I have been a little off the radar, so this update is not a weekend one, but a post-holiday break post! In the past ten days, much has been happening – including a delicious three days at Couples Sans Souci on the north coast, an evening at the Independence Day celebrations, and more…Anyway, here goes. (P.S. So far, Mercury in Retrograde seems to be behaving itself – at least, for me!)
Agriculture: Three cheers for the Central Jamaica Social Development Initiative, headed by Damion Young, who are putting their grant from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) to work on a climate-smart project involving the growing and processing of red peas (also peanuts and a greenhouse project are well underway). Fifty community and civil society organizations are currently implementing projects in Jamaica after being awarded grants totaling J$228 million in October 2017 by the EFJ in partnership with the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, under the Special Climate Change Adaptation Fund.
Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw (who, by the way, is quite gung-ho on the possibilities of ganja), speaking at the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show, says the sector has lost some J$1 billion over the last two years, due to climate change. Improved technology is only a part of the solution… Meanwhile, the Prime Minister was at Denbigh and visited the UNDP/Japan Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (JCCCP) booth. There were a lot of climate change-related activities at this annual event, reaching thousands of Jamaicans with their messages. Well done, all!
23 goats were found crammed into a Toyota in Hayes, Clarendon. It might sound funny, but praedial larceny (in other words, agricultural theft) really is a plague, and no administration has been able to effectively deal with it. This time a man was arrested. The goats looked very uncomfortable – but still alive.
Caribbean: See below for climate change happenings around the Caribbean. The Caribbean Regional Preparatory Meeting related to the Samoa Pathway for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) just got underway in San Pedro, Belize. It’s all about partnerships for sustainability, ahead of a September Samoa review meeting in New York.
One of the overseas educational institutions in the Caribbean, Ross University School of Medicine, will be moving from hurricane-wrecked Dominica to Barbados. Some are not at all happy, but the University has not been able to operate in Dominica for the past year.
Climate Change: Various efforts are happening, to help us all become more resilient to climate change:
Our very own Una May Gordon, who heads the Climate Change Division, was in Vienna (I think) at an International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) Conference focusing on the region – I’m curious to see what comes out of that.
The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) just signed an agreement with the UK Government to help eight Caribbean countries recover and restructure, with a special focus on Barbuda and Dominica, adding 30 million Pounds to the UK’s Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund.
And on Thursday morning this week, Director General of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Luis Alberto Moreno, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Sir Richard Branson will participate in the grand launch of the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator at UWI. It is supposed to be a “far-reaching vision for the world’s first climate-smart zone.” Vision is good and hopefully, action will follow!
Over at the University of Miami, the Clinton Foundation was holding discussions this week on how to help Dominica get back on its feet after last September’s hurricane. President Clinton is scheduled to visit Saint Lucia and the U.S. Virgin Islands over the next few days to make further announcements about support for the Caribbean under the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery.
The Disaster Risk Reduction Centre of the Institute for Sustainable Development at UWI piloted the first of two courses as part of a new online Disaster Risk Management graduate programme in Barbados and Jamaica in June. It is part of the Enhancing Knowledge and Application of Comprehensive Disaster Management Initiative, a five-year project funded by Global Affairs Canada, intended to bridge the gap between scientists, researchers and policymakers.
Corruption and Transparency: The fallout surrounding the Petrojam scandal has been considerable. The Minister himself, Dr. Andrew Wheatley, “stepped back” (does this mean “resigning,” or just stepping “aside”?) as Minister of Science and Technology (the Energy portfolio having already been removed to the Office of the Prime Minister). Dr. Wheatley’s resignation letter was tweeted by the Prime Minister, in which he said: “As someone who believes in the tenets of good governance and committed to upholding the public trust, I believe this necessary process of review should be done without my presence or ministerial authority…With immediate effect, I will step back from my duties as minister and cabinet member.” While the Prime Minister reviews things, which he assures will be an “independent” investigation…Does this mean Dr. Wheatley may possibly return at some point?
Crime/Security: Did you know that in 2016, 80 percent of 194 children housed in juvenile correctional centers were being charged with crimes serious enough to warrant imprisonment under maximum security conditions?
Why is the community of Grange Hill in Westmoreland so riven with crime and violence? It’s among families and neighbors, say the police. Aren’t there also possible connections with scamming? When seven people were murdered there in May, Member of Parliament Dr. Wykeham McNeill felt that security forces that flooded the area should have stayed in the community for much longer.
The death of an uptown Kingston resident who carried a gun to the Dream Weekend holiday event on a beach in Negril raised several questions about security at these parties. A security guard denied him entry to the VIP section and then shot him dead when he also waved a firearm. Why bring a gun to a party?
“Jamaica’s Crime Monster…Can it be tamed?” will be the topic of this year’s CIN Lecture in New York, to be presented by security expert Mark Shields – formerly of the UK’s Scotland Yard and the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Shields presented a ten-point plan to the Commissioner of Police earlier this year.
Culture and Tradition: I was so sad to hear of the passing on July 31 of Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett, the former percussionist with the popular Third World Band. He was 69. I remember meeting him and his warm and lovely wife Alisia at the yoga studio a year or so ago – and my condolences to her. Like many people involved in the music business, “Carrot” had his challenges brought on by the proverbial “fame and fortune.” Here’s a beautiful song he co-wrote with Ibo Cooper, called “Always Around” – so sweetly nostalgic.
Poet Joan Andrea Hutchinson – who for most of her career has been strongly influenced by Miss Lou – was granted a National Honour (an O.D. in the Rank of Officer). Congratulations to her! However, when she says our culture should be “packaged differently for young people,” I wish she would give us some examples of how she would do it. Perhaps we should leave it up to the young people to figure out.
Harry Belafonte, who was born in Harlem but helped to popularize Jamaican culture “way back when” received an Order of Merit (O.M.) I certainly remember hearing “Banana Boat Song” and “Yellow Bird” endlessly on British radio when I was growing up. Of course, he is to this day much more than a mere singer.
The one and only Grace Jones – the Spanish Town girl who became an avant-garde icon – won an Order of Jamaica (O.D). Pull up to the bumper, baby! (As her song goes…)
And let’s not forget Irie FM’s veteran broadcaster Walter “Bob” Clarke, who has been spinning oldies every Sunday afternoon since way back!
Economy: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says inflation is below projections. So, this is good? Not good, says IMF Resident Representative to Jamaica, Dr. Constant Lonkeng Ngouana. It’s a sign that our economy is weak. You can also hear Dr. Ngouana’s comments on our fluctuating Jamaican Dollar – it is “doing exactly what it is supposed to do.” Meanwhile, Energy Spokesman Phillip Paulwell wants the oil hedge levy instituted by his administration removed, to relieve the pressure on our gas prices. Finance Minister Nigel Clarke and the IMF man seem to disagree. I must confess I am not very bright on economics. I get some guidance from two economists: Dr. Damien King’s regular tweets and fellow blogger Dennis Jones’ comments. So, forgive me if my comments are not very insightful in this area! Ugh.
Environment: An announcement is pending on a possible plastic bag or styrofoam ban. Shortly after the Independence holiday, this will happen, we understand. Does that mean this week? I cannot hold my breath for much longer! It is a year and a half since the working group was established to look at the issue.
Then over the Independence weekend, there was a furor (or an “ants’ nest,” as the author called it) sparked by a Sunday Gleaner column written by Professor Carolyn Cooper. The column contained a major error, upon which the rest of her argument regarding the development of the Puerto Seco Beach in St. Ann rested. The Gleaner eventually printed an “Update,” with a cursory Editor’s Note pointing out the error (which I think should have been picked up by the Opinion Editor, in the first place). But, anything for a dramatic headline. Twitter and other platforms have been inundated with comments, not only on this particular case but on the issue of free access to beaches in general. A Beach Access and Management Policy is to be brought to Cabinet next month, says Minister Daryl Vaz – who concedes that successive Governments have been unable to maintain public beaches. There’s no money for that. This Policy has been floating around for many years – in fact, for nearly two decades, says Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)! Time come… (Now Professor Cooper is saying Puerto Seco is “overdeveloped” and targeting tourists. Nevertheless, some 1,400 people visited it on Independence Day, say Guardsman Group, who operate it).
I attended a workshop last week on the Minamata Convention (which Jamaica ratified a year ago). Minamata is the Japanese city where thousands grew sick and died in the 1950s and 1960s after a leakage of highly toxic methylmercury poisoned local seafood. Does Jamaica have issues with mercury? Yes, it does. Mercury does not go away and accumulates in your body. It’s all quite closely linked to waste disposal – and of course, public health (something we need to pay much more attention to). I will write a separate post about this.
Talking of waste disposal…the fire at the Riverton City dump smoked and smoldered its way through last week, to the distress of many. A thick haze hung over several parts of the city, shifting only with the wind. It was still smoking when we returned from the north coast on Saturday evening. I agree with former Mayor Angela Brown Burke – there needs to be more transparency – do we or do we not know whether the fire was set deliberately, for example? And if it was, by whom? Are the police investigating? Did the Jamaica Fire Brigade share a report? What actually are the root causes of the fires, or do we not care about them? And can we really afford to put our police and soldiers (already too few in numbers) all around the dump site to secure it? We need some sensible answers – including the question that pops up regularly: Why are all the dumps operating without a license? Meanwhile, a new video produced by JET highlights the problem of air pollution and how we can combat it by abandoning bad habits like burning garbage. JET is implementing the Jamaicans for Clean Air and Water Project, funded by the Commonwealth Foundation. “There’s no substitute for clean air,” the PSA notes. Simple as that!
Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie is busy making announcements about curbing the incessant and rampant littering across the island. Even in beautiful Holywell in the Blue Mountains (where there are plenty of garbage disposal bins), plastic bottles were seen scattered along a trail. Do we enjoy littering? “Higher fines for illegal dumping are coming soon!” says Minister McKenzie. However, what’s the point in higher fines, when the existing laws are not enforced? The new Anti-Litter Act will be tabled in Parliament by year-end, we are told.
The Caribbean Coastal Management Foundation (C-CAM) sounded very upbeat at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on fish sanctuaries and the new Fisheries Bill, which has gone to the Upper House. As for the struggle to curb invasive lionfish and conversely, to persuade people not to eat parrot fish, I fear there is a lot more hard work and a much more aggressive approach is required. It’s no time to rest on our laurels. As for the Fisheries Bill, as C-CAM’s Dr. Karl Aiken noted, enforcement will be key. There are already challenges in monitoring fish sanctuaries around the island. However, I warmly commend C-CAM for their work, which I think has inspired others such as the Alligator Head Foundation to pursue the option of marine protected areas. It may be the only way to go. The Gleaner’s editorial is pretty much spot on. I am afraid the future of Jamaica’s fishing industry looks fairly bleak. Alternative (legal) ways of earning a living must be found.
Health: According to the Health Ministry some 58 percent of girls in Grade Seven have been vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). None have shown negative effects. As a cancer survivor (from my early twenties) I would truly recommend this vaccine and hope that more Jamaican women and girls will eventually receive it.
According to U-Report (see below), 948 young people have responded to its poll on mental health and suicide to date. 53% have considered suicide whilst 30% have attempted it. This is frightening. Moreover, almost all young Jamaicans believe that their mental health is not being taken seriously. We need to start talking about mental health and putting programmes in place, and not only for our youth.
Human Rights: The issue of a “dress code” for the public to enter Government buildings continues to rankle. We look forward to hearing from Minister Grange, who has been asked to look into it – now that it has been established (thanks to Susan Goffe) that there is, in fact, no official law or regulation governing our attire. I understand we will hear from Minister Grange shortly (I really don’t think this matter requires long deliberations to be sorted out, once for all, do you?) Meanwhile, the practice (which is all it is) continues, with the Registrar General’s Department turning away a woman in a white sleeveless top and jeans this week.
The repercussions of the Tivoli Gardens incursion by security forces in May 2010 have never really gone away. There was a very important court decision at the end of July when the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) obtained permission to search the headquarters of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) as part of its investigation into the alleged use of mortars. The JDF had obtained immunity and certificates – signed by then National Security Minister Peter Bunting – seeking to quash a search warrant. You can read INDECOM’s press release here.
Politics: There has been some speculation that the Prime Minister’s wife Juliet – a first-time, but high performing Member of Parliament – may succeed Dr. Wheatley as Minister of Science, Energy, and Technology (well, the Energy part of that portfolio was taken under her husband’s wing at the Office of the Prime Minister after the Petrojam issue started to bite). A new minister will be appointed any day now. However, I’m not sure that it would be wise for the PM to appoint his (very able) wife as Minister; I would advise him against it if indeed he is considering doing so. Still, a decision has to be made soon; the sooner the better, or these portfolios will suffer. Currently, according to the Prime Minister, the Permanent Secretary, and her staff are continuing administrative duties, while his office provides policy guidance.
Can we have more post-Cabinet press briefings, please – or was the last one a “one-off”?
Tourism: Jamaica will host a conference on “tourism resilience” on September 13 at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus. Our Tourism Minister does tend to speak a lot of jargon, but what it boils down to is the fact (as we have always known) that tourism is a fragile creature that can easily be upset by unexpected events. UWI Mona will be home to the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre, to be officially launched in January 2019.
- To all those who were awarded National Honors for Independence Day, but especially to Jean Lowrie-Chin, businesswoman and philanthropist extraordinaire and a woman of principle and honor; Earl Jarrett, who has been deeply and enthusiastically involved in so many areas of public life; Alia Atkinson, who has been performing amazingly in the field of swimming for some years now (where does she put all her medals!); and Barbara Blake Hannah, who has a deep love of her beloved island and its culture – and moreover a fierce independence of spirit which I so admire.
- And speaking of Independence, huge kudos to Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sports Olivia “Babsy” Grange and all who were involved in the Grand Gala celebrations at the National Stadium. It was well organized, with some great contributions (I loved the Kingston College Chapel Choir at the beginning, and I’m a sucker for marching bands) and much color and fun.
- To Marcia Forbes, who spent many long hours compiling the report How to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children in Jamaica, now available online. It is a comprehensive and rich document, and a product of the Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica Working Group on Violence Against Women and Children, chaired by Ms. Forbes.
- Christopher Harper and U-Report have been doing some good work too, on issues affecting our youth. U-Report is an informal reporting and feedback mechanism, backed by UNICEF Jamaica and Talk Up Yout’. There are now about 3,000 U-reporters in Jamaica.
- CEO of Surgix Jamaica Limited Winfield Boban came to the aid of a young amputee, Safoy Fearon, who had part of her leg removed after she was hit by a truck last year. Now she will be fitted with a prosthetic and will be able to go back to work.
My deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those listed below who have died violently in the past ten days or so. They are too many. I am worried that the police have killed several – and also that there are three teenage murder victims. Their lives had hardly begun.
Clarendon: Two unidentified men were shot and killed by the police (one of whom was injured) during a confrontation in Dampy, Mineral Heights. Two firearms were seized.
Hanover: A man who allegedly attacked and killed two men with a machete, 30-year-old Keron Watson was shot dead by the police in Cascade. Watson had earlier killed 45-year-old landscaper Howard Ellis. Before that, he had allegedly attacked and killed 25-year-old Keniel Hall during a dispute at Watson’s home.
Kingston: A taxi operator was chased and shot dead on Windward Road.
Another taxi driver, 39-year-old Davion Harris, was shot dead during a dispute on Swift Avenue, Duhaney Park.
Omar Mahoney o/c ‘Breezie’ was shot dead by the police in the Hagley Park Road area. Residents protested the killing.
An unidentified man’s body with gunshot wounds was found in an open lot on Hope Road
Portland: 28-year-old farmer, Ryan Sinclair was shot dead during a fight in a shop in the sleepy Muirton Pen, Reach District. His alleged murderer, Lincoln Francis, subsequently died from stab wounds.
St. Ann: 32-year-old David Jackson was hit in the head and died during a dispute with his brother in Parry Town.
St. Catherine: An unidentified man was shot dead by the police when he was trying to steal a car from a home in Spanish Town.
31-year-old Richard Reid was killed by police while stealing mangoes in Angels Heights, Spanish Town.
St. James: A 29-year-old customer service representative was stabbed to death in a restaurant on Barnett Street, Montego Bay.
St. Thomas: 18-year-old Jevaughn Miller was shot dead in Lloyds.
Trelawny: Raheem Allen, 18, a student of Marcus Garvey High School, was stabbed to death during a dispute in Calabar District, Rio Bueno.
43-year-old farmer Michael Smith was shot dead in Sawyers District, Stewart Town.
Westmoreland: Jean Mathieu, 37, was shot dead by a security guard during an argument at a party on Cayenne Beach in Negril.
Dennis Sewell, a tiler, was shot dead in Grange Hill.
18-year-old Sanjay Ricketts was also shot dead in Grange Hill.