I haven’t written a news update since Easter! With so much happening, I should never have left it so long. I can only say that I have been overwhelmed with all kinds of commitments and things that have dragged me away from my regular news focus. Here’s an update for the last week (or perhaps two)…You can click on the highlighted links to read more, and there’s a photo gallery.
Caribbean: The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government meeting took place in Montego Bay from July 4 – 6. The Haitian Prime Minister handed over CARICOM’s chairmanship to Jamaica until December 31. I wrote down a few thoughts on the annual speechfest in my Gleaner blog here. There was a new kid on the block: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, a seemingly no-nonsense woman and the island’s first woman Prime Minister, who won a landslide victory in May (like Grenada, Barbados has no parliamentary Opposition now).
Tiny Barbuda has seen much post-hurricane drama. Since recent elections, when Prime Minister Gaston Browne was returned to office, things have been rather unpleasant (PM Browne has called Barbudans “lawless” and the Barbuda People’s Movement has rather belatedly sued the Government for building an international airport on the island, destroying many acres of wildlife habitat). On a cheerier note, the Chinese Government, with UNDP, has restored over 300 roofs – the first such effort by China Aid in the Caribbean.
Many Guyanese at home and abroad are upset by a New York Times article by Clifford Krauss – especially the first two paragraphs, I think. Here is a link to it. Tremendous photographs by Christopher Gregory, but as happens too often, the piece grasps at images and stereotypes. However, there are some nuggets in there. Will the pending oil boom for Guyana benefit the country, or will it be a wasted opportunity? There are comparisons with Trinidad: “They thought oil was the best thing since sliced bread, and they spent Sunday to Sunday. They stopped producing and imported everything with oil money. It could happen here,” says one Guyanese businesswoman.
Children: The Child Diversion Bill was passed with a few amendments by the Senate on July 13. The focus is on the rights of children in conflict with the law. Is it enough? Human rights activist Susan Goffe calls it “an important piece of legislation with potential for positive impact.” Custodes and Justices of the Peace will assist with its implementation. You can find it here. (not the final version).
Climate Change/Disaster Preparedness: This should have been blasted over every front page, but a recent World Bank report notes that Jamaica needs J$16 billion (US$121 million approx.) a year to cover losses from what we call “natural” disasters. All that governments strive to build can be blown or washed away in a day or two by a hurricane, floods, earthquake or even drought and wildfires. The report, Advancing Disaster Risk Finance in Jamaica, is a “road map” for disaster preparedness. You can find it here. It offers short, medium and long-term recommendations for financing. Have we thought about climate bonds?
The Climate Change Division’s slogan is: Smart and Steady: Get Climate Ready. The Division has been very busy with a number of training sessions and is getting ready to welcome an international expert on crop modeling next week.
The Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) in Jamaica is also partnering with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) on a rainwater harvesting manual, with guidelines relevant to the Caribbean.
Corruption/Transparency: The big story, which has been dominating the media and providing much fodder for the Opposition for the past two or three weeks, has been the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam – now often referred to as “scandal-plagued.” Stories – and allegations – of nepotism and cronyism have been piling up. This resulted in Prime Minister Andrew Holness removing the Energy portfolio from Minister Andrew Wheatley and taking it on in his own Office. Now former General Manager Winston Watson is returning to Petrojam next week after the previous GM resigned. There are major questions about the employment, speedy promotion, qualifications and salary of an HR Director. At another government agency, National Energy Solutions (Nesol), there are questions about another hiring, which Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee has been trying to get to the bottom of. Then there is the Universal Service Fund, another agency under the same Ministry, with more accusations of impropriety (largely emanating from the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Julian Robinson, with backing from Energy Spokesman Phillip Paulwell – a former Energy Minister who has more than his own fair share of “scandals” tucked under his arm).
Should Minister Wheatley have offered to resign when the first news of alleged corruption and malpractice at Petrojam began to emerge? I think so. Corruption is a tricky thing. The perception is so important; best to step down and allow investigations to go on (the Prime Minister assures us, these are ongoing). At best, the Minister appears to have not been paying attention, and that’s not good enough.
Meanwhile, the Senate pressed ahead last week to affirm public procurement regulations – a very important issue. Let us hope the rules will be enforced and public officials held accountable. Cabinet ministers will, according to the Prime Minister, be “retrained” in governance matters.
Chief Executive Officer of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), Shane Dalling is not messing around. Mr. Dalling has reported that over 100 firearm licenses have been revoked so far this year, with hundreds more revocations in the offing. He also revoked the dealer license for some people in Manchester due to suspicious transactions. The FLA has uncovered all kinds of malpractice and after accountability measures were put in place, dealers are now complaining that their ammunition sales have plummeted! And over 800 licensed guns have been reported lost of stolen over the last five years, says Mr. Dalling.
Our former Contractor General (and regular tweeter) Greg Christie has now taken up a position as head of the Integrity Commission in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I wish him all the best in his new position. He will be terrific. As Jamaica’s Contractor General he was tireless – and outspoken. By the way, Mr. Christie tweeted today that new Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley has declared “zero tolerance” on corruption. Haven’t we heard that one before…
Crime: Since I last wrote, there has been quite a dramatic reduction in murders. The Ministry of National Security says there has been a 13.2 percent decline as of July 14 compared to 2017. In the month of June, there was a 48 percent reduction compared to June 2017. What are the factors behind this? Is the new Police Commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson, making a difference already?
Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) in Mt. Salem, St James, and Denham Town, Kingston have been extended for another 60 days. Prime Minister Andrew Holness conceded that the more recently established Denham Town ZOSO has been less successful in some ways.
Remember Jamaica Eye, which was launched in March? Well, apparently this surveillance system now has over 100 private partners, who are providing feed from their personal CCTV footage. You can sign on at their website – according to which “your feeds will be secured and accessed only by a restricted team of vetted security professionals appointed to the JamaicaEye project.” We are becoming Big Brother.
The Ministries of Justice and National Security now have joint portfolio responsibility for human trafficking issues. This makes sense. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has indeed been making headway in rescuing victims (not all Jamaicans) and prosecutions. Local and international presenters will meet in Trelawny (July 25-26) for an International Conference.
Culture and Tradition: We’re coming up to the Emancipation/Independence Day holiday (how did that come around so quickly?) It’s good to hear that the Mexican Embassy is assisting with a new project to train our Jamaica Archives and Records Division personnel to digitize our records and historical data. The project is cumbersomely entitled the Project for Capacity Development in Digital Preservation for Records and Information Professionals.
Remember! Sankofa Arts & Facilitation, in partnership with the Department of Literatures in English, UWI will present Tribe Sankofa in three performances entitled WORD-SOUL – THE SUMMER EDITION at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI on July 27 – 29. Ticket outlet: Bookophilia, 92 Hope Road. Tel: 876-402-9020. $1,500 and $1,000 for students with ID!
Economy: I like the Finance Ministry’s “Boots on the Street” initiative – a tour of the island to explain matters of the economy to different communities. The highly capable Director of Communication and Public Relations in the Ministry, Elaine Oxamendi Vicet, is spearheading this effort which is aimed at 19- to 35-year-olds.
A Malta-based company is seeking to buy the small Morgan’s Harbour Hotel in Port Royal, which was placed in receivership in 2015. It is 23 acres, including the coal wharf (which the Port Authority of Jamaica is interested in) and old naval dockyard next door. Interestingly, the PAJ has plans to create a cruise ship terminal there (on the Kingston Harbour side). Earlier this month, Cabinet approved a US$7.4-million contract for Cruise Ventures AS to install a floating pier for cruise ships in Port Royal, near the entrance to the Harbour (I am concerned about the environmental impact). The project also includes the restoration of historical sites: the Old Naval Hospital, Fort Charles, the Admiralty Houses, and Fort Rocky. This is a must – Port Royal has for years been gently decaying (and also overwhelmed with garbage, I might add). For me personally, it will always have its charm. I recall happy weekends spent with our small son at Morgan’s Harbour, sitting on a little artificial beach and sipping cocktails. We were there the night before Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, innocently (and ignorantly) watching clouds racing across the sky on Sunday evening. Come Monday morning…
Education: I hope the government is getting serious about training our young people for the workforce of the future. It seems they are at least realizing that this is urgently needed if Jamaica is to become globally competitive. While State Minister Floyd Green says there will be a 14 percent increase in trainees this year at the HEART Trust/NTA, hopefully, the vocational/skills training is more than training welders and chefs.
This seems to be a recurring issue: a child has been banned from the highly-rated Kensington Primary School (which I recall visiting some years ago) for wearing dreadlocks. The “hairstyle” issue pops up almost annually – along with the nonsensical dress rules for the public in Government offices, which Prime Minister Andrew Holness has asked Gender Minister Olivia Grange to investigate. While the Education Minister has apparently not commented, Jamaicans for Justice has decided to take this up in court, suggesting that it violates several rights of children under the Jamaican Constitution. I hope this will settle the issue, once and for all.
I think you might enjoy this short interview with veteran educator Esther Tyson on the excellent website, jamaicans.com.
Environment: Guess what? The Retirement dump in St. James is reportedly still smoking severely, one week after it started. The National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) claims that it is now three-quarters subdued, and should be out by Sunday. Residents and business people (and one presumes tourism interests too) are enraged. The fire was apparently deliberately set, and people living on the dump “have to be moved,” says NSWMA chief Audley Gordon. “We can’t stop fires at a disposal site,” said Mr. Gordon, not very reassuringly, because of spontaneous combustion in extreme heat. But was this the case?
Sargassum seaweed has become a problem along the coastlines of many Caribbean islands, including now Jamaica. Hotels have closed in Antigua and in Bonaire, large-scale efforts to remove the seaweed have been underway for some time. The seaweed plague is supposed to be caused by warming waters and Latin American rivers carrying large quantities of nutrients flowing into the sea.
The current drought is biting, affecting some parishes (currently, Clarendon and St. Elizabeth) more than others. We are smothered by Saharan dust, apparently preventing rain and rising temperatures – which are above average for this time of year. One of our reservoirs at Hermitage is less than half full, but Mona is doing better. We may soon have water restrictions, the way things are going.
Plastic is a curse. We all know that. Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica has been pursuing #plasticfreejulyJA. As Diana McCaulay has also discovered, it’s not easy to reduce the plastic in your life. Give it a try, though. You will become more aware of the dominance of plastic.
Foreign Affairs: State Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Pearnel Charles Jr. has been very busy meeting with members of the Jamaican Diaspora. He mentioned in a tweet that “some of the stereotypes and challenges faced by diaspora members” discussed during meetings with Jamaican Canadians – I think this is a real issue. We need to get closer and put those biases aside.
Human Rights: The case of those accused of murdering Mario Deane drags on in court. Mr. Deane was beaten by fellow inmates while in police custody in Montego Bay almost four years ago and died in hospital soon afterward. Now two of the inmates are awaiting psychiatric reports, while a third was released after being deemed mentally unfit for trial. A date is set for September 17 for the reports.
Justice: A big story this week has been the appeal by Vybz Kartel, the highly popular dancehall deejay (real name Adijah Palmer) and three others against their convictions in relation to the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams in 2014. Jamaicans on social media (especially fans, of which there are many) are busy applying their learned “legal minds” and have mostly already concluded that Mr. Palmer should be freed. We’ll see. Meanwhile, the deejay’s lawyer Valerie Neita Robinson (now a political candidate and on Twitter) has justified the ongoing reporting on every aspect of the case, despite it being sub judice. Not all members of the legal profession agree.
Media: Just a footnote from me. I strongly support the reiterated call by the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) – not for the first time – to reinstate the weekly post-Cabinet press briefings. These have fallen by the wayside under the current administration, and the Minister of Education, Youth and Information has been neglecting the Information side of his portfolio (a job that Daryl Vaz took very seriously in the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration). Social media video clips and Facebook Live broadcasts are great, Mr. Prime Minister, but cannot replace the good old-fashioned Q and A format of the press briefing. Anyway, one was held last week; I hope it continues. It’s a good way to touch base with journalists. There are always useful conversations and person-to-person contacts on the side that are important.
Politics: The Opposition PNP’s strategy (if you can call it that) seems to be to target one government minister after another. I could be wrong (as President Trump would say) but… first it was Health Minister Christopher Tufton, and now Minister Wheatley. Who will be next, I wonder? This is all par for the course in the cut and thrust of politics, but I am not sure that throwing accusations around to see which one will stick is really the best tactic. I would suggest the PNP calms down a little.
The PNP is warming up for its Annual Conference. Dr. Peter Phillips will be returned unopposed as President, while there are six nominees for Vice President: Angela Brown-Burke; Dr. Wykeham McNeill; Dr. Fenton Ferguson; Mikhail Phillips; Phillip Paulwell, and Damion Crawford.
Tourism: Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has announced that the Government will invite the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach, who were trapped in a cave for what seemed like forever recently, for a free holiday in Jamaica. Why not give some underprivileged Jamaicans a free holiday instead, some grumbled on social media. I think it’s a clever idea – both to highlight Jamaican tourism and as a gesture of goodwill to a foreign country. Good diplomacy, actually. Besides, I’m sure some of our hotels have a few rooms to spare in this low season period.
Women: Take a look at this photo essay from UNICEF’s excellent blog about Monique McDonald, a teen survivor of sexual abuse, who is now a Mentor Mom with Eve for Life, helping young woman, many of whom are living with HIV/AIDS. Eve for Life’s work is significant and powerful.
To National Water Commission (NWC) for its prompt and regular updates on Twitter. The NWC gets a lot of flack for digging up roads, especially in the corporate area. However, it is clearly striving to keep customers informed.
Puerto Seco Beach has reopened, after extensive refurbishing and cleaning. It was horribly polluted before, so this is a good thing.
The Leap Company Limited was launched just one month ago by the dynamic Saffrey Brown (who is focusing on impact investment) and Dr. Suzanne Shaw. It will “develop and invest in scalable ventures built on profitable models that deliver solutions to environmental, social and economic challenges.” Good luck and congratulations too, Saffrey and Suzanne! Find them here.
The National Health Fund (NHF), which has launched a Quick Prescript phone app. If you don’t know the wonderful NHF, get on board! They provide a great service and are always seeking to improve.
It is very sad to know that the murders continue, although there have not been so many this past week as when I last posted a list, a few months ago. The story of the young woman and her two little children is particularly tragic. However, I hope the murders will continue their downward trend. My condolences to all who are mourning at this time.
Clarendon: The body of Ainsley Foster, 20, was found in an irrigation well in York Town.
Kingston: The burned body of an unidentified male was found on Rousseau Road, Kingston 5.
An unidentified man was found shot dead on Escarpment Road, Kingston 6.
St. Andrew: Kashief Jackson, 29, was found dead with machete wounds in her house in Tower Hill. Her two infant children – 1-year-old Aviere Williams and seven-days-old Aranza Williams – were found on the verandah. It’s not clear how the little ones died.
St. Ann: 40-year-old Damian Haye, a hotel worker, was stabbed to death at his home in Hartland.
Trelawny: An unnamed vendor from West Kingston was stabbed to death in the “Bend Down Market” in Falmouth.
Westmoreland: An unidentified man with multiple wounds was found floating in the Roaring River in Whithorn.