Whatever happened to January? Meanwhile, the issues pile up in Jamaica, with politics high on the agenda and all sorts of complexities in between. Phew!
Agriculture: Juliet Holness, M.P., is forging ahead with her AgriHope programme, launched in July 2016, and inviting farmers who are interested to visit the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) office at 197 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6 and register for the next intake. I love her focus and dedication. I believe in (climate-smart) agriculture as potentially one of our great organs of growth.
Caribbean: Sargassum seaweed has returned to the shores of Barbados (and may still be lingering in Jamaica?) to the dismay of tourism officials. It smells terrible and removing it is hard work. However, did you know that Sargassum has actually been designated an Essential Fish Habitat? When floating, it provides food, refuge and breeding space for fish, turtles, crabs, even seabirds. It may be a nuisance for tourists, but it has great ecological value. P.S. I recommend you go to Caribbean News Service for your regional news. It is run by a Jamaican, so I guess I am biased, and he keeps an eye on environment and climate change issues.
Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil (Strategic Partner), Halliburton and other oil interests are in Guyana at the GIPEX 2018 meeting (February 7 – 9), promising jobs, jobs, jobs for Guyanese, now that they have found oil offshore. They want Guyana to “go green” while at the same time drilling for oil. I guess they are hoping the eco-tourists won’t notice the drilling rigs. One of the topics is: “Guyana’s Green Initiative: Using oil revenue to remain green and pristine.” Why do I have the feeling that this may end in tears, one day sooner or later?
And Trump’s nominee as U.S. Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean is Conair executive Leandro Rizzutto Jr., (no, not Risotto, Mr. Spellcheck!) who is apparently quite the conspiracy theorist. He has not been confirmed by the Senate yet.
Children: The eighteen year-old girl who left five children in the care of a thirteen year-old in a house in Olympic Gardens has been charged with cruelty to a child and released on bail. Her twin sons (aged one year) and her three year-old sister died in a fire, while she was out. She is receiving counselling and I am sure will need it for years to come.
Another seven year-old has died in a fire in Spanish Town. Since the start of 2018, most of those who have perished in fires have been children (six).
A woman who was portrayed in a video beating her daughter last year pleaded guilty to child abuse and was given three years’ probation, with counselling and anger management. It was an extremely sad case, which caused much hand-wringing and concerns over the ongoing and persistent trauma of child abuse – and the pressures poor women are under.
Corruption and Transparency: The People’s National Party (PNP) is not happy that Michael Troupe, its councillor for the Granville division at St. James Municipal Corporation has been suspended for three months, after his former personal assistant was implicated in the seizure of a shipment of 119 illegal guns and a large quantity of ammunition in Miami. Troupe allegedly lied about his assistant’s employment; she has not been charged (has anyone?)
Lawyers representing former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and PNP colleagues plan to challenge an Appeal Court ruling last year that they must testify in open court about a J$31m donation made by Dutch firm Trafigura Beheer in 2006. Yes, for eleven years now this has dragged on, with the lawyers repeatedly seeking to prevent the politicians having to testify in court; now, it seems, they want to appeal to the UK Privy Council – a last ditch effort that will no doubt tie things up for a few more years.
Crime: So, according to National Security Minister Robert Montague, the ongoing State of Public Emergency (SOE) in St. James is now to be referred to as Enhanced Security Measures. This is clearly a public relations exercise, in response to anxiety on the part of our tourism officials. The name State of Public Emergency is in the Constitution, with accompanying provisions, so the name cannot be officially changed.
The murder rate in St. James under the SOE has dropped by around 40 per cent, but our murders march on: 156 murders in the first 37 days of 2018, an increase of 18% over 2017.
Meanwhile, the men and women of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) have been busy in the past week. They have reportedly arrested three police constables on corruption charges, and have charged six people with possession of identity information, distributing identity information, and conspiracy to defraud. MOCA recently partnered with National Integrity Action, with funding from USAID, on a public education programme.
There was high drama outside an uptown gym last week, when a client of the institution (allegedly, a gang member from Rose Town) was shot and injured by two men in high-vis construction jackets. Two employees of a well-known security company were nearby and, in no uncertain terms, apprehended the gunmen, who were made to lie face down on the sidewalk until the police came.
I’m glad the police (or rather, the social media account called Take Back St. James) is sharing images of wanted men more often. Looking out for someone called X who hangs out in Y town will never be easy, but a face stays in your memory.
When will something be done about Kingston’s aggressive windscreen wipers, who target women drivers at traffic lights, verbally abusing and sometimes physically threatening them? I know various social programmes have attempted to help these young men, but the problem seems to be worse than ever. I hope we are not waiting for a serious incident to take place before we do something?
And all is not well in the lovely western parish of Westmoreland, where gun running is a regular thing, it seems. What have the police been doing about the monthly gun shipments, coming in by boat? Why is no one informing the police about these activities? I wonder.
Culture and the Arts: It’s Reggae Month in Jamaica. Bob Marley’s birthday was February 6, and I have written on the topic of the changing face of reggae for Global Voices here. All the Marley stars were conspicuous by their absence for their Dad’s birthday in Jamaica, as they usually are. They preferred to do shows in Florida and elsewhere.
But we do have one imported reggae person here for the month: veteran reggae devotee David Rodigan – getting on in years now but having lost none of his passion and love of the music. He is doing a big session this weekend in Kingston. He visited the Alpha Boys musicians this week.
Economy: Do you remember the telecoms company Caricel? It has sold its controlling interest to a South African entity, Involution Limited. There were question marks over the company’s principals, after the license had already been granted.
Energy: Minister Andrew Wheatley is looking at buying back the shares that Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A (PDVSA) owns in our own Petrojam oil refinery. Jamaica is also under pressure after moves in the U.S. to boycott entities doing business with Venezuela. Jamaica does not currently purchase Venezuelan oil (see below) and Minister Wheatley says plans for PDVSA to be involved in an upgrade at Petrojam have not materialised.
Environment: There are SO many issues. Remember Senator Matthew Samuda’s bill in Parliament two years ago regarding plastic bags and styrofoam? I wrote a blog post about this crippling problem here. Well, a working group was set up to study the matter and we should hopefully hear something soon. A simple ban on imports is not necessarily the answer, however; styrofoam and some plastics are manufactured here. It’s complicated – but action is desperately needed.
I’m really glad to see some funds (J$30 million) set aside for scientific research, through an agreement with South Africa. Opening the University of the West Indies’ Research Days this week, Culture Minister Olivia Grange mentioned a sponge (which Professor Mona Webber also mentioned today at an excellent lecture I attended – more later) that has anti-cancer properties, found near Port Royal.
My jaw dropped to the floor this week after watching a television report by Krista Campbell on the state of Hellshire Beach – a place we once used to visit every weekend with our small son, for sunbathing, eating fish and swimming. We know the beach is virtually non-existent now, the mangroves and coral reefs severely degraded and the beach remains heavily populated with squatters. One elderly lady (the widow of Countryman, the star of a popular Jamaican film) complained about faecal matter out in the open, near her home. What horrified me the most was the seemingly nonchalant attitude of a public health official, who sat behind a desk and said it wasn’t really a problem. Quite unconcerned!
Health: At last the new Road Traffic Act was passed in Parliament this week. Penalties are stiffer, and the legislation includes laws against driving while speaking on a cell phone. However, our laws are only good if enforced properly. Many of us have seen policemen on the street completely ignoring, or not noticing, flagrant breaches of the road code; it happens every day. The law for motorbike riders to wear helmets is continuously flouted – and not enforced.
What are the implications of the planned digitisation of patients’ records? The University Hospital of the West Indies will become a model for the Caribbean in this respect.
Human Rights: State of Emergency detainees: Security forces said that as of February 2 there were 13 people in detention in St. James under the SOE. Some had been brought to court. National Security Minister Robert Montague said 50 spaces were made available at Kingston’s Horizon Remand Centre for the detainees; and in a strange development, fifty detainees were transferred from the Freeport Police Station in Montego Bay to Horizon…and back again. Sort of a round trip. Apparently there was no space after all. I would like to know exactly how many are being detained, when they will be charged/released, and where they are being held? Surely not in a police lock-up?
I knew it would not be long before the call went out to “Hang ’em high!” and this time it was not the old guard, but young Senator Matthew Samuda. I understand his pain and anxiety over crime – he is thinking of even sex offenders getting the death penalty. When I took him up on this – citing the poor investigative capacities of our police and the shambolic state of our justice system in general, he took the trouble to tweet me his full comments. I would copy and paste them here but can’t seem to do it. One other thing: capital punishment is actually not a deterrent, globally – nor would it be in Jamaica. Some years ago, the Trinidadian Government in a panic hanged several people on death row. This year, their murder rate is comparable to ours, and they are panicking again. Hanging is not the answer.
The police shot and killed an alleged gang member and wanted man, 33-year-old Davian Clarke, in Cove, Hanover.
Justice: I mentioned last week that Justice Bryan Sykes has been appointed Acting Chief Justice. Yes, Acting. This is an unprecedented move. Moreover, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ comments at the announcement, when they started to sink in, did not impress at all. Neither did his attempts to explain, after the ensuing storm of criticism from everyone and his brother: the Opposition (of course), the Jamaican Bar Association, the current and former Presidents of the Court of Appeal, the Jamaica Council of Churches, the National Democratic Movement, So is Justice Sykes “on probation” depending on “the results” (Prime Minister’s words) of his performance? There is a constitutional, separation-of-powers issue here. And the general consensus in legal circles is that the move is, in fact, unconstitutional. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck finally spoke on the matter today: “I strongly believe that in short order something will happen,” he said, somewhat mysteriously.
We still have an Acting Commissioner of Police, of course. Two actors in Hollywood, now…
Interesting footnote: Justice Stephen Isaacs was sworn in as Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the Bahamas, last November…
Media Matters: In the latest USAID/Vanderbilt LAPOP 2016/2017 Survey, only 37.9% of Jamaica respondents said they trust the media. Jamaica was third lowest in this respect among 22 selected countries in the Americas. Here’s the full report.
Now for two by-elections: Everything was smoothed over at a Jamaica Labour Party meeting, where the very bright Dr. Nigel Clarke – who spoke on radio of his concerns about the toxicity of crime – confirmed as the party’s candidate for North West St. Andrew. There were hugs all round. The by-election will take place on March 5 and nomination day will be February 12. Meanwhile, the People’s National Party has confirmed its candidate: rather surprisingly to me, it is Keisha Hayle, the dedicated Principal of Padmore Primary School, a literacy specialist who fought to keep her school open when it was threatened with closure. She made a rousing speech as she started her campaign. I wrote all about her for Gleaner Blogs here. There will also be an overdue local government by-election at the Norman Gardens Division in Kingston, which was vacated by former Mayor and Councillor Angela Brown-Burke when she was elected Member of Parliament for South West St. Andrew last October. The Political Ombudsman wants to see a “positive, loving” spirit during the election campaign and a strengthening of the Political Code of Conduct. What is the current status of Director of Elections Orrette Fisher?
There was a row in the Lower House yesterday, with Opposition Member Fitz Jackson sounding very frustrated at the postponement of a Bill to amend the Banking Services Act – a private members motion Mr. Jackson brought forward to address the vexed issue of excessive fees charged by local banks. Leader of Government Business, Everald Warmington, promised the bill would be concluded next week. This is an issue that has the full support of the Jamaican people, who are furious at the way the banks have been behaving. Mr. Jackson (and the Jamaican people!) has my utmost sympathy. He is not letting this issue go.
Religion: So, it seems that the missionaries of Pastor Steven (“I have a comfortable amount of hate”) Anderson’s church were already in Jamaica and busy preaching, making friends and influencing people – perhaps at schools. Are they still here? Who were their local partners?
Sports: The Winter Olympics just started and our bobsledders made a stylish entrance at the Opening Ceremony. Wishing them lots of luck and I just love that Cool Runnings feel. I hope the men’s and women’s teams do well.
Kudos, congratulations and thanks are in order!
- Kingston Freeport Terminal Ltd, who are partnering with UWI’s Centre for Marine Sciences (and the amazing fishermen of Port Royal) to clean up Refuge Cay, a mangrove island in Kingston Harbour dying from overwhelming solid waste – all kinds, but naturally including tons of plastic. Layers of it. It had to be seen to be believed; nearly four years ago, I wrote about it here. Anyway, the cleanup is under way and has taken three weeks so far. The poor seabirds that roost and nest there must be quite surprised. Huge kudos to all!
- Dancehall deejay Bounty Killer (Rodney Pryce) donated 63 beds to the Kingston Public Hospital and Victoria Jubilee Hospital, and I think that is very cool. He has a Bounty Foundation. I love this growing philanthropic tendency among our entertainers.
- The EU and Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, who are working on a J$30 million project called Reducing Domestic Sexual and Gender-based violence Against Women within the context of HIV and AIDS. This aims to assist HIV-positive and women in starting up businesses, among other initiatives.
- Nathaniel Stone, a calm young student of Glenmuir High School, won the annual Gleaner Spelling Bee. Despite concerns that boys are falling behind educationally, in fact six of the winners in the past eight years have been boys.
- The Japan Embassy has signed a grant for a bus for Buff Bay Primary School (USD $67, 515) and a water harvesting solution for Iris Gelly Primary School (USD $18, 601) under its excellent Japan Grassroots Human Security Project. Always good projects!
- British High Commissioner Asif Ahmad unveiled a blue plaque at the home of beloved reggae singer Gregory Isaacs for Reggae Month. I was very touched by this. The “Cool Ruler” battled addiction during his later years; but he was a consummate artist. A classic!
The stories are always tragic. We should all think about the trail of grief and trauma left behind after these sad events. My condolences with all the families.
Clarendon: A young man, who may be mentally challenged, attacked and killed his father Samuel Salmon, 73, in Rose Hall District.
21-year-old Dave McLean, who was on bail for murder, was shot dead on Paradise Street in May Pen.
Natoya Ricketts, 32, Alley, Clarendon
Hanover: 33-year-old Davian Clarke was shot dead by the police in Cove.
Kingston/St. Andrew: 36 year old Rohan Masters, an alleged gang member, was shot and killed on Swallowfield Road in Kingston.
There has been an upsurge in August Town, again. Fourteen people have been shot in the past two weeks or so – six fatally. 26 year-old Rushane Ellis was shot dead in the Bryce Hill area and three others injured.
France Nooks, a young entertainer, was on his way to the Bob Marley Museum on Hope Road when he got into an argument with a cab driver, who stabbed him. He died in hospital. Why has no one been arrested yet for this senseless death – apparently over J$100?
St. Ann: Theodore Spencer, 29, was found on the road with stab wounds in Exchange.
St. Catherine: The body of 16 year-old Courtney Sterling, a student of Spanish Town High School, was found in a shallow grave in Spanish Town. He had apparently been stabbed to death. Sterling was a member of the Lauriston & Thompson Pen Community 4-H Club.
42-year-old bus driver Gary Patterson was shot dead in the Spanish Town bus park – a place where extortion reigns.
St. Mary: Miguel Pottinger, 41, a restaurant operator, was shot dead at his home in Bottom Bay, Annotto Bay.
Billy Sutherland was stabbed to death in Geddes Town
Trelawny: Kimberly Crawford, 19, was stabbed to death during a fight at her home in Stettin. Her 23 year-old sister has been charged with her murder.
Donovan DaCosta was shot dead in Thompson Town.
31-year-old Damion McFarlane was shot dead at his home in Jackson Town. The police say they found lotto scamming material there.
Westmoreland: 32 year-old Andrae Darren was stabbed to death at a party in Negril during an argument over a bottle of rum.
32 year-old Bahamian national Kareem James was shot dead in Delta.
Vendor Hyacinth Miller, 54, was shot dead in her home in Tank Hill, Negril.
Kareem James, 32, was shot dead on Ricketts Street, Savanna-la-Mar.