This is actually a review of the year so far. What an extraordinary two weeks and three days it has been! And on top of all the strange and alarming incidents, a so-called pastor is planning to visit us later this month. I wrote about Steve Anderson here. Free speech, anyone? Click on the highlighted links for more details…
Caribbean: There was a huge backlash to the U.S. President’s hateful remarks about certain countries, as I noted in an earlier post. About 90 Caribbean Pan-Africanist organisations (who knew there were so many?) have declared the President “persona non grata.” Their declaration described Haiti as “the foundational cornerstone of our Caribbean civilisation.” However, Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S. Paul Altidor has invited the President to visit his country. Hmm.
Climate: We have had days of heavy rains over much of the island since the New Year. Several parishes have suffered from floods, landslides and major damage to roads – especially Portland and St. Mary. The north coast, especially St. Ann and Trelawny has suffered. Schools were closed, residents were rescued and a couple of communities in Portland are still marooned. The cost must be enormous. I discussed this on radio last week with the beleaguered National Works Agency representative and environmentalist Peter Espeut. We agreed with the intrepid West Portland of Parliament Daryl Vaz, who concludes that the Rio Grande Valley, an extremely vulnerable area, may well become uninhabitable in the near future. The era of climate change refugees arrives.
Then there was the “tsunami scare.” You can read my comments on this for Gleaner Blogs here; and a broader Caribbean perspective I put together for Global Voices here. Several Caribbean countries – under a tsunami threat for about an hour – were apparently in varying degrees of unpreparedness. From social media posts, Belize seemed to be in by far the best shape; Jamaica and Puerto Rico (the latter still suffering from major infrastructural problems after hurricanes, so excusable) fell down badly. Kudos to Mayor Delroy Williams, who kept the Jamaican Twitterverse updated. Our emergency agencies must beef up their social media presence (it’s virtually non-existent) and even more importantly, put systems in place and inform the public what to do! If the tsunami had taken place, we would have had forty-five minutes to get to higher ground!
Corruption and Transparency: Yes, it comes next to crime for a reason. Two policemen, Detective Corporal Lloyd Knight and Constable Stephon Martin, have been charged with…being gang members (the Uchence gang). The prosecution presented an alarming account in the Supreme Court. And puzzlingly (to me) Deputy Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake “spilled the beans” on malpractices and corruption in the police Traffic Division during a speech recently. Were all the perpetrators brought to book? One hopes so, because DCP Blake seemed to know all the details (watch the video).
Crime: The murders: This year so far, a terrifying number of Jamaicans have been murdered. As for last year, St. James won the crown for the highest number of murders (higher than New York’s murder rate!); Clarendon was runner-up. “Guns are all over the place now,” says May Pen Mayor Winston Maragh. We had 1,6o6 murders in 2017. 2018 murders have got off to a flying start, with over 60 recorded in just two weeks.
After the Cabinet retreat, the National Security Council met on Monday. Not much has come out of it yet; the National Security Minister (now under considerable pressure) may be playing his cards close to his chest.
Have the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) in Mount Salem and Denham Town worked? It appears so, but it’s not enough.
Meanwhile, social media is filled with posts, mostly from women, about taxi drivers (or men posing as such) picking them up, threatening them, robbing them, even trying to kill them. Despite all these truly frightening stories, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) says it have not received many reports of such incidents. Let’s try to be calm and careful, not paranoid and panicky. (Did you know we cannot import pepper sprays and the like? Many believe we should be allowed to “fight back.” But then, criminals would use them, too!)
INDECOM chief Terrence Williams recently castigated the Government for its failure to tackle organised crime. He cited Nicaragua’s major police reforms and its approach – “preventative and proactive, rooted in the community” – as a good model for us. I shared Susan Goffe’s post on Mr. Williams’ hard-hitting comments in an earlier post here. Well said, Mr. Williams. Why have we never made a crack in criminal gangs, I wonder?
The U.S. Government’s latest Travel Advisory of January 10 also caused a frisson among Jamaicans. We are basically in the “Exercise Increased Caution” category (Level 2), due to crime. More details are here. U.S. citizens are advised not to travel to some areas of Kingston and Montego Bay, and Spanish Town. Two comments caught my eye: “Jamaica’s police force is understaffed and has limited resources”; and the fact that sexual assaults have been reported by visitors, mostly at all inclusive resorts and by staff members. Please take heed, Minister Bartlett. Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs, says Jamaica has not been “downgraded,” noting that Jamaica is in the same category as France, Germany and the UK.
Police Commissioner George Quallo (who now announces he will be retiring in August!) says he will not be resigning, despite great pressure on him to deal with the crime rate. The New Year’s Day party on the Palisadoes strip (the only road that leads to our international airport) was a deeply embarrassing (and costly) débacle, which I wrote about for Global Voices here. And now, the former Acting Commissioner Novelette Grant has retired – to my great chagrin. There is much discussion now on the hiring and firing of commissioners, who monitors them – and the role of the Police Services Commission, an entity that works in mysterious ways.
Talking of parties… There was also the “sick out” by a large contingent of police over the holidays. I hope they enjoyed themselves.
Economy: The story has “come to bump” regarding public sector wage talks, since late last year. The last couple of months have been a bit rocky for the Government; negotiations have been stalling – or not progressing; they should have been moving along more steadily. Or, at least that is my perception. As usual, the police, teachers and nurses have all staked their claims firmly. Now, trade union leaders will meet with the Prime Minister today.
Now, in the last quarter of 2017, business confidence was up (while there are crime worries, of course) but consumers are beginning to have doubts and concerns about job prospects, according to the latest survey by Don Anderson announced on Tuesday. 100 businesses and 600 households were surveyed. “There’s a realism that is setting in,” said Mr. Anderson. Remittances may be a factor in future.
The new head of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Howard Mitchell makes a very good speech. He says “the State is on its way to failure.” He wants a bipartisan, research-based approach to dealing with crime. Has he asked himself what stronger role the private sector can play? Mr. Mitchell, step down from your podium, get out of your comfort zone and do something.
Health: Health Minister Christopher Tufton is firing on all cylinders. He’s not been letting up as he tries to push for preventative measures to improve the nation’s health. He started last year with Jamaica Moves, a campaign encouraging us to take more exercise. Now he has taken it a step further by enlisting the support of academics and the food industry to highlight the incredible number of overweight and obese Jamaicans – including children. Close to 33,000 children aged 10-19 were diagnosed with elevated blood pressure due to obesity last year! The average Jamaican eats more than three pounds of sugar per week (audible gasps from audience)! Will there be a tax on sweet drinks?
Human Rights: 45 year-old shop keeper David McLean, apparently much loved, was shot dead by the police in Gully Road, Boscobel, St. Mary on January 11, sparking such a huge protest by residents that the Member of Parliament (and National Security Minister) Robert Montague had to leave the Cabinet retreat and go there with Commissioner Quallo. The main road was blocked for hours.
A video was widely circulated on social media that appeared to show a policeman firing shots during a protest in Pusey Hill, Manchester; a man was injured. INDECOM asked for witnesses to make statements.
Alleged gang members Kirkland Gowe, 34, and 23-year-old Cabrina Rose were shot dead by the police in Parry Town, St. Ann on January 10.
Media: I am delighted to see that “veteran” journalist Franklin McKnight will be doing commentary at 7:00 p.m. weekly on Nationwide News Network. I have always been a big fan of Franklin, a Fulbright Scholar (did you know?). I recommend that you listen in. Some years ago he departed for the north coast and worked as News Editor at Irie FM, founding and editing a local publication, the North Coast Times. By the way, Nationwide’s app is recommended for live programmes, and those you have missed.
It was quite a shock to hear of the passing of broadcast journalist Janice Budd on January 2. She had cancer and was only 49 years old. Her funeral will take place on Saturday, January 27 at the Swallowfield Chapel, Kingston at 10:00 am.
Journalism icon Ian Boyne passed away quite suddenly on December 18, and his five-hour long (!) funeral took place last Sunday at the National Indoor Arena. Like many other Jamaicans, my mother-in-law was hooked on Mr. Boyne’s Sunday afternoon programme Profile on TVJ. I have seen some funny parodies of the show – but it was much loved, and so was Mr. Boyne. He worked at the government Jamaica Information Service for many years, so a bevy of politicians, including former Prime Ministers, attended the funeral.
Did you know there is a new radio station? Crest FM, operated by S&B Communications Limited, received an islandwide license last year.
Politics: Cabinet went on a three-day retreat last week, and it’s not hard to guess what was at the top of the agenda (see “Economy” and “Crime” above!)
It was photo-op time for the leaders of our two political parties, which were officially registered under the Political Party Registration Act 2014 this week. Parties must now be registered and their finances monitored (“thereby lifting the veil” said the Prime Minister) by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) in order to contest a general election. Opposition Leader Peter Phillips wants the code of political conduct to be enshrined in legislation. Lots of nice words were spoken, including “transparency” and “accountability.”
Opposition Member of Parliament and Natalie Neita has been charged with common assault after allegedly “thumping” (!) as one journalist put it – a man at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (where she apparently does consulting work). Ms. Neita is Opposition Spokeswoman on Sports. Was she practising a new form of martial arts? The JCF was initially oddly evasive when questioned about whether Ms. Neita had been arrested. Are such cases treated differently, depending on the social status of the arrested person?
One more thing: Why is the Director of Elections Orrette Fisher’s contract not being renewed? Did he do something wrong? I attended a (poorly attended, but very comprehensive and informative) workshop for journalists last year, and was impressed by Mr. Fisher’s knowledge and interaction with us.
Derrick Smith has stepped down from politics. He has had a long career (38 years) in the Jamaica Labour Party and is a former Minister of National Security. He’s currently Member of Parliament for St. Andrew North Western, Leader of Government Business in the Lower House, and Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister. This means there will be a by-election. The People’s National Party says it will soon confirm its candidate. There are three Labourites interested in contesting the seat: Minister of Education, Information and Youth Senator Ruel Reid; current head of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) Audley Gordon; and Derrick Smith’s son, Duane, a councillor for Chancery Hall in the constituency (I think he might be the best bet). I have always liked Mr. Smith’s courteous and calm demeanour and think he will be missed.
Youth: Two girls, aged 12 and 16 , died in a fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety in Kingston – a privately run institution for minors who have been abandoned or have no fit home to stay in; 34 children were temporarily moved to other homes. State Minister for Youth Floyd Green has been working hard to ensure relief supplies are brought in (the children lost everything) and provide counselling. The Usain Bolt Foundation will donate J$1 million to the Child Development Agency next week.
Congratulations are in order!
- Dr. Marcia Forbes is the new Chair of United Way Jamaica, and is already giving it everything she’s got – as she always does.
- Chevening Scholar and human rights lawyer Harold Malcolm is the new High Commissioner-designate to Nigeria.
- The fantastic ASHE Company is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year! Congrats to Conroy Wilson and the team. The group has had its struggles over the years but still offers stunning performances, every time. Hashtag: #EnergyThatTransforms.
- The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site – operated by the Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust (JCDT) is also 25 years old this year. More on this amazing place in later blog posts!
- The male and female Jamaican bobsled teams, who have qualified for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is a first for the women’s team.
- Shaggy and his whole team, with whole bunch of stars (including the one and only Sting!) for his annual fundraiser for the Bustamante Hospital for Children at Jamaica House. The show was aired on TV and live streamed. I hope lots of money was raised.
- Jamaican singer Diana King has married her long-time partner, violinist Mijanne Webster.
As noted above, the rate of murders has escalated dramatically this year. 2017 was bad enough. It is deeply disturbing, and terribly sad for the families of these people who have lost their lives so tragically. These are NAMES, not numbers. These are people – men, women and sadly children too. Taxi drivers, students, shop owners, chefs, farmers, labourers, retirees…
Clarendon: 39-year-old Orlando Beckford, a taxi driver, was shot dead when he stopped to let off a passenger near Girls’ Town.
Two members of a family of four, Petrena Edwards (45) and Omar Grant are now dead, after armed robbers entered their home on Foga Road on January 6.
Shop operator Caroline Ford and 38-year-old handcart operator, Morris Whyte were shot dead by gunmen at Ford’s house in Bucks Common.
17-year-old Odane Baker was shot dead in Rules Pen, Denbigh. An unidentified man was found dead on Allen Street in Denbigh.
Fitzroy Paul Joseph, a 33 year-old barber, was shot dead at a friend’s house in Rocky Point.
40-year-old Franklyn Morgan was shot dead while riding his bicycle in York Town.
Julia Carty, a 59 year-old domestic helper, was stabbed to death in Sandy Bay.
Hanover: 49-year-old chef Robert Crooks was found dead with stab wounds at his home in Haddington. His brother has been charged with his murder.
54-year-old Weston Garvey and 48-year-old Annette Smith were shot dead at their home in Hopewell.
27-year-old labourer Keno Ottey was shot dead in Hopewell.
Kingston/St. Andrew: Taxi driver Winston Walters, 36 and his passenger – businesswoman Simone Callimore, age 32 – were shot dead by motorbike riders in Forest Hill, St. Andrew.
St. Ann: 19 year old Akeem Gardner was stabbed to death during a dispute at “Little Dunn’s River,” Belmont.
Alleged gang members Kirkland Gowe, 34, and 23-year-old Cabrina Rose were shot dead by the police in Parry Town.
St. Catherine: A Kingston woman, 40 year-old Zoe King (eight months pregnant) was chased and shot dead in Orangefield, Linstead. Her common-law husband Constable Courtney Linton was murdered last October. What is happening in what I recall was once a quiet country town?
An unidentified woman was shot dead just outside the Spanish Town bus park (is there any policing in this location, one wonders?)
Wilton Scott, a 66 year-old retiree, was shot dead when he challenged an intruder at his home in Greater Portmore.
St. Elizabeth: 31 year-old Leon Griffiths was found dead with gunshot wounds on the Gutters main road.
40-year-old Omar Earle was found dead in bushes in Hodges, Black River.
St. James: In Irwin Tucker, a 16 year-old Cornwall College student was shot dead by gunmen when his father, a policeman, came to pick him up.
Desmond Clarke, 31, was shot dead at a car rental office on Sunset Boulevard, Montego Bay – near the Sangster International Airport, in broad daylight.
Farmer and shop owner Ralbert Reid, 59, was shot dead at his shop in Dundee.
21-year-old Kiron Spence was found dead in Albion, Montego Bay.
45-year-old O’Brien O’Connor was shot dead in Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay while waiting for a passenger in his taxi.
An unidentified man was shot dead at a car wash on Creek Street, Montego Bay.
58-year-old welder Devon Tullloch was shot dead at his workplace on Salt Spring Road, Montego Bay.
St Mary: David McLean, 45, shot dead by the JCF in Gully Road, Boscobel. INDECOM is investigating.
Fabian Marsh was shot dead at his home in Islington.
Sixteen-year-old Tahir Puran was stabbed to death by another teen during a dispute in Highgate.
Fisherman Steve Anderson, 52, was found stabbed to death at his home in Robin’s Bay.
St. Thomas: Melbourne Flake, 81, and his wife, Etha, 70, were found beaten to death at their home in Retreat. They were Canadian-Jamaican citizens.
40-year-old Otis Williams was shot dead at the dump near Morant Bay.
Trelawny: 24-year-old hotel worker Jonathan Crosdale was shot dead at his home in Bounty Hall.
An unidentified man was found shot dead in Duanvale.
Westmoreland: Paul Malcolm, 47, was found shot dead in Frome on New Year’s Day.
41-year-old farmer Pete Campbell was shot dead in Truro.
Ian Fletcher, 32, was shot dead at his home in Darliston when he went to answer the door.
25-year-old Ricardo Poiser was shot dead while playing dominoes at a shop in Whitehall.