Jamaicans are election-weary and COVID-weary. With the first one out of the way (what a relief, really), we still have the second to contend with. September is generally considered the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season and this year we have already had two brushes with Laura and Nana, but expect more rumblings from west Africa this month…Two storms named Paulette and René are wandering off northwards. All quiet here, for now.
Caribbean: The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has launched the Pivot Movement to strengthen innovation in the region, especially in terms of technology and reimagining tourism. For further details and to apply go to https://caribbeanpivot.com/ (By the way, do you know what a “moonshot idea” is?)
The Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival is online this year, starting on September 9. Get your tickets now!
The Cayman Islands Governor Martyn Roper has approved legislation allowing for same-sex marriage. “This action does not alter or undermine the strong Christian heritage and values of the people of the Cayman Islands. No-one is being asked to change their long-held beliefs,” he says. N.B. Cayman Islands has no active COVID-19 cases. It plans to open its borders in a phased manner from October 1.
The Government of Dominica is worried about illegal migrants from neighboring French islands, who may exacerbate COVID-19. The island has had only 22 cases and no deaths from the virus, to date.
Corruption and Transparency: “No princes or princesses”: At his swearing-in ceremony on Monday afternoon (this would be for the third time), Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared that no member of his incoming government would be immune from being held accountable for corrupt practices. “We therefore see strong correlation between the success of the economic and social programmes and the trust of the public. We commit to make this government the highest in integrity, dignity and efficiency,” said the Prime Minister. Forgive me if I say that I may have heard these words before at swearing-in speeches.
Crime: USAID and the Planning Institute of Jamaica recently signed an J$38m agreement to fund a crime prevention program for youth in the Montego Bay area, focusing on the Salt Spring and Flanker communities.
Culture: The British singer Adele (who is very popular in Jamaica, perhaps because Jamaicans do love “power ballads”) was accused of cultural appropriation by some when she decked herself out in Jamaican gear in celebration of London’s annual West Indian carnival that didn’t happen. I think most Jamaicans were not offended, but quite amused.
A young reggae singer and percussionist named Feluke has died in Mexico, after a battle with colon cancer. A crowdfunding account had been set up for his treatment. He was suffering from the same ailment that Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died from recently – also, so young.
More on pop culture: In a Billboard viewers’ poll, the “Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killa” dancehall clash in the Verzuz series won by miles. It was aired online on Memorial Day. I didn’t watch it, but it was apparently very entertaining. Second and third were Brandy vs. Monica and DMX vs. Snoop Dogg.
And it was Miss Lou’s 101st birthday on Monday. More to follow on this!
The Blood Bank is appealing for blood donations to help Toots Hibbert, who is in hospital in critical condition but slowly recovering. PLEASE donate if you can; as we know, we have a chronic shortage of blood…
Education: Nobody seems to be talking about it much, but the proposed opening of public schools on October 5 is looming, as COVID numbers rise. Is it doable? The University of the West Indies is doing it all online for now, starting classes on September 14, but some students are apprehensive.
Health/COVID-19: With 80 new cases and one more death as of Monday, the much-anticipated press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister was oddly low key and disappointingly lacking in information. Considering that we now have community transmission, the expected tighter restrictions consisted of a slight adjustment in curfew hours, and a slight lowering of the numbers in terms of gatherings (not more than 15 persons). These new measures will continue until September 23 and will, I am sure, make no difference whatsoever.
Questions regarding an outbreak in prisons were answered vaguely by Minister Tufton, who did not appear to know what prisons were affected (I understand that the women’s prison is impacted, and other institutions such as children’s homes and infirmaries may have cases). “It is being dealt with,” seemed to be the answer. Minister of National Security Horace Chang was there, but was apparently not inclined to step up to the podium to respond. Meanwhile, anxiety is reportedly high at Tower Street Correctional Centre, where one inmate said: “Right now, everybody is scared. We need masks and we need medical attention in the prison. The medical fraternity cannot just abandon us now, we need dentists, we need doctors and we need masks for everyone.”
Health/Productivity: Every day, offices are closing down due to COVID-19 cases. The Gleaner newspaper, a racing stable at Caymanas Park, a major hardware store, the JCF Criminal Records Office, the St. James Municipal Corporation, etc., etc. The “sanitizing and deep cleaning” businesses are still doing well.
Health/Partying: The JCF has just reported that retired sprinter Usain Bolt’s birthday party received a permit from the Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation. Bolt subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. They are still checking to see whether two of his guests, footballers Leon Bailey and Raheem Sterling, were in breach of the 14-day mandatory quarantine order after flying in from the UK. Well, take your time.
Health/Children: A joint study by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) and UNICEF Jamaica has found that some 44 percent of households with children are experiencing food shortages. Apart from nutritional concerns, there are a range of issues affecting their education, also.
Politics: The post mortem began, immediately after the preliminary count on the night of Thursday, September 3 showed that the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had won by a quite surprising landslide. I wrote about the elections, and the “COVID factor,” for Global Voices here. It seems that although the talking heads on TV and radio had predicted a JLP win, they had not been expecting such a rout. In the end, they “called” the victory quite early in the evening. Andrew Holness is to be sworn in for his second term as Prime Minister on Monday afternoon.
The final count was completed on Tuesday afternoon, the Electoral Office of Jamaica announced that the JLP won 48 seats while the People’s National Party (PNP) secured 15.
On Election Day morning, People’s National Party (PNP) leader Dr. Peter Phillips told journalists that if his party did not win, he would resign. And he submitted his resignation letter the following day. Now who will become the new Opposition Leader, one asks? Since the ambitious Mr. Peter Bunting, who challenged Phillips for the leadership last year, suffered one of the shock defeats, losing his seat to a young newcomer, Rhoda May Crawford. With him out of the runnings, who is next? Some are putting their money on Julian Robinson, the party’s steady and respected General Secretary; but would he want the job? And what about Phillips’ son Mikael? But (one more question) – will Phillips’ resignation be accepted by Party Chairman Fitz Jackson?
Meanwhile, the PNP’s General Secretary Julian Robinson has recovered from COVID-19 and is resuming his normal duties. I hope this is a complete recovery, as I have heard of lingering health problems afterwards.
Meanwhile many (including myself) have mixed feelings about such a huge victory, with a considerably weakened (even humiliated) Opposition. Is this good for democracy? As civil society activist Carol Narcisse posted on Twitter, it is up to each one of us to be vigilant and alert. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding warned against complacency in the new administration. To whom much is given…
The Prime Minister was sworn in along with Minister of National Security (and now Deputy Prime Minister) Dr. Horace Chang; Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith; Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Nigel Clarke; and Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton. There may be some “shuffling” of other Cabinet members. Some younger faces would be very welcome.
Moving out… (See below). Outgoing Member of Parliament Dayton Campbell’s office in St. Ann will no doubt be painted green as his successor moves in. But as journalist Dashan Hendrix says, why paint the office in party colors? The MP is supposed to represent EVERY person in the constituency. (Photos shared by Dashan on Twitter).
While the preliminary count showed the JLP winning with 49 seats to the PNP’s 14, there are still at least two in contention. On Saturday the official count for the Eastern Westmoreland constituency (a long-held PNP area, by the way) showed a dead heat between the incumbent Luther Buchanan and the JLP’s Daniel Lawrence. The Returning Officer, per the regulations, had to cast a deciding vote by a blind draw of one of two pieces of paper, and the name was that of the PNP incumbent. There will be a magisterial recount on Friday, and the JLP is seeking recounts in two additional seats, where results were close. A dead heat so rarely happens that there is some disagreement as to whether what the law (the Representation of the People Act) stipulates in this case is satisfactory.
Political tribalism: Although some commentators are writing and talking about the changing public perceptions surrounding politics and elections – Jamaicans want to hold their government accountable, etc. – there are still signs that political tribalism is alive and well. I was very disturbed to hear about threats by activists to journalists working at a particular radio station – and in particular, comments made by a former General Secretary of the PNP during an interview on Tuesday morning that the media house had facilitated the election result. This is “old-time” thinking that we need to reject – and it is actually dangerous.
Dynasties: The senior politician Pearnel Charles’ two children, Pearnel Jr. and Dr. Michelle Charles, both won their seats. For the Duncan family, however, there was disappointment. The two daughters of DK Duncan (who is sadly in hospital with the COVID-19 virus), Imani Duncan Pryce and Patricia Duncan Sutherland, were defeated, both for the second time. In fact Charles Jr. defeated Duncan Sutherland. Politics is cruel.
More women Members of Parliament than ever: Fourteen out of eighteen JLP candidates won or held their seats, while four PNP women retained theirs – totaling eighteen women, six of them new MPs. This makes a total of 28.5 percent women in the Lower House.
Road Safety: It has not been a good week. I am so sad and extend sympathies to the families of all those killed and injured on our roads. The numbers are too high! A 36-year-old hairdresser, Dian Johnson, died on the Duncans main road in Trelawny after crashing into a truck. Her 10-year-old son and a passenger suffered severe injuries.
42-year-old Charlene James Jarrett, an attorney at Law, died after her car collided with a bus on the main road in Anchovy, St. James.
Another woman died in a crash in Hodge, St. Elizabeth. 36-year-old Melisha Porter, a hotel worker, skidded on a slippery, wet road and was thrown from the car.
And Brandon Sturridge, an 18-year-old who was a passenger in a car full of political party supporters, was killed when the car crashed into a tractor trailer in Marshall’s Pen, near Mandeville.
52-year-old Garfield Fletcher was also killed when he crashed into another car in Laughlands, St. Ann, at an intersection.
It is often our senior citizens who are victims when they are walking the road. 72-year-old Llewellyn McKenzie was hit by a car during a rain shower on a poorly lit stretch of road near Flanker, St. James.
A young pedestrian, 24-year-old O’Brien Cooper, was also hit and killed by a motor vehicle while walking along the road in Ironshore, Montego Bay.
And another motorcycle death: Lucan Byfield, 23, crashed his motorcycle head-on into a truck in Torrington, Westmoreland, on Election Day.
There was yet another tragic incident, when 66-year-old Eunice Williams’ vehicle collided with a truck in the Bog Walk Gorge and fell into the Rio Cobre River, resulting in Ms. Williams’ death.
On the topic of slippery roads, the indefatigable Kenute Hare, who heads the Road Safety Unit at the Ministry of Transport and Mining, discussed this topic on one of his very valuable Zoom discussions a few days ago. You can watch it on YouTube here.
Tourism: It seems very unlikely that Jamaica’s borders will be closed, despite the huge wave of new COVID-19 cases. It’s surely hard to tell at this point whether a case is “imported,” or whether it even matters. Tourism interests are begging the Government not to close down again, and this is unlikely to happen.
Women’s Issues: The topic of women’s shelters came up during the first political debate, and we need to watch closely to see whether the new administration finally fulfills its promises to create at least two more to add to the ONE we now have. I think we should have one in every parish.
Two women who played their part in politics in quite different ways have passed away in the last few days: Jamaican-born Phyllis Coard, who was among 17 people who allegedly masterminded the murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop during the Grenada Revolution back in 1983 died aged 73 in Kingston on Sunday. She served time in prison and founded the National Organisation for Women in Grenada.
We also learned that Jeanette Grant-Woodham, Jamaica’s first female Senate leader, and a respected educator (as first principal of Tivoli Gardens Comprehensive High School in 1970), passed away aged 82 years. The current Senate head paid tribute to her on Tuesday.
Kudos and Big Bouquets to:
Sanya Goffe, Attorney at Law and President, Pension Industry Association of Jamaica, who has been selected for the Eisenhower Fellowship’s prestigious 2020 Women’s Leadership Program, a five-week exchange that leverages the organization’s network of trailblazing talent to help the Fellows pursue projects that better the world. Sanya is one of just 25 women worldwide selected – congratulations!
Deputy Inspector Michael King, who was born in Jamaica and migrated at age 16 to the United States, is the new commander of the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. It is quite a sensitive department, dealing with victims of sex crimes. Good luck with the challenging job!
Crime continues, despite politics, COVID and everything else. My thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends…Strangely, most of these cases over the past few days have been in the small parish of Hanover.
An unidentified man was shot dead at a bar in Sandy Bay, Hanover and his brother is injured.
An unidentified man was shot dead by the police in an alleged shoot-out and car chase from Payne Land to Waltham Park Road in Kingston
Odane Griffith, 24, was also shot dead in Richmond, Hanover.
Ernest Rose, 43, a bike taxi operator who was acting as a runner for the PNP on Election Day, was shot and killed near the polling station in Middlesex, again in the parish of Hanover.
Glenval Myrie, 34, was shot dead in Greenland, Hanover by men traveling on a motorcycle.
30 year old Eloy Williams was stabbed to death during a dispute near the Morant Bay market in St. Thomas.
Another young man was stabbed to death during an illegal party outside curfew hours in Alexandria, St. Ann. His name is Nicholas Spencer.