ICYMI in Jamaica, September 1, 2020: The COVID Elections – It Is What It Is


I wish I could say that it has been an easy-going, free-flowing week. But far from it. There have been challenges, and there are challenges ahead. Everything has been revolving around politics, the debates, while COVID-19 has kept us all in a state of confusion. Yes, I think confusion is the word; every evening, when the new numbers come out for the day, a kind of fog descends on your brain for a while. It is a dark, humid evening and nearly curfew time. I am hoping for a week that helps us to clear the air. It is murky at present.

Caribbean: [A reminder to please sign the petition to save three areas in Grenada threatened by tourism developments. Thank you!]

Children: The Government agency, the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) is partnering with a faith-based organization called Embracing Orphans (Immanuel House) in Reading, St. James, which will serve as a facility for boys transitioning out of state care. It will open next month. The organization already operates a home for girls, The Father’s House.

Climate Change: Meanwhile, a sort of “disorganized” mess of thunderstorms and showers and wind brushed past us one evening, and later became Hurricane Nana, now making life miserable for Central Americans. It was a lucky near miss. We get lucky, sometimes.

Corruption and Transparency: It’s quite a story. Two police officers in Hanover were fined $500,000 each for corruption. They stopped a car and negotiated a bribe of $150,000 to be paid in return for their not laying a charge of lottery scamming and for letting a wanted man go. Wouldn’t some jail time have been appropriate for this?  Seriously!

Crime: A woman was arrested when the Narcotics Police seized J$1.57 million worth of uncustomed cigarettes on Wavel Avenue, St. Andrew on August 27.

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Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals. They just released an album after 10 years or so and he performed at the recent virtual Reggae Sumfest.

Culture: Get well soon, Toots! The veteran reggae singer has been hospitalized with breathing problems, but it’s not clear that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Also a 44-year-old dancehall deejay, Alozade, had a haemorraghic stroke recently and is undergoing treatment. How frightening! Get well soon and take care.

Today (September 1) is the anniversary of the terrible train crash in Kendal in 1957, in which over 180 people were killed and hundreds more injured.

Economy: There was gloomy news last week, as the Bank of Jamaica (BoJ) revised downward its prediction for the Jamaican economy. BoJ Governor Richard Byles told a quarterly press briefing that he expects a 7 – 10 percent contraction during the 2020-21 fiscal year. If you want to go through the details, you can find the BoJ press statement here.

One sector that is booming, however, is the janitorial industry. There is great demand for “deep cleaning and sanitizing” these days.

Elections: For weeks, I have been enquiring about the protocols for Jamaicans who have tested positive for COVID-19 when casting their ballot on Election Day – and for those who are in quarantine. Will they all be allowed to vote? After all, there are close to 30,000 people in home quarantine, according to the Government. Can they be denied their constitutional right? We have had vague answers on this issue for a couple of weeks now; but I distinctly remember that the Chief Medical Officer was adamant that those who are isolated and positive should not be allowed to vote. Minister Tufton followed up with a comment that those 30,000 or so should be allowed to do so. And so it turned out that even Jamaicans who are COVID-positive and in isolation can vote, along with the many thousands in home quarantine.

Meanwhile, constitutional lawyer Dr Lloyd Barnett was equally adamant that people cannot be denied their right to vote. And our Member of Parliament, People’s National Party General Secretary Julian Robinson, is happy at the development, although some election workers are nervous.

Expect a huge “spike” in numbers (and likely deaths) after Election Day. But our constitutional right to vote is more important than public health.

  • Other questions: What is the risk of exposure when a voter has to remove their mask for the purposes of identification at the polling station?  • What arrangements are being made for voters with disabilities? • What about safe transportation to and from the polling stations? • Have any plans been made for Election Night, when there are usually parties and crowds galore?
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Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton, combining election campaigning with adherence to the correct protocols. (Photo: Twitter)

Environment: Grants totalling $9 million (€51,000) were recently awarded to twelve Jamaican mining and quarry operators by the African, Caribbean and Pacific-European Union (ACP-EU) Minerals Development Programme. The outgoing head of the European Union Malgorzata Wasilewska (who will be greatly missed) said that these are small, artisanal projects. I would love to know more.

Sadly, International Coastal Cleanup Day in Jamaica has been postponed, reports the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET). The organizers were hoping for something small-scale, with the use of the Clean Swell mobile app, but due to rising COVID numbers and the various restrictions, have decided against it. Sad, but the right thing to do at this time.

Health: Since last Sunday we have had 700 new cases (if my Math is right). Other bits of news you may have missed – which may already be out of date, as things are moving fast  – are that 17 health workers had been infected with COVID-19 – eight from the Kingston Public Hospital, where a further 31 at that hospital have also been quarantined. • At least 16 policemen have contracted the virus (including the Police Commissioner himself) and around 200 are in quarantine.

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This spike was anticipated, said Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton, while handing out masks etc. in Half Way Tree this week.

The Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton’s tone seems a little different in media interviews. Despite around around 1,000 cases to be contact-traced, he is confident that this can be managed; he refuses to be drawn on whether we now have community spread; and yes, we are still at risk of having 1.5 million cases of COVID-19. We told you so. So are we to believe that although the virus has spread across the Kingston & St. Andrew area, this is all one big cluster, or thousands of tiny clusters? Perhaps it’s not something to talk about just before Election Day. Let’s see what comes out afterwards.

It is what it is. Right?

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of the West Indies are seeking support from the Ministry of Health and Wellness for their study of the use of convalescent plasma as a possible treatment for COVID-19.

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Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, visiting a correctional centre in May, 2020. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Have our prison administrators been ensuring close enough adherence to COVID-19 protocols? It emerged on Sunday evening that there are five cases at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston – one officer and four inmates. There are also, I understand, three cases at the women’s prison; possible cases at the Montego Bay police lock-up; and possibly some at juvenile correctional centres. Carla Gullotta, executive director of Stand Up For Jamaica, which works in the prisons, is asking for the release of the most vulnerable and non-violent prisoners, in light of the virus. Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, surprised me by saying that prisoners are not mandated to wear masks – only the officer. We have heard very little about the situation in the prisons; but I suppose uncomfortable matters are postponed until after Election Day.

There are various theories circulating as to why the lovely parish of Portland has a “spike” in cases too – going back to the Independence holiday, perhaps? Meanwhile, the Port Antonio Fire Station has been closed and relocated, for COVID reasons.

Meanwhile, government health official Wayne Chen tweeted this chart, which puts us in perspective, rather encouragingly:

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Politics: Well, the second and third debates took place. I understand that our very bright, slightly nerdy but astute businessman and Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke put one over on fellow Oxford alumnus – a somewhat listless Mark Golding in the second, on Finance and the Economy. The final one on Saturday night between party leaders Andrew Holness and Peter Phillips appeared to give the Opposition Leader the edge – although many gave full marks to neither, but to their questioner, the tenacious Dionne Jackson Miller of RJR. I for one was quite surprised to see the Prime Minister very obviously reading from notes in answer to a question on COVID-19. Perhaps he thought he was at a press briefing. In any case, I doubt very much that the debates will affect voters’ decisions, but they were well executed and actually very well attended online.

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Veteran politician DK Duncan.

Sunday evening we heard that veteran politician and former Manley stalwart D.K. Duncan has also tested positive and is in hospital; his wife Beverley has self-isolated. His two daughters, Imani Duncan and Patricia Sutherland, are candidates for the People’s National Party in upcoming elections. I wish DK all the best – get well soon! And take care all of you, please.

We are very sorry to hear that veteran politician and co-chair of the JLP’s election campaign Ruddy Spencer is also in hospital, having suffered a stroke.

I am glad to hear that Citizens’ Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) has managed to marshal a group of local observers for the Election, despite challenges. They are an excellent non-governmental, non-partisan organization that I have volunteered with several time. There will be no international observer groups.

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Rohan Chung.

In the late stages of the campaign, an Independent candidate has emerged in Central Manchester and has been an object of fascination with the public after television ads appeared before the evening news of this apparent mystery man. Independents are really quite rare. His name is Rohan Chung and he is a 29-year-old businessman. His platform is A) jobs and B) water. Good focus.

What would be the benefits of Portmore becoming our 15th parish? Is it a “feel good” proposal in the JLP manifesto – actually revived from an earlier manifesto under the Bruce Golding administration? The Opposition PNP doesn’t seem so keen.

On Monday August 31, all the special Election Day workers, Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) and Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) people who would be working on Election Day voted in advance. According to a knowledgeable contact on Twitter, the percentages were below those in 2016:Consistent with the growth of the JDF and the JCF there are more registered JDF and JCF voters. There are also more registered Election Day Workers. The percentage of registered JDF, JCF, and EDW voters who voted in 2020 compared to 2016 is in fact down…In 2016 it was 63%, in 2020 it was 56%.”

Meanwhile, several people were arrested in Half Way Tree for not wearing masks – and there was a very mixed reaction to this. Why were Usain Bolt and his celebrity partygoers not arrested for not wearing masks recently, it is asked? And is this a violation of human rights? Minister Tufton, however, was sounding tough this week by saying the COVID-19 protocols under the Disaster Risk Management Orders will be rigorously enforced.

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Lenky’s grave at the Canaan cemetery in St. James. (Photo: McKoy’s News)

Road Safety: A popular bus driver, Oliver Horace Strickland (“Lenky”), who sadly died in a car crash back in June, was buried recently in a grave in the shape of a bus. I somehow find this a touching story.

25-year-old Shaquille Williams was killed when he lost control of his motorbike while heading to Annotto Bay, St. Mary.

Also in St. Mary, there was yet another hit and run driver on the Galina main road, who knocked down and killed 49-year-old Leroy Barrett, who was standing by the side of the road. This is sad, so sad! I hope the police find the driver.

Technology: There has been so much talk about the digital divide, and the inability of many young people to access the much-needed technology that is critical for their education as they study online during COVID-19. I was happy to learn that Digicel has expanded its LTE footprint to include a number of rural towns. It will also enable more people to work from home, which is critical at this time and maybe for the future.

Tourism: Of course it is too late now, but some Jamaicans still maintain that the Government should not have been among the first to open its borders to visitors in mid-June. Now, COVID-19 is having an impact on tourism as tourists are reportedly canceling bookings because of concerns over our rising numbers. Travelers from Jamaica will have to do two weeks’ quarantine on returning to the UK, which is also a deterrent to tourists. According to a Gleaner article, hotels in Kingston are only at 10 – 15 per cent occupancy but the tourism areas are doing a little better. The Jamaica Tourist Board is frantically keeping its marketing efforts going, but it must be a struggle for them.

Meanwhile, I was bowled over by reports that our tourism attraction operators are working towards a return to cruise shipping. Seriously!  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “No Sail Order” will continue until September 30, at least.

Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours, undeterred by the COVID impact, is pressing ahead with its investment in a zip line in Cedar Valley. Currently it has no overseas visitors, since attractions are closed to them, but is open for local business. I wish them luck!

Kudos to the group of young environmentalists and climate change activists who have been pushing determinedly for these issues to be put squarely on the political agenda and discussed in a meaningful way prior to the election, in particular in the party manifestoes. We are rather tired of vague platitudes and catch phrases such as “Blue Economy” etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, it seems that political leaders pay lip service to environmental issues – they have done for years. It’s an afterthought. But something was achieved when in the final leadership debate, a question was asked about protecting our watersheds, and water. The topic of Cockpit Country also came up. Well, that was something, even if it was only a couple of minutes’ worth.

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This webinar was organized by the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council, GirlsCare and Young People for Action on Climate Change. Young people want answers and are determined to press for them! Congratulations to Mario Christie, Eleanor Terrelonge, Michael Morgan and Dainalyn Swaby. Environmentalists Diana McCaulay and Susan Otuokon provided sterling support.

Congratulations to the Transformation Implementation Unit (TIU) which won the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Project Execution Challenge. There was a virtual ceremony (with virtual drum rolls and applause!) on August 27. They were chosen as the most efficient of the 56 projects funded by the IDB in Jamaica.

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Thank you also Google for honoring a Kingston-born doctor who made an impact as a civil rights activist in the early 20th century. His name was Dr. Harold Moody. There’s a blue plaque on the house where he lived and worked in Peckham, London. I would love for us to do blue plaques in Jamaica.

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My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those Jamaicans who have died violently…Names, not numbers. They are all in the parish of St. James.

  • 57-year-old Keith ‘Barry’ Shaw, a bus driver, was killed in Carey Village, St. James, allegedly by his son, who has mental health issues. What a sad story.
  • 47-year-old Everald Chambers, a car tinting technician, was at his business place on Dome Street, Montego Bay on Saturday morning when he was shot dead.
  • Anthony Williams, labourer, was shot and killed in Granville, St. James by men in a vehicle that passed by.

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