It’s a quiet, ordinary Monday in Jamaica – but is anything ever quiet and ordinary on this curious island? Well, here goes with the past week’s ups and downs.
Agriculture: The first two ganja licenses were issued on October 18. The Ganja Growers and Producers Association is demanding transparency on the matter of a company hired by the Ministry of Health to train doctors and pharmacists to dispense medicinal ganja. Meanwhile, a Haitian was arrested with bags of the stuff (over 1,600 pounds) in Hellshire, St. Catherine. I wonder what he brought to Jamaica in exchange for the drugs.
Talking of transparency: What is behind the mysterious Memorandum of Understanding signed recently between the Agriculture Ministry and a Chinese government official with the ponderous title Minister of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine regarding a wonderful “trade deal” regarding fisheries? Will we be sending all our fish (especially lobsters) to China? Who will be fishing those fish, Chinese or Jamaicans? Do read Dr. Peter Edwards’ article in the Sunday Gleaner, highlighted above. Over to you, Minister Samuda (now I get why the Minister was talking about harvesting sea cucumbers at a press briefing recently. I wondered – but Jamaicans don’t eat sea cucumbers?) Look up these articles, for background: China’s oceans are overfished, so it’s sending fishermen to international waters and other nations’ seas. Galapagos: Chinese fishing vessel crew arrested for poaching 300 tons of endangered sharks. And many more stories, from around the world. Will Jamaica be next?
My thoughts: I have not been very impressed by the way the agricultural/fisheries portfolio is being handled. There is more heat than light. Minister Tufton, on the other hand, is doing a pretty good job as Health Minister (he’s very responsive to tweets!) but sometimes I wish he was still doing agriculture. The Health Minister endures constant niggling from the ganja growers, who seem suspicious of everything his ministry does or says (in particular Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye, who will be leaving early next year). It must be a bit of a headache for them.
Business: The Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO), which bought the former Alpart bauxite plant in Nain, St. Elizabeth, is promising 3,000 new jobs in coming months. Of course, the Holness administration is delighted. Finance Minister Audley Shaw says 1,000 workers are already employed there – around 800 of them Jamaicans.
My thoughts: What are these workers going to be doing? If JISCO is investing so much (around J$2.5 billion, Minister Shaw says) is it hungry for more bauxite – and where will it come from?
Corruption: Civil society activist Jeanette Calder is embarking on an ambitious but I think quite significant project, for which she is seeking more funding. I am going to write more about this – but I am so impressed. It’s all about accountability!
The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) now has a new (mean and lean?) five-member board for three years, including three women, and chaired by National Security Advisor Major General Antony Anderson. The other members are retired Puisne judge justice Maria Macintosh (a former Board member); retired Senior Superintendent albert Edwards; retired civil servant Ena Rose and banker Anaemia Nesta. “Let us together clean the system,” said National Security Minister Robert Montague on announcing the Board.
My thoughts: Slowly but surely in recent weeks and months, layers of apparent corruption, mismanagement and flouting of regulations have been uncovered. The firearm licensing system certainly needs cleaning. I am glad to see some of the “cleaning” is already under way: The FLA has been mandated to audit all uncollected weapons at police stations and those in storage at the agency – more than 2,500 firearms audited so far, of which 500 will shortly be turned over to the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) for destruction. Excellent start!
Crime: Another crime wave in St. James over the weekend, with 13 murders in three days. We have now had 1,300 murders to date this year. A 26 per cent increase. No prizes for guessing the parish with the highest murder rate (by far). Second comes Clarendon, and third St. Andrew South.
Denham Town in West Kingston was declared as the second Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) and a night time curfew is in effect there – so no parties or dancehall sessions (and hopefully, no gunfire). People should be indoors by nightfall. The issue of residents having ID is problematic. A few things, including scamming equipment, have been found so far. INDECOM head Terrence Williams says that so far, residents are happy – including vendors in Coronation Market.
An interesting trial involving a lawyer, her husband, a former policeman and convicted drug trafficker (deported last year) and two women, is coming up on December 11. It involves alleged money laundering and various other financial crimes, investigated by the formidable combination of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the Financial Investigation Division (FID).
Getting the Guns: Huge kudos to the JCF for their gun finds – up 38 per cent over last year. 674 weapons or more, and over 15,ooo rounds of ammunition (more than double)! The second big seizure at Kingston’s port suggests that the police are getting on top of possible corruption issues down there. Last Tuesday, narcotics detectives and the Jamaica Customs Agency’s Contraband Enforcement Team recovered a total of 19 guns and more than 4,000 assorted rounds of ammunition at Kingston Freeport terminal – including six rifles and a sub-machine gun. One arrest was made.
CCTV is also starting to have some effect in town centres; calls to Crime Stop are up 28 per cent. So, all is not lost…
My thoughts: What is happening in St. James? Can anyone explain? What impact has the ZOSO had in St. James? After all the peacemaking efforts in recent years, it’s sad to know that Flanker is a “problem area” again. Major Basil Jarrett (JDF) and Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay (Jamaica Constabulary Force – JCF) are doing a great job on the ZOSO media and communications side. I sense, however, that the JDF is stretched in terms of personnel. Denham Town is a good location for the second ZOSO; it has suffered from prolonged and debilitating gang violence (mostly with neighbouring Tivoli Gardens), with 82 residents murdered this year. Twelve known gangs operate in Denham Town, says Commissioner George Quallo.
Culture and Tradition: Last week was National Heritage Week. It was marred by the vandalism of the controversial second version of a bust of National Hero Marcus Garvey at the University of the West Indies (UWI). Paint was poured all over it and feathers stuck to it. A sign around poor Garvey’s neck said “Take down this fake statue.” Many people were unhappy with the bust, including Professor Carolyn Cooper, who said it (and the first one, by the same artist!) had “no power and no passion.” Agreed!
On the positive side, an act to absolve four national heroes (Sam Sharpe, George William Gordon, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Paul Bogle), their supporters, sympathisers and participants by association and other freedom fighters from criminal liability was passed in the Lower House yesterday with full support from both sides. “History can be rewritten,” said Culture Minister Olivia Grange. Opposition Leader of Business Philip Paulwell said this should give a boost to the reparations cause (still somewhat controversial, but largely supported by UWI folks).
Last week the Culture Minister also announced that Fort Rocky, along the Port Royal road, would be Jamaica’s “first designated entertainment zone.” Well, I suppose that would mostly disturb roosting seabirds and a few crocodiles on the other side of the road.
My thoughts: The “Mark II” Garvey bust hardly seemed any better than the first, which had raised such controversy. It has barely lasted two months. It seems so sad that our artists can’t get it right. I love the big, sturdy statue outside the St. Ann Parish Library, which has been there for many years. Perhaps we should abandon the idea of the bust at UWI – or is there to be a third version? I’m not happy about the defacement, though… and I am puzzled by the choice of Fort Rocky, which I thought was some kind of heritage site, as a place for merriment, dancehall sessions and the like.
Health: I am glad that Jamaica AIDS Support for Life is supporting the HPV vaccine, although public education was initially lacking. The fact that there is a really long wait time to get pap smear results worries me though (six months or so!) I myself had cervical cancer at a very young age and participated in some of the research that led to this vaccine. Please do get your children vaccinated – boys and girls.
Human Rights: As I noted earlier, the mother of Mario Deane, Mercia Frazer, appeared today with Jamaicans for Justice and Amnesty International at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Montevideo. The JCF has killed over 3,000 Jamaicans (mostly young men in marginalised communities) since 2000, the human rights groups say; and police killings are up by 44 per cent this year – a higher increase than our murder rate. It was very disappointing to learn that Jamaican Government representatives were a “no show,” with a series of excuses for not being there. They therefore had no voice at the table and were unable to refute Ms. Frazer and others’ testimony. This is not the first time this has happened, by the way.
The police shot dead an unidentified man who reportedly attacked them with a knife in Falmouth, Trelawny.
My thoughts: The Jamaican Government should not shun institutions like the IACHR, which are set up under the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights – which Jamaica signed and ratified. It simply looks bad – almost like an admission of guilt, or an inability to face up to human rights issues.
Journalism: A Facebook friend commented recently on the steadily falling standards of commentary in the Sunday Gleaner in particular (but not limited to that once-hallowed newspaper). I have to agree. My friend describes the columns as “simply below par, boring, opportunistic, predictable and irrelevant.” I would add – uninspired, copy-and-paste stuff, in quite a few cases. Oh, for the days of the provocative Morris Cargill, John Maxwell, Wilmot Perkins, Carl Stone et al. One might not always agree with them, but that was stimulating stuff – and original. Nowadays it’s one big… excuse me… yawn!
Justice: Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has been speaking out in the frankest possible way about the problems facing the justice system, including the dismal pay for prosecutors (and herself). Her office is little more than a training ground, she says, whereupon prosecutors leave for the more lucrative “bench.” She observed drily that justice reform is “is not as sexy to politicians as highways.”
Meanwhile there was a “sentence reduction day” last Friday (the first was in May), when some forty accused Jamaicans pleaded guilty in the island’s High Courts and were promised a substantial reduction on their sentence when it is passed – between 15 and 50 per cent. The number included murder accused. This will of course reduce the horrendous backlog and amount of time spent for cases going through our courts.
My thoughts: I am so glad the DPP has spoken out. She is always very polite, and hides her personal views. She is very professional. One often one has to read between the lines of her comments to the media. This time she did not mince her words on the total neglect of the justice system over decades. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is, however, apparently lending a sympathetic ear. He needs a much bigger budget!
Money: The Jamaican Dollar is doing much better – at its lowest rate since September 2016. An upbeat Bank of Jamaica Governor Brian Wynter says its new foreign exchange trading tool, B-FXITT, is responsible. He sounded rather gloating at the expense of speculators, who succumbed to “fear mongering”: “Somebody lost millions of Jamaican Dollars on a bad debt…”
Politics: The heat has turned up in the rural constituency of South East St. Mary in the past few days. October 30, the by-election date, is just a week away. The issue of Dr. Shane Alexis’ citizenship has died down somewhat (he is to submit his documents for Jamaican citizenship this week, apparently), but the political tribalists on both sides are out in force – on radio talk shows, social media etc. Some politicians are also making what I consider quite irresponsible comments in the media, on Twitter etc. Others are calling for calm – but taking little digs at each other, nevertheless.
Two men were shot and injured in Annotto Bay, in the constituency over the weekend. The police say they cannot determine the motive – it may have been just one of those nasty little everyday disputes that are all too common. None of those involved were wearing party colors. The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) claims the two men were their supporters but of course the JLP denies this.The Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown met with both parties on Friday to discuss the unpleasant atmosphere, vandalism etc.
So, lawyers representing PNP candidate Dr. Shane Alexis filed a defamation suit in the Supreme Court against Howard Chamberlain, as President of Young Jamaica (a Jamaica Labour Party affiliate) and in his personal capacity, on October 19. Mr. Chamberlain had not issued an apology or retraction, as the lawyers demanded.
On a happier note, two Opposition Senators, Damion Crawford and Donna Scott-Mottley, were sworn in last Friday. Lawyer Ms. Scott-Mottley was first sworn in as a government senator back in 1989 under the Michael Manley “Mark II” administration; she will be Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate. Damien is a businessman, a former State Minister in the last PNP administration and a Member of Parliament for one term. They are replacing Mark Golding and Angela Brown-Burke, who are running in two Kingston by-elections.
My thoughts: Like many others, I am tired of the political nastiness and the underlying hypocrisy of much of the commentary. There is little serious discussion of policy matters or even local issues. I really wish the politicians would tone things down. The period since nomination day seems endless – a whole week to go. I am not surprised at the ugly behaviour of some followers, but disappointed at the lack of leadership. But… Congratulations to Mr. Crawford and Ms. Scott-Mottley, the new Senators – youth and experience. I think they will liven up the Upper House on the Opposition side. And it may sound petty but why can’t we call Ms. Parchment Brown the Political Ombudswoman? She’s not a man.
Tourism: The relentlessly upbeat Minister Ed Bartlett says two mega cruise ships have been persuaded to return to Falmouth (well, those are my words, not his!) The Minister still has high hopes for the town as a cruise ship destination and a heritage site (although a number of historic landmarks have already fallen down, or are beyond repair, despite the efforts of the Georgian Society and others over the years).
My thoughts: Let’s hope the harassment issue is well under control now, after some retraining of people.
These people – whether good guys or bad guys – are all Jamaicans. I send my condolences to all those who mourn their passing.
Lenworth Lauther, who worked for the National Water Commission, was shot dead on Barnett Lane, Montego Bay.
24 year old Sharvorna Brown, a chef and Jhevon James, 25, were shot dead in their car on Leader Avenue, Montego Bay.
Everton Hinds, a 70-year-old gas salesman of Spring Mount, St. James was found dead from chop wounds.
Three unidentified males were also shot dead in St. James over the weekend. Details seem sketchy.
37 year old Andrew Lewis, a farmer, was found shot dead at his home in Norwood Gardens, St. James.
Richard Campbell, 39, was shot dead early on Saturday morning at Barnett Hall, St. James.
20-year-old Shawn Titus and 24-year-old Daniel Anglin were shot and killed in a car at a traffic light in Flanker, St. James, last night.
39-year-old Alrick Carty, a security guard at Thompson Town Primary School, Clarendon was shot dead early Monday morning and another seriously injured. Two of his children were students at the school.
An unidentified man was shot dead by the police in Falmouth, Trelawny.
Dennis Ramdial, owner of Radial’s Automobile on Beechwood Avenue, Kingston, was shot dead outside his business place today. His son Richard was shot dead on the street in uptown Kingston in July.
32-year-old Leon Weir was shot dead on Stephen Street, Allman Town in Kingston and a ten year-old boy was injured.