Warm breezes have been blowing in Kingston. Heavy rain showers on the north coast brought more flooding in their wake.
Agriculture: and JAMPRO to the rescue? The agriculture sector has been in decline for a while now, with the constant excuse of “the weather” trotted out (anyone heard of “climate-smart” agriculture?) Late last year the Planning Institute of Jamaica confidently predicted a little growth in the sector. Now JAMPRO has been called into action to boost investment, it seems. Will that do the trick?
Caribbean: Did you know that Barbados currently does not have a Parliament? It was dissolved on March 6 and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has not yet named the election date, but it must be within 90 days. There are three CARICOM general elections pending. Grenada’s took place today (last time, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell’s party won all 15 seats – and the same happened this time, so Mr. Mitchell is on his fifth term); and Antigua & Barbuda is having a surprisingly early one, on March 21. I wonder what the results will mean for the tiny, hurricane-hit Barbuda.
In Grenada, the “Kick ’em Jenny” underwater volcano is becoming more active and a warning has gone to Orange Alert. I remember passing not far from it on the Osprey ferry from Grenada to Carriacou, a few years ago.
Down south on Bonaire, residents, volunteers and now the military have come out to clear up what is literally tons of sargassum seaweed that has dumped on their beaches.
Corruption and Transparency: The members of the new Integrity Commission were appointed by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen this weekend. They are: Retired judge of the Court of Appeal Justice Karl Harrison (Chairman); retired Court of Appeal President Justice Seymour Panton; Auditor General Pamela Munroe-Ellis; tax expert Eric Crawford; and former Contractor General Derrick McKoy. The Commission is a merger of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, Integrity Commission and the Office of the Contractor General. I assume that the current Contractor General, Mr. Harrison, is now out of a job ?
I heartily agree with Jean Lowrie-Chin’s column last week: Taxpayers Must Raise Their Voices. How can government agencies, and their employees, play so fast and loose with taxpayers’ money (such as in the case of the National Insurance, where over half a billion dollars was invested without the board’s authorisation?) Apparently funds from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s Rehabilitation Programme Policy have also been siphoned off to staff members in the past few years, the Auditor General reports. Have the police been called in? I hope so!
Crime: After a fairly long pause, Major General Antony Anderson, currently National Security Advisor, was appointed as Commissioner of Police. This was warmly welcomed by almost everyone, including private sector organisations – and quite a relief for us all, after the débacle of Mr. Quallo. The new Police Commissioner will take up duties on March 19.
There was a slight increase in murders up to March 10 this year compared to last (277, a six per cent increase). Shootings, larceny and robberies were up somewhat also. However, reported rapes, we are led to believe, are down, as are burglaries. And unreported…?
Numbers 66 and 86 Old Hope Road are “at war.” I kid you not. There are apparently two gangs, the 66 Lane Gang and the Night Time Brawling Gang (who presumably live at Number 86). The Member of Parliament (my MP, Julian Robinson) is trying to figure it out.
Remember the drama of Moravian pastor Rupert Clarke, who was charged with two counts of having sexual intercourse with two minors under the age of 16? He pled guilty last November and, as a result of the plan to shorten sentences, was sentenced to eight years (two sentences running concurrently) on March 8. I wrote about this for Global Voices here – and the very unhappy response on social media, on International Women’s Day of all days! Should crimes like this qualify for sentence reduction?
Five students of Green Island High School in Hanover were on video attacking a bus conductor with knives and stones. They are headed for court.
Organised crime is things like illegal cigarettes. The Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) division of the police conducted several raids on businesses in Kingston and seized J$5 million worth of cigarettes and fake brand name sneakers. I hope they will arrest the gangsters who are behind this trade.
Culture: It’s nearly Carnival time, and Jamaica Carnival has dropped out of Road March 2018 (April 8) due to lack of funds. This is a shame, as they usually try to do an affordable package, not the highly-priced, glitzy costumes of other bands, and they are the “originals” going back some 30 years now.
Economy: “No new taxes” chorused Government Members in the Lower House last week, as Finance Minister Audley Shaw revealed the 2018/19 Budget. There was a lively atmosphere as Minister Shaw made his budget speech – jeers and ridicule from the Opposition bench responding to humorous jabs from the Minister, and much thunderous thumping on benches. All this while still negotiating with the teachers, police and nurses on wages (see “Education” below). Ha! Tactics…
The Opposition Spokesman on Finance, Mark Golding waxed eloquent in Parliament today, lapsing into a curious uptown patois from time to time (he normally speaks with an English accent). He questioned whether the “Five in Four” growth target, which has now clearly fallen by the wayside, was just a PR stunt. Having attended the launch in November, 2016, I confess I am wondering about that, too. Things were mildly heated at times in the Lower House. Golding attributed the falling unemployment rate to the former PNP administration. As one tweeter put it: “Pure dolly house in Parliament.”
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund team was in town. They made a very interesting presentation at the Bank of Jamaica for stakeholders during the week, and then held a press conference. Here is their report.
I have been saying at regular intervals that the public sector wage issue was just lurking in the wings, with politicians afraid to face it. It was obviously going to be a rocky ride no one wanted to take. Now the Holness administration is facing reality, and it ain’t pretty. The Police Federation is threatening to take the Government to court, and the Prime Minister’s spokesman Robert Morgan is concerned that the Jamaican people need more convincing that the country is on the right track. A recent opinion poll by Don Anderson suggested that 54% feel the economy is headed in the wrong direction. Things are a little wobbly, again.
Education: The teachers have “upped the ante.” They (or rather the Jamaica Teachers’ Association – JTA – which represents them) voted to turn down the Government’s wage offer on March 3. JTA head Georgia Waugh Richards says she wants the teachers’ “brothers and sisters” in the International Labour Organisation and Education International to support them. What does the JTA want? It is “open to negotiation,” she says. However, she may be caught in a bind. Why? Because the Finance Minister has responded by saying that if they get a pay rise, there will have to be new taxes for pay for it, which no one wants, of course. Gotcha! At a meeting with the International Monetary Fund, Minister Shaw said the Government was doing its best and public sector workers will get a total increase of close to 30 % over four years, including increments – and that the money due to the teachers will have to be paid by March 31, the end of the fiscal year. Reminder: Education Minister Ruel Reid is a former school principal and JTA head. Prime Minister Andrew Holness is a former Education Minister.
Social media has divided into two “black/white” camps (with perhaps three or four grey areas): The teachers are underpaid, overworked, work with broken children, have been disrespected by the Government VS. Many teachers are lazy and incompetent, the JTA is a politically motivated clique trying crafty tactics, and the Government doesn’t have any more to give. The JTA had planned a three-day “sickout” – timed for maximum effect as students will have crucial examinations very soon. The plans were leaked to the media, and the Government put contingency plans in place, but a number of schools were affected on the first day. And then Opposition Leader Peter Phillips jumped in. A few years back as Finance Minister, Phillips said almost exactly what Minister Shaw said a few days ago…
Environment: The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) is implementing the Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (2016-2022), funded by the Government of Jamaica through a US$30 million loan agreement with the World Bank. Among the deliverables is a National Risk Information Platform. I’m a little puzzled as to why the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), which has been quite low key, is not involved. JSIF is implementing a lot of programmes nowadays at the community level.
Sea Cucumbers? Five fishermen were arrested and charged for possession of sea cucumbers without a license following the seizure of some 300 pounds of sea cucumbers at Welcome Beach in Clarendon. The sea cucumber is “considered a delicacy in Asian countries,” apparently. Some time ago Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Karl Samuda mentioned possibly “harvesting” them in the future. Clearly there is a market here in Jamaica but…where is the demand coming from?
Health: Montego Bay’s Cornwall Regional Hospital – a huge ugly lump of a building that looks like a prison – continues to cause an inexorable parade of problems and is now the source of much politicking. As soon as one problem is solved, a new one is uncovered, seemingly. Several floors have been “totally gutted,” says Health Minister Chris Tufton. A chimney stack has been shut down. There is no option but to keep the hospital open, he adds. He is hopeful that all will be well by year-end. Meanwhile, nurses (and doctors) are suffering and getting sick! Patients (already sick, obviously) will be relocated to various locations where possible.
“Welcome to Montego Bay”: Nothing seems to go right for Montego Bay, these days. The attractive sign outside the Sangster International Airport is now destroyed by a serious traffic accident. Four young men were in a speeding car, which swerved to avoid some debris on the road from floods the night before, and crashed into it. Two young men, not wearing seat belts, were thrown from the vehicle and two others seriously injured. The Mayor says drains in the town are inadequate in some areas – but they were clean, so don’t blame him. Two more young men were killed and four injured in a three-vehicle crash on the race track that passes for the Rose Hall main road. Yes, according to the police two of the cars were having a “race trial.”
Jamaica’s first legal medical cannabis facility, chaired by Chairman and Chief Ganja Officer, Balram Vaswani, opened last weekend! Kaya Farms and sister companies, Kaya Herb House, Kaya Spa, Kaya Cafe, Kaya Tours “offer a variety of services for Jamaicans and tourists, including the sale of marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes,” it is reported. Here’s their website, full of Californian girls in skimpy clothing, smoking weed! Hmm. Medicinal, or therapeutic?
Human Rights: INDECOM has been busy. In its quarterly report, the Commissioner noted a 51% increase in police killings in 2017 compared to the previous year. The police killed 160 last year. “The pattern of security forces shooting incidents show that there are always more people killed than injured in the reported encounters. The ratio between persons killed and injured has remained relatively constant, at nearly 60/40,” the report notes. There have been 28 fatal shootings by the police this year to date, and 94 cases (police officers) have gone to court.
O’Neil Johnson and Ricardo Stewart were shot dead by the police on the Spanish Town Bypass. The family says this was not a shootout, but an execution.
Politics: As was really expected, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate and former senator Dr. Nigel Clarke won the by-election in North West St. Andrew quite comfortably and was sworn in on March 8. So, the JLP retains its 30-33 majority in Parliament. As often happens in by-elections, the voter turnout was rather low. In fact, People’s National Party (PNP) candidate Keisha Hayle did not do badly, with 2,800 votes; Clarke garnered 4,400.
Peter Bunting’s son and a music producer have both been charged with assault after a fight between them. Young Bunting was reportedly complaining about noise. His father, however, emerged relatively unscathed, despite remarks he made on video about JLP candidate Nigel Clarke (a day before the by-election) went down like a lead balloon on social media. “In a sense, he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times who aspired to be sort of black royalty,…[Clarke has a] “great British education and sort of mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters,” said Bunting, egged on by PNP stalwart Rev. Garnett Roper. Mr. Bunting, himself a member of the privileged class by any measure you care to look at, made us all uncomfortable as he reached into the depths of class and colour – issues that Jamaicans shrink from – and appeared to cast aspersions on Dr. Clarke’s academic striving. Fellow blogger Dennis Jones wrote about it here and I touched on the matter in a recent post for the Jamaica Gleaner blogs. Michael Abrahams pointed out that the founder of Mr. Bunting’s own party (and his son) had very “elite” British educations too (a great column). Dear me, Mr. Bunting! Was all of that necessary in the name of politics?
However, let me quickly point out that there was a cordial and sincere exchange on Twitter between PNP Senator Floyd Morris and Dr. Clarke, which made me feel a little better. Jamaicans who are not on Twitter miss a great deal (the good, bad and pretty ugly). For once, these were pleasant political tweets.
Councillor Hugh Graham was selected today as the PNP candidate in North West St. Catherine, since former party chairman Robert Pickersgill will not run, next time around. Graham was elected via a yes no ballot, 380-4 (1,200 delegates were actually eligible to vote – this seems a low turnout). Former Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce had apparently been interested in the seat, but had withdrawn from the race earlier this week.
Gavin Dennis, who has begun working as a Senior IT Consultant in Aachen, Germany. Good luck, Gavin!
Neurosurgeon Dr. Odette Harris, who is Jamaican and is the first black woman to become a Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University in California. At Stanford School of Medicine she was the only black woman in the class of 1996. Brilliant, but sad that it took such a long time!
Jamaica’s ever-cheerful Ed Bartlett has been awarded World Tourism Minister of the Year by the Pacific Area Travel Writers Association (PATWA). He was interviewed on CNN (I am trying to find the link). Jamaica will host the annual Caribbean and North America Gala Ceremony in Montego Bay in September.
Our Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison, 70, who received the prestigious Windham-Campbell prize this month. Ms. Goodison teaches at the University of Michigan.
The Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), founded by Jean Lowrie-Chin, launched its Central Jamaica Chapter in Manchester last week. Congratulations to all who made this possible! If you know anyone who is 50-plus years of age on this part of the island who would like to become a member (the benefits are many!) please direct them to the CCRP Facebook page!
Talking of literature, the Kingston Book Festival (KBF) team did a grand job this year. Kudos to the Book Industry Association of Jamaica, led by the energetic-yet-focused Latoya West-Blackwood. You can find lots of photos of the festivities last week on the KBF Facebook page.
There is a sad story behind each of these deaths, and there are sad families, friends and loved ones mourning these deaths. My condolences to all who are grieving at this time.
Kingston/St. Andrew: Domaine Hall, 14, was shot dead by a group of men along Alexander Road, Hunts Bay, Kingston 13. In the same incident, taxi operator Richard Francis, 44, was shot dead while cleaning his car on Alexander Road.
47-year-old businessman Raymond Hall was shot dead in Swallowfield, Kingston 5.
Wayne Osbourne, a 20-year-old labourer, was stabbed to death by his cousin in Denham Town, during a game of dominoes.
An unidentified man was shot and killed by a licensed firearm holder on St Thomas Boulevard in Harbour View, after he reportedly robbed a woman.
Bar operator Kevin Walters was shot dead at his workplace in Ward Place, Constant Spring.
St. Catherine: A deaf mute man, Omar Newton, was shot during a robbery at a bar in Top Hill/Lluidas Vale on January 13, and died six weeks later in hospital.
O’Neil Johnson, 40, and Ricardo Stewart were shot dead by the police on the Spanish Town Bypass near De La Vega City. INDECOM is investigating.
Donovan Miller, 42, a bus conductor, was shot dead by robbers on the bus on the Mandela Highway near White Marl.
St. Elizabeth: Former nursing assistant Doreth Coke Lawson, 45, was found dead at her house in Springfield. She had been strangled.
St. James: Kirk Atkinson, 20, was shot dead during a confrontation with a licensed firearm holder in Lilliput.
St. Mary: 79-year-old farmer Charles Patterson was found dead at his gate in Crawl/Hampstead. He had reportedly had a land dispute with another man, 55-year-old Winston Henry. Henry was set upon by a mob after the farmer’s body was found, and also killed.
Carlton Fields, 45, a chef at a bar in Annotto Bay, was shot dead at his workplace. Annotto Bay has had several murders this year.
Westmoreland: Jermone Edwards, 22, was shot dead while riding his motorbike in Strathbogie.