eve for Life Jamaica is focused, with a deep understanding of issues facing young women in Jamaica. She is caring and kind. Along with Eve’s co-founder Joy Crawford, Pat is in my “Jamaican Top Ten” of people who work hard and without fanfare for the Jamaican people. I have had the honour of working with them both when I was on Eve’s board of directors – and before that. I greatly admire their work. I am SO proud that Patricia is now a Fulbright Scholar and will be going to the University of Missouri. Congratulations, Pat! We will miss you, but this is really awesome news!

Winsome Hudson, who has stepped down as National Librarian and into retirement. (Photo: Gleaner)

Winsome Hudson is retiring as National Librarian and CEO at the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ). She has done an excellent job since joining the NLJ in 2003. Among other achievements, Ms. Hudson helped to revive the National Poet Laureate program after over 60 years. Beverley Lashley from UWI will be taking her place. Have a great retirement, Winsome!

Residents of Longville Park talked to Keith Duncan, co-chair of EPOC, about the issue of corruption, among other topics. Yes, that “C word” often comes up. (Photo: EPOC)

EPOC is doing a grand job. The latest in its On the Corner series was at Longville Park in Clarendon. They are really helping to explain developments in Jamaica’s economy as well as tapping into the Jamaican people’s concerns. Check out their website here.

Many congratulations to Trisha Thompson-Singh and the team at the Early Childhood Commission, who have been working their socks off to get early childhood institutions certified with all the required standards met! Here is a picture of the Ebony Vale Baptist Basic School, one of 47 early childhood institutions now certified. The ECC wants to reach 100 by August – a tall order, but they are trying!

Once again, I extend my condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who met violent deaths over the past week. The trauma is real.

Telephone operator Debbie-Ann Smith, 38 was stabbed to death by a man during an argument, in Olympic Gardens, Kingston.

On the same night (June 29), another woman, 52 year-old business woman Lezlyn Gentles, was shot dead in Rollington Town, Kingston.

In Rae Town, Kingston Roshane Harriott, 34 and Shawn Cunningham, 41 were shot dead.

Two men were shot dead by the police in Hill Run, Spanish Town, St. Catherine during an alleged shootout.

74 year-old Aspry Walters was hit over the head and killed during an argument on Patrick Road, Mandeville one morning.

46 -year-old mechanic Robert Watson was shot dead on arriving home in Llandilo, Savanna-La-Mar, Westmoreland.

Called Reid, 28, was shot dead in Potosie District, St. James.

Adrian Wynter, aged 21, was stabbed to death by a farmer in Norwich, Portland, who caught him stealing coconuts.

Gary Fletcher, 39, was accused of stealing from vendors in the Ocho Rios Market and was stabbed to death.


2 thoughts on “Weekend Review – What’s Happening in Jamaica: July 1/2, 2017

  1. wow. quite the depressing round up. I don’t think we should bash Mr. Alba. What is the Jamaican government and people doing to get that stereotype out that there is more to the island than crime, gangster ? They have had so much opportunity with Bolt and the reggae boys in Paris years ago and nothing has been done to capitalize on that free publicity to truly showcase Jamaica. Thoughts?

    Like

    1. Oh dear… Sorry, it was a little depressing! You make a good point. I agree – there has been ample opportunity to create a different image. It does not have to be about superstar athletes even. Could be creative people, farmers, leaders in their communities, Jamaicans making a positive contribution in other words…

      Like

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