The long Easter weekend passed, leaving in its wake a slew of car crashes and (very sadly) murders. We had a minor earth tremor (did you feel it? I didn’t) fourteen kilometers below Clarendon. We had no rain. The well-heeled went to parties costing the equivalent of US$50 upwards, and posted pictures of themselves on Facebook. Others gave the thumbs up to the new north-south highway, despite photos posted on Twitter showing long lines at the toll booths. We were so happy to stay home in peaceful uptown Kingston. Of course, since Carnival is on with its usual vigor, it is not so quiet this weekend.
“That promise is going to be kept”: So says Finance Minister Audley Shaw. But – oh, dear. Things have gone somewhat awry with the pre-election promise made by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that Jamaicans earning J$1.5 million and under per annum would receive up to J$18,000 more in their pockets, as of April (which is actually – well, this week). Comments made at a Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) meeting by Shaw, just before the Government went into a three-day retreat at Jamaica House last week, threw the media into a bit of a tizzy. Shaw told the PSOJ that funds in the Energy Stablization Fund (ESF) – hedging on the price of oil – which the new Government had planned to use for the tax break implementation were simply not available, after all. Most of it had gone into the Consolidated Fund to be used for another purpose (what purpose?). Phillips says the ESF actually owes money to the Consolidated Fund. Yikes! So, the money had not been set aside (in a transparent way, as former Finance Minister Peter Phillips emphasized at the time).
This is serious. The promise was ostensibly one of the main reasons why many Jamaicans voted for the JLP in February. There seems to be some obfuscation on the matter – on both sides. Peter Phillips said the JLP knew all along that the source of funds was not available – and that as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Shaw himself really ought to have known. A good point, and this has been backed up by Hansard (Parliamentary records) of September 29, 2015 – in which Phillips told the Committee: “The source of funding for the energy stabilisation and energy efficiency enhancement fund is the new fuel tax that has been imposed since April 2015. In the meantime, while the legislative amendments are being undertaken, a sub-account of the Consolidated Fund has been established to receive the proceeds of the tax.” Those legislative changes were not completed before the February election.
Oh dear. Oh dear! Our brand new government is going to have to find the money from somewhere. Moral of the story: Don’t make election promises you can’t keep.
Shaw also commented on the PetroCaribe Development Fund, which he says is “now being called upon to appropriate US$110 million annually for servicing of the loan.” If anyone needs funds for any nice new projects, he said, the funds from this source are “not there any more.” They might have to change name to PetroCaribe Debt Servicing Fund, said Shaw. So, the question is: Where is the money going to come from for the tax break?
A head office in Kingston: The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) – the state-owned parent company of our ubiquitous China Harbour Engineering Company – announced recently that it will open its regional head office in Kingston. It also had lovely things to say about the new Prime Minister. As has been pointed out a number of times by former Contractor General Greg Christie (and others), five years ago the World Bank announced the debarment of CCCC, and all its subsidiaries, for fraudulent practices under Phase 1 of the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Project. CCCC is ineligible to engage in any road and bridge projects financed by the World Bank Group until January 12, 2017.
High drama: Seven people, including a policeman, were among 19 people arrested during a series of police raids across the island on March 29 and 30. The operation was carried out with the help of “international partners” – taking a wild guess, the Americans. This must have been part of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Operation Tidal Wave (launched on March 17), which includes zero tolerance for petty crimes, community policing, neighborhood watch meetings, check points, closer monitoring of entertainment centers, agriculture (60 farm watches have been set up to guard against theft) and dear old organized crime. Oh, and most importantly of all – cracking down on the never-ending lotto scam, which has taken such a toll at home and abroad. That’s a lot of things rolled into one.
Nightmare on the roads: What on earth is happening on our roads? The National Road Safety Council is tearing its collective hair out. Already over 100 Jamaicans have died on our roads, roughly a third of them motorcyclists or their passengers. Back in 1993 there were 400 deaths; but then, the numbers went down to 260 in 2012. However, this was not a trend, it seems, as the numbers are way up again. It’s hard to determine any pattern. What are the factors involved? Speeding is, obviously. However, I just sense the Traffic Police are not on top of their game; or am I being unfair? One sees the wildest driving on the roads, but they get away with it 99 per cent of the time. Trying to persuade people to drive safely has proved pretty ineffective. Enforcement of the law is needed, as well as proper education and testing of motorcyclists. Let’s pass that legislation on distracted driving, too.
Sugar on life support: With the Long Pond Sugar Factory now closed by its operators, Everglades Farms, Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda has a tricky situation on his hands. Farmers are trucking their crops elsewhere for processing. I agree with the PSOJ’s Dennis Chung: Put Long Pond into liquidation and start insolvency proceedings. It seems the Chinese Pan Caribbean Sugar Company could not manage the Monymusk Sugar Factory and will be relinquishing ownership as of next year. Pan Caribbean is immediately handing over to independent farmers (some of whom are asking why they can’t process their own crops) and the Government is to temporarily take over the factory that it divested a few years ago. At least, one hopes it will only be a temporary arrangement. What next for sugar? The future looks uncertain and many jobs are at stake, which is why the Government is trying to keep the industry on life support. Pull the plug, I would suggest, and start creating sustainable “green” jobs elsewhere.
Rev. Al’s trial: We have not heard much about the trial of Reverend Al Miller, who was arrested in 2010 while transporting a wanted man (Christopher “Dudus” Coke, in disguise) into Kingston in his car. Now I see he will be back in court on May 4 and a verdict will be handed down on June 14. Was this trial in camera or something? Why do we know so little?
Good move: Minister of Gender Affairs Olivia Babsy Grange has already got Cabinet to approve the re-naming of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to Gender Affairs (and thus the reinstatement of the Male Desk there). Quick work, and I look forward to hearing details of her other gender-related plans.
CARICOM complaints: Two Jamaicans have filed official complaints at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the Minister’s urging, regarding their alleged ill-treatment at Trinidad’s airport on March 21. Now the Trinidadian Government says the Jamaicans were denied because “they were likely to become a charge on public funds.” How do they figure this out? Is this within CARICOM regulations, freedom of movement etc? I don’t understand. I hope the Ministry can explain, but Trinidad says this was done in accordance with their laws.
PNP leadership – who’s lining up? Although former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has not indicated that she will be stepping down as party leader, there are a few things working against her. Behind the scenes, potential challengers may be positioning themselves. The ambitious Peter Bunting? Maybe. Former Finance Minister Peter Phillips (who lost a challenge against Simpson Miller in 2006)? I’d say not likely; he’s in a difficult position and has lost a whole lot of credibility in some ways, despite his IMF success. Mayor Angela Brown Burke? It’s possible perhaps. Senator Mark Golding, who apparently is not keen on the idea of representational politics. Julian Robinson is highly thought of, but maybe not ready yet. Whoever it is, they need to sort themselves out. “Who want to challenge me, can challenge,” Ms. Simpson Miller told radio talk show host Emily Shields last week. She’s not afraid of a challenge, she added.
“No one asked me”: Sadly, Ms. Simpson Miller made another astonishing statement a few days back. When asked why she had not given any media interviews during her term in office, she actually said that she had not received any requests! Whereupon Television Jamaica (and no doubt other media houses) listed the dates on which they had requested interviews, repeatedly. Words fail me. Meanwhile, her party’s National Executive Council (NEC) holds its first meeting since the election today. Sparks may fly.
Joy, oh joy! The West Indies’ cup overfloweth. I am talking about that peculiar game of cricket, played only by the British Empire’s former colonies in a serious way (and for fun in some other countries). The West Indies’ Men’s T20 Cricket Team, the Women’s T20 Cricket Team and the Under-21 World Cup Team are all world champions, as of today. I am not a cricket fan, personally… but this is terrific news, and gives the Carnival revelers something more to celebrate today!
- I didn’t know Digicel had a regional football coaching program – up and running since 2008. As a major fan of the sport I can only say “cheers”! The top three boys from each of 14 Caribbean and Central American countries will be selected to attend the Digicel Kickstart Academy. Coaches from Manchester City FC and New York FC will be visiting.
- Kudos to the amazing Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It has been through trials and tribulations, but has emerged strong and focused. JASL has just produced its April newsletter. Here’s the link: http://us6.campaign-archive1.com/?u=fdc4f7c4d7&id=61f7bcbc78
The crime scene remains depressing. There was another murder/suicide, a personal tragedy, in Manchester: a Jamaica Defence Force soldier and his partner, the principal of a basic school. Very disturbingly, also, a group of residents attacked and killed two men in rural Jamaica, after they found some goats in their car and suspected them of stealing them. My deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of these Jamaicans, who were killed in the past eight days. It’s just too many.
Edmond Russell, 40, Fourth Street, Kingston
Ryan Boucher, 28, White Street, Rose Town, Kingston (killed by police)
Orville Myers, 34, Little Lane/Central Village, St. Catherine
Donovan Lawrence, 32, St. Catherine
Unidentified man, May Pen, Clarendon
Devon Segree, 46, Montego Bay, St. James
Unidentified man, Charles Gordon Market, Montego Bay, St. James
Gail Anderson, 46, Hope Village/Williamsfield, Manchester
Dennis Bacchas, 54, Grange Hill, Westmoreland
Elijah Miller (“Quench Aid”), 46,Grange Hill, Westmoreland
Jennifer Richards, Logwood Pen District, Savanna-La-Mar, Westmoreland
Dave Campbell, 37, Bensonton/Claremont, St. Ann (mob killing)
Alphanso Perry, 22, Bensonton/Claremont, St. Ann (mob killing)
Roxborough Bramwell, 44, Brown’s Town, St. Ann
Damion Clark, 35,Brown’s Town, St. Ann
Kirk Williams, 31, Smoothland Road, St. Elizabeth
Theos Blake, 30, Lyssons, St. Thomas