I have had a long hiatus from my weekly updates. Life has been a little overwhelming. “Tempus fugit.” I am scraping the surface here, but will go more in depth next week and will try to stick to a Friday/Saturday update!
Environmental stories will follow in due course and there is much to report; however, you will be reassured to know that the Government is committed to “strengthening” environmental policies, according to our Prime Minister. Could the Government kindly act on what it has already committed to – that would be nice!
Climate Change: Hurricane season officially started on June 1, and an “active” or rather “above normal” season is predicted. Tropical Storm Ana already happened last month. We may get 6 to 10 hurricanes.“Preparation for hurricane season is essential as Jamaica remains vulnerable to tropical cyclones for the next six months,” says Director of the Met Service Evan Thompson. I hope that the hitherto extremely low-profile (and sadly, inadequately resourced) Met Service and Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) will keep us regularly updated. Otherwise, I will rely on the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Meanwhile, the National Works Agency (NWA) is doing some drain cleaning, a traditional activity at this time of year.
Corruption and Transparency: Remember former Education Minister and Senator Ruel Reid and Caribbean Maritime University president Professor Fritz Pinnock? The court has given them leave to go to the Judicial Review Court as they try to quash a judge’s ruling in their fraud case. The case will come up again next month, and it looks likely that it will continue to drag on, and on… And then there is the long-running Trafigura saga…Back in March the UK Privy Council dismissed the appeal of the five People’s National Party (PNP) members, who do not want to testify in open court about a $31-million donation by the Dutch company to the PNP in 2006. What next? I am not sure actually.
COVID-19: My husband and I received our second doses of AstraZeneca vaccine recently. I do hope Jamaicans will come forward for their first – in particular senior citizens, among whom there is still some hesitancy. Happily, we received another shipment of 55,200 AstraZeneca from COVAX on May 30 and all being well we will receive our first shipment of Johnson & Johnson in August, we are told. A million thanks to Dr. Eldemire Shearer for the smooth, friendly and efficient vaccination process at the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre! We waited under a spreading, shady guango tree.
There was a huge effort in April, with a highly successful vaccination drive (a “blitz”) through which the Ministry of Health and Wellness managed to get 75,000 doses into arms in the space of four days, before the doses donated by South Africa expired. The National Health Fund (my favorite government agency, by far) which is responsible for acquiring the vaccines, has assured the “blitz vaxxers” that their second doses are available, and more vaccinate centres are open this weekend for that purpose. Almost everyone seemed satisfied with the efficiency and friendliness of the process. Take a look at this great global COVID-19 tracker from Reuters, which reports that Jamaica “has administered at least 177,889 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 3% of the country’s population.” Meanwhile, “vaccine hesitancy” persists. Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke is now offering an incentive of J$10,000 per person (regardless of financial situation) to encourage all those over sixty years old to get fully vaccinated.
And we really, really need the promised genome sequencing machine to test for the variants that are floating around – some of which may be arriving any minute. Jamaica has just received 6,000 special PCR tests that are supposed to identify the variants.
Crime We all know that white collar crime is commonplace in Jamaica. One especially serious case recently involved a senior manager at National Commercial Bank (NCB) – with thirty years’ experience and earning a good salary – who defrauded her employers of J$34 million between 2017 and 2020. 52-year-old Andrea Gordon was sentenced to seven and a half years.
It seems we the drug trafficking business continues to thrive. The police announced that they had seized around $1 billion worth of cocaine this year, and there was a big ganja bust on a boat in Robin’s Bay, St. Mary. Six were arrested. Meanwhile the police in St. James busted a large ganja growing operation in St. James. Good going.
The struggle with organized crime continues. 20 alleged members of the notorious Clansmen Gang were released last week for insufficient evidence. 30 more will face the court under anti-gang legislation. By the way, our Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn is a marvel and also a woman with tremendous compassion and a deep understanding of what is happening in our society. She knows and understands much more than us lesser mortals. Every now and then one gets a hint of it – for example, when she spoke recently about child abuse cases that she had detailed knowledge of.
Meanwhile, something terrible is happening in downtown Kingston (the Central Kingston constituency), where crime and violence seems to be on the rampage. While the Mayor is working so hard (alongside Kingston Creative and other entities) to energize the area with art, entrepreneurship and more, residents in this relatively small area are increasingly traumatized and, according to People’s National Party caretaker Imani Duncan Price, calling for a Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) to be established there.
And worst of all – there has been a long stream of reports on the most appalling abuse of women and children, since the last update. I just don’t know where to start. Here’s one of the latest stories. Another case: the mother of a 15-year-old rape victim has been arrested on allegations of conspiring to get her daughter to drop the case against the accused – another “pastor.” There is a continuous wave of outrage on social media. Meanwhile, a young woman wants the police to drop charges against a man who almost killed her. “It is my life, and Father God knows what I am doing,” she says.
Education: Jamaica’s exam schedule has been constantly rearranging itself. It has been, and remains, very stressful – especially for the students. Now, the Grade Nine Achievement Test has been canceled (not a popular decision at all), following the postponement of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) Grades Four and Five assessments until the end of this year. There are major, major problems.
Environment: The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has partnered with Hardware & Lumber to provide some cool garbage drums for 2,400 households, encouraging people to containerise their trash rather than throwing it all over the place. “Drum a Di Gate”! I truly appreciate our garbage collectors. They work hard, are generally cheerful, and earn very little.
Health: Ten-year-old Jabari Osborne is the latest in a series of young Jamaicans who have traveled to the U.S. for surgery that could not be obtained on the island. There are some generous people out there. More funds than were needed were raised for Jabari, who has a condition that has made awful scars on his face, via GoFundMe.
People: My Person of the Week would have to be Barbara Blake Hannah, who just celebrated her 80th birthday! It’s not a very good photo, but here is one I love from a few years back, having tea and a cookie at Tea Tree Creperie in Kingston. Barbara is an extraordinary woman, a trailblazer, former journalist with the BBC (the first black woman television journalist there although she faced tremendous racism), a devout follower of Rastafari, author, film maker and promoter, broadcaster and cultural icon. What more can I say? Oh, a journalism award to recognise minority journalists in the UK has been established in her name.
Kington-born Dr. Renee Bowen has been appointed as a senior economist for trade with the Council of Economic Advisers in the Biden/Harris administration. Congratulations to her! She is not the first woman with Jamaican heritage to have been appointed in the administration recently.
Politics: The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) seems to be in a ghastly mess (I don’t think I am exaggerating) and the media are eagerly reporting it, blow by blow. Does newly appointed Opposition Leader Mark Golding have a grip on things? Who are his enemies? Who is enemies with whom (a talk show host said that some party members actually “hate each other”)? Why is there so much infighting? Why is Mr. Golding laying blocks without mortar for a photo op (people seem to find him amusing, but the laughter is often unkind)?
Plus, the PNP had its very own “sex scandal,” which may well be a “nine-day wonder.” The alleged protagonist was none other than the party General Secretary Dr. Dayton Campbell, who has been accused of “having sex with” three minors. However, no criminal charges have been proffered and commentators as well as party members seem to be very much divided on the issue. I have a feeling that some kind of enmity and malice has fueled the allegations, but we shall see. Mr. Golding declared his support for Dr. Campbell.
Anyway, the party has started what it calls “Unity Conversations” this year, and officers have signed a Unity Pledge. Well, unity is a lovely word, and we do need a strong Opposition, that’s for sure. Meanwhile, the PR merchants at the PNP are going a little overboard to try to make poor Mr. Golding look “cool.” Poor man, let him just be himself – beard and all (why does it matter whether he is growing a beard or not?!) And now he’s on TikTok! Oh my.
Politicians behaving badly: There has been a spate of this lately, with Member of Parliament Everald Warmington throwing his weight around (expletives and all) with some police officers, who dared to question why he was out on the road during curfew. Why should he get special treatment?
As for his Jamaica Labour Party colleague George Wright (a first-time Member of Parliament), who was recorded on video beating a woman with a piece of furniture in a parking lot…well, he is no longer a member of the party. He handed in his resignation on June 4, after growing pressure for him to do so. Many are not satisfied, however, that he is still an MP. It looks as if he will remain so; if he steps down, there would have to be a by-election in a formerly staunchly PNP seat. I would say his political career is effectively over, however. But wait… Mr. Wright appeared in Parliament (before his official leave had ended) and sat down in the Opposition PNP benches (although details aren’t quite clear – perhaps it was Banquo’s Ghost). Ironically, it coincided with Gender Minister Olivia Grange’s presentation on amendments to the Domestic Violence Act and related matters, during the parliamentary Sectoral Debate.
Road Safety: This is Road Safety Month, and the Road Safety Unit is focused on one vulnerable group – our children. More on this in another post!
Sports: Our “Pocket Rocket” (or “Mommy Rocket”) Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is a magical sprinter, no doubt about it. On Saturday, June 5, she ran her heart out at the National Stadium, breaking the National 100 meters record and becoming the world’s “fastest woman alive.” Swaggering about is not her style but she was of course thrilled, and so were Jamaicans.
Transportation: The Minister of Transport and Mining made an interesting presentation in the sectoral debate last week. Among other announcements, he said that a section of railway would be revived (it has done a test run). Some restoration work will be done – a round trip between Old Harbour and Spanish Town will accommodate students. He is thinking of coaches that will further entrepreneurship – an ice-cream shop, etc. The Montego Bay to Appleton line will also be revived. I hope that some routes can be developed to cater not only for students and tourists – but commuters wanting to get from A to B, instead of getting stuck in traffic jams. We need to get away from the Almighty Automobile. So, this might be the start of something good.
Travel and Tourism: Social media has been invigorated by the COVID-19 pandemic and long lockdowns and curfews. So…Viral video emerged of a very large party (no masks, no social distancing) at Rick’s Café in Negril, and our netizens got upset. The event was part of a week-long series of parties called Mocha Fest, targeting overseas participants who love to jump up and down in their bikinis and drink a lot. Fine, that’s their thing. However, Jamaicans diligently observing curfews (including a complete lockdown on Monday, May 24, the Labour Day national holiday) were not amused. I shared much of the backlash – yes, Jamaicans were hurt and offended – and more details on Global Voices, here. Is this an example of “two Jamaicas” – one for tourists, one for us ordinary people?
Rick’s Café appear to be the “fall guys” – tourism officials as well as the event organisers pointed fingers at them for breaches of COVID-19 protocols – and they closed for a week. Now a Rick’s Café representative has been charged with breaching COVID-19 protocols, and the police are “investigating further”… All very puzzling.
To put it mildly, the whole episode was a shambles and badly handled by the Jamaica Tourist Board, in my view. Their Director sounded awkward in interviews, while senior tourism advisor Delano Seiveright expressed shock and horror, but…surely they all knew Mocha Fest was there? Hotels, transportation, venues and excursions booked for a whole week? And why was Mocha Fest advertised on the JTB website?
Now Mr. Seiveright has been issued with a letter from lawyers representing another (perhaps) pending festival apparently scheduled for September – Mood Fest 2021. In a May 29 tweet, Mr. Seiveright described the planned event (whatever it is) as a “scam” to take people’s money and that has not gone down well with the organisers. The purported venue, Grand Palladium in Hanover, denies that it has any agreement with Mood Fest. Another possible (and easily avoidable) embarrassment lurks, but hopefully it will all be sorted out. Next!
And the cruise ship industry is taking tentative steps to reopen. It’s a pity that two passengers on a Royal Caribbean ship that departed from St. Maarten tested positive for COVID-19. They may not be the last.
More to come… See you next time around!