Well, I skipped last weekend. I was out of town, attending a wedding that only happened in fits and starts. I might write an account of it; it truly was an experience. The good thing is I have started journaling (thanks to Susan Goffe!) so I might remember things in more interesting detail in future. The past two weeks have been quite – well, the word “interesting” covers many things, does it not? The Government has not had an easy fortnight at all…
And there’s the heat! After the air conditioning broke down in the St. Thomas Circuit Court, a five year-old murder case was adjourned…
Let me get two things over with. Firstly, the Finance Minister’s simply enormous phone bill, news of which broke early last week. I wrote about it in detail, including links and a sample of Jamaican reactions, for Global Voices here. Unanswered questions remain. People are upset. Do we know who signed off on these exorbitant bills on a monthly basis? The Permanent Secretary (PS) is the chief civil servant in charge of any ministry’s money matters. Mr. Everton McFarlane stepped down as Financial Secretary (PS) several weeks ago after less than a year in the job. An advisor to Minister Audley Shaw and former Tax Administration chief Viralee Latibeaudiere, who was fired by the Portia Simpson Miller administration in 2012, has, I believe, taken over as PS.
Secondly, the threat of sand mining in Duncans Bay, Trelawny. It’s a quite unspoiled and beautiful area on Jamaica’s north coast, where the environment has already suffered greatly from “development” (tourism). If you have read my two previous posts you will know that, thanks to a decision by the Office of the Prime Minister (overturning the National Environment and Planning Agency’s denial of a permit), sand mining is to be allowed on the beach. It is a turtle nesting area and near to a fragile wetlands ecosystem, home to many waterbirds. The local citizens’ association is distressed at the lack of consultation. Please, Mr. Prime Minister! This is not a good look. Please read my posts and please sign and share the online petition here.
The police are in trouble and it’s not looking pretty. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has informed the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that it plans to arrest 15 officers for various crimes. Sections of the media have been seeking to dramatise this, as they like talking about a “rift” between INDECOM and the JCF – which the police deny. The police officers in question are immediately going to the Supreme Court to seek a judicial review of their cases, which Commissioner Quallo says they are entitled to do. That will be in November! Meanwhile a former policeman is wanted for several break-ins in Manchester; a police sergeant was arrested with two other men in Hanover last week in a major drug bust (some 2,000 pounds of ganja); and last week a former policeman received a life sentence for the murder of a young man in Brown’s Town in 2012. A senior policeman is on major corruption charges; a Montego Bay policewoman was sent to jail for harbouring a fugitive; and now another murder trial is ongoing – of a former policeman who allegedly shot dead an eighteen year-old boy in Whitfield Town, Kingston in 2007. Eye witnesses from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) have testified against him. And yes, that was ten years ago. Our justice system creeps along.
Remember Mario Deane? One of three fellow inmates who beat him in a Montego Bay lockup three years ago is a deaf-mute, who was deemed unfit to plead guilty to murder charges. His case will be considered on July 18.
Opposition Leader (and former Finance Minister) Peter Phillips held a press briefing last week on the phone bill and other matters. He and People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson asked my question (above) about who noticed things were “going out of line” on the phone bills. Phillips also asked what will be done about disclosed irregularities regarding the de-bushing program, Minister Samuda’s grass, and sand-mining in Duncans. NEPA’s CEO Peter Knight said curiously on radio that the Minister who heard the appeal was “kind of taken off guard” by new information provided by the Mines and Geology Division. Please don’t go down this road, Mr. Prime Minister. Please act to explain and rectify these matters. Transparency and accountability are not just words, and there are questions to be answered.
The Zones of Special Operations Bill was passed in Parliament on July 11 with 13 amendments. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck says he hopes it will be implemented by the end of the month. This is an incredibly speedy passage for the Bill, compared to others that have been languishing for quite a long time. The Jamaica Defence Force is in training with the U.S. Military Liaison Office at the U.S. Embassy involved (including human rights training). The police continue to seize guns and ammunition at a steady rate (449 guns this year to date) – mostly in Kingston and St. Andrew.
Crime Stoppers International did some solid training last week with Jamaica’s Crime Stop, focusing on organised crime (imported guns, counterfeit goods etc). The JCF’s Get the Guns campaign, started by the last Police Commissioner, is also making great progress. So efforts are being made.
The Prime Minister held a big Town Hall Meeting in Morant Bay, St. Thomas – considered by many to be the most neglected parish. It was all live streamed on social media, and there was a big turnout. Residents lined up at the standing mic to ask questions. A good exercise in democracy, besides its obvious political significance (half of St. Thomas has been represented by People’s National Party stalwart Fenton Ferguson for the past 24 years, with honestly very little to show for it in my humble opinion). The Prime Minister had some interesting things to say about the proposed new Town Centre and heritage tourism. It all sounds like a costly venture, but we’ll see.
Bad news – very bad – for the tourism industry emerged. Three cruise lines are pulling out of the resort of Falmouth in Trelawny, reportedly mainly because of the harassment of their passengers when they disembark. Jamaica will lose at least US$5 million per month, as a result of the withdrawal. Did we not see this one coming? Why have we not been able to tackle this issue, which everyone has known about for years? We need to find innovative and meaningful answers, and fast. Policing the residents of Falmouth won’t work. Now tourism officials are scrambling to put a band aid over things.
Disaster preparedness: Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Major Clive Davis is not high-profile, but recently spoke to let us all know that local government is under-funded and lacking in human resources. Because of poor planning and building in the wrong places, “Portmore is going to flood,“ declared Major Davis. Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie says he will transfer parish coordinators to ODPEM. He wants all disaster preparedness to be “under one umbrella.” Smart choice of words there. He says emergency centres are being retrofitted and the number reduced from 900 to 700 (is this good?) and drains cleaned. All of this seems very late. Hurricane season already started…
Getting fidgety: Trade unions are trying to do things right regarding public sector wage negotiations, but workers are becoming restive, says the head of the Jamaica Civil Service Association – who suggests that Government is dragging its feet.
I’m concerned by a number of stories regarding harm done to the environment. They all add up. One is a fatal accident that occurred at the end of the North-South Highway near Mammee Bay in St. Ann, following which there was a spill of a truckful of crude oil.
Tivoli Gardens has gone downhill: So said former Member of Parliament, former Prime Minister and creator of the community Edward Seaga recently. In the 1960s it was built because “I wanted poor people to have everything,” said Seaga, reminiscing about pretty parks – but the infrastructure has deteriorated. Current MP Desmond McKenzie needs to do better!
Garvey’s birthplace: After former Prime Minister Bruce Golding broke ground for the restoration of the small house in St. Ann’s Bay where Marcus Garvey was born, nothing was done about restoring it for years. Now it’s back on the agenda, but for some reason it’s apparently quite challenging to get the people who live there (tenants?) to move out. Why is it so hard? Anyway, Culture Minister Olivia Grange is having a go at it. Speaking of Mr. Garvey, a group of Rastafarians met with University of the West Indies officials to discuss that wretched bust of our National Hero, which received the thumbs down recently.
Dr. Henry Lowe works hard. He is focused and he has been steadily racking up successes, with little fanfare. News about a drug that he has developed called Chryseroil – made from the cannabis plant – has been granted Orphan Drug Status by the rigorous Food and Drug Administration in the United States. It’s for the treatment of leukaemia and there is likely to be tremendous financial spin-off. Science and Technology is the way of the future, Jamaica!
On the topic of medicinal plants, don’t forget to visit the Natural History Museum of Jamaica‘s exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica on that very subject. It is really interesting and the Museum is a mine of information too… including the Library. Check it out!
Happy belated birthday to our city’s Mayor Delroy Williams. Just because I am liking the way he operates. Here he is tackling his birthday cake at a surprise celebration!
And thanks to the Mayor also for his endorsement of the Kingston Book Festival (March 4 – 11, 2018) when members of the Book Industry Association of Jamaica came to meet with him. Apart from the serious discussions, it was selfie time! (Follow the KBF on Twitter and Facebook!)
The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) recently began a partnership with National Integrity Action (NIA) – a multi-faceted two-year program that explores women’s (and the community’s) approaches to corruption and how they are affected by it. The skills training program for youth (English, Math and a whole lot more) was launched recently at their office, with Dr. Patrece Charles of NIA giving a stirring motivational talk for the young people. Good luck to all!
Thank you! Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL), which is engaged in dredging poor old Kingston Harbour as the port expands, is trying to make up for the damage by supporting mangrove restoration in the Port Royal wetland area and to rehabilitate Refuge Cay and the surrounding area, through a partnership with the UWI Life Sciences Department, Centre for Marine Sciences and Port Royal Marine Laboratory. When I toured Kingston Harbour with the Jamaica Environment Trust a few years ago, we were all shocked by the state of Refuge (Refuse?) Cay, which was completely clogged with solid waste, primarily plastic.
Some of the stories are strange and puzzling, but all are sad and deeply distressing, as we agonise over the crime and violence that continue to plague us. My condolences are with the families of all those who have been killed in the past two weeks. I mourn with them.
Businessman Dennis Ramdial Jr., 45, was shot dead in his SUV during rush hour traffic on Ruthven Road in New Kingston – an apparent “hit.” Two suspects who were stopped immediately afterwards were released, rather puzzlingly.
Bus driver Amasha Mathias, 33, was shot dead on Slipe Road, Kingston by a man posing as a passenger.
An unidentified man was shot dead at a shopping plaza on Washington Boulevard, Kingston.
Three were shot dead and a baby injured in Olympic Gardens, Kingston – a drive-by shooting. They are Joseph Kelly, 32; Nicholas Linzie, 20; and Daniquea Graham.
46-year-old developer André Rickards was stabbed and shot to death in Stony Hill, St. Andrew. Reports suggest he had a long-running dispute with a neighbour.
Police Constable Herbert Hyman was shot dead while walking in Windsor Heights, Central Village, St Catherine.
In Savannah Cross, Clarendon 41-year-old Clayton Laramie was shot dead. Everton McNeil, 42 was shot dead while walking in Lionel Town; and an unidentified man was shot dead on Main Street in May Pen. Clarendon continues to struggle with crime and violence.
48-year-old Rudolf Shantelope was stabbed to death during an argument in Discovery Bay, St. Ann.
Shane Black, 26, got into an argument at a nightclub in Content Gardens, Ocho Rios, St. Ann and was stabbed to death.
A 21-year-old unemployed woman Debbie-Ann Morris was chopped to death in Piper’s Corner, Westmoreland. Her mother-in-law, said to be mentally ill, has been charged with her murder.
The police shot dead 20-year-old Ricky Murdock on Harbour Street, Montego Bay, St. James.
Jacqueline Bowen was killed and four others injured when a bus returning from a funeral was fired on in Sign District, St. James.
The burned body of an unidentified man was found in Mount George/Yallahs, St. Thomas.