August 1 – Emancipation Day – is as good a day as any to restart writing my weekly news posts. I have missed doing them, actually. They help me (and hopefully you) keep a finger on the pulse of things. So, it’s a humid evening, an hour to go before curfew kicks in at 11. There’s a blurry moon, and Tropical Storm Isaias has moved off up to Florida.
And I am celebrating ten years of blogging! In fact, I began in June 2010. You can scroll down through my archives in the drop-down box to the right (Petchary’s Monthly Archives). So, where shall we start? I will try to stick with the original format, with an overview of the past week; but it may well be incomplete, as I am a bit “rusty.” Click on the links to read more…
Now Breaking News: We have had two more deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 12. At the same time, 11 new samples have been confirmed positive for COVID-19. Only two were imported.
Agriculture: The announcement by J. Wray & Nephew (now owned by Campari) that it is planning to close the Appleton Sugar Factory was quite a shock this week. The rum operations and the popular Appleton Rum Tour will not be affected. Some 370 workers will be laid off but most will be re-hired by the company purchasing the factory. Sugar is not so sweet these days; Appleton Sugar Estates has been losing so much money over the past few years! Sugar’s days are over. Time to diversify in agriculture.
Caribbean: In Trinidad, the Prime Minister and his wife wore Emancipation Day African outfits (as per usual, but this month is election month for them, so step it up!) And KFC Trinidad got into trouble for a rather tacky Emancipation Day ad.
The regional airline LIAT (already struggling before COVID) is digging itself deeper, and meanwhile the CEO resigned on August 1. Why don’t they just throw in the towel? What I would love to see is a great ferry service between the “small islands” of the Eastern Caribbean.
August 1 was the 50th anniversary of the Christena disaster in St. Kitts and Nevis. The ferry boat the MV Christena sank beneath the waves between the two islands and 233 people perished. It was desperately overloaded, as you can see from the photo above.
And talking of elections, at long last the former Opposition Leader, Dr. Irfaan Ali, was sworn in as President of Guyana, exactly five months after their general elections took place. The legal battle was intense. A string of legal challenges by former President David Granger ended up at the Caribbean Court of Justice. Now, while finally accepting defeat, Granger still sounds as if he is going to dispute the result. Good Lord!
Corruption/Transparency: Niggling questions about the relationship between the Ministry of Health and Wellness and MarketMe, related to the highly successful Jamaica Moves campaign. The somewhat beleaguered Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan fielded questions at a parliamentary committee last week and is now on “well-deserved” leave (his Minister’s words). The Ministry is under pressure and so is the Minister.
Then there is the Jamaica Urban Transport Company (JUTC), that loss-making, wasteful, corrupt, inefficient, polluting, shambolic bus “service.” Since it was founded it has been a feeding trough for political activists. Public transportation is an utter disgrace in Jamaica, and the source of many of our socio-economic and environmental problems. One man who tried to clean it up, Douglas Chambers, was shot dead one day as he sat outside his office smoking a cigarette – a contract killing allegedly ordered by gang leader Tesha Miller. Perhaps if the JUTC was efficient, comfortable and safe, we would not need to be building so many highways and bypasses for the ever-increasing number of private cars. Well, Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis struck again, with such a damning report that it could not be ignored (especially with elections on the horizon…?) For years, the JUTC has employed hundreds of people in “unapproved positions” and completely unqualified people in senior management, says the Auditor General. The JUTC Board met on Thursday and responded that “there are some areas of the report which require further elaboration for accuracy.” The Board wants the Report retracted.
Over many years, many of us have been standing up: journalists who do investigative work; talk show hosts who call it as it is; columnists who speak truth to power; whistle-blowers in ministries, departments and agencies; our law-enforcement officials; and, most of all, ordinary citizens who make social media posts, write letters and call radio programmes. That is why we are getting some accountability, but this is far from enough. To get more justice, more of us need to stand up.
More of us, indeed! And what about the “big fish”?
Crime: The Jamaica Constabulary Force are rather pleased that they have “cracked” a notorious gang from St. James, which apparently repatriated to St. Andrew. Their alleged ringleader, Christopher Boyd (o/c “Plank”!?) was captured on Thursday, besides eight others allegedly linked to the Downtown Sparta Gang. A dancehall DJ named Tommy Lee Sparta, who is being held in St. James under the State of Public Emergency (SOE), reportedly led the police to the apartment block where the men were found. The St. James gangsters apparently fled the SOE and holed up in uptown Kingston. Are SOEs working? That’s a question for another time.
Breaking News: On August 2, six men were shot dead in Effortville/Buzz Rock, Clarendon during a police-military operation. I visited this community on the outskirts of May Pen a few years back; it’s a place with high unemployment and all the characteristics of an “inner city community” without actually being in the city at all. There are quite a few of these marginalized areas around the country. According to Nationwide News Network, two of “Clarendon’s most wanted” (aged 24 and 25 respectively) are among the dead. Their lives hardly got started. Three weapons were seized. Extra-judicial killings by the police and military are on the rise.
There have been some scary incidents around town involving carjackings, abductions, and robberies recently, many affecting women. The JCF seems to be making progress in foiling these attempts and this week arrested and charged two men posing as “taxi” who kidnapped a woman, raped and robbed her. There are two many of these predators around. The use of technology seems to be helping solve some of these horrible crimes. Predatory motorbike riders are another worry. The so-called “Yeng Yengs” (cheap Chinese-made bikes) are becoming very unpopular with the general public.
Remember the Jamaican Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Faisal? He is reportedly due to be deported from Jamaica very soon. He has apparently exhausted all his legal channels. There was so much interest in his case when he was first deported from the UK to Jamaica in 2007 after serving four years in jail there, but that interest has waned.
Culture and Tradition: This overlaps with education, but Friday’s Supreme Court constitutional ruling on the two-year-old case of a girl with dreadlocks who was denied access to Kensington Primary School, a government institution in Portmore, sparked drama and “Twitter outrage” on Emancipation Day. It was reported in overseas media. Prime Minister Andrew Holness issued a press release later in the day, noting: “This Government believes it is time to review and amend the Education Act to reflect a modern and culturally inclusive position…” Promises to do something about this kind of discrimination since the case first came up (and earlier cases) have not turned to action. Jamaicans for Justice, who were involved in the case, posted a release calling for legal reform to deal with these ridiculous, discriminatory school rules. The Court has not yet produced its written judgment (and there appears to be quite a bit of confusion over what they are actually saying). This is not the first case of its kind, let’s remember. All might not be as it seems and there has been more “hot air” than action. More anon. Lawyer/columnist Gordon Robinson makes some cogent points here on the matter and disapproves of younger lawyers spending so much time in front of TV cameras.
Economy: COVID-19 notwithstanding, the Holness administration is determined to forge ahead with several large projects – mostly infrastructure. The South Coast Highway is still on track, and bypasses are planned for the large town of Montego Bay and the small town of Port Antonio. More roads, more cars… I must say, however, that the road to Content Gap, way up in the mountains of St. Andrew, certainly needed fixing. I have personal experience of that road!
Booming business at Bridgets: Despite the struggling economy, many women forked out some money to purchase a precious pair of Bridget’s Sandals.
Education: As schools get ready to open in September under strict COVID-19 protocols, the Jamaica Teachers Association is again miffed with Prime Minister Andrew Holness – this time about his rather blunt comments that “some schools are just playing the role of day care centres – no education is taking place.” Holness served as Education Minister in the Bruce Golding administration from 2007 – 2012, if we recall.
Writer, blogger and educator Helen “Billy” Williams has started a series based on her belief that “the primary curriculum is overloaded with content. With pressure to cover this content, teachers are unable to give the less able children the help they need and they get left behind.” She would like to garner feedback from teachers. Here is her post on Grade One Mathematics. Ugh! A subject I hated.
Why has the University of the West Indies started quoting fees in U.S. Dollars?
Environment: The green lifestyle magazine Live Ecco has been on a campaign throughout Plastic Free July, encouraging businesses and individuals to find a way to reduce their plastic use. It’s a great online resource, with plenty of practical tips and information for consumers, too. Read more here
Health: I have written a pretty extensive update on COVID-19, following the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ press briefing on Thursday – a weekly event broadcast on social media and Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) on YouTube. Somehow I always have more questions, but the briefings generally cover a lot of ground. RJR and Nationwide News Network wasted everyone’s time by asking about contracts with MarketMe (see above). But I guess it was worth a try.
Human Rights: Terrence Williams stepped down on July 29 as the first Commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), after ten years. I think he will be missed. There is no doubt that the number of fatal shooting incidents involving members of the security forces has dropped steadily in the past few years. Last year’s numbers were the lowest in twenty years. Nine Jamaicans were killed in July and 59 to date this year. (There is a picture of the new Commissioner, Hugh Faulkner – who has headed the Legal Aid Council since 2008 – on INDECOM’s website, but when you click on “Profile” nothing comes up. He was sworn in by the Governor General on Wednesday). Meanwhile, there is concern that the Holness administration is aiming to considerably weaken INDECOM, based on some brief comments made by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck in Parliament recently. Blogger Susan Goffe spells it out here.
The Mario Deane case drags on, sadly. The two people accused of inflicting lethal injuries on Mr. Deane in a police lock-up (he died on Independence Day, 2014) were released on Thursday, after serving six years in jail. Three police officers face charges of manslaughter, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office. They are to reappear in court in September.
Justice: I wrote for Global Voices recently about the tragic and painful cases of prisoners “lost in the system” and spending decades behind bars. Many still remain, and efforts by Stand Up for Jamaica and others continue to have their cases aired and Now, Lynford Allen, who spent 13 years in jail and made 100 (!) court appearances has finally been released and had his case dismissed for lack of evidence.
Politics: With “elections in the air” (some were saying this month, but the Prime Minister is saying he wants to get the economy back on track first) all sorts of “silly season” stuff has already started in social media, it seems. Every day there is a new rumor, the latest being that the highly popular Member of Parliament for East Portland, Ann-Marie Vaz, has checked into hospital; she has firmly denied this and is to be seen out and about as usual (and she is one energetic MP!)
Nationwide News Network has just launched its “Vote 2020” National Poll, administered by a relatively young research/technology company Blue Dot Insights. It looks as if it is going to yield some interesting results, and politics junkie Cliff Hughes is pretty excited about it.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Office of Jamaica has reported that over 30,000 new voters have been added to the list, which was published on July 31 with 1,913,410 registered electors on it. If you are not sure if your name is there, you can go to the website and check. It takes two minutes! The next deadline to be added to the November 30 list is September 30. I wonder if we will have had an election by then?
Road Safety: I have written quite a bit on this topic in the past two or three years, and will continue to do so. Up to July 29, 236 people were killed on the road this year, according to the Road Safety Unit. There has been a 13 per cent decline this year, perhaps due to COVID-19 factors. Motorbikes are a major headache (32 percent of all deaths this year). I will provide more details in later posts.
- Kudos! Last but not least, here is some of the “good stuff” (which happens every day, of course)…
Dancehall’s “prodigal son” Buju Banton won the Jamaica Festival Song Prize this year with his song “I Am a Jamaican.” He donated his J$3 million winnings to the Sunbeam Boys’ Home. For some it may not seem like a large amount, but it will make a huge difference to the home in Bushy Park, St. Catherine, serving our marginalized boys.
Also on the cultural front, there have been great, largely successful efforts to share musical events online during the COVID-19 pandemic. A case in point was “A Taste of Sumfest” – an online version of the popular annual stage show. It won praise all round. Congratulations to all those involved, especially Delano Forbes and his Mom Marcia, at our local production company Phase Three Productions! The online viewership was reportedly over three million.
Mr. Kenute Hare, who heads the Road Safety Unit at the Ministry of Transport, has been doing a grand job hosting a series of online discussions on many aspects of road safety in the past few weeks.
That’s all for now, folks! I may have missed something, but this is a start. Have a good week!