PEP, PSTEB and Happy Birthday, Miss Lou: Jamaica on Friday, September 7, 2018


What! It’s September already, and August ran away with me. It was a long, hot summer, to coin a cliché – in more ways than one – but now “disturbances” are hovering in the tropical Atlantic. They could be named Helene or Isaac… Here’s a roundup of news – but of course, I know I have missed some things! Bear with me.

Agriculture: Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw got a bit carried away last week, I think. Let’s start catching (migratory) tuna! He cried, pointing to Trinidad & Tobago, who harvest a few hundred tons a year. I agree with this Gleaner editorial. Think sustainable, Minister Shaw!

Talking about sustainable fishing, we are now exporting live lobsters to China (20,000 pounds a week? Is this sustainable?) – where consumers seemingly are eager to eat anything that comes out of the sea, no matter how endangered the species is. The U.S. is unable to export to China currently, thanks to Trump’s tariffs, but Canada does a lot of live exports. B&D Trawling and Rainforest Seafoods are now exporting live lobsters to the Chinese, and the former is exporting sea cucumbers, too. Is the so-called “Blue Economy” concept that some Caribbean countries are embracing really just a term meaning “let’s get as much as we can out of the sea as quickly as possible”?  

And then there are the two perennial items of agricultural baggage: the sugar industry and the coffee industry, or the remains thereof…

Caribbean: There is much political drama surrounding Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Rowley’s recent announcement that the Petrotrin oil refinery is to be shut down. The Opposition wants to debate the matter in Parliament, but Opposition leader Kamla Persaud-Bissesar’s suggestion that T&T should “partner” with the now oil-rich Guyana on the matter went down like a lead balloon. The Trinidadian politician once infamously proclaimed that the rest of the Caribbean should not regard her country as an “ATM.”

Climate Change: With almost overwhelming hype, the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator was launched in Kingston. Usain Bolt and Sean Paul are “Climate Change Ambassadors” (I hope this works). A somewhat distracting incident occurred at the launch. Sir Richard Branson (who was wearing a probably very expensive T-shirt) jumped up and removed Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ tie while the PM was giving a speech. The PM obligingly removed his jacket. “We have to dress for higher temperatures!” was the message, but many Jamaicans were not amused at what they saw as a breach of protocol that made PM Holness look somewhat undignified (?) Others, including the Director General of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), were also sans tie, by the way. Meanwhile, Sir Richard will continue doing things his way; he is rich and knows he can get away with it, protocol or no protocol! They are looking for a CEO – deadline is September 15.

Corruption and Transparency: The Petrojam scandal lingers. There is a new concern about a big birthday party, apparently for a senior manager, during a rather expensive retreat at a Montego Bay hotel. Investigations are ongoing (and meanwhile, the Prime Minister has not yet selected a new Energy Minister).

An internal audit has found that a former director of HEART Trust/NTA Colin Virgo, was allegedly overpaid for travel expenses in 2016. Mr. Virgo claims that it has all now been sorted out. These kinds of reports are worrying and tiresome, to say the least.

And when will we have word from the Integrity Commission, which has been in existence for six months now? Any updates? Some Jamaicans, including the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica’s (PSOJ) Howard Mitchell, would like to know…However, it seems that legally the Commission is not obliged to lift its veil of secrecy.

Crime/Security: The big story recently has been PSTEB. Yes – the new branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, now decked out in high-visibility jackets and motorbikes, and very prominent on the streets of Kingston. You just can’t miss them! The verdict so far has been positive (so long as we can bring the recalcitrant “robot” taxi drivers into line). It’s quite a master stroke. Kudos to the Police Commissioner.

Were you aware that praedial larceny (agricultural theft) is often a fund-raising method for rural gangs? We laughed at the 23 goats crammed into a small car (reported in my last news post) but the “meat for guns” trade is apparently real, especially in the parish of Clarendon.

Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson has been doing a lot of one-on-one media interviews and has come across to me as frank and open-minded (and also, quietly, a strategic thinker). When asked about the police body cameras (a vexed question that fellow blogger Susan Goffe has raised concerns about) donated by the U.S. Embassy two years ago but apparently not used, Commissioner Anderson confirmed that they will, in fact, be used. They can be accommodated on the new high-visibility vests that police will wear. More cameras have been ordered!

All is not well in East Kingston, and it appears, as usual, that no one can do anything about it except to strongly condemn the ongoing violence. Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell seems to have no answers. The police say that the gunfire ringing out across the community is “gang-related,” which doesn’t help. I remember attending a meeting of the Rockfort Development Council a few years ago, where a group of local businessmen and community leaders were struggling to find solutions.

Culture/Tradition: A group of passionate volunteers, under the umbrella of Kingston Creative, has been working together for the past six months to revive downtown Kingston through the arts and culture. The group organizes monthly Sunday tours downtown, incorporating community activities, arts, craft, and music. You can find them on Facebook. It’s a great idea – as I have said before, Kingston is a Creative City, and that includes everything, not just Trench Town and reggae. We have more to offer.

And one of those offerings is Miss Lou! The official signing of the Deed of Gift between the National Library of Jamaica (NLBJ) and the Estate of Louise Bennett Coverley took place this week. There are Miss Lou archives at the NLBJ. Today (September 7) is her birthday, and her statue in Gordon Town Square, St. Andrew was to be unveiled this evening.

Economy: There has been much talk about urban planning recently, especially in relation to the planned new development at National Heroes Circle. Dr. Carol Archer, a noted professor at the University of Technology notes in an op-ed piece this week that we should be careful about allowing Chinese government-owned companies to “invest” in our urban infrastructure – citing the example of “white elephants” in Malaysia and other developing countries (I saw vast Chinese high-rise buildings going up in Colombo, Sri Lanka last year). What, asks Dr. Archer, is the role and responsibility of the state-owned Chinese company currently busy building in downtown Kingston? Valid question.

Montego Bay now has its first “herb house,” named Island Strains. A former member of the Nomaddz band and his Russian wife have set it up. I suppose it’s aimed at the tourist market. It’s “members only.” Is this medicinal ganja? Well, there is a doctor.

Veteran politician Mike Henry is waxing lyrical about his pet project for the old air base at Vernamfield, Clarendon, which he wants to transform into an “aerotropolis.” The land has been identified, and Mr. Henry says the first phase will begin in October.

And the Caribbean Cement Company (CCC) obtained approval and environmental permits in April to expand its quarrying in the hills behind its smoking, dusty factory in Rockfort – but we are only hearing about it now. CCC will more than double its gypsum and limestone quarries. The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) gave their approval – but what will be the environmental impact? Here is the Jamaica Environment Trust’s review of NEPA’s Environmental Impact Assessment.

Similar alarm bells went off for me when I heard the announcement of a “Novation Agreement” (I have no idea what this means) between the Ministry of Transport & Mining and New Day Aluminum (Ja) Limited – formerly Noranda – to increase Jamaica’s bauxite mining activities. A beaming Finance Minister Clarke was also on hand. Minister Robert Montague observed that the “core” of Cockpit Country would not be affected. What did he mean by “core” exactly?

Education: Back-to-School blues it is, with the new school year just started. Everyone and his mother has an opinion, it seems, on how the education system should be “fixed.” It’s the parents’ fault! Some cry. Others blame the Government, the teachers, the school administration, etc., etc. for shortcomings. I’m surprised my neighbors’ pet dog didn’t get blamed. The best response I have heard is from a Jamaican academic now retired overseas, Professor Don Robotham, who tweeted that more work needs to be done on the transitional phase from primary to high school.

A much wider discussion on the many challenges our education system is facing arose from a Gleaner report (rife with inaccuracies) about Calabar High School, a well-known boys’ institution in Kingston. Principal Albert Corcho has responded and clarified many of the points raised in the report. In fact, 11 boys were asked to leave Calabar as they could not reach a 60 percent average, despite all interventions, warning letters, extra classes etc. 276 are now enrolled in an Extended Day Programme.

Yes, challenges there are; but solutions must also be found. Beating our chests over a sensational headline will not help. Hopefully, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association’s new President Dr. Garth Anderson will be a part of the solution; his predecessor seemed an unpleasantly divisive woman.

More back-to-school nerves have surrounded A) the new Primary Exit Profile (PEP), which the JTA said recently teachers were unprepared for, putting the cat among the proverbial pigeons; and B) the enormous upheaval caused by roadworks in various spots across Kingston, which many fear will create chaos at the start of the school year. The National Works Agency has been continuously lambasted on social media (and offline) throughout much of the summer (I told you, it has been a long, hot one) for the inconvenience caused to motorists by road-widening exercises. But PSTEB to the rescue! The first week went remarkably smoothly, with many applauding the police for being out on the road, organizing everyone. Phew!

I empathize with young Member of Parliament and State Minister Alando Terrelonge, who (having locks himself) is standing up for the young girl who was told by her school principal that she would not be allowed to enter with that hairstyle. The obsession with dress, hairstyles etc. in schools and other places is ridiculous. The child is there to get an education. And as for the school uniforms with long skirts down to the ankles… I won’t even go there. Should schools have any autonomy in such matters, I wonder? It seems Education Minister Ruel Reid is looking into the matter.

Energy: A forum headlined 100% Clean: The Why and How of Jamaica’s Transition from Imported Fossil Fuels to Natural Resources took place today, as part of 350.org’s global #GetInvolved effort to build a grass-roots climate movement on climate change.

Environment: As we wait with bated breath to hear an announcement regarding plastic from the Government of Jamaica (reportedly to be made at an international meeting soon) Recycling Partners of Jamaica is stepping up its efforts. Among other things, it is launching a recycling competition in schools. Ah, that’s a “no brainer.” Hopefully, the kids will scour neighborhoods as well as their own backyards in the hopes of winning. Every little bit helps.

After four years, there has been a ruling that a full court will hear a claim by four residents of Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine that their right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage was contravened by the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA). This was in relation to a fire at the Riverton City dump in 2012. Another legal issue for NSWMA (see below).

GraceKennedy is looking at plans and strategies to clean up Kingston Harbour. This will be quite a task! The company is in discussion with partners at UWI, the Port Authority of Jamaica and the PSOJ. Great initiative and good luck.

Health: Groups engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Jamaica are not at all convinced that Health Minister Christopher Tufton is fully engaged on the topic. Then, it’s true that the topic has gone “off the radar” – and not only in Jamaica (Trump doesn’t care and his HIV Council resigned). Overseas funding for HIV/AIDS programs is also being drastically reduced, thanks to that man. I hear that funding for the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)started by President George W. Bush and continued throughout the Obama presidency, is being slashed. This is tremendously sad; the Caribbean has greatly benefited from the programme and I had the pleasure of working with the PEPFAR team myself at the U.S. Embassy for some years.

The Minister also presided over the launch of the third Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey this week. I will be writing more about this, but here are a couple of alarming snippets from it: 54% of the Jamaican population were classified as overweight or obese (more women than men). 33.8 percent of Jamaicans have hypertension, but 40 percent are unaware of it.

Human Rights: While the JCF was busy with a massive “feel good” campaign on social media, a video circulated that cast them in a less charitable light. A woman was allegedly “body-slammed” (and handcuffed while unconscious) after an altercation apparently following a motor vehicle accident. Laurie Radlin Moroso appeared in court on a charge of assault, resisting arrest and destruction of property. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and the police inspectorate are investigating.

Jamaicans for Justice won a court victory recently on behalf of Nadine Evans, who was denied access to the body of her daughter, Carrell White, who died in December 2017 while an inpatient at the University of the West Indies Hospital. The hospital refused the family’s request for an independent pathologist to observe the post-mortem. Congratulations, JFJ!

Media Matters: Congratulations too to broadcaster George Davis, the new President of the Press Association of Jamaica. He takes over from Dionne Jackson Miller.

Politics: The politicians have gotten really carried away with endless back-to-school treats and largesse of various kinds. Member of Parliament Juliet Holness got it wrong, I think, with the distribution of school bags “branded” with her logo. Why is that even necessary?

Talking of women in politics, the much-anticipated presentation of Ann-Marie Vaz as Jamaica Labour Party candidate for Eastern Portland will take place this coming weekend. Ann-Marie is the superbly smart, hard-working and charismatic wife of the Member of Parliament on the other side of the parish (West, that is), government Minister Daryl Vaz. I am always happy to see more women entering politics, and have no problem with “husband and wife” political couples. Do you?

Do you remember former Member of Parliament and Spanish Town Mayor Jennifer Edwards, who had a very difficult time as head of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA)? Well, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal ruled earlier this year that she was wrongfully dismissed as head of the agency and was entitled to three years’ back pay. This has amounted to over J$17 million for the already cash-strapped NSWMA, which always seems to be “salt” (a Jamaican phrase meaning “can’t win”!)

Sports: I don’t comment much on sports, but the Reggae Girlz have been on the rampage! They are unbeaten, having stormed through the Caribbean in the CONCACAF qualifiers. The Girlz (yes, I’m afraid the “z” is mandatory) beat Cuba, 6-1. I wonder if they could beat the Reggae Boyz, who are never as convincing! Special kudos to striker Kadijah Shaw, who attends the University of Tennessee. The Girlz now go to the U.S. for the next round. Congratulations to them all.

Tourism: Fred and Cynthia Pennekamp of Pennsylvania, USA, have visited Jamaica 101 times. They have been fêted by the Tourism Minister and others. Next month they will be back to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. We have had our best summer tourism figures ever! This is Minister Bartlett’s claim.

KUDOS So many to congratulate and “big up,” but firstly let’s say congratulations and bon voyage to the Jamaican Chevening Scholars (all 22 of them!) who are departing for the UK.

Congratulations to Lennox Channer, the new Chairman of the National Housing Trust. He plans to build more houses!

Kudos to the Meteorological Service of Jamaica and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), who organized a great Weather and Climate Media Workshop recently. I gave a presentation on the need to communicate via social media – especially when time is of the essence! I learned much from three “women in STEM”: Dr. Tannecia Stephenson, Lecturer at the University of West Indies’ Department of Physics and member of the Climate Studies Group; Kareen Gourzoung and Jacqueline Spence, who head the Weather Unit and the Climate Unit at the Met Service, respectively.

I should do this every week, shouldn’t I? Volunteer extraordinaire and founder of the Positive Organization Neville Charlton and his team are continuing their good work, with a focus on the community of Tivoli Gardens, so often derided and discriminated against (still). Neville has started the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) in Jamaica, after doing some training in London not long ago. If you are aged 16 – 29 years and want to become a CYPAN member, apply now to info@positiveja.org. Deadline September 14!

Have you signed up for the Digicel 5K Run for Special Needs yet? It will start at their headquarters downtown on Saturday, October 6 at 7:00 p.m. Several organizations that serve Jamaicans with disabilities will benefit. Sign up here!

I hesitated before starting on this list. I knew it would be terribly long, as I have not posted for a few weeks. Nevertheless, I wanted to recognize and share my condolences with all those mourning these tragic deaths – in particular, the parents and the partners, husbands, and wives. My deepest sympathies. (I do get the sense that more arrests are being made and alleged perpetrators charged, in recent weeks. I have noticed this, but don’t get a chance to report in detail. In a way, I feel more hopeful that more of those responsible will be brought to justice).

Clarendon:

49-year-old Doreen Francis was chopped to death during a dispute in Peace River, Clarendon. Her nephew has been taken into custody.

48-year-old farmer Warren Douglas and 27-year-old Havana Baddal, both of Bushy Park, St Catherine; and 17-year-old Kevan Reece, a student of Inverness Drive, Clarendon, were shot dead at a shop in Sandy Bay.

40-year-old mason Keith Alexander was shot and killed in Canaan Heights, May Pen.

Jovan James, 25, was shot dead at a bar in Ebony Park.

Hanover: 

Barber Balmain Brown, 27, was shot dead in Newtown.

25-year-old Uton Cockett, an alleged gang leader, was shot dead along with his 45-year-old mother Carlene Clover at their home in Elgin Town.

Kingston/St. Andrew:

Tamara Jarrett, a 29-year-old hairdresser, was chased and shot in the Torrington Bridge community.

The General manager of Alliance Finance Limited, Arnie Francis, 54, was shot dead and his wife injured when they arrived at their home on Daisy Avenue, Mona, on Thursday evening.

The murder of Yetanya Francis, 14, who was raped and stabbed to death on August 23 near her home in Arnett Gardens, Kingston, created shock waves. The police are still seeking the perpetrators and a Crime Stop reward is out for anyone who has information. The community is silent; the family has left after gunmen opened fire at the house next door, a few days later. Hear no evil, see no evil…

43-year-old security guard Marvin Graham of Lawrence Avenue, Kingston 8 was shot dead near his home.

23-year-old Mario Vassell, a laborer of Dilpath Crescent in Olympic Gardens, Kingston 11 was shot dead at his home.

Donte Morgan, 23, was shot dead in McIntyre Villa, Kingston 16.

Keanu Green, a labourer from Manley Meadows, Kingston, and Junior Reid, otherwise called ‘Amin’, a merchandiser of Shoe Lane in East Kingston, were shot dead in separate incidents in East Kingston.

65-year-old Errol Scott, a maintenance worker, was killed and a woman injured in a drive-by shooting on Red Hills Road. This followed a curfew imposed in the “Hundred Lane” area after the shooting death of a woman named Afia Fowles, 34.

32-year-old Marsha Crossman was shot dead in Pembroke Hall, Kingston.

An unidentified man was shot dead by the police in Payne Land, Kingston.

Manchester: The body of Khyhymn Campbell, 25, a student of Northern Caribbean University, was found in an abandoned car on the Marshall’s Pen Road in Mandeville. Linton Stephenson, 59, a deacon in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mandeville was named as the suspect. He was found dead at his house this week, and the police believe he committed suicide.

Delroy Gordon, a 53-year-old farmer, was found stabbed to death in his van in Spice Grove, near Fairfield. He had traveled there to buy carrots to sell in Linstead Market.

66-year-old farmer Winifred Elliot was stabbed to death at her home in New Forrest.

Desoma Henry, 38, was stabbed to death at his home in Wagon Wheel, Hopeton.

Portland: 17-year-old Miguel Osbourne was stabbed to death at a standpipe in Orange Bay. Another teen has been arrested.

St. Ann: 32-year-old Allisha Francis and her 10-year-old son, Jahmani Jackson were chopped to death and another son was injured in Watt Town, St. Ann. Local residents decided to take the law into their hands and beat Orville Scarlett, whom they suspected of the murders, to death, three days later in Watt Town. Here’s a “View from the Outside” by experienced crime reporter Karyl Walker.

27-year-old Zavian Telfer, a taxi driver, was shot dead at the Addison Park Sports Complex in Brown’s Town.

Ryan Samuels, a mechanic, was shot dead in Runaway Bay.

17-year-old David Jones was stabbed to death during a dispute in Oracabessa.

The police have identified the burnt remains of two people found in a car in Haddon, Moneague in May as 39-year-old Andre Wedderburn and 21-year-old Celene Gordon, both of Cardiff Hall, Runaway Bay. The cause of death is unknown.

St. Catherine: 47-year-old Lloyd Douglas, a mason was shot dead in Horizon Park.

An unidentified man allegedly caught robbing a house in Braeton was stabbed to death.

32-year-old Marlon Robinson was chopped to death in Glengoffe, during a domestic dispute.

20-year-old Jordan Cilburn was stabbed to death in Gregory Park.

St. James: 59-year-old Clifton Thorpe was stabbed to death at his home in Green Pond. His son is being sought.

The body of Anthony Williams, a laborer of Glendevon, was found dumped on King Street, Montego Bay. He was shot dead.

Denrick ‘Taliban’ Campbell, 19, one of the parish’s most wanted men, and Owen Jenkins, 21 were shot dead by the police in Chelsea Irwin in an alleged “shootout” at a board house. Jenkins’ family said the police simply fired at the house. His father said he was starting a new job as a lifeguard in Negril next week. Only one gun was retrieved. There were angry protests by residents at the killings.

St. Thomas: 47-year-old Richard Smith was stabbed to death at his home in Yallahs.

Trelawny: 43-year-old Nevardo Ford, a motor vehicle examiner was shot dead by a policeman in Bucknor Common. INDECOM is investigating.

Keith Jarrett, 50, was shot dead near his house in Bounty Hall.

A 28-year-old unemployed man, Lavante Cameron, was shot dead in the same community of Bounty Hall.

Westmoreland: 31-year-old labourer, Jerome Carey was shot and killed at his home in South Sea Park, Whitehouse.

41-year-old Fritz Gerard and 32-year-old Dwayne Bell were shot dead in Belmont. They were construction workers from St. Catherine.

Donovan ‘Tim’ Roach, 28, was shot dead in an alleged “shootout” with the police in Bethel Town.

Constable Rohan Bucknor, of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, was shot dead at a barber shop in Petersfield.


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