This week is all about “lerv” – as it’s Valentine’s Day (and the Ash Wednesday holiday) this week. I actually don’t celebrate either of these days, so am just enjoying the lovely weather and relatively quiet day in the city. There is not a lot of love floating around, however, as the legal profession (fraternity? sorority?) is still very upset. Are things reaching a conclusion, of sorts? Please click on the highlighted links for more information!
Caribbean: Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean reached a record high in 2016, according to recently released data from the World Bank. Mexico was the destination for over one third of these remittances. Here’s a link to their October 2017 Migration and Development Brief, if you want to dig deeper.
As if they haven’t suffered enough from last year’s hurricanes, the people of Sint Maarten can now hardly breathe due to fires at their garbage dump. They are all wearing masks, and schools have closed. Memories of our Riverton City fires…
According to a new study by The Nature Conservancy and the University of Santa Cruz in the Journal of Environmental Management, there is a link between stable coastlines and coral reef health – with a focus on Grenville Bay in Grenada, where a project called At the Waters Edge aims to enhance climate change resilience in small island states such as Grenada.
Children: Good to see that Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, is currently attending the high-level Agenda 2030 for Children #End Violence Solutions Summit in Stockholm, along with Dr. Elizabeth Ward of the Violence Prevention Alliance. Among close to 70 countries at the Summit, Jamaica is one of fifteen “Pathfinder” countries that has committed to accelerate actions to prevent and reduce violence against children. This will make Jamaica more accountable, says UNICEF, as it seeks to implement the initiative’s seven strategies: 1. implementation and enforcement of laws 2. norms and values 3. safe environments 4. parent and caregiver support 5. income and economic strengthening 6. response and support services 7. education and life skills. (Thanks to @UNICEFJamaica for this information – here’s their link).
Climate Change: Oh! The brilliant and experienced Senior Technical Officer in the Climate Change Division Orville Taylor is leaving, to join the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in South Korea. He will be greatly missed.
According to results from the latest Vanderbilt University AmericasBarometer survey, Caribbean residents are considerably more worried about climate change than Americans are. 71 per cent of Jamaicans surveyed think it is a “very serious” problem.
Corruption and Transparency: The Appeal Court has reserved its judgment and will hand down its verdict regarding the Trafigura case on or before February 23. The People’s National Party (PNP) officials involved want to take their appeal to the UK Privy Council (which I thought they disapproved of).
Patrick Powell, who was acquitted of the murder of schoolboy Khajeel Mais in 2016, was released from jail after serving six months of his nine-months sentence for failing to hand over his firearm to the police. It went missing, along with the file.
Crime: Murders were at 182, as of February 10. 114 guns and over 14,000 rounds of ammo have been seized during that period. Murders halved in St. James (12). St. Elizabeth has been doing well, with major crimes down. Six firearms have been recovered there, so kudos to the woman Superintendent there (I believe her name is Lord). North St. Catherine is the latest area to be struggling with gang-related violence (and this is nothing new). After all these years, the notorious Clansman gang is still around. 30 murders have taken place in this one police division this year – a 40 per cent increase. Three people were killed at a birthday party in Thompson Pen over the weekend; and there was panic at the Spanish Town Court House in the middle of the day when a running gun battle broke out between three men in a car and the police. Is it next on the list for a Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO)?
Speaking of ZOSOs, those in Mount Salem, St. James Denham Town in Kingston were extended; they have been in place since September 1 and October 17, respectively and have certainly had a calming effect (the Kingston Public Hospital is getting a break, for a start). Several community programmes have started up in Denham Town. Prime Minister Holness announced this in Parliament, noting that the “build” part of the “clear, hold and build” strategy now needs to be completed. Opposition Leader Peter Phillips asked how we are to evaluate the ZOSOs’ success. I wonder what the indicators are – a reduction in murders, and…? Meanwhile, the police have found fifteen weapons during the State of Emergency in St. James.
So, we still have an Acting Commissioner of Police. The Police Service Commission, which appoints the Commissioner, has been reappointed. Professor Gordon Shirley (just declared the RJR/Gleaner Man of the Year) remains as Chair. Other members are Marshall Hall, Professor Anthony Harriott (who has suffered from very unfair criticism from the police recently), retired Rear Admiral Peter Brady, and the obligatory clergyman, Maitland Evans. The search is on now and applicants for the position have only until February 21 (just one week!) to express their interest. The PSC hopes to have a new man/woman in place by the end of March.
Culture and the Arts: The jury seems to be out on whether it was quite right for the Government to be donating US$5,000 to reggae singer Etana, in support of her upcoming 32-city tour in the United States. That money could have gone to hospitals or schools, some said. Others opined that it is a necessary contribution, in support of our culture. Artists apparently often fund tours out of their own pockets.
Economy: An effusive press release from the Ministry of Transport and Mining describes the recent visit of “top brass” from Gansu Province in China, who is ready to invest up to US$6 billion in an Industrial Park and Special Economic Zone alongside the JISCO/ALPART operations in Nain, St Elizabeth. This is the largest ever project proposed for Jamaica. A Framework Agreement was signed last Thursday. The project is a bit vague so far, but seems to involve factories processing aluminium obtained from our locally mined bauxite. I’m not sure how a shipping company comes into this, and I have many questions (like, where is the power coming from?) But…a “Spirit of Cordiality, Co-operation and Commitment” reigned. Lovely alliteration!
The Planning Institute of Jamaica reported growth of 1.1 per cent in the October – December quarter. Mining grew by 15 % – its first positive growth figure in years, driven primarily by Alpart which exported its first shipment of bauxite in November after years of closure. Agriculture contracted by 1.1% for the quarter – with the excuse of “too much rain.” Why am I not surprised?
Education: University of the West Indies (UWI) Vice Chancellor Professor Hilary Beckles has a vision, to “convert all of this area here – the UWI, University of Technology (UTech), all the way to New Kingston and the financial centre and the agriculture research – into a university- and private sector-led science and technology research park.” I love it. Now, let’s find the money.
He said that Jamaica should, by now, have a science and technology park, and this would be a big policy step for the Government and the private sector.
Environment: A TVJ report focused on the illegal dumping of wetlands for building in St. Elizabeth. A creek in Parrotee has been blocked, causing flooding. This is a very fragile area of coastal wetlands, vulnerable to sea level rise. The Mayor says that this is illegal; but why were they allowed to build in the first place?
I attended two lectures at UWI Research Day last week that had me thinking deeply. One was Professor Mona Webber’s presentation on Coastal Ecosystem Restoration and the Plastic Pollution Problem. There is so much to say, and I will have to save it for later.
Human Rights: The police shot dead a man on Brunswick Avenue, Spanish Town. He was apparently attempting to shoot a witness in a case along with two colleagues, one of whom was injured.
The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) is furious at the way in which a Gleaner photographer, who was sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray by the police during an arrest in Crossroads, Kingston that he was recording. The video is here.
Justice: The chorus of dissent from the legal profession – and the endless tweets from lawyers with various political agendas, or none – grew louder in the past week, over Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ decision to appoint Bryan Sykes as Acting Chief Justice, and his comments on doing so. It seems to me that the Prime Minister threw away a chunk of his political capital with this move. Did he get the wrong advice? Most Jamaicans won’t understand the legal/constitutional niceties of all this – or won’t bother to – but hundreds across the island were greatly inconvenienced by the judges’ decision to hold a lengthy meeting on Monday morning – all 97 of them – beginning at 10 a.m. I thought this was an unkind, even sneaky move. The judges subsequently issued a long statement. Oh, and there is the issue of their wage claim, by the way. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s office responded that his remarks were taken out of context; you can read his statement here, noting that “there was never any intention on the part of the Executive to “supervise or direct” the Judicial branch.” A fundamental issue, obviously, is the administrative efficiency of our courts, which often seem to totter along at an unbelievably slow pace.
Perhaps in the long run this contretemps may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Now there will be a special meeting between representatives of the Executive and Judiciary on Friday morning at King’s House. At times like these we are thankful to the Governor General!
Meanwhile, I’m glad to see that the Government is revisiting restorative justice.
Politics: Monday was Nomination Day for candidates in the two by-elections. PNP candidate Keisha Hayle promises better roads, more employment and better security in the North West St. Andrew constituency. She is up against stiff competition in this safe seat. All things being equal, the odds are on the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) rather nerdy but affable Nigel Clarke.
So much hot air was expended over the Banking Services Act, I am surprised that Parliament didn’t burst into flames. I am, however, worried about Mr. Fitz Jackson’s blood pressure. The Bill was kicked out, after all that hullabaloo. A distressed Mr. Jackson said it was a blow for the Jamaican people suffering from ludicrous bank charges, but Finance Minister Audley Shaw contended that almost all of the Bill’s provisions were included in the Bank of Jamaica’s Code of Conduct for deposit-taking institutions. Hold on, I’m missing something. So why has nothing changed? Over to you, Bank of Jamaica, perhaps? Or was it that campaign donors and their lobbyists finally held sway?
Sports: Jamaican American bobsledder Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian spoke passionately at a press conference in Pyeong Chang, site of the Winter Olympics. The video shared widely on social media was heartfelt, and sweet. The daughter of immigrants – a Jamaican father and a Polish/Latvian mother – she clearly has always believed in diversity. She decided to represent Jamaica, because she wants to be a role model and an inspiration to black youth:
“It’s important to me that little girls and boys see someone that looks like them, talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, has brown skin – included in different things in this world.”
Technology: Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Andrew Wheatley says the Government is moving towards greater use of Open Source software (as opposed to proprietary software such as Microsoft, IBM etc). A Technical Working Group will work on an action plan for the adoption and migration of Government platforms to Open Source software.
Tourism: The vexed issue of the way we treat our visitors (especially the white ones) as opposed to our own Jamaicans at certain establishments resurfaced this week, with a video posted by a Canadian woman, regarding the Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio, and the adjoining public beach. There was a huge discussion on my Facebook page. The Port Authority of Jamaica put out a statement. Fellow blogger Dennis Jones had a long take on the topic of tourism in general, asserting that tourism, especially of the mass market kind, “tends to highlight social divisions.” That’s putting it mildly.
- The Royal Optimist Club of Kingston (ROCK) is doing good work! This group of young adults, who “share a passion for community involvement and assisting the younger generation,” donated funds in support of the wards of state who lost everything in the fire at Walker’s Place of Safety. On February 1 they had a project for World Optimist Day: What does it mean to be an optimist?
- Jamaica AIDS Support has been incredibly busy this Safer Sex Week (which is always around Valentine’s Day), going across the island conducting HIV testing and distributing information on condoms and safe sex. Then there is Project US, a new youth-led initiative and the National Family Planning Board, working hard to get the message across that condoms are #safeandsexy. Love the partnerships!
- There’s a Reggae Auction going on this month, in case you didn’t know. It’s in aid of the Alpha Boys School and there are some great prizes. You can find more information here.
- Big ups to the staff of the British High Commission and all involved in the upcoming trade fair. Don’t forget to enter the singing competition! More here.
- And cheers to the National Dance Theatre Company’s tweets – a beautiful photo of male dancers, against a city backdrop, posted this week really made my day! See in the photo gallery below.
- Kudos to one of my favourite young Jamaicans Tyrone Wilson, who has been appointed an Assistant Chief Examiner for the Digital Media CAPE Program (advanced level in schools). He and his team started one of Jamaica’s first digital media companies just ten years ago. Tyrone is the “creative economy” personified.
- Congratulations to Jamaican actress Parisa Fitz-Henley, who will play American actress Meghan Markle in a Lifetime movie about her and her royal fiancé Prince Harry. There is definitely a physical likeness – they are both so pretty!
- Maia Chung has been chosen for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB’s) Sidewalk of the Americas Global Art Initiative! I didn’t even know that this dynamic woman – whom I first met when she was a television journalist – was an artist.
I am so sorry for the communities in Spanish Town, which are suffering greatly at this time. My deepest sympathies to the families of these Jamaicans:
Kingston & St. Andrew: Marcus Bailey, 36, was shot dead in Rema/Trench Town – an area covered by the ZOSO.
St. Catherine: 28-year-old André Cephas was killed along with two others unidentified in Thompson Pen, and a ten year-old boy injured.
An unidentified man was shot dead on Burke Road, Spanish Town.
The police killed a man on Brunswick Avenue, Spanish Town, after a chase and shootout.
A bus driver, 68 year-old Orville Brown, was shot dead while sitting in his bus at the Linstead Transport Centre.