It’s been a rainswept, slightly upside-down week or two, since I last wrote. Christmas seems a stone’s throw away, and in the short intervals between rain showers it has been rather pleasant. But oh, the dramas on our dramatic little island continue…
Agriculture: I wish our Agriculture Minister wasn’t so full of bluster. Now he has even started publicly criticising his own technocrats in the Ministry for “failing to implement government policy.” It seems he is threatening to fire the older officials and give the younger ones opportunities. He wants “a new attitude, a new approach.”
My take: Well, the Minister is probably right, since this sector has been under-performing (in my view) for the past year or so. Too much talk, little action.
Caribbean: What is happening in Barbuda? Up until a few days ago, the island was still mostly without water and electricity; however, workers were reportedly busy day and night constructing what is apparently an international airport, cutting down trees (as if the devastation was not enough)? Is this “disaster capitalism”? Digicel has restored full service on the island though, and apparently there is one shop open. Some Barbudans are returning to repair their homes. Stay tuned.
Corruption and Transparency: The Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) has been a continual source of murky undertakings and shady dealings, almost since its inception. Recently Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mikael Phillips demanded the immediate resignation of the JUTC Board and Managing Director Paul Abrahams, because of a contract allegedly awarded to Millennium Security Limited, in breach of guidelines. While the Minister supports an ongoing investigation by the Contractor General, the JUTC has denied any such contract.
Crime: Montego Bay must be at its wits end. There have been some brazen shootings, especially downtown. The National Security Minister spoke to the Chamber of Commerce there (President T’Shura Gibbs had demanded a meeting) and shared the Government’s safety and security plan (not a “crime plan”) with the business people. The ZOSO effect: Meanwhile, Parliament approved the extension of the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO) in Mount Salem for another 60 days. Despite some personal inconveniences, residents seem happy with this. The second ZOSO in Denham Town, which started on October 17, seems to be progressing and remains quiet. Why so few guns found, though? All moved out in advance? I hope not. Meanwhile, dancehall DJ Desmond Ballantyne (aka Ninja Man), who has been on a murder charge for many years, got a pain in his stomach during trial and was taken to hospital. And our deported Islamic cleric Sheikh Abdullah El Faisal (born Trevor William Forrest in Westmoreland), who was arrested in August, will face extradition proceedings on December 14. The U.S. Government has reportedly furnished proof of his alleged online recruitment activities for ISIS. El Faisal was deported from the UK in 2007, and again from Kenya in 2010. The Indians are reportedly investigating him, too. Meanwhile, I would love to know more details about Minister Montague’s recent visit to China to discuss assistance with security. And I remain puzzled by Minister Olivia Grange’s emotional court testimony, asking for a lenient sentence for her family doctor, Jephthah Ford, who had already been convicted on two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice. He offered a bribe to a policeman to release two Surinamese men who had been found with millions of dollars in cash. The doctor is out on bail pending appeal, but got a sentence of six months.
Education: Minister Ruel Reid has announced the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) Programme, which is set to replace the dreaded Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) beginning in 2019. Remarkable! PEP will be a more accurate assessment programme and will help both teachers and pupils to improve their learning as they go along. Violence in Montego Bay seems to have spilled over into Anchovy High School, where there have been fights and a recent attack on a teacher. On a happier note, there has been a flurry of graduation ceremonies recently, and among the many graduates at the University of the West Indies (UWI) was Jamaica’s first blind senator and former senate president Floyd Morris. A special “shout out,” too, to former journalist extraordinaire Yolande Gyles Levy, who achieved her Masters in Integrated Marketing Communication with Distinction! It wasn’t an easy road for many of the UWI graduates, but many congratulations to them all!
My take: The GSAT, which replaced the Common Entrance in was even more hated and dreaded than its predecessor, inducing enormous and intense stress among parents and their offspring (not to mention the teachers themselves). Although it may have some “teething pains,” I am pretty hopeful that PEP will be an improvement. As for Anchovy High School, the school Board needs to meet and take some meaningful decisions on the way forward. They cannot keep reacting to outbursts of violence, especially since these are apparently a pattern at the school. I completely agree with Minister Reid that “this is a leadership and management issue” (the Minister himself took the helm at Jamaica College, which had a poor disciplinary reputation for some time, and pulled it back up). He mentioned the word “accountability” a few times and it seems appropriate in this case.
Environment: As you will have seen from previous posts, there is still no word from the Prime Minister on the boundaries of the Cockpit Country. We did get the good news on the aluminium plant in Nain, now owned by the Chinese company Jiuquan Iron and Steel Group. Then, Opposition Senators raised the issue of the sand mining at Duncans Bay – if you recall, in July the Prime Minister reversed a decision by the National Environment and Planning Agency to deny permission, after an appeal heard by Minister Without Portfolio responsible for the environment Daryl Vaz. With some humour, Science and Technology Minister Dr. Andrew Wheatley (himself a trained scientist) has touted the quality of a newly built bbio digester sewage plant at the Noel Holmes Hospital in Hanover – and also organic fertiliser. Good move, though.
My take: I suspect the Prime Minister is consulting (or re-consulting) on the sensitive matter of the Cockpit Country. At least he is finally trying to reach a decision – albeit prompted by the petition. I truly hope he has not under-estimated the depth of feeling among the general public, however. Jamaicans of all ages (not only environmentalists) do feel very strongly about their birthright. Be careful and make the right decision, Mr. Holness – as you did with Goat Islands. As for the news on the bauxite plant, I am of course very pleased. Let’s just be reminded that LNG does produce greenhouse gases, however – it is a transitional fuel, and I hope Jamaica will continue to move towards renewables. There are also issues about other “side-effects” of the plant’s scaled-up production, too. We shall watch and see… Meanwhile, like Senator K.D. Knight on Friday, I am also a little confused over the Duncans Bay matter! Let’s keep this on the radar, too. Big ups to Minister Wheatley for stressing the importance of research and development, by the way.
Health: Surprisingly good news is that road fatalities so far this year are actually down by fifteen per cent so far this year. October was especially low (14 deaths).
My take: Perhaps a certain amount of public education, and a high-profile event at the Prime Minister’s office with Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter earlier this year, may have had some impact. Perhaps people are getting smarter. Nevertheless, 273 for the year is still far too many. Meanwhile, please get moving with the new Road Traffic Act – long, long pending. Minister Henry now says “by year end” – which is just about seven weeks away, and we know how things will slow down before then.
Human rights: There are major concerns over the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017, which will likely be passed in the Senate next week. The politicians are rushing this through Parliament, as project funding will disappear otherwise (it is a J$68 million project partly funded by the Inter-American Development Bank). Senator Kamina Johnson Smith was speaking very fast last Friday. But, why make not owning a National ID a criminal offence? Because otherwise people won’t bother to get one, was the Senator’s argument. Blogger and human rights activist Susan Goffe, who listened in Parliament last Friday, has concerns, and so do I. Will there be any amendments before the legislation is passed next Friday? Also, Corporal Delroy McDuffus and Constable Adrian Beckford from Morant Bay were cleared of assault charges after the complainant decided not to pursue the matter, which was brought to court by INDECOM. The police shot dead two men in Kingston last week.
My take: Have a re-think – a quick one – over this ID legislation, please parliamentarians. There may be repercussions down the road, otherwise. Also, I have heard murmurings that some recent murders of high-profile “dons” have been committed by the police. I hope the murmurers are wrong.
Politics: And why not. As you may have gathered from the headline, the Jamaica Labour Party’s Dr. Norman Dunn won the much-anticipated by-election in South East St. Mary, by a comfortable margin and with a reasonably healthy turnout. The unpleasantness over the non-Jamaican citizenship of the People’s National Party’s Dr. Shane Alexis died down somewhat in the few days preceding the October 30 vote. It was replaced by the PNP’s wheeling out a brother of Dr. Dunn, who had nothing good to say about him. This seemed like a last-minute, desperate act that does not seem to have impressed voters much. The following day, the flamboyant Daryl Vaz (who had his own encounter with citizenship issues some years ago) entered the House of Representatives draped in a Jamaican flag and was met with guffaws (from one side) and jeers (from the other side). Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles, Sr., sounding a little weary, asked for the flag to be removed. Meanwhile, it was a stroll in the park for the other two by-election winners – predictably, the PNP’s ex-Senators Angela Brown-Burke in South West St. Andrew and Mark Golding in St. Andrew South (both PNP “strongholds” – read, garrisons). Voting was significantly lower in both constituencies than in the 2016 general election (over 4,400 fewer in S.W. St. Andrew and over 3,300 fewer in St. Andrew South). Brown-Burke was unperturbed, reportedly commenting on the low turnout: “People already know, whatever the numbers are, we are going to win here…” Indeed.
My take: Dr. Alexis seems a little wet behind the ears, but did not do badly and was gracious in defeat. It seems he may stick with politics, but we’ll see. As for his party’s handling of the campaign, it was once again clumsy and the tone was all wrong. This is not the first time that Dr. Peter Phillips has bungled an election campaign. For a seasoned politician, this is puzzling. When did he know that Dr. Alexis was a Canadian citizen? Perhaps he is better at just being a Minister; he acquitted himself well in the Finance portfolio. But I think many of us expected better of him as Opposition Leader. Having said that, Young Jamaica blundered over the scholarship issue with Dr. Alexis. They went too far. That said, is “all fair in love and war”? As for the PNP strongholds, the very low turnout should give pause for thought.
Tourism: Luis Almagro, the rather controversial Secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) will address the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Government of Jamaica, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, from November 27 to 29. It sounds as if he is also going to talk about climate change.
My take: I read that the OAS chief will be visiting the Rastafarian Indigenous Village near Montego Bay. I say “near” because we visited there not long ago, got quite lost and encountered the most terrible roads. Are the limos really going to traverse that road down to the Village? Having said that, it’s quite an experience. I wrote some articles about it on this website. I am a big supporter of community tourism. It is sustainable, when done right.
Transport: The Jamaica Railway Corporation lost an old building in downtown Kingston, equipment and historic documents in a fire of unknown origin. The Jamaica Fire Brigade spokesman sounded really sad.
My take: I feel so sad about the railway – I have happy memories of a trip from Kingston to Montego Bay on the “diesel,” back in the eighties. I wish the Chinese had rebuilt the railway, instead of these expensive, three quarters empty highways. The railway system was one colonial legacy we should have maintained – not just for sentimental reasons, but for Jamaica’s economic development too.
Women’s Issues: Gender Minister Olivia Grange has signed an agreement with the Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry to promote and support women in entrepreneurship, making finance more available (especially for rural women). I would like to see much more happening, but this is a start, perhaps. Meanwhile, Health Minister Chris Tufton is apparently willing to grasp that stinging nettle and look again at the problem of abortion (yes, it’s a problem!) and says he would like to do an audit of the impact that illegal abortions has on women’s health. He also tweeted this morning: “A sad state of affairs .. will attempt to understand better and address…”
“If a national dialogue and policy review around abortion determines that it will continue to not be an option, then we must do a better job at enforcing the law. If we agree it should be (an option), we should make it available and safer to be administered.”
My take: The agreement on financing women’s entrepreneurship is timely, ahead of our Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on Wednesday organised by the indomitable A. Cecile Watson. Are you going? I will be among the speakers at “Table Talk.” Join us at the Terra Nova Hotel on On the abortion issue – I am pro-choice. Time for a policy review? And at least, a sensible dialogue.
Youth: The UNICEF report, which sent chills down our collective spines, continues to reverberate in the media. Experts such as Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan paint a grim picture of Jamaican children growing up in an atmosphere of pervasive violence – in the home, at school, in the community. Meanwhile, the Child Development Agency (CDA) and the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR) have been merged, to form the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA).
My thoughts: I hope the children’s agencies’ merger will mean more than a new acronym to learn. It has become clear, however, from several reports in recent years that the two agencies have not been working together very effectively, and many things have slipped through the cracks. Hopefully this will mean that they will be able to move with more alacrity on serious issues affecting our children – in particular, reports of child abuse that must be dealt with urgently. I think there is, or was an issue of leadership here, too.
My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of all these people who were killed since my last post on October 23. The situation in Montego Bay/St. James is truly sad. Since the start of the year, 264 people have been murdered in the parish. My condolences also to the Digicel Foundation family, who were shocked at the murder of young K’Dean Smith.
Omar Lewis, 41 (the infamous “King Evil,” who was on a murder charge) had an extraordinary criminal career that was cut short when he was shot dead after a car pulled up alongside his in Montego Bay. The police say he was killed by fellow gangsters.
Security guard Paul Green, 41, was shot dead in Catalpa, St. James on his way back from work.
31 year-old taxi operator Montgomery Lewis was shot dead in downtown Montego Bay, where a number of murders have taken place recently.
Chad McKenzie, 23, was shot dead at the Fishermen’s Village in Montego Bay.
Algy Fairclough, 17, and Lartuse Tomblinson, 25 were shot dead in Green Pond, St. James.
Two men were shot dead and another injured in a car at a traffic light in Flanker, St. James.
There was much upset about the murder of Ophelia Watson, a nurse at St. Ann’s Bay Hospital, who was shot dead by her estranged partner – a licensed firearm holder – in a supermarket in the town during a heated argument. He turned himself in to the police immediately afterwards.
Lifeguard Rahim Gallimore, 23, was shot dead in Thatchfield, St. Ann.
35-year-old Lloyd Reid and 39-year-old Angella Gordon were shot dead as they walked home from work in St. Jago Meadows, Spanish Town.
Omar Nicholson, allegedly a member of the Clansmen Gang, was shot dead in the Spanish Town Bus Park on Burke Road.
Constable Courtney Linton, 35, who was attached to Counter Terrorism and Organized Crime Division (Flying Squad), was shot dead at a party in Orangefield, Linstead in St. Catherine. He had been suspended due to a pending court case on a murder charge.
Valbert Harley, 38, who was described by the police as a “don of all dons” from Olympic Gardens, was shot dead in a car on Mountain View Avenue, Kingston. Residents claim the police killed him.
André Marsden, 40, was shot dead during an alleged shootout with police on Cambridge Street, McIntyre Villa in Kingston. The police say two firearms were recovered.
Keisha Hankle, 38, was shot dead in Admiral Town, Kingston.
K’Dean Smith, 28, a former employee of Digicel Foundation, was stabbed to death in Cassia Park, Kingston. He had just graduated from the University of Technology.
The police chased and shot dead (at Three Miles) an unidentified man on Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston after a car was stolen. Another was taken into custody.
Police suspect Rommel Brown, whose body was found in Inverness, Clarendon, was the victim of a mob killing.
Another policeman, 38-year-old Melvin Smith, of the Manchester Community Safety and Security Branch was shot dead in Mandeville while attempting to foil a robbery. Three people were later arrested.
Farmer Remon Sweeting was shot dead and two others injured on the roadway in the Glenco Housing Scheme, Spalding, Manchester.
Bus driver Brent Clarke was shot dead during an argument at Santa Cruz transport centre in St. Elizabeth.