What’s happening in Jamaica (and the world)? Far too much to cover it all. August has been pretty intense – which is why I am rather late in posting this. It started with our hottest day in Kingston for 24 years – on August 3 it was just about 37º C. Even the nights have been warm; at 12:15 a.m. the other night it was still around 31º. But then Professor Michael Taylor, one of our climate change gurus, did tell us we would have “hotter nights.” I have touched on some news in recent blog posts – but here’s more.
We celebrated the 130th anniversary of Marcus Garvey’s birth on August 17 – the August Town Town Hall organised by National Integrity Action was postponed however, and will now take place on Tuesday, August 22 at 6:00 p.m. Meanwhile we are promised that the National Hero’s modest birthplace in St. Ann’s Bay will be restored and a museum developed. Plans can be viewed at the St. Ann Parish Library (where, by the way, there is a splendid statue of Garvey).
Now, employment is at an “all time high.” The Government proudly announced a 12 per cent overall drop in unemployment; but youth unemployment has only fallen by just three per cent. I wrote about this for the Gleaner blogs this week, having looked up some numbers on the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) website. What do you think is the answer? More BPOs?
The thorn in our side… is crime, and we can’t seem to pluck it out. While everyone (including the Opposition Leader) is still wondering when the Zones of Special Operations – ZOSOs (the legislation that was rushed through Parliament before the summer recess, a few weeks ago) will get under way, the murder rate continues to churn along. While Montego Bay’s murder rate is galloping, things have not been too comfortable in East Kingston (whose Member of Parliament, Phillip Paulwell, seems to be MIA) either. A TV news report last night echoed with gunfire in the Jarrett Lane area.
Rockfort is still suffering; I recall a visit there with CUSO to discuss security issues back in 2013. Residents and businessmen were worried but determined to stay strong. Now many complain that the police are sitting down on the main road – not going up on the hill, where all the trouble is. The University of the West Indies (UWI) will be partnering with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) to train 300 recruits every six months, and National Security Minister Robert Montague is aiming for 14,000 trainees to be ready alongside other initiatives. Will any of this make a difference?
One murder in particular – that of 17 year-old Micholle Moulton in the volatile area of “Zimbabwe” in Arnett Gardens in Kingston – caused much distress, perhaps exacerbated by a disturbing response from some members of the community (who seemed to be blaming her grieving mother and defending Zimbabwe’s “good name”). I have heard several possible reasons behind the murder (was the girls’ mother the intended victim?) but the police don’t seem to have made any headway in the investigation. The case is worrying at many levels, quite apart from the sad loss of a young life. Prime Minister Andrew Holness visited the mother – broadcast on social media, which some felt was intrusive. But I liked his calm words in the middle of the semi-hysteria. There can be no divide on crime, he said. The criminals will turn on you one day, he told the community. He emphasised that the victims must be protected and that the community should be protecting them. Hmm. Well put, and pointed.
Getting the guns and ammo: The JCF is, however, seizing a phenomenal amount of weaponry this year. Up to August 13 it had seized 12,384 rounds of ammunition and 536 firearms. The JCF tweeted yesterday: 28 guns and 522 rounds of ammunition seized in the first 2 weeks of August. If you know where they are, help us #. Call 311. I wish more arrests were made, though – although some teens (and adults) have recently been detained.
That JCF Review: I posted about the problematic administrative review report on the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry report; and I wrote about it for Global Voices here. Basically, the police giving themselves a pass for professionalism and organisation during the horrific Tivoli Gardens incursion, in which at least 74 people died (and, in particular, five senior police officers who might have been in charge of the new ZOSOs when they get off the ground, apparently did nothing wrong). Commissioner Quallo had said he was “standing by” the JCF report. “I have accepted the report and I will not withdraw that report,” he told the media. Meanwhile, one of the three West Kingston Commissioners, Professor Anthony Harriott, made his views quite clear. Now, just this morning (Sunday) the Commissioner met with National Security Minister Robert Montague, who set him straight. It appears that Quallo will now accept the report of the Commissioners, and start to implement their recommendations, just about one year later. But all this does not reflect well on the Commissioner or the JCF.
Meanwhile, as diligent human rights activist and blogger Susan Goffe asks: What is the response of the Jamaica Defence Force, who were also very much involved in Tivoli Gardens in May, 2010? We have heard nothing, although a number of recommendations regarding the JDF were also made by the Commissioners in their report of fourteen months ago – on the use of mortars, for example.
Don’t make me laugh: Some Jamaicans seemed to be lauding “the justice system” for giving Patrick Powell a nine-month jail sentence for not handing over his licensed firearm. It was “sending a message,” the judge said (the maximum sentence was a year). Powell was acquitted of the 2011 murder of teenager Khajeel Mais, but has never to this day handed over his licensed firearm, which then mysteriously went missing. What’s more, a whistleblower at the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) has claimed that Powell’s file was shredded, in a machine borrowed from another department. The whole matter reeks of corruption. What else can we call this chain of events? Meanwhile, the Contractor General is investigating, and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) has names.
The Opposition Leader Peter Phillips seems to be quite off the mark, lately. He made some strange comments at a party rally about the current adminstration’s one-seat majority, telling the “comrades” to be ready – as “a sick one, or a crazy one” might drop out (a crazy one?) This did not go down well at all, since government Member of Parliament Derrick Smith has been struggling with illness for some time. Dr. Phillips apologised for any offence caused – but really, it was in poor taste. Ironically, the very next day one of Phillips’ own MPs passed away suddenly – Dr. Winston Green, who had endured a lengthy battle with his Jamaica Labour Party opponent in the last election and ended up winning by five votes. Dr. Green was much loved. His constituency of South East St. Mary would certainly be considered very marginal, however.
Whither the by-elections? This reminds me: with Dr. Green’s sad passing, there are now three by-elections due. Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stepped down on June 29 and former Finance Minister Omar Davies resigned on the same date (both from major People’s National Party “garrison” constituencies in Kingston, so no surprises expected there). But let’s not wait until a convenient time, Mr. Holness. P.S. With Simpson Miller’s blessing, Angela Brown-Burke, a former Mayor of Kingston, handily won the selection process in her old constituency of South West St. Andrew by 595 party votes to 502.
Jamaican children just received their exam results (at midnight last night) and Education Minister Ruel Reid says there’s a tiny increase in Mathematics passes and a decrease in English passes. And why was Biology down 12 per cent? For the advanced CAPE there was a 3.2 percentage improvement overall, and in CSEC there was a 2.5% improvement. Nothing to get excited about.
Public sector wages: Negotiations seem rather late in starting but are now under way between the Government and public sector trade unions. The Police Federation and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association might be sticky wickets, but we shall see.
The North-South Highway from Kingston to the north coast is so very convenient. It’s also a great trip in many ways, cutting the headache of trekking up hills and through gorges etc. – the old route, that is. There have been several unpleasant environmental side-effects, however. Now, again, the operators are planning a hike in the rates. Take note: the Highway is already operating at a loss. I don’t know if the operators understand even the fundamentals of economics? How is an increase in rates, which are already high, going to increase the number of users of the road?
Motorbikes are a problem: The way I see motorbike riders navigating traffic in Kingston, it’s a wonder any of them get out alive. Like cab drivers, they appear to follow no rules. In western Jamaica, “bike taxis” have become popular. The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) met with its Chairman, the Prime Minister recently to discuss regulations for the sale and use of motorcycles. 67 motorcyclists have died on our roads so far this year, putting a dent in the NRSC’s efforts to bring road fatalities down below 300 annually.
What’s going on at Petrojam? Last week there was a fire (cause unknown) and there have been at least two oil spills recently into poor long-suffering Kingston Harbour. What gives?
The 23rd Session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) took place at its headquarters, the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, recently. Apparently members are in arrears on the Voluntary Trust Fund. Although the ISA is supposed to “protect” the resources of the sea, a Polish official, who kindly visited Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, showed her some lovely minerals his Government had dug up from the seabed. Exploitation is the name of the game! (I am not pleased with the Polish Government, which is busy allowing the destruction of one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests – the home of the European Bison – despite an EU court order not to do so. Shame on them).
The Regional Hub of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to be moved to Jamaica – to address communicable diseases “such as HIV and Zika,” says a U.S. Embassy official.
My deepest condolences to Joy Crawford and the Eve for Life family. One of their beloved Mentor Moms, Tricia Carty, passed away this week. May she rest in peace, after much good work… On her Facebook page she posted a few months ago: “It is very important to let our girls in Jamaica know how powerful they are, and to never give up.”
Congratulations to Fabian Thomas and his theatre troupe Tribe Sankofa, who have just arrived in Barbados for Carifesta XIII after some frantic fundraising. They will blow everyone away this weekend, I’m sure.
EPOC (the Economic Programme Oversight Committee) has a great thing going, moving out into communities for its “On the Corner” meetings with residents. It is partly information sharing by EPOC’s co-chair Keith Duncan – and partly feedback from the locals – who have not been shy. EPOC has also used social media well to share the dialogue. Residents of St. Thomas – a parish so often pushed on one side – made their feelings felt last week.
Huge congratulations to the fourteen young Jamaicans selected as Chevening Scholars. I am impressed by the variety of fields that they represent and that they will be studying for the next year (in recent years there has been a preponderance of lawyers). I will post the press release shortly, so you can see who they all are.
Montego Bay clean up! I have visited Montego Bay a couple of times recently and was unimpressed. It is so chaotic and dirty. But, lo and behold! A miracle has occurred and downtown MoBay looks spotless. Congratulations to Mayor Homer Davis! I think there may be a lot of kudos due to the Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica crew, who recently launched a special campaign down there. Please, please maintain it though!
Speaking of MoBay… The Granville Reading and Art Group held their own exhibition at National Gallery West recently. Good stuff!
These are all very sad, human stories. Why do I mention all their names? Because they were all our fellow Jamaicans. They are not statistics; they were mothers, sons, work colleagues, friends. We mourn their deaths and we offer our condolences to the families.
Peter White, 20, was shot dead in Jarrett Lane/Mountain View Avenue, Kingston.
20-year- old Angel Henry, a fisherman, was shot dead in Oliver Road, Rockfort, Kingston.
Micholle Moulton, 17, was shot dead while sleeping at her home in Arnett Gardens, Kingston.
Neil Fagan, 46, was shot dead in Selassie Drive, Hunts Bay, Kingston.
Unidentified man shot by the police in Maverley, Kingston 20.
Richard Burton, 16, Kevin Tailor, 31, Romayne Nesbeth and Vincent Bryan, 41, were shot dead as gunmen went on a rampage in Whitfield Town, Kingston (South West St. Andrew constituency).
39-year old hairdresser, Alethia Beckles was found dead at her home in August Town, St. Andrew. Her husband Keron had committed suicide.
25-year-old Dwayne Berry, a “loader man,” was shot dead on Morrison Street, Spanish Town, St. Catherine while at his work loading buses.
Neisha Butler’s body was found with stab wounds near Hellshire Beach, St. Catherine. Her husband allegedly confessed to killing her.
Derrick Mitchell, 63, a wholesale operator, was shot dead at a bar in Sandy Bay in Clarendon.
James Morgan, 82, was stabbed to death allegedly by his grandson in Mitchell Town, Clarendon.
49-year-old Marlene Rose, a security guard at the airport, was shot dead on returning to her home in Cambridge, St. James.
Romaine Myrie, 27, was shot dead at a garage on River Bay Road, St. James.
Jeffery Nedrick, 36, a construction worker was shot dead at his home in Salt Spring, Montego Bay, St. James.
Kingsley Cameron, 31, was found dead on a dirt track in Granville, St. James.
Craig Marlese, 35, a labourer, was shot dead at home in Salt Spring St. James.
Gary Dickson, 29, was shot dead at a shop in Valley Heights, St. James. One of his alleged attackers was later killed by residents.
34-year-old Klako Campbell Arthurs was found dead at her home in Friendship, Hanover. A man suspected of her murder, 43-year-old Delroy Robinson, was later attacked and killed by residents.
Navar Whister, 28, was shot dead while playing dominoes on Bamboo Avenue, Hopewell, Hanover.
22-year-old Oseal Hall, who was on bail for murder, was shot dead at the supermarket where he worked in Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland.
Michael Brown, 55, a caretaker, was shot dead in Mansfield Heights/Ocho Rios, St. Ann.
Carl Anthony Gayle was killed in Savoy District/Christiana, Manchester.
Orlando Owen was found shot dead on the road in Salt Marsh, Trelawny.