ICYMI in Jamaica, September 15, 2020: Sorting Out the Politicians, and More

The forces of nature have been flexing their muscles recently. During a heavy afternoon thunderstorm on Wednesday (Kingston went completely dark), two people in St. Elizabeth were killed by a lightning strike. Meanwhile, there are five – yes, five – named storms in the Atlantic basin. At the moment, Paulette, René, Sally, Teddy and Vicky are not anywhere near us – but they are very busy. It has been a stormy, rainy week.

Caribbean: Members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Marine Division and the United States Coast Guard have been searching for several Haitian and Jamaican nationals reportedly missing at sea. Twelve were rescued from their capsized boat in the Berry Islands, Bahamas, but others are still missing.

Barbados made the news this week with a couple of items that came up in the Throne Speech at the Opening of Parliament. Governor General Dame Sandra Mason read out the speech, which included a promise to consider “a form of civil unions for couples of the same gender,” which it will put to a public referendum.

The Governor General of Barbados, Dame Sandra Mason, reading the Throne Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday. (Photo: NationNews Barbados)

Dressed in a hat and coat and a string of pearls – colonial-style – the Barbadian Governor General also announced that Barbados (“Little England” as it is known) would become republic and would remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state by November 2021, when the nation marks its 55th anniversary of Independence. Well, that’s a surprise.

Crime: A 64-year-old attorney, Calvin Rose, was arrested and charged with fraud for allegedly forging a will. Whatever next!

Culture: Bunny Wailer is recovering slowly but surely in a private rehabilitation facility from the stroke he suffered in July. It is good to know he is on the mend. Tragically, however, his partner Joan Watt, who went missing in May this year, has still not been found. She suffered from memory loss.

On Friday night, September 11, “Toots” Hibbert passed away. Just a few weeks earlier he had been busy, making plans, releasing a new album and performing at the Jamaica Festival Song Competition at Independence. Now he is gone. Although it has not been confirmed, it has been widely reported that his death was COVID-related; he had respiratory symptoms. I wrote about him here for Global Voices. His spirit, energy and continually upbeat outlook on life will never be forgotten. That soulful voice is now quiet.

The Cenotaph at National Heroes Park. (Photo: Jamaica Defence Force)

The 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain was marked by a wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph at National Heroes Park on Tuesday, organized by the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) Jamaica Branch.

Now some promising news: our local cinema company, Palace Amusement, has got a license to operate a drive-in cinema in New Kingston! I think it will be in the same location where there used to be one, years ago. I remember going to see “Days of Thunder” with Tom Cruise there (now what year was that?) when family were visiting. I loved the drive-ins and it makes perfect sense with COVID-19.

Did you know that dancehall “veteran” (he’s 48 years old) Bounty Killer has a Foundation? He recently donated $100,000 and other items to a young boy with disabilities. Thank you, Mr. Price!

A very well-known fashion designer, Francis Keane, passed away at the age of 87. Ms. Keane designed outfits for Jamaican Miss World 1993, Lisa Hanna and many other high-profile Jamaican women, while mentoring several younger designers.

Economy: The quarterly press briefing from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) on Wednesday brought the expected bad news. An 18 percent contraction in the economy for the April to June quarter was noted, largely due to the pandemic. The hotel and restaurant sector was hit by a 50 percent decline during the period. You can find the PIOJ’s full review here.

The Fitch rating agency has downgraded Jamaica’s B+ rating (in April) from “positive” to “stable.” The reason given were “the likely contraction in foreign currency income from tourism, remittances and alumina exports.”

Business leaders are encouraged by the Prime Minister’s swearing-in speech. President of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation David Wan likes the suggestion that the Prime Minister “is going to be more of a coach and less of a player.” Let’s see how it goes. Nevertheless, the head of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce Lloyd Distant says some of the Chamber’s members are considering closing their businesses at this point. Meanwhile, Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) President Richard Pandohie is calling for greater diversification in the economy and like the JHTA (see below) is urging more rapid testing.

Fayval Williams, the new Minister of Education. (Photo: Nationwide News Network)

Education: The newly appointed Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams says her first task is to get schools open, and to ensure that online education is on track to students “wherever they are in Jamaica.” It’s a tall order, as she says. I wish her all the best.

A new sixth-form college for boys under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church is to open in Montego Bay. The Monsignor Gladstone Wilson College is expected to become a full high school eventually, but will start with sixty pupils.

The new President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel has been talking about the mental and psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students (and their parents and teachers, too). Basically, the children miss their friends and the social interaction. More support is needed, says the JTA President (who seems much more grounded and articulate than his predecessor).

Health: The ongoing flouting of COVID-19 protocols is proving to be a real headache. Funerals (or rather burials) remain a huge challenge; Jamaicans are used to having a big crowd around the grave. Only 15 are allowed. The churches are not so much the problem. It’s the “send off parties” (not to mention Jamaicans still coming over for family funerals, which of course was the very first COVID case in Jamaica back in March).

Moreover, there is a growing perception that some Jamaicans are “sacred cows” as far as the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols are concerned. The numerous uptown parties around the Independence holidays (when no additional restrictions were imposed) have often been talked about and are, many suggest, partly responsible for the current uptick in cases in Kingston 6, 7 and 8, mentioned by Minister Tufton recently. On the other hand, less well-connected Jamaicans are not “given a bligh.”

This is not just so in Jamaica; in Trinidad also social inequalities are noted. This piece I co-wrote for Global Voices points to this. This article also points to illegal partying that is taking place at out-of-the-way spots in St. Ann, which the police are concerned about. Expect a “COVID spike” in that parish soon! Meanwhile the Sunday Gleaner made much of an ongoing police investigation into Usain Bolt’s ill-advised birthday party on their front page; whether anything will come of that, we shall see.

And then there are the burials. Mourners gave problems and refused to obey COVID protocols on Saturday at the burial of Tamara Geddes in Trelawny – who was murdered allegedly as a result of a family plot against her. Seven people are charged with her murder. The police reportedly “pleaded” with the mourners. Well, at least they were wearing masks.

The well-known Kingston gym, Spartan Health Club, has sadly closed its doors after over 40 years in operation – mainly because of the pandemic. The gym had been closely associated with the Miss Jamaica World competition for many years. Managing Director Mickey Haughton James commented that he doubted whether large gyms would be viable again in the near future, as they are “hotspots” for the virus.

Please help if you can, with medical expenses for a young television producer, Denise Kirlew (née Williamson), who has a rare form of cancer. Here is the link to the crowdfunding website started by her sister.

It’s great to have 85 new trained firefighters, who will hopefully provide support for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human Rights: Christopher Parchment, 22, was shot and seriously injured by the police in Old Harbour Bay, reportedly while he was sitting on a wall. Residents staged a protest.

In Agualta Vale, St. Mary, 27 year old Worrel Brown and 25 year old Carl Grantlett, both of Buff Bay, Portland, were shot dead by the police during an alleged shoot-out on Saturday.

The state of New Haven after recent rains. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

Infrastructure (or in this case, the lack of it): Several years ago I visited the community of New Haven, on the outskirts of Kingston and near the polluted Duhaney River. I wrote about and posted photos of the shameful condition of “roads” in the area, where people had tried to build nice houses; not to mention the informal garbage dumps on empty lots. It is disgraceful. Their Member of Parliament for many years always says he is trying to get things fixed, but…with the recent heavy rains, flooding is again a problem. In fact, conditions seem to be worse since 2012. Shame!

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (2nd left), Governor General Sir Patrick Allen (3rd left), and Deputy Prime Minister and National Security Minister Dr. Horace Chang (far right) with Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange (far left) with the rest of the Cabinet behind them, after being sworn in at King’s House on September 13. (Photo: Dave Reid/Yhomo Hutchinson/JIS)

Politics: Well, sometimes elections aren’t that simple. The People’s National Party (PNP) has filed for a magisterial recount in the North West Clarendon constituency. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)’s Philip Henriques had beaten the incumbent, the PNP’s Richard Azan, by just 83 votes, but there were 1,107 rejected ballots – quite a few. The recount started Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, things did not go so well for the incumbent Luther Buchanan in the PNP stronghold of Eastern Westmoreland. After a magisterial recount lasting three days, the JLP’s Daniel Lawrence was declared the winner with 4,862 votes to Buchanan’s 4,851 votes – eleven votes. This had been a dead heat in the preliminary count.

There are accusations of vote-buying in the Central Kingston constituency – a former PNP “safe seat,” which was won by Donovan Williams. The complainants should provide details to the Political Ombudsman. Provide evidence of such activities.

It seems that the Opposition PNP is not in a very comfortable place right now. The leader of the PNP Youth Organization Krystal Tomlinson wrote a rather long letter (leaked to the media) to the party leader, Dr. Peter Phillips (who is waiting until his successor has been chosen) asking him to kindly step down within 30 days. The PNP must “change or die.” PNPYO General Secretary Dexroy Martin said the letter was a (signed?) draft. Ms. Tomlinson included a list of proposed senatorial appointments (including herself) but this did not materialize. The party does not appoint unsuccessful election candidates to the Senate. Ms. Tomlinson was defeated by over 3,000 votes.

Photo ops galore: Former House Speaker and veteran politician Pearnel Charles with his children, Dr. Michelle Charles and Pearnel Charles, Jr. – both now Members of Parliament. (Photo: Twitter)

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrew Holness was busy putting together his new Cabinet, which was announced on Friday evening. They were all sworn in, along with the Attorney General, at King’s House on Sunday afternoon. The Prime Minister gave a relatively short, sharp speech about integrity, etc. I hope they were listening closely. Some of the appointments seem just right; others, well, less so. And some, let’s wait and see. It’s good that junior ministers have been appointed to support some of the most pressured ministries, such as Health, Finance, and Education. The new Speaker of the House is Marisa Dalrymple Philibert. Thirteen Government Senators (nine men and four women) were also sworn in on Monday.

And we do have a Minister of Environment and Climate Change – Pearnel Charles, Jr. – although Housing and Urban Renewal are also in his portfolio, and he has no junior minister. However, one is quite hopeful. The new minister says he plans to make decisions “that make it very clear that this Government respects the environment and will ensure we put the environment as a priority area in our development mandate.”

Ann-Marie Vaz looking very chic, before being sworn in as Member of Parliament for Eastern Portland for the second time, on Tuesday. (Photo: Twitter)

The Members of Parliament were sworn in at the Jamaica Conference Centre downtown on Tuesday, and I wonder if the Parliament could move there at least temporarily. There is lots of space in this well-designed building and the members would not be crowded up together – surely during the COVID-19 period this makes sense.

Road Safety: Quite a few road crashes seem to occur in Western Jamaica, or on the main road on the North Coast. And it is especially painful when such young lives are lost.

In McCook’s Pen, St. Catherine, a teenage motorbike rider (17-year-old Javier Kinglock) and his pillion rider Andrew Ricketts, 25, were both killed when Kinglock lost control of the bike and crashed into a bus and a car on Friday evening. By the way, this would have been outside curfew hours.

Another young motorbike rider was killed in Golden Spring, St. Andrew, when he collided with a car. Kyrie Coombs was only eighteen years old.

21-year-old Shamar Griffiths, a pillion on a motorbike, was killed when the driver lost control and crashed into a car in Adelphi, St. James on Monday.

Dwayne Eunis, 41, was killed when his truck skidded on a wet road in Petersjield, Westmoreland on Monday.

Tourism: The Ministry of Finance is offering one-off grants for small and medium-sized tourism-related businesses. The application period is September 1 to 30.

The Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA) is anxious to have rapid testing for COVID-19 implemented for visitors as soon as possible, using private labs; tourists are waiting too long for their test results. Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton sounded cautious in a radio interview, pointing out that the rapid tests are often less accurate, but the Ministry is starting to assess them. Meanwhile, the JHTA is a little more hopeful for the winter season, but is still reaching out to the local market to fill their hotel rooms “at extremely reduced rates.”

Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett says he is focused on the sector’s recovery, and I quote: “It’s an enormous job that is ahead because it is a new tourism that is emerging globally. It is going to require a new understanding, indeed, a reimaging of tourism as we know it.” I wonder what this means.

The eight new women Senators sworn in: Four Government Senators and four Opposition Senators. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Women’s Issues: Well, this week it’s all about politics, as after all the swearing-in sessions, the women are going to be a much stronger presence in Parliament – eighteen elected Members of Parliament. Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert has been appointed as the new Speaker of the Lower House, with Juliet Holness as her Deputy. So just about one-third of parliamentary representatives are now women, and we are happy for that. Let’s work towards full gender balance with 50 per cent!

European Union representative Malgorzata Wasilewska was perfectly awesome during her tenure in Jamaica, even though no one actually managed to pronounce her name right! (Photo: Twitter)

Farewell to the European Union representative in Jamaica, Malgorzata Wasilewska, a hard-working woman who made an impact. She worked on citizen security and justice and maternal health programs and I was especially keen on the EU’s much-needed support for the forestry sector. She is going to Barbados. If she gets bored she can come back here for some excitement!

I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who have died in tragic circumstances in the past week – and those who are struggling with their injuries. So many of these violent crimes seem to be taking place in western Jamaica, where a State of Emergency was lifted before the elections. Meanwhile, I am glad to see that the police have arrested a man for the murder of 24-year-old Devaun Campbell in August Town back in April, 2019.

Maria Valdez Bens, 37, a bartender from the Dominican Republic and a resident of Lilliput, St. James, was shot dead in the bar where she worked on Thursday evening.

Another woman was killed in St. James. 54-year-old Jean Dale-Jarrett was found dead at her home in Red Dirt, Montego Bay.

A Westmoreland man, 52-year-old Shawn Brooks, was stabbed to death during a fight at a gas station in Dunbar River. His alleged attacker has been arrested.

24-year-old Renor Anderson was shot dead at a vending stall in Catherine Hall, St. James on Friday morning. The alleged perpetrators were pursued by the police by car and on foot, and two were wounded in a gunfight – now in hospital under police guard.

“The town is hot,” said one businessman in Spanish Town, after the murder of a vendor on Burke Road on Tuesday. The man was chased and shot in broad daylight. Business people fear that any rise in crime will affect their trade.

Police are seeking to identify a man’s body, found with gunshot wounds on Slipe Road, Kingston on Saturday morning.

Also in Kingston, a man was shot and killed by men on a motorbike in Pembroke Hall on Tuesday.

And a man was shot and killed at the entrance to Maxfield Park Comprehensive Health Centre in Kingston on Monday morning.

In Brown’s Town, St. Ann, shopkeeper 33-year- old Conroy Barnett was shot dead at his business place last Wednesday.

Sorry to end, as always, on this sad note.

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