Jamaicans do love political dramas, and the past week or so they have been riveted by the steadily building saga of the People’s National Party, our parliamentary Opposition that seems to be struggling in a quagmire. You know how the more you struggle, the more stuck you get? Most of the time I don’t understand all the complexities, innuendoes and undercurrents. But something is desperately wrong. If it’s not a sudden implosion, it’s a slow-motion disintegration. Somebody please help them! We need a strong Opposition after the last election, won by a landslide albeit with a very small voter turnout. The balance is so needed. Apart from that, crime rumbles on and so does COVID-19… There are so many crime-related stories I could not possibly highlight them all here.
Agriculture: Hope Zoo in Kingston is partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to offer training in beekeeping in communities bordering the Hellshire Hills – home to the Zoo’s Headstart Programme for the endangered Jamaican Iguana. Honey is in great demand in Jamaica, and production has increased in recent years. The goal is to create more sustainable livelihoods in the environmentally sensitive area. Agriculture Minister Floyd Green is working on a training plan to help build the beekeeping sector, he told a virtual meeting of beekeepers last week. Yes!
Now, Stephen Newland (formerly?) of Rootz Underground has a family farm in St. Mary (Hopewell Farms) and is specializing in the “hot stuff.” He is producing (dehydrated) Scotch Bonnet pepper seasoning, rubs, and spices under the name “Hot Steppa.”
But the thieving continues in the sector, unabated. Now a woman farmer in Williamsfield, St. Catherine, is distressed over the theft of twenty goats. What we call “praedial larceny” is costing farmers several billion per year. Agriculture Minister Floyd Green says there has been “an almost 100 percent increase” in arrests this year. Still, much more needs to be done.
Caribbean: In Puerto Rico, the huge (and famous) Arecibo radio telescope collapsed, just two weeks after the U.S. National Science Foundation announced that it would be closed. It has been in poor condition for some time. By the way, if you love astronomy, earthsky.org is a great website.
The founder and director of Trinidad’s Bocas LitFest, Marina Salandy-Brown, was announced as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
The Governor of the British Virgin Islands, Augustus Jaspert, wants to introduce legislation that will enable the authorities to investigate individuals who possess “unexplained wealth” locally, which may come from corruption or criminal activity.
In Dominica, the post-hurricane building bonanza continues, with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt announcing a major road rehabilitation programme, complemented by planned sea and cruise ship ports. And then there’s an international airport. They’re on a roll it seems, on the “Nature Island.” Will it remain “natural”?
Caribbean politics is funny. In Grenada, the Opposition Leader Tobias Clement chained himself to a table and spoke for two hours during the Budget debate. “In order to get me out before my time is up you will have to nuke this place,” he said. The House Speaker said he didn’t understand the need for such drama.
Climate: And now a member of the awesome #Youth4PuertoBueno group, Ayesha Constable, will be interviewing one of my favorite British Members of Parliament, David Lammy, at the virtual Global Black Youth Festival. The topic: Politics, Racial and Climate Justice. Sign up for the conversation on Friday, December 11, 12:00 – 1:00 PM/5:00- 6:00 PM GMT Register here: http://globalblackyouth.com/gby-fest2020
Corruption: The Gleaner has unearthed a “leaked audit” at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) and since then, the newspaper reporters, staff members are saying they have been told to shut up and referred to the Official Secrets Act! Good heavens. Questions surround the signing of contracts for music videos. The Auditor General’s Department has not audited the JCDC for ten years. Oh dear.
Crime: The National People’s Co-operative (PC) Bank in the town of Old Harbour, St. Catherine, was robbed at lunchtime. Over J$4 million was apparently stolen from the vault, in broad daylight. This is one example of the extraordinary number of daylight robberies of various kinds.
Whatever happened to Jasmine Dean? Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson attempted to answer this question during a press briefing last week, but could only say that two men have been charged with possession of some of her belongings, but not with her disappearance. The 23-year-old visually-impaired university student, of 11 Miles, in Bull Bay, St. Thomas, was last seen in Papine on Thursday, February 27.
As the security forces switch into high gear ahead of Christmas, fighting COVID and crime simultaneously, the Jamaica Defence Force reminded us on Twitter: “The Security Forces continue to urge persons to call the confidential JDF tip hotline at (876) 837-8888, the Jamaica Constabulary Force at 119 or Crime Stop at 311, and provide assistance in ridding criminals from their communities.” Yes, we should play our part. At a press briefing this week, the Police Commissioner said because they have had some successes in fighting gangs, members are now “fighting each other for dominance, which has led to a few shootings and killings.” Quite a few! He noted the following: “As of November 30, 2020, we are 2% below last year as it relates to murder, 1.4% increase in shootings, 15.5% decrease in rapes, 17.7% decrease in robberies and 18% decrease in break-ins.” I actually am not comforted by this news.
Culture and Tradition: Revivalism is a religious expression that is unique to Jamaica, and Minister of Culture Olivia Grange has submitted it to UNESCO for inscription on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Minister Grange currently chairs the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Revivalism was the subject of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s research and a lifelong passion; I recall when he died there was a mesmerizing ceremony in Tivoli Gardens, where a revival table was set up.
Economy: Finance Minister Nigel Clarke announced in Parliament this week that the Government would be withdrawing funds from the National Housing Trust (NHT) to help fill the hole in the budget left by COVID-19. This is not the first time this has been done but when in Opposition his party was not very happy at the move. This turns the issue back to the problem of adequate housing at the right price in Jamaica. Minister Clarke says the solution to that problem requires “deep collaborative efforts.”
Education: The Ministry of Education is reporting that only 65 percent of students have been attending classes since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Permanent Secretary also revealed to a parliamentary committee that 800 students “are currently positive.” What! The learning loss has been particularly acute among primary level students (especially in Mathematics and Science), reported Permanent Secretary Dr. Grace McLean. The Ministry plans to work on special interventions, using small groups. This is not really surprising, but worrying indeed. However, the Ministry now says that no student or teacher participating in the pilot face-to-face program has tested positive for COVID-19.
Health: There is great excitement about the COVID-19 vaccine, of course. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has reported to Parliament that the subsidized cost will be around US$8.2 million under the Covax facility. This would be the first phase (lasting around six months) but the second phase may be more costly, the Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan explained.
December 1 was World AIDS Day. Jamaica had 700 new cases last year, Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton reported to Parliament. Only 44 percent of those diagnosed are on anti-retroviral treatment. A response team has been ensuring that those living with HIV/AIDS are cared for during the pandemic. There are still a number of concerns, including the way in which patients are treated by healthcare workers.
The Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act was passed in the Senate last Friday, with 24 amendments. It replaces legislation dating back to the 19th century!
Human Rights: Are police shootings on the rise? Two men, identified as Nicolas Miles, and Brandon, were fatally shot during a confrontation with the Police about 4:17 a.m., on St. Joseph’s Road, Hunts Bay in St. Andrew on Wednesday, December 02. Another alleged murderer was shot by the police also in Kingston.
Immigration: The furore that began in the UK over the deportation of Jamaicans last week was taken up in local media, although Jamaicans did not have much to say about it. I think the outrage was greater in the UK. A quiet agreement between both governments not to deport Jamaicans who had come to the UK as children under 12 was reported. Minister of National Security Horace Chang reminded us that Jamaica is obliged to accept deportees if they are verified as Jamaican citizens. In fact, only 13 arrived on December 2, and the group did not include any Windrush victims. Some who were scheduled to be deported were thought to be victims of trafficking and taken off at the last minute. One has tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.
Infrastructure: Prime Minister Andrew Holness visited the Gordon Town Road in the St. Andrew hills (it’s in his wife Juliet’s constituency), which suffered a major collapse during the recent heavy rains. An alternative main road through Savage Pen is under construction and should be ready in three weeks, he said. It is an enormous challenge. The cost of the alternative road is J$60 million and to fix the Gordon Town Road will cost at least J$200 million. Do our leaders understand the impact of climate change? Are they starting to make the connections?
Justice: The much-revered Dennis Morrison retired recently (on his 70th birthday) as President of the Court of Appeal. His successor, Justice Patrick Brooks, was sworn in by the Governor General on Monday.
People: A Jamaican Canadian and alumnus of Cornwall College, B. Denham Jolly, has received one of Canada’s highest civilian honors, the Order of Canada, for his work in the black community of Greater Toronto. He was the first black owner of a newspaper and radio station in the city. What an amazing man.
Huge congratulations too to young diplomat Jevon Minto, who has just received a Schwartzman Scholarship to study for a Masters at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. He is going to do a quick switch from Spanish to Mandarin, now! The aim of Schwartzman Scholars is “for future leaders who will deepen understanding between China and the rest of the world.”
And Jamaica’s Ajani Jacobs is the winner of the 2020 Global Water Partnership Caribbean’s Young Caribbean Water Entrepreneurs Shark Tank Competition. Ajani is 27 years old and his winning pitch was based on his project “The Use of Constructed Farm Wetland in the Cockpit Country’s Martha Brae Watershed to Mitigate the Impacts of Climate Change.”
Politics: So last week the newly-minted Opposition Leader Mark Golding announced his 19-person Shadow Cabinet. But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh no – the shenanigans seem endless, and I am quite confused by it all. It seems that every day there is something new. Now this evening a Vice President of the People’s National Party Youth Organization (PNPYO) has resigned, so the extreme malaise seems to be infecting the young ones, too. This young member has cited “an obsessive compulsion to create a cabal of support for Cde (Comrade) Golding” in her resignation letter. But, umm, isn’t he the party leader? Now after the drama of Damion Crawford’s leaked phone call, the talkative party vice president asserts there is “back stabbing” going on. You don’t say.
Now, the former party treasurer, Norman Horne, is in the spotlight over his (so far) refusal to resign from the Senate (he was appointed by former PNP head Peter Phillips) – putting Mr. Golding in a quandary as he tries to sort out his appointments to the Upper House. Mr. Horne had promised to resign weeks ago. Golding wants to appoint his friend and former business partner Peter Bunting to the Senate. Who knows what excitement may happen in the coming week? Traditional and social media seem very much focused on it. Now Mr. Horne is refusing to say whether he is a U.S. citizen or not (a critical factor). What on earth…?
Road Safety: A 46-year-old woman was killed when she tried to cross the Ocho Rios main road in St. Ann and was hit by a car.
Sports: I am happy to see that the RJRGleaner Sports Foundation Benevolent Fund has provided support for Jamaica Surfing Association President Anthony Wilmot and his wife Claudette. Their home in Nine Miles, Bull Bay, was destroyed by fire last year. The Association does lots of good work, including an annual surfing event for children with autism.
And now the Reggae Girlz (our intrepid woman footballers) need financial help and are fundraising for Christmas. Do help if you can!
Technology: Really, we have to do better in terms of providing more of our citizens with proper Internet access. The haphazard and downright incompetent service from one of our two providers (and many Jamaicans outside urban areas have no choice) is one thing. A total lack of Internet access in many communities has been highlighted since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and a great deal more progress needs to be made to bridge that “digital divide.” One example is a school and community library in Quick Step, St. Elizabeth (donated by a generous citizen, Randy Griffiths, who has a charity called Pencils 4 Kids). Work was completed a year ago, but still no Internet.
Youth: The Prime Minister’s National Youth Awards for Excellence will stream live and air on TVJ on Sunday, December 13 at 5:00 p.m. The young people are all excited. There are so many great nominees here! Good luck to all!
I am sorry that I end with this sad part, but you can always skip over it if you wish. This endless life-and-death dance preoccupies us and for me, the violent undercurrents in our society are always at the back of my mind. I think of the grief and tears and loss. My deepest condolences to the families.
The body of Elijah Griffiths, 67, was found in bushes in Dover, St. Catherine on Sunday. Mr. Griffiths (“Old Timer”) worked at the Jamaica Broilers Group chicken farm in Spring Village. Two men have been taken into custody – they were found with his motorcycle and mobile phone.
Another senior citizen, a returning resident who had just returned to his home from Canada by the name of Ansel Lynch, was shot dead by an intruder at his home in Chapelton, Clarendon. He was in his seventies.
The place has a pretty name (Nightingale Grove) but an ugly crime in Gutters, St. Catherine, where construction worker Michael Campbell was shot dead outside his home.
Twenty-eight-year-old Shandeka “Diamond” Campbell, described as a commercial sex worker, was found murdered in a St. Andrew guest house. The story in the Jamaica Star is so touching; Shandeka’s mother said: “My daughter was the best person ever, when I tell you she was kind, nice and humble despite of what she did with her life.” Rest in peace, Shandeka.
Another young woman, bartender Taneisha James, was stabbed to death during an argument by a man near Ocho Rios Market in St. Ann on Saturday. The man has been taken into custody.
Theo Monteque, 31, was shot dead in Torrington Park, Kingston. Shortly after, an unidentified man suspected (?) of Monteque’s murder was shot dead by the police.
Another unidentified man was found dead in Lilliput, St. James, after residents heard gunshots.
33-year-old Rayon Jess, who had just returned from a farm work programme overseas, was shot dead by armed men traveling in a car on the Croft’s Hill road in Clarendon on Saturday evening.
A Kingston teenager was shot dead in Brockery, Christiana in Manchester while sitting in a car. 14-year-old Ricardo Richards was killed and his companion, another teenager was injured.