This has been a wearisome week for city people. The traffic gridlock reached extraordinary heights when (at very short notice) a critical intersection at Three Mile was suddenly closed (for the next eight months, no less) at very short notice. 70,000 drivers were forced to detour through “not nice” neighbourhoods. Tempers frayed and motorists behaved badly. Fingers are being pointed…mostly at the National Works Agency. A storm named Isaac is approaching. Or is it still a storm?
The UN Human Development Index has just come out. The Index measures the standard of living in countries based on education, life expectancy and basic income. At a quick glance, Jamaica is about halfway down the index, at #97. I am slightly puzzled that Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, Cuba, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic are all ranked above Jamaica. So is Venezuela! I am sure there will be more discussion and analysis…
One of the key findings of the Index is “Environmental Degradation Puts Human Development Gains at Risk.” And I quote:
The degradation of the environment and atmosphere, coupled with significant declines in biodiversity, is linked to other development concerns ranging from declining food and water supplies to losses of livelihood and life from extreme weather events. This profoundly serious crisis threatens the human development of current and future generations.
Agriculture: Let’s not try to prop up the sugar industry. There are many more valuable alternative crops that can be planted. Once again I am in agreement with the Gleaner editorial. It’s an archaic, colonial, unprofitable throwback. Time to leave it behind and to create better-paid jobs for Jamaican workers (have you seen the almost slave-like conditions that sugar workers live in?) Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw has retracted his decision to tax granulated sugar imports after a meeting with the Jamaica Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association (JMEA), after asserting that the process was corrupt. However, he is still asserting that unscrupulous people are upset at his stance. At the moment, almost everyone seems upset.
Minister Shaw has also picked up on the concept of the “Blue Economy,” which I would define as “Let’s Grab Everything We Can From the Sea, Before It All Runs Out.” He is also talking about – no, not just catching migratory tuna, but also the expansion of our fishing industry, in the face of over-fishing etc. Does this make sense? He also wants our fisherfolks to go “deep sea fishing” (in their regular canoes?) because there is so much more there in the sea, waiting for them.
I mentioned coffee, too. Now Michael Lee Chin, businessman, philanthropist and head of the Economic Growth Council, has announced a J$60 million personal gift to the Blue Mountain Coffee sector. Minister Shaw says the Government’s role in the industry is “helping to build markets and helping to build productivity.”
Caribbean: There is to be an audit of the use of PetroCaribe funds in Haiti, says President Jovenel Moïse. There have been street protests concerning alleged corruption.
Is there a growing refugee crisis on the horizon in the Caribbean? Venezuelans who have been fleeing the crisis in their country have not had a very friendly reception in some islands – notably Trinidad and now Curaçao, according to Amnesty International.
The new Barbados government has raced, full tilt, into an International Money Fund (IMF) agreement.
Citizens of St. Lucia took to the streets to protest the Alan Chastanet administration.
Climate Change: Our representatives, led by Una May Gordon of the Climate Change Division, had an exhausting week or two in Bangkok, Thailand as preparations for the next Climate Change Conference in Poland get into high gear.
Corruption: Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) head Howard Mitchell is insisting that the Integrity Commission can provide updates on its progress is investigating a number of matters, including the situation regarding the Energy Ministry.
The Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) wants to probe further into the matter of National Energy Solutions Limited (NESol), a Government agency (whose boss Carolyn Warren resigned in July). The police are still investigating. The PAAC had a difficult meeting on Wednesday, during which it pondered the fact that a new company, Peak Energy Solutions, was contracted by NESol, and paid more than $12 million for work it claimed had been done – despite the absence of a written contract. Not all Committee members are happy with the way things are proceeding, but the fact remains – it’s a nasty mess.
Five police officers from West Kingston have been detained for questioning by the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) for extortion and corruption. We don’t have much more information than that.
Crime: Well, murders have declined by 19.5 percent overall. As of last weekend, the number was 902. This is still way, way too high and in fact, this month has not been good, so far (see the names below).
Heavy gunfire rang out again in the Rockfort/lower Mountain View area of Kingston. Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell is angry that there is currently no police personnel at what is supposed to be a permanent post in the area. Well, we know (we have always known) that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is severely short of personnel.
Another “hot spot” is Riverton City – yes, the site of the dump. Tensions are high and houses have been burned down during “turf” conflicts related to the sale of discarded bakery goods taken to the dump, and animal feed. Oh, Lord. Political leaders – including Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton – and the police need to get this under control.
PSTEB is touting its successes – already. Well, for its first week. It has already issued thousands of tickets and made nine arrests. Not all Jamaicans are impressed by the thousands of tickets, though. Will they all be paid?
The Government is acquiring land in Rocky Point in Clarendon; Oracabessa, St. Mary; and Alligator Pond in St. Elizabeth, to build three marine bases to be operated by the JCF and Jamaica Customs. Their intelligence tells them that these are “hot spot” areas for the import of contraband. It’s a pity that they have already revealed this, however. Surely the smugglers will go somewhere else.
Over 2,000 pounds of export-ready ganja were seized and a man arrested in Reading, near Montego Bay.
The two men (a Trinidadian national and a Jamaican former medical student) accused of murdering a 14-year-old girl from Bedward Gardens in August Town appeared in court. A crowd of protesters gathered, and the mother was in tears. Shanoya Wray’s body was found in a bath at a house in Mona, Kingston 7 – a truly tragic case. Shanoya was buried last Sunday.
And now the Mt. Salem Police Station in Montego Bay has been closed by the Public Health Department. Whatever next!
Has one gang (the Ski Mask Gang) migrated from St. James to the neighboring parish of Trelawny?
Culture: Jamaica has a very small Jewish community. However, the Chabad Centre in Montego Bay calls itself a “one-stop shop,” catering for Jewish visitors and locals. They recently held a conference for Caribbean Jewish leaders and visited the beautifully kept Jewish cemetery in Falmouth.
The Miss Lou statue has been unveiled, to considerable applause and approval. Please read my article for Global Voices on the unveiling and how Jamaicans feel about Miss Lou. Now, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) says it will have to find millions of dollars to fix up all our statues. Recently, the statue of Norman Manley downtown was vandalized with paint. The Simón Bolívar statue near National Heroes Circle is apparently in the worst shape, right now.
Economy: Tax revenues are up beyond expectations, State Minister in the Ministry of Finance Fayval Williams noted recently. A Transfer Pricing Agreement is among various initiatives now being employed by the Tax Administration of Jamaica (TAJ) to improve tax compliance and promote transparency.
It’s extraordinary, but Jamaica is ranked the fifth best country in the world to open a business, according to the latest Global Banking and Finance Review.
A Mexican consortium group, Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico S.A.B De C.V., is the provisional preferred bidder to take over Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, approved by Cabinet.
The Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) – often a contentious wage bargainer – signed a wage deal for 2017-19 with the Ministry of Finance this week. Many nurses are being wooed away overseas; specialist nurses are being trained currently in China, and more in the UK. I hope more will choose to stay, with what looks like a pretty decent pay rise.
The embarrassment of the traffic “Carmageddon” this week has spurred Minister Daryl Vaz into action. He has declared that a “Situation Room” will be set up to monitor traffic flows and provide real-time information. I must say the JCF has been tweeting updates daily – and kudos to them. They have also been out on the street directing traffic. Whose fault is it? Opposition Leader Peter Phillips has been pointing fingers and muddying the waters. Is it a question of “use it or lose it,” as Minister Vaz claims, in terms of a rush to spend the loan money from China Exim Bank? You can re-negotiate, says Phillips.
Education: Two “time-out” spaces have been opened in Jamaican schools, to help troubled students calm down. During a Twitter discussion recently I suggested this as a possible solution for children who are having challenges. Let’s have more!
Environment: For a long time, this blog has been reporting on fires at the Riverton City dump. The latest round was earlier this year, and the report of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) on air quality during that conflagration was released. The findings were horrifying (as expected, really). Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) insists that the dump must be moved!
Foreign Affairs: A new Consul General has been appointed for Miami (Florida is sometimes referred to as “Kingston 21”). Oliver Mair is a former sales and marketing manager at Jamaica Broilers and very much business-oriented.
The Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams visited Gibraltar this week, for a twinning ceremony. Why Gibraltar? Well, there is a history between the two places. More anon.
Health: Chik-V pains – fellow sufferer Fae Ellington and I talked about this with Dr. Winston Davidson on RJR’s Beyond the Headlines recently, following on from disclosures in the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey about the prevalence of the mosquito-borne disease four years ago. On the programme Dr. Davidson explained that it’s not the virus that has remained in our bodies, causing regular relapses of arthritic pain and other symptoms. It’s the antibodies themselves that start to attack you. Ugh! Poor us.
Eight people died on the road in 24 hours this week, pushing the total number of road fatalities way over the total for the whole of 2017 to 241 deaths to date. The number of crashes in the past week has been quite shocking.
Groundbreaking for PROMAC on Wednesday. The ubiquitous Minister Tufton noted that Victoria Jubilee Hospital delivers 500/600 babies a month (it used to be 700), at the Groundbreaking Ceremony of the Construction of High Dependency Units at the Bustamante Hospital for Children.
I was disturbed by the recent dismissive comments on our suicide statistics by a highly revered psychologist. He declared that no, Jamaicans are more interested in killing each other than killing themselves. This week was World Suicide Prevention Day. Now Health Minister Christopher Tufton tells us that a central suicide hotline is being set up (toll-free). It will be operated by a faith-based organization, Choose Life International. I am not sure how I feel about a Christian organization operating a national hotline. Are they just going to tell suicidal Jamaicans to pray to the Lord (or try to convert them)? Why a religious group?
Human Rights: The grief and anger among residents of Swallowfield in Kingston were intense this week after the police shot and killed a teenager from the area. Protests broke out, a car was set on fire and shots were fired in the neighborhood on Tuesday evening. An attempt was made to “firebomb” the Stadium Gardens Police Station. Roads were closed. This is incredibly sad; I know that community organizations, like the faith-based IMPACT, are working hard in the area to provide skills and employment for young people. There will always be a few criminals in any community, but all they need is an opportunity.
Our pre-Independence adoption laws are to be reviewed and amended, I am very glad to hear. Trying to adopt a Jamaican child is a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years (and yes, I have heard many quite heartbreaking stories).
Politics: Gordon Robinson, a lawyer with the sharpest pen I know, wrote a devastating piece last Sunday on his own vision for Jamaica while tearing the Vision 2030 apart, piece by piece. You can find him @TheTerribleTout !
There was a huge sea of green in Port Antonio last Sunday when Ann-Marie Vaz was introduced as the ruling Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) candidate for East Portland. Mrs Vaz acquitted herself well, speaking clearly and with conviction. The constituency, a very sleepy rural spot for decades, is currently represented by the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Dr. Linval Bloomfield. As I noted in this blog in January 2017, East Portland has been gently decaying for years. Time for a Renaissance, political or otherwise!
The PNP is celebrating its eightieth anniversary! For the first day of its Annual Conference, the party brought in a CNN analyst and former South Carolina Democratic Representative Bakari Sellers, who railed against the ruling party’s corruption, to the delight of the gathered “comrades.”
I am flummoxed by the (perhaps badly reported) ramblings of Damion Crawford, former head of the PNP Youth Organisation (PNPYO) – he’s a contender for Vice President of the PNP at their upcoming conference. I am still pondering Mr Crawford’s comments comparing the two political parties and asserting that young people “start to look to Holness because he bears their image.” Eh? I also think his successor Krystal Tomlinson has gone askew in her remarks that the JLP is “plagiarizing” her party’s policies. If the PNP’s policies were really good, why not continue them? Or is she suggesting that the JLP’s poor policies are a copy of her party’s poor policies? She hasn’t thought this one out. Ms Tomlinson has just written a book called “Kill Fear: The Art of Courageous Living.” I am all for courage and motivation. I dislike the cover, depicting a pistol against a blood-red background.
“They [the JLP] are not only corrupt, but they can’t manage neither,” said their leader, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, ungrammatically, at a party rally. We haven’t seen much of him in the media lately, but he speaks up at meetings from time to time and is reported on TV news. He is also concerned about contract workers, who receive few benefits.
Tourism: There’s a place called the Norman Manley Beach Park in Negril that has never quite got off the ground. In fact, Member of Parliament Wykeham McNeill says it is “falling apart.”
Women’s Issues: The Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation, a Government-funded entity that offers training and support for teen mothers, seems to be getting a little more high-profile. Recently, it awarded 48 of its young women bursaries and scholarships to go back to school through its the Advancing Secondary, Tertiary Remedial Education for Adolescent Mothers (A-STREAM) Programme. The programme is supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), a regional organization headed by the marvelous Jamaican Dr. Kevin Harvey.
Sorry, I am a sucker for these stories… A young man named Nicholas Owen, who just started a company called Nick’s Seasonings, donated back to school supplies to children in the small district of St. Richard Hall, near Sligoville, his grandfather’s home. The photo below is so sweet and heart-warming. I think 31-year-old Nicholas lives overseas but says he spent all his summers in Jamaica as a child.
Tracia-Gay Kennedy-Dixon is the first certified nuclear pharmacist in the English-speaking Caribbean, having obtained her training in the U.S. and UK. She lectures in the Doctor of Pharmacy programme at the University of the West Indies. Congrats!
The Issa Trust Foundation partnered with Direct Relief to donate US$19 million worth of pharmaceuticals – including expensive medication for premature babies, cancer treatments and much more – via 41 shipments to Jamaica. Direct Relief also donated US$31,000 of pharmaceuticals to help with hurricane preparedness. This is fantastic!
When 14-year-old Britannia Stephenson, who lives in deep rural Hanover, found she was unable to enter Hopewell High School because the school had no wheelchair ramps, Digicel Foundation came on board to help with ramps and redesigned bathrooms at the school. Kudos to the Foundation and partners for the great Ramps in Schools program, which is ongoing.
A 13-year-old golfer in Florida, Rafe Cochran, has been raising funds for schools in Haiti and in Jamaica, through Food for the Poor. He has built ten homes and two schools, so far. At the new Runaway Bay All-Age School, Rafe named each classroom: “I chose the Room of Motivation, the Room of Integrity, the Room of Compassion, the Room of Kindness, the Room of Endurance, the Room of Confidence, and the Room of Respect. I feel each word gives a person character and to have good character means you have traits that make you honest and admirable.” So great!
Despite the Zones of Special Operations in St. James and in Denham Town, things are not very comfortable there. In fact, the past week or two has not been a happy one for Kingston. My heart goes out to the families of all those who have died, at the hands of others – including at the hands of the police, who killed three people this week.
Clarendon: Oneil Rose, 30, an unemployed man, was shot dead in Canaan Heights, May Pen.
Kingston: An unidentified man was found dead with gunshot wounds in Union Gardens.
Louis Gordon, 44, was shot dead in Majesty Gardens.
Cee-Jay Lake was shot dead by the police on Providence Pen Lane, Swallowfield, Old Hope Road. There were major protests (see “Human Rights”).
The police shot dead two men in the currently volatile area of McIntyre Villa, Kingston during an operation in which they rounded up some 50 people.
Roxroy Richards, a 34-year-old labourer of Denham Town, was stabbed to death during a fight.
Donald McCoy, a 32-year-old labourer of Oxford Street, was shot dead in a drive-by shooting there.
32-year old Zieko Dennis was shot dead at his home in Hughenden Avenue, Kingston.
Ransford Mattews, 61, was shot dead at his home on Prince Albert Street, Kingston 16.
Portland: Ryan Brown was shot dead and a 17-year-old boy injured on Nelson Street, Buff Bay.
St. Ann: The body of Omar Grant, a 35-year-old construction worker of Charles Town, St Anns Bay, was found at his home with multiple stab wounds.
St. Catherine: Ricardo Shekelford, 38, was shot dead at the market in Old Harbour.
St. James: A body believed to be that of a murder accused who was out on bail, Odane Nesbeth, was found in Content, Adelphi.
Kevin Lindo, a 20-year-old bread vendor, was shot dead in downtown Montego Bay.
St. Thomas: Two men shot dead were found in bushes in Woodbourne. They were identified as Barbadian nationals Dario Yearwood and Daniel Griffiths.