The weather is warming, and could it really be the month of March?
Agriculture: There seems to be a lot of uncertainty in the coffee industry. There are rumours that the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory in the Blue Mountains, now owned by Michael Lee-Chin (who knew?) may close, but these have been denied.
Caribbean: We think we have “Chief Justice problems,” but Trinidad’s Chief Justice Ivor Archie is currently under investigation by the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) and engaged in a court battle over allegations of misconduct.
Exxon Mobil has made a seventh oil discovery off the coast of Guyana. The Guyanese Government will set up a Department of Energy to oversee the oil and gas sector. Meanwhile, a “thick black substance” has been found on the shore near Georgetown. Exxon say it’s not guilty… However, the agreement with Exxon and partners Hess Oil and Nexen China remains a controversial one.
Children: UNICEF has hired Christopher Harper, as Jamaica’s National U-Report Coordinator. What is U-Report? Its slogan is #VoiceMatters and it is a new platform where young people can share their views via SMS, social media and messaging apps. Nice!
How many pathologists are there in Jamaica right now? A grieving mother is awaiting the autopsy on her nine-year-old son, who died suddenly while playing. A few years back, chief pathologist Dr. Rao was able to cut the waiting time dramatically before leaving us; now, it seems to be slipping back to long delays, I understand.
Climate Change: The recent meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti put climate change on the agenda. President of the host country (which has had more than its share of disasters) Jovenel Moise is planning a conference on this pressing topic – in particular, access to funding for climate change resilience. CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque is very concerned about funding and the possibility of increased debt.
Corruption: The Financial Investigations Division (FID) and Fraud Squad are looking into apparent suspicious transactions at the National Insurance Fund (NIF) involving shares bought on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A well-known stockbroker may also be in trouble. This is what they call a “developing story,” I believe.
For quite a while, another Government agency, the Institute of Sports (INSPORTS) has been under a bit of a shadow. Now, Sports Minister Olivia Grange has asserted that millions are unaccounted for at the agency, which is under investigation, she says.
Crime: The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been racking up Brownie points for its recent activities on the persistently clogged roads of the capital city. Policemen have been directing traffic at key intersections, and according to commuters all has gone remarkably smoothly. I wish the concept of car pooling, especially for school trips, would catch on, but Jamaicans seem averse to the idea. We are a selfish bunch with that kind of thing. We must have our own car, no matter what chaos (and emissions) it may cause.
For some time now, women have been targeted by criminals on Kingston’s streets. The aggression of the window washers (especially those at Devon House, but there are other danger spots), who intimidate women driving alone, must somehow be curbed. It is getting worse. Are we going to wait for a serious injury to occur before action is taken? The other fearful trend at the moment is the unofficial or “robot taxi drivers” – or men in cars (sometimes with woman accomplices) who pretend to be taxi drivers and abduct young girls. One student told a chilling story to Cliff Hughes on radio last week. Please, please be careful before you get into a car with a stranger.
Speaking of female victims, have reported rape cases declined by half in the past four years – really? Under-reporting is a factor.
The growing number of teenagers implicated in violent crime is alarming. A 16-year-old boy from St. James has been charged with the murder of Lascelles Warlock, 53-year-old farmer of Pisgah, St. Elizabeth last December. He was arrested after a shootout with the police.
There was a huge ganja bust in Westmoreland, where the weed trade has been flourishing for some time. Over 700 pounds was seized and thirty people arrested in Orange Hill. Sales of the drug go to fund the activities of criminal gangs.
The terrorism case against Abdullah al-Faisal, born Trevor Forrest in St. James, may drag on for a while longer. He is wanted in the U.S. on terrorism charges, after being deported from the UK and, more recently, Kenya. The judge is still trying to decide on what documents, tapes etc. can be handed over to his defence – he’s fighting the extradition. He was arrested on August 25, 2017.
Culture and Tradition: Beverley Lashley, our marvellous National Librarian, says she would like the National Library of Jamaica (check out the awesome website here) to move to new premises. It’s bursting at the seams.
Education: The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) has rejected (again) the Government’s wage offer of 16 per cent over four years. JTA President Georgia Waugh Richards talked about “democracy” in the trade union. However, while close to 700 teachers attended the council session, only 352 delegates voted. Why is that?
Safety and security in our schools remains an issue, albeit not as bad as in the U.S. But yes, we have gangs in schools. Two students of Ferncourt High School in St. Ann were stabbed and hospitalised during a schoolyard fight. Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna says the gang problem there has been “allowed to ferment.”
There was a large explosion last week at Mona High School in St. Andrew – not violence, but a chemistry experiment gone wrong. A teacher and several students were injured. This raised questions about safety in science labs – goggles and lab coats should be compulsory.
Economy: Do we have oil? International Corporation CGG Geo Consulting and the Petroleum Corporation Of Jamaica announced the discovery of two “independent live oil seeps” in different places. Meanwhile, British multinational company, Tullow Oil Limited, will conduct the first ever 3D seismic survey off Jamaica’s south coast this month, with a view to possible drilling around or after 2020.
Is BPO growth the right kind of growth? Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted: “The BPO Sector has enjoyed the highest employment growth rate of any sector in the last decade. The Factories Corporation of Jamaica has undertaken the creation of 750,000sq ft of BPO space which will create 20,000 new jobs.” Many Jamaicans call the BPOs virtual slave labour…
Energy: The Government owes billions to the Jamaica Public Service Co. for street lights. Finance Minister Audley Shaw says they are working to clear the arrears; but meanwhile, he insists lights must be restored to darkened communities. I’ve noticed quite a few are out, even in the Kingston area.
Environment: Minister Horace Chang says almost all the parishes have enough money in the kitty for trucking water. There are water challenges in several communities, including new housing developments. And we are not in a drought…
We had an earth tremor on Saturday morning. According to the Earthquake Unit it was 4.0 on the Richter scale and pretty deep. It was a bit of swaying from side to side, but no damage or injury was reported.
I am not convinced that the Palisadoes Shore project, implemented some years ago, will be effective in a major storm. Among other works by China Harbour Engineering Company, huge rocks were hacked out of some mountain and piled up on the open sea side of the strip of land between Kingston and the international airport, to protect the road from storm surges. On the harbour side, as the road was raised, mangroves were bulldozed. Now J$5 million has been set aside for the “environmental sub-project,” whereby the mangroves have been replanted, with limited success. The struggling seedlings also have to contend with tons of (plastic) solid waste in the harbour.
We’re haunted by all kinds of pollution these days. Firstly, there is concern about what appears to be the burning of tyres in the areas around Washington Gardens in Kingston (apparently to obtain the copper contained inside the tyres). Officials can’t figure out where this is taking place. Really? The National Environment & Planning Authority (NEPA) says its air pollution monitor there has not been working since 2015 (it lasted three years). Really?
And there’s more… Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) continues to keep the pressure up, with a special focus on water right now. March 22 is World Water Day. JET posted a photo captioned: “A canal polluted with wastewater from a nearby sugar factory at Golden Grove empties into Holland Bay, St Thomas. Jamaica tests very few parameters contained in the Ambient (Environmental) Water Quality Standards (relates to quality of water bodies such as rivers, streams and the sea). Our confidence in the quality of Jamaica’s water rests on a number of untested assumptions, for example, that source water is uncontaminated by agricultural chemicals.”
The Jamaica Observer printed large colour photos of parrot fish and shark in a food feature recently. What a faux pas, especially as the newspaper’s owner, Sandals boss Butch Stewart, launched a program last May with the University of the West Indies (UWI) Centre for Marine Sciences to produce “convincing data” to support calls for parrotfish management systems.
“The trees that have been removed could not remain, as they would have prevented the widening of the road. These were located in the middle of the new lanes that are being created and would have become a danger to the public,” says the National Works Agency. OK, we get it. Trees are a nuisance, and they get in the way. Farewell to the lovely trees in front of Immaculate Conception High School.
Health: A nine-year-old boy was killed in a road accident – thrown out of the vehicle, because he was not wearing a seat belt (nor was his father, who was speeding). The head of the National Road Safety Unit Kenute Hare is upset at the “foolishness” of motorbike riders also – apparently they are playing ridiculous daredevil games in some areas. Why aren’t they wearing their helmets, and why is the JCF not enforcing the law in this respect? As Mr. Hare puts it rather bluntly, “Without the head it dead.”
Over 30 cases of dengue fever have been recorded in St. Catherine – especially around Portmore and Spanish Town.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding made an interesting speech about Jamaica’s “greying” population the other day. Our life expectancy at birth is 74 years and our birth rate has declined in the past decade by 37 per cent.
Human Rights: Both the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) have expressed their adamant opposition to provisions in the proposed Data Protection Act, which is under examination by a parliamentary committee. Journalists and media houses would be hamstrung by the legislation in its current form, they say, demanding that journalists be completely exempted from it. Free speech would be shackled and the requirements so onerous that it would put media houses out of business, said MAJ head Christopher Barnes. Technology Minister Andrew Wheatley has denied that the intention was to fetter the free press. I think (and hope) that further deliberations will have a positive result for journalists. I will be writing more about this.
29-year- old Richard Oliver was shot dead in Pusey Hill/Point Hill, St. Catherine. A police constable has been arrested.
28-year-old Romaine Brown – reportedly one of St. Andrew’s “most wanted,” was shot and killed by the police in Golden Spring.
Sad story: A woman, Desrine Morris, was found dead in the holding area of St. Andrew Parish Court last week while waiting to go into the courtroom. She had apparently hanged herself with the sleeve of her blouse. Her family are asking questions; INDECOM is investigating.
St. James detainees during the State of Public Emergency now number 24 as of February 28, including several minors. The JCF reports that 916 people have been taken into custody altogether, and 65 charged with “various offences.”
Justice: So finally, Bryan Sykes was sworn in as Chief Justice (and received the Order of Jamaica) at a ceremony at King’s House, exactly one month after he was appointed to act in the job. Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn called the controversy over the “Acting” appointment “more a media creation,” adding that meanwhile Justice Sykes was “getting on with the job.” The Prime Minister solemnly intoned: “I have the highest respect and regard for the judiciary…” and insisted that the Executive had no intention of interfering with its operations. Justice Sykes speaks quietly, but I have a feeling he will make some waves. He appears ready to push for greater efficiency in the justice system. How this is going to be achieved with a reduced budget for justice for the coming year, I am not sure. I am now wondering: Was all this controversy a storm in some attorneys’ teacups?
Media: A well-known Montego Bay-based journalist with the Western Mirror, Volney Barrett, died aged 32 after dialysis treatment. My deepest condolences to his family!
Politics: The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) celebrated its second anniversary in power on February 25. There has been a lot of sparring on social media, with the traditional media asking questions about the JLP’s achievements and its ability/inability to fulfil all its campaign promises (of course, no government keeps those). One achievement is that the party has managed to “hang in there,” despite winning the 2016 election with such a slim majority (one – now two).
Meanwhile, the candidates are limbering up for another by-election on March 5 – a contest between the JLP’s Dr. Nigel Clarke and the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Keisha Hayle. I think these are two good people. However, political candidates must and should have some control over the behaviour of their supporters during campaigns. I understand that in lower Belvedere, St. Andrew this week, the road was blocked by Dr. Clarke’s unruly bunch, who were hostile towards residents of the area. This was preceded by a night of deafening noise until 3:00 a.m. (on a weekday), which the Red Hills Police appeared quite nonchalant about. Dr. Clarke, this is actually the way to lose votes, not win them – all to satisfy your crowd of partisans, who are there for the music, curry goat and beer! When are political representatives going to take responsibility for their supporters’ behaviour? Dr. Clarke is a respectable, very bright man, but this kind of behaviour – considered normal during election campaigns – reflects very badly on candidates. Very.
The Contractor General is concerned (again) about Government road works taking place ahead of the March 5 by-election. The Opposition is not happy about additional funds allocated for road repairs, stressing that this was done ahead of local government elections as well as the fairly recent by-election in St. Mary. The Jamaica Labour Party’s Horace Chang seems unconcerned and says the funds were earmarked earlier, but delayed because of rains.
The PNP is presenting various candidates at party meetings. The latest is Dr. Dwaine Spencer, brother of former Member of Parliament Kern Spencer, who was acquitted of corruption in a case that lasted several years (the “Cuban lightbulb scandal”).
Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips is not a happy camper; he became quite heated upon learning that the Government is not going to conduct the tedious (and expensive) re-verification exercise for the voters’ list. “Parliament is being treated with disrespect,” complained Dr. Phillips (I have heard him more than once hinting at taking to the streets? Only hinting, mind you). The Opposition asserts that the Government made a commitment to the re-verification two months or so ago. The Finance Minister responded that the Holness administration has had to prioritise spending on security in the budget and cannot afford it this fiscal year, after all.
Sports… And let’s blame the women! Dave Cameron is President of the Cricket West Indies. Regional cricket (played by men, that is) is in pretty poor shape, I gather. Now Mr. Cameron is happy to explain to us lowly mortals why:
“Firstly, we only have female PE (physical education) teachers, which is a problem. Most of them don’t know cricket. The game of cricket is very complicated. They don’t know the history and neither are they interested. That becomes an issue. When we went to school, most of our PE teachers, if not all, were male. So they coached cricket, football, track and field. We’re not getting that anymore.”
Happy to see the patriarchy is firmly in place! How reassuring.
Happy bouquets for:
Chair and Founder of Digicel Group Denis O’Brien, who visited Jamaica with his wife Catherine last week. The O’Briens have been incredibly generous and have virtually transformed Tivoli Gardens High School and two other schools – St. Michael’s Primary School in Kingston and Maud McLeod High School in Westmoreland – as a “thank you” to Jamaica, a country they love very much. Their support for Tivoli has been substantial. The O’Briens were joined last week for a celebration there by Usain Bolt, the Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid and Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie. Mr. Bolt told the students: “Anything is possible. Don’t think limits. One thing I’ve learnt is, if you want to be great, you have to work and push yourself, it never comes easy.” Work hard!
Chief of Staff at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition and former senator Imani Duncan Price is an Eisenhower Fellow! This is a prestigious seven-week programme in the U.S. Jamaica actually only has a very few Eisenhower Fellows. Kudos to Imani!
New author, community worker and motivational speaker Damien Williams had a warm and beautifully orchestrated launch event for his new book Grab You Some Lemons on Saturday evening. It was an inspiring evening, without being “over the top.”
Congratulations to Danniel Thomas Dodd on achieving a new National Women’s Indoor Shot Put Record of 19.22 at the World Indoor Championships Shot Put Final in Birmingham, UK for a historic second place!
At least four women and one teenager were among those killed violently in the past week and four days. My deepest condolences to the families of all those named below…
Clarendon: 42-year-old labourer Jermaine Lewin’s body was found in bushes in Effortville, with gunshot wounds.
33-year-old vendor Kemu Cunningham was shot and killed on Main Street, May Pen.
The body of a taxi driver, 50-year-old Edwin Anderson, was found along Foga Road.
Hanover: The body of Petrice Porteous, 21, was found in a shallow grave in Kew Top.
Portland: 20-year-old Kerone Dixon was beaten and stabbed to death by a group of high school students in the bus park in the middle of Port Antonio at 5:30 p.m. The police are reportedly still searching for the students. It seems, no one came to his rescue. This is absolutely shocking on so many levels.
Kingston/St. Andrew: Island Traffic Authority Motor Vehicle Inspector Lorenzo Esco was shot dead on Lydia Drive in Havendale.
The body of Lisa McLaughlin, 30, was found in her house with a gunshot wound, following a gun battle with the police in the area. It’s alleged that she was killed by a stray bullet.
Moroni Locke, a 43-year-old mason and taxi operator of Lothian Avenue, Kingston 11, was shot dead when he returned home.
28-year-old Romaine Brown – reportedly one of St. Andrew’s “most wanted,” was shot and killed by the police in Golden Spring.
Garrell Williams, 33, was shot dead while walking in Bayshore Park, Harbour View.
St. Ann: 28-year-old Teng Fei Cheng, a Chinese businessman, was shot dead outside his business place in Brown’s Town.
St. Catherine: 29-year- old Richard Oliver was shot dead in Pusey Hill/Point Hill. A police constable has been arrested and INDECOM is investigating.
32-year-old Dervin Parker was shot and killed in Banbury.
Victor Lawrence, 18, a student of Eltham High School, and 24-year-old Rashawn Jennings were shot and killed at a house on Old Harbour Road.
Three bodies were found in shallow graves in March Pen. One was identified as 21-year-old Kemar Donaldson.
Thirty-nine year-old Howard Campbell, a welder, was shot and killed at his home in Bog Walk by men posing as police officers.
St. James: 37-year-old Detroit Johnson was shot and killed in Spring Mount – again, by men posing as police officers.
St. Mary: 74-year-old Leslie Miller was stabbed to death by his son in Dover, during an argument.
37-year-old Oneil Lester was shot dead at his home in Top Bay/Annotto Bay.
St. Thomas: Shopkeeper Eugenie James, 74, was found with her throat slashed at home in Duckenfield.
34-year-old female security guard, Jahleet Jeffrey, was shot dead in Yallahs while walking to a bus stop.
Westmoreland: Rohan Brennon, 21, was shot dead at his home in Hudson Street, Savannah-la-Mar.