The past week has been…well, one of some uncertainty, rather like the weather (odd little showers, appearing and disappearing). Mixed signals, perhaps. There is a lot to think about, and to discuss.
Caribbean: The Caribbean Export Development Agency and Caribbean Development Bank have joined forces to help provide easier access to finance for women-owned businesses – a training and capacity-building programme named Women Empowered Through Export (WE-Xport).
It seems the debate over reparations is reviving, after revelations by Professor Hilary Beckles at a press briefing at the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. Professor Beckles pointed out that this is not a thing of the past, as former UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in his comments on a visit here about “moving on.” That went down like a lead balloon at the time, and still rankles. Transport Minister Mike Henry – always, personally, a passionate advocate on this topic – says he has retained a UK lawyer; a petition to the UK Privy Council has been drafted.
Climate Change: There will be $412 million in the kitty for coastal protection – plus $75.3 million to protect our fishers from the ravages of climate change (funded by the Adaptation Fund and Inter-American Development Bank, respectively). Additionally, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) will manage an additional $1.29 billion contingency fund for the possibility of natural disasters, including $500 million under the four-year Jamaica Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project. That project includes three new fire stations and seismic stations. I don’t understand what the Public Investment Management Scheme is; it will organise “projects” that will make up the rest of the funds. The issue of disaster risk reduction and management continually haunts me. Hurricane season is about three months away. If one hits us this year, it will be a case of billions, not millions. In our hearts, we know this. Are we prepared? Are we?
Corruption: Cynical Jamaicans do not appear very convinced, but Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe says: “All Jamaicans should be happy, and should welcome the news” that the country has moved up from 83rd to 68th place in the latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index – marginally above the global average. There is “no room for complacency – the gains made can easily be lost,” said Professor Munroe. The Government now needs to forge ahead with planned specific anti-corruption measures. Note: Jamaica ranks higher than Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana, but below other English-speaking Caribbean countries in the 2017 Index.
Acting Commissioner of Police Clifford Blake sounded like he meant business on radio this week, talking about measures to rid the Jamaica Constabulary Force of corrupt practices and strengthening accountability. Apparently 100 police officers have broken the law by not renewing their firearms license; they have until April 1 to rectify the matter. I would give them until March 1. 867 firearms were seized last year (what a fantastic number!) and the Acting Commissioner proposes a minimum sentence of ten years for illegal possession. Police have seized 129 illegal guns and 1534 rounds of ammunition since January 1.
Crime: Our murder rate continues inexorably, already passing the 200 mark for this year. The latest figures show a 17 per cent increase over last year. The St. Catherine North Police Division is leading the way this year, with 30 murders; Clarendon and Westmoreland are not far behind.
There is depressing news from August Town. “A continuation of the madness,” says Councillor Veniesha Phillips, who apparently favours the “Adams model” of law enforcement, where human rights fly out of the window. She and Member of Parliament Fayval Williams seem at a loss, with MP Williams now asking for a Zone of Special Operations to be set up there. In particular I feel for Kenneth and other August Town peace activists, who have worked so hard over the years. Why is it all crumbling now? Students and teachers have been afraid to attend the primary school, in the heart of the community. How could life be normal?
Crime is not just about murder and shootings. A popular small restaurant along the main road in Four Paths, Clarendon was broken into and set on fire. “We are suffering,” said one local councillor. All of this affects business and simply put, upsets people’s lifestyle and comfort levels in communities.
An incomplete tunnel was found under the maximum security, Dickensian Tower Street prison in downtown Kingston. No prisoners are missing!
Culture: “Wakandamania” has hit Jamaicans, who flocked to the screening of Marvel’s Black Panther over the weekend, riding on a wave of publicity (or perhaps “hype”). The film was universally embraced, and an opportunity for Jamaican women in particular to dress in Afrocentric garb and pose for selfies etc. in the foyer of local cinemas. I say “Afrocentric,” not strictly “African” – after all, Marvel is all about fantasy and the film is set in a fantasy land. So, no need to worry about authenticity. And yes, contrary to popular belief, fantasy and sci-fi is not just childish stuff; it can be used as a powerful vehicle for important messages. This is one reason why I am amongst its fans. It’s about more than special effects and fancy costumes – that’s just the packaging.
The 180 year-old St. Ann’s Bay Methodist Church was completely gutted by fire; there is still no news on the possible cause. It is irreplaceable. “There are just four walls standing,” said one resident. A treasured pipe organ, over 100 years old, was destroyed, but thankfully the office was not damaged. The church means a lot to the community and to this old town’s history. It was opened on Emancipation Day 1838 and Marcus Garvey used to go there.
Economy: I mentioned uncertainty – here’s one example. Something has gone awry among trade unions over public sector wages. The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) signed a four-year agreement on Tuesday. Six of the eleven JCTU member unions endorsed the decision; the agreement “basically represents a compromise position” for both sides, said JCTU President Helene Davis-Whyte, pointing out that allowances and some transport concessions are in the package. Now the UAWU (led by People’s National Party stalwart Senator Lambert Brown) has withdrawn from the JCTU, complaining that it wasn’t consulted and it was a poor deal. Of course, one knows that union representation has a strong partisan political flavour in Jamaica; but times are perhaps changing, as the PNP-oriented National Workers’ Union (NWU) is happy with the agreement.
Budget cut: The Holness administration tabled its Estimates of Expenditure for 2018/19 on Tuesday in the Lower House. It is $31.8 billion less than last year. The Standing Finance Committee will meet on February 27 and 28 (and perhaps March 1), after the fiscal policy paper has been reviewed by the Auditor General. Finance Minister Audley Shaw will open the debate with his formal presentation in Parliament on March 8. This time, the Estimates will cover six years of budget information from 2016/17, with rolling, “not static” projections up to 2021/22. This will become a permanent feature of the estimates, to include revenue estimates, and Opposition Finance Spokesman Mark Golding approves.
We are going to get some new bridges – fabricated and exported to us all the way from China at a cost of some US$2 million. This includes the famous bridge in S.E. St. Mary that was the focus of the Jamaica Labour Party’s campaign in that constituency during last year’s by-election (remember the barefoot Prime Minister?) Can’t we build our own bridges? Seems not. Will the bridges be in place before the hurricane season? It seems they will. They are due by the end of March.
Montego Bay needs an infusion of economic empowerment for local people – including craft vendors – if it is to overcome its major social problems. The Tourism Enhancement Fund has provided a grant for a “game changing” initiative to offer cruise ship visitors a package tour with more interaction with local people – including food, entertaining and shopping in the craft market, which will also be upgraded. As so often happens in cruise ship ports, passengers are simply put on a bus and shipped off to attractions outside the town. This effort makes perfect sense to me and I really hope it works.
I really hope this happens, but the Government is working on establishing a new consumer protection agency. It’s so badly needed. Finance Minister Audley Shaw has indicated more than once that he does not disagree with Opposition MP Fitz Jackson, whose bill on excessive bank fees was thrown out last week. Shaw clearly wants to approach the matter differently; and points out that the Banking Bill of 2014, passed by the previous administration, includes almost all of Mr. Jackson’s proposed provisions. I think bipartisan discussions are definitely in order, from now on.
The Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation continues to pile up debt. This year its losses from operations are expected to pass $7 billion. In the last fiscal year, its operating losses amounted to $3.1 billion. This is insane!
Environment: The Jamaican conservation community is deeply saddened at the passing of Michael Schwartz, biologist at the Windsor Research Centre and valiant, tireless campaigner for his beloved Cockpit Country. I will be writing more about Mike. He will be greatly missed.
The invasion of concrete marches on – at least in uptown Kingston. It’s all in the name of road-widening. Yes, roads are more important than trees, green space…and people, it seems. The Barbican area is a nightmare for pedestrians, young and old. It is hazardous and scary, and instead of green we now have concrete barriers that people have to climb over. Gee thanks, China Harbour Engineering Company! Who approved these plans? It is total chaos. (Take a look at the videos on Facebook!)
Now, to add to the pain, we have large, old trees being wantonly chopped down because they are getting in the way of – you’ve guessed it, roads. In the Olivier Road area this deforestation is going on, right now. Who is in charge, I ask again? Who makes these decisions that often seem so arbitrary?
Talking of concrete, the Caribbean Cement Company (CCC) plans to go back into exports, according to the General Manager with an amazing name – Peter Donkersloot Ponce. A kind tweep pointed out to me this phrase: “Donkersloot said the new coal mill now scheduled to be commissioned within the second quarter of this year…” CCC already has a smoking chimney that greets you as you travel to Kingston from the airport. So is the new one going to replace the old one, and if so – are the emissions going to be greater? Have you heard of LNG, CCC?
Health: Labour and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson on Tuesday opened the long-awaited debate on the Occupational Safety and Health bill in the House of Representatives. This is important legislation. Follow @JOHSPAworkplace on Twitter for updates.
Sagicor Sigma Run Raises $50 million: The hugely popular 20th annual Sagicor Sigma corporate run last weekend has raised $50 million for the Spanish Town Hospital Neonatal Clinic, St. Christopher School for the Deaf. It gets bigger every year (over 26,500 this year!)
Human Rights: The police shot and killed a “wanted man,” Nico Walters, in the community of Effortville on the outskirts of May Pen, Clarendon on Monday. A policeman was reportedly injured in the incident. A policeman also shot and killed a man who was apparently trying to rob him in Savannah-la-Mar, and critically injured another would-be robber.
Do you remember Kamoza Clarke? Let me refresh your memory, because it’s been a while. Sergeant Derrick Henry and District Constables Alwayne Eccleston and Onecko Brown are facing manslaughter (not murder?) charges arising from Clarke’s death in 2014. They will reappear before the Trelawny Circuit Court on March 8. 31 year-old Clarke, who was mentally ill, was allegedly viciously beaten to death in the Falmouth police lockup in October 2013. He died four months later in hospital.
Justice: It’s “Acting CJ” time again. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck made an odd remark on radio this week, to the effect that the Prime Minister was waiting until the “furore” had died down before confirming the appointment of Justice Bryan Sykes as Chief Justice. I truly do not understand why, having squandered much political capital with this unforced error already, the Holness administration seems keen to “prolong the agony” by still not confirming the appointment. Something went wrong. What really is the problem, now?
Media Matters: Some Jamaicans on social media don’t seem impressed that the Press Association of Jamaica wants exemption for its members from the provisions of the Data Protection Act, which a parliamentary committee is currently examining. The Act is intended as back-up for the National Identification legislation (NIDS) – see below. Among the PAJ’s many (to me) legitimate concerns are the awesome powers of the Data Commissioner under the Act.
Politics: The Holness administration has been doing a bit of a “wobbly” in the past few weeks. It perhaps needs to get back on the path and refocus. The Acting Chief Justice issue remains a puzzle, to me – unless the Cabinet knows something we do not; Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has sounded unusually vague at times. I heard Bryan Sykes would be confirmed as Chief Justice by last Friday, but that did not happen. The fracas over Mr. Fitz Jackson’s banking bill has hardly died down, but somehow last week’s parliamentary session put the Government side in a worse light than that of the Opposition. Nevertheless, on the economic front progress is being made (and is perhaps being overshadowed by this unnecessary hemming and hawing).
“We plan to go to court over the National Identification Bill because we are not leaving it so!” declared Opposition Leader Peter Phillips at a party meeting recently. Dr. Phillips called the NIDS “bad man business.” Hence to court? Now, while failure to do sufficient consultation is one reason why he is upset, it appears that this did take place with a number of groups. Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the NIDS Bill, says there is quite a bit of misinformation: for example, nothing was discarded, as claimed, in the Lower House. Minister Johnson Smith also claims that the personal information requested does not in any way breach the right to privacy. The NIDS regulations will be ready by September.
Will Ann Marie Vaz in the East join her husband Daryl in the West as Jamaica Labour Party candidate in the peaceful (yes, peaceful!) parish of Portland?
Tourism: It’s such a mixed blessing. This week, Justin Bieber and his girlfriend Selena Gomez were in the Montego Bay area for Bieber’s father’s wedding. President Bill Clinton was not far away from there recently, playing golf at Tryall. So was Maria Sharapova, who played some tennis at Round Hill Hotel in Montego Bay. It’s good publicity, and we need it. Celebrities love to visit Jamaica regularly, especially the island’s western side – so despite everything, they are still coming – but of course, to highly exclusive hotels and villas.
Youth: Many of our young people are struggling. We know this. So then, right after the tragic school massacre in Florida, a 17 year-old student of the prestigious Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston sent a threatening voice note, which circulated widely on social media. This was clearly a cry for help from the young man (who had talked about suicide) and the police and the school have handled it calmly and correctly, I believe.
I’m really looking forward to hearing more about a new pilot programme – a partnership between three excellent organisations, JN Foundation, UNICEF and the overseas-based FIA Foundation, International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP)and Amend. It’s the X Marks the Spot – School Crosswalk Safety Campaign to promote safe journeys to and from school for school kids.
Thanks, and cheers to:
- The National Works Agency (this is completely selfish, I know) for fixing the huge potholes on our street!
- The unknown person or persons (again, completely selfish) who cleans up the end of our street on an almost daily basis. Because the hogs who throw garbage out of their car windows have to be cleaned up after.
- The two wonderful Jamaican girls – our bobsled team – who ended their run at the Winter Olympics in 19th place out of 20. Fact is, they competed, and I love them!
- There has been an outpouring of generosity in the wake of the fire at Walker’s Place of Safety earlier this year. Now big ups to Burger King, who have donated a cool $1 million!
It was heartbreaking to see the mother of murdered 14 year-old Tianna Clarke on television this week. I really hope she gets all the help she needs to find healing and some amount of consolation. I offer my sympathies to the families, friends – and yes, schoolmates – of the following:
Clarendon: A young man has been charged with the killing of his 73 year-old father Samuel Salmon in Rose Hall on February 5.
The police killed Nico Walters in Effortville, May Pen. In the nearby Farm area, an M16 assault rifle, a Glock pistol, a bulletproof vest and a small amount of ammunition were seized following another shooting encounter, in which no one was apparently hurt.
57 year-old Esron Laing of Kingston 20 was found shot dead in his car along the Salt River main road near Cockpit. A missing woman who had been traveling with him was eventually found, walking in a neighbouring community.
Hanover: Not far from where Tianna Clarke’s body was found, another teenager, 17-year-old Jaydeen Grant’s body was found in bushes in Argyle Mountain on the Hanover/Westmoreland border.
Kingston/St. Andrew: Correctional officer, 35-year-old David Stewart was shot dead and two others injured in August Town.
Horace Fowler, 27, was shot dead in Majesty Gardens, Kingston.
36-year-old Marcus Bailey was shot and killed in Denham Town, Kingston (which is still a Zone of Special Operations).
St. Ann: 30-year-old Narado Ebanks was shot dead after gunmen broke down his door at his home in Mount Edgecombe, Runaway Bay.
St. Mary: A three year-old girl, Kelesia Matthews, was walking with her stepfather in Annotto Bay, when she was shot dead. The Ministry of Education and Youth will be offering counselling and financial support to the family.
St. James: 14-year-old St. James High School student Tianna Clarke was found dead in an abandoned building with head wounds in Granville, St. James. A man has since been arrested. Tina had gone out to buy a cup soup at the nearby shop. Her fellow students and teachers are grieving. Another girl, the same age, was shot and injured at a shop in White Hall, Negril, Westmoreland.
Westmoreland: The police shot and killed one man and seriously injured another, who apparently tried to rob a policeman on Lewis Street, Savannah-la-Mar last night.
35-year-old labourer Rohan Eyesst was found dead from gunshot wounds in Little London.
Clifton Lawn, 45, a fisherman, was shot dead on Dalling Street in Savannah-la-Mar.