Phew! What a week. We have been under a stifling blanket of Saharan dust for the past couple of days, and endured our hottest day ever in Kingston (June 12). The best thing to do is hide indoors in the daytime and come out to exercise etc. after dark. It has been an exhausting week. We all need to go away and do some meditation.
Agriculture: There has been a great “backyard gardening” project going recently – an effort to improve food security and even provide some income earning during the “stay at home” pandemic era. Eighty households (mostly female-headed) are now using “grow pots” made from recycled plastic by 360 Recycle, partnering with the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Canada Fund for Local Initiative (CFLI) and the Digicel Foundation’s “Plant Yuh Plate” initiative. It’s going well, I understand.
Caribbean: Who is Mehul Choksi? Well, it’s a long story, all tied up with Antigua and Barbuda’s rather dubious Citizenship by Investment program (also embraced by other islands, including Saint Lucia, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica). A few weeks ago, Mr. Choksi, a diamond millionaire who is wanted in India for corruption, money laundering, etc., disappeared from his adopted home of Antigua and turned up in Dominica. Some legal wranglings are now taking place and Mr. Choksi is now in hospital “on remand” in Dominica, at least for the next few days.
It’s a very mixed picture with COVID-19 in the Caribbean. Barbados has been doing pretty well and has partially opened its entertainment sector for gatherings up to 150 people and lifted all curfew restrictions. St. Kitts and Nevis have just announced a State of Emergency as their numbers (albeit small) are rising. Trinidad & Tobago are still not out of the woods and their Prime Minister had to apologize recently for some mismanagement issues. Anguilla, Dominica, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, and Montserrat have no active cases.
The Grenada Bar Association is suing the State to obtain more support and funding for the court system, and has obtained leave to go ahead with the case from the High Court Justice.
And archaeologists in the tiny Dutch island of Sint Eustatius have uncovered the remains of 48 enslaved people.
Climate Change: Kudos to JP Farms, who have collaborated with the Jamaica Combined Cadet Forces, the Forestry Department and the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal and Climate Change, to plant several acres of native trees in Annotto Bay, St. Mary. Not a large area, but good for them.
In a 2013 study, Kingston was amongst several spots around the world set for “climate departure” – a kind of tipping point where the climate would change, for good, departing from “normal,” expected weather. This means it will be hotter, drier and with more extreme, unpredictable weather. On Saturday (June 12) the city experienced its hottest day on record, according to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
Interestingly, the Jamaica Stock Exchange will launch a Green Bond Project next week – a partnership with the Government’s Climate Change Division. The project is courtesy of a readiness grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). I hope it will be more than a pilot. It is called “Facilitating an Enabling Environment for a Caribbean Green Bond Listing on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.”
COVID-19: It is good to have the Ministry of Health and Wellness pick up their weekly press briefings on Thursday evenings. They are always illuminating and helpful. At this week’s briefing, Minister Christopher Tufton made it clear that vaccines are in relatively short supply – so, since the Ministry is prioritizing, this coming weekend’s vaccination efforts would be directed at the most vulnerable group (the over 50s) for their second dose, only – across most parishes. Under-50s will have to wait a little while longer for their second dose. Jamaicans are only just realizing, it seems, that there is not a steady flow of available vaccines at any one time. Those who are just getting round to thinking about getting their first dose have missed the boat (at least for now). There was also an extraordinary amount of confusion amongst those Jamaicans who are extremely anxious to get their first (and second) doses. I think it will all work itself out.
On vaccine supplies, Minister Christopher Tufton reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is negotiating hard for vaccines which we hope will be donated by the U.S. Government, possibly at the end of the month. More vaccines are expected from the COVAX program in July, and Minister Tufton said that over a million Johnson & Johnson (single-shot) vaccines have been “bought and paid for” and should start coming in, in August. So far, some 220,000 Jamaicans have been vaccinated, with 168,750 receiving their first dose.
On the health front, the former Custos of Clarendon William “Billy” Shagoury donated over J$10 million worth of medical supplies to the May Pen Hospital. I have heard he is such a kind and generous man.
Crime: Two sections of Kingston are at their wits’ end, devastated by a series of shootings and murders. Trench Town is reeling from three murders over two days – one of the victims a teenage girl who attended Trench Town Reading Centre, who was doing the washing up in her yard when she was gunned down. Another woman was shot dead after opening up her small shop and sitting down outside two days later. Inadequate and ineffective policing has been blamed by some who know the area, including Member of Parliament Mark Golding. (Has the concept of community policing gone out of the window altogether?)
Meanwhile, as I outlined in last week’s update, crime and violence in Central Kingston (downtown) is getting out of hand. The area is represented by the brother of Mayor Delroy Williams, who says (and he is correct) that the area has suffered many years of neglect and physical and moral decay. People’s National Party (PNP) caretaker Imani Duncan-Price continues to plead for a Zone of Special Operations/ZOSO (or tighter policing, at the very least). Police Commissioner Antony Anderson visited the area today, and one hopes there will be more attention paid to the area. (What baffles me is that all the respectable law firms and other businesses just a few minutes’ walk away carry on quite unconcerned…)
Finally, there is Western Jamaica’s love affair with organized crime. On Sunday morning, Prime Minister Andrew Holness held a digital press briefing to announce the establishment of a ZOSO in Norwood, St. James – a community of only one square kilometer, with 11,000 residents, just outside Montego Bay. Six known gangs in the area apparently operate across the parish. Mount Salem is also under a ZOSO.
The Prime Minister said a ZOSO is “not a tool that we use in a knee jerk way,” and only takes place after careful logistical planning.
Education: Apparently without permissions or any advance enquiries, Merle Grove High School took it upon itself to hold a gathering of some 200 students. The public gathering limit is still 10 people! The matter is being “investigated” and they may be in breach of COVID-19 regulations.
Something has gone a little awry in education. A lot of stakeholders seem unhappy – including students. A recent survey of Jamaican, Barbadian and Trinidadian students revealed that the vast majority were upset about arrangements for the 2021 Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams, due to begin on June 28. Jamaica is heavily dependent on examinations, and now there are also complaints about the local Grade Nine Achievement Test (GNAT), which has been canceled. Students are being placed in the high school nearest to their residence.
Meanwhile, with the Government aiming to restart face-to-face classes in September, only 7,000 teachers have been (fully?) vaccinated, and are being urged to get their doses.
Then there is the regularly recurring ridiculousness of a student being turned away from examinations at Wolmer’s Boys’ School because his haircut was inappropriate. Not for the first time, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information had to put out a statement pointing out that “Hairstyle is not a hindrance to learning and neither should it be used to exclude students from school.” Rather well put. Some older Jamaicans commented on attending school with big afros in the 1970s!
On a more positive note, generosity abounds. Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ) head and publisher Latoya West-Blackwood partnered recently with the U.S.-based GrassROOTS Community Foundation, who have donated 500 “literary care packages” to 12 Jamaican schools: in other words, books to read – for pleasure!
Human Rights: There was high drama in Corn Heap, St. Mary, with residents of the deep rural community frantically pursuing a group of men who had allegedly attacked a man and attempted to steal some cars. You could call it a “robbery gone wrong,” and the whole episode ended with three men ending up in a gully with several residents, who chopped two of them to death and handed over the third to the police.
There was another case of “mob justice” this week, in which an alleged gang leader, Adrian Sweeney, 27, was chopped to death by residents of Blenheim, Hanover after he fired at a man in the district. He was on bail for a murder charge.
There was a very alarming episode – this time involving the police – on the Lionel Town main road in Clarendon. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is investigating and describes their enquiry as “complex and the tragic loss of lives and serious injuries, have understandably stirred public emotion.” They are still seeking independent witnesses to the incident, which took place after dark in a place without street lights. Three young men died after a car carrying nine people crashed. Deeply distressed residents protested with blocked roads and burning tyres, alleging that the police fired shots at the car. It’s still not clear what happened.
INDECOM is also investigating the shooting death of 30 year-old Stephen Brown on the Irish Town main road in St. Andrew by an off-duty policeman. A similar incident in Flint River, Hanover is also under investigation, during which an off-duty policeman allegedly shot dead Theodore Ellis. And an unnamed man was shot dead by the police during an encounter in Trench Town.
Quite some years ago, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) received a donation of some body cameras for police officers. I don’t think they were ever used. Now it seems they might be trying again. Shall we hold our breath?
June 15 was Elder Abuse Awareness Day. I should have written about this very serious (but often hidden and unrecognized) human rights issue, that like all other forms of domestic violence has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s interesting to note that the UN has appointed an Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler. More about her here. In Jamaica, one attorney at law is pressing for carefully crafted legislation to protect the rights of our elders, and this is an issue that the Caribbean Community for Retired Persons (CCRP) remains focused on. You can watch the Jamaica Information Service webinar here. Please look out for our senior citizens and report any abuses you might know of!
On the (very) positive side though, the Government’s new pension scheme comes on stream next month, for Jamaicans 75 years and older. See the graphic below. What’s not to love?
Kevaughn Salmon, 27, was shot dead by the police in Mineral Heights, Clarendon. Two guns were seized and three arrested during the incident which took place during curfew hours. I was disturbed by the phrase used by a police spokeswoman who said the police “neutralized the threat” – in other words, they killed someone who allegedly pointed a gun at them. The terminology is inappropriate and cold.
And a policeman’s murder conviction has been overturned, with a retrial ordered. Constable Ricketo Graham was sentenced to 35 years for the 2013 fatal shooting of Christopher Hill, a vendor of Brown’s Town in St. Ann.
Immigration: “There’s killing going on there. We want a better life. No life in Jamaica right now,” said one of the 16 illegal immigrants from several countries, who were caught in a boat washed up in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Infrastructure: The South Coast Highway marches on, and not even health centres and churches can get in the way, it seems. The Deacon of a Roman Catholic Church soon to be demolished notes: “For a Government to want to demolish a church and a clinic that serve over 800 people a month in order to set up the prime minister’s Legacy Project, I hope Jamaicans are watching this.”
People: The greatest news is that 24-year-old “Reggae Girl” striker Khadija Shaw, born in Spanish Town, has been signed on a three-year contract by the great Manchester City Football Club. Congratulations to this footballer!
Congratulations also to Roland Watson-Grant, who is the Caribbean winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Please read my interview with Roland here – you can also read the wonderful story, “The Disappearance of Mumma Dell,” which is published in Granta Magazine online.
And it’s Father’s Day, and former sprinter Usain Bolt and his partner Kaci Bennett are the proud parents of twin boys – Saint Leo and Thunder! They tweeted this photo today, with their little girl.
Politics: There was so much in my last report about our tedious partisan politics. I confess that I am tired of hearing about George Wright, who still has not found his seat (literally) in Parliament.
Transportation and Road Safety: The Ministry of Transport and Mining seem to have been caught on the wrong foot when Uber arrived in Jamaica this week – just like that, without fanfare or an “official launch.” The Transport Authority has been very vocal on the subject in media interviews, and now I see the Minister is endorsing a (rival?) local company that operates through online bookings and a phone app. Rather quiet on Uber. What am I missing here? Meanwhile, Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mikael Phillips is asking, “What gives?” Of course our taxi drivers, living and working in the unruly public transport sector, are not comfortable (and they just asked for a pay rise). Three quarters of respondents in a Twitter poll said they would prefer to use Uber than take a taxi. For what it’s worth. Some are already using Uber.
This story, of a young man who died of an aneurysm eighteen months after he was knocked off his bicycle by a hit-and-run driver, is one of the many untold stories of suffering caused by the madness on our roads.
Women’s Issues/Women’s Rights: The Universe really conspires against Jamaican teenage girls, it seems to me. Amid a plethora of reports about the sexual abuse of minors, now the mother of a girl allegedly raped by a “pastor,” and the pastor’s wife, got together to go to the police station with the 15-year-old to get her to change her statement. And a 23-year-old “pastor” was charged with impregnating a 13-year-old girl, while her grandmother was charged with failing to report the matter. Church representatives have been falling over themselves in radio interviews, trying to explain the situation.
Youth: I am looking forward to hearing more about the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) “Amplified Youth Voices and Action” programme, about to roll out. It’s all about safety and security.
There is too much sadness and stress, because we don’t have enough safety and security.
The murder toll rolls on and on, inexorably. I did not list any names last week, but this week I am afraid I must. I learned that in the past week or so, according to Livern Barrett of the Jamaica Gleaner, 39 people were murdered. Between January 1 and June 14 we have had 627 killings. The numbers are so mind-boggling (apparently it is a 1 percent increase over last year) that I feel I must at least tell you a little bit about the lives lost. They are not numbers, they are names.
25 year old Tashika McKay killed, allegedly by her boyfriend.
24-year-old Rayon Mckently was shot dead in Bull Bay, St. Thomas, and another man injured.
41-year-old Nicardo Campbell was shot dead while making repairs to a shop in Johnson Pen, St. Catherine.
In Rock River, Clarendon, a taxi driver was ambushed by gunmen and shot dead.
Two alleged criminals were chopped to death by residents in Corn Heap, St. Mary (see above).
An unidentified man was shot and killed on Lane in Mount Salem, Montego Bay, St James
60-year-old steel worker Isaac Johnson was shot dead on a construction site in Morant Bay, St. Thomas.
23-year-old Shedaine Richards, Rum Lane, Kingston
38-year-old Orlando Howell was shot dead in Hatfield, Westmoreland.
Thirty-three-year-old Andre Baker, a disc jockey, was fatally shot during a confrontation with a licensed firearm holder in Llandilo, Westmoreland, during an illegal party.
At another illegal party in Greenwich Park, Kingston, 32-year-old Ramon Stewart was shot and killed, while a female bartender was shot and injured.
24-year old Private Leighton Sinclair and a mechanic, 37-year-old Devar Webb were walking in Pimento, Ocho Rios, St. Ann.
38-year-old Steve Daley was killed with a machete in Windsor, Siloah, St. Elizabeth during an argument with a man, who was shot and injured and subsequently charged with murder by the police.
29-year-old Vernon Boswell, an auto parts dealer, was shot dead at his garage on Sun Valley Road, Montego Bay.
William Dewar, a technology manager, was stabbed to death in “what appears to be a crime of passion” at Oaklands Apartments in Kingston. A 28-year-old man is in custody.
Twenty-two-year-old Odane Richards, laborer, was stabbed to death during an argument on the street in Brown’s Town, St. Ann.
16-year-old Damoya Hall, student of Charlie Smith High School, was shot dead on Third Street, Trench Town on Sunday. 23-year-old Elvin James was also shot dead. Two days later, Laphane Bent was sitting outside her shop on Third Street when she was shot dead.
42-year-old Guyan Simpson, a bar operator, was shot dead and a woman was injured in Darling Spring, St. Andrew.
In Central Kingston, Christopher Thompson was shot dead just before Father’s Day. This is a sad tale.
Also in St. Andrew, 41-year-old Kevin Bolton, otherwise called ‘Blacks,’ a mason was shot dead on his verandah in Bedward Gardens, August Town – which is currently under a security curfew until Tuesday.
52-year-old Anthony Manhertz of Race Course district in Clarendon was shot dead.
Denzile Baker, 59, farmer, shot dead in Kingsland, Manchester.
20-year-old Conroy Moodie was shot dead in Seiveright Gardens (Cockburn Pen), Kingston.