International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015: Return to Fort Rocky

Beach Cleanup Jamaican style: "Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica"!
Beach Cleanup Jamaican style: "Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica"!

At six in the morning, we volunteers squeezed into a bus in Kingston, water bottles in hand. We were all a little quiet (sleepy, in other words).

It was International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015, coordinated as always by the Jamaica Environment Trust with major sponsors the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the Tourism Ministry’s Clean Coasts Initiative, Recyle Now (Recyling Partners of Jamaica) and Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica. The global effort is coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy. As we turned towards the sea, I admired Kingston Harbour in the early morning light, a blue-grey sheen reflecting the sky. It hadn’t quite made up its mind whether to be a sunny day or not (it soon did – yes, another hot and almost cloudless day). Joggers and walkers trotted along the path by the airport road, on the harbor side. I noticed with pleasure mangrove seedlings planted, and fenced off, in various areas. A large area of mangrove was destroyed by China Harbour Engineering Company as they worked on upgrading the airport road in 2011; I am really hoping that the plants will thrive in what is, after all, a Ramsar wetland site.

Early morning "vibes" on the beach at Fort Rocky.

Early morning “vibes” on the beach at Fort Rocky.

At Fort Rocky, the early birds caught the worms – the 1,500 lovely “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” water bottles that virtually flew out of the water bottle tent. As always, the tent for collecting equipment was abuzz with activity. The hard-working volunteers handed out bags and checklists, and gave detailed instructions.

Hot? Did I say it was hot? As we worked under the registration tent in the shadow of a sand dune, we noticed the air was hardly moving. We watched the ever-swelling ranks of volunteers – bright and energetic at first, then slowing down on their return from the beach, where the sun was fearless and Lime Cay floated almost at arm’s reach. At Fort Rocky there is only the thin shade of thorny bushes. The water tent did a roaring trade, with friendly Wata staff providing chilled water from igloos. A man standing on the back of a truck bristling with jelly coconuts was kept busy by a steady stream of customers, machete in hand.

CB Chicken made a statement with their scarlet, branded T shirts. They were among the early ones, too!

This team made a statement with their scarlet, branded T shirts. They were among the early ones, too!

There were some “political” visitors, of course, and they stayed just the right length of time before heading back to whatever politicians do on a Saturday morning. Shopping? Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill was there, of course (his Ministry has been a major supporter of JET’s efforts, and kudos to them!) and Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown-Burke was there with her KSAC team. I must congratulate the Mayor too; along with her industrious Town Clerk Robert Hill she is determinedly cleaning up the garbage-strewn, rat-infested downtown areas where illegal vendors ply their trade. Very challenging work, but it must be done.

The American Airlines team leaders checking in.

The American Airlines team leaders checking in.

As for the teams… There were so many organizations, it is hard to mention them all. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations of every stripe, private sector companies, youth groups, schools, university student halls and associations, service clubs, the TEF’s Tourism Action Clubs… You name it. What struck me though (and I don’t know why I had never noticed before) – not one church group has participated in any of the cleanups I have volunteered for. I do not recall even one. Why is this?

The National Solid Waste Management Agency's team leader signs up.

The National Solid Waste Management Agency’s team leader signs up.

It was not all a tiring slog, however. MC Michael Abrahams gave out important and useful facts on solid waste management, in between interludes of some great music. Cleanup Day always starts off with Bob Marley; by ten o’clock it had graduated to some dancehall, which had some of the young volunteers using up their last reserves of energy in the sun. And at ten, a flash mob organized by Respect Jamaica – a group of dancers in bright yellow T shirts – burst through the fort’s gateway and danced to a version of the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” theme song.

Then, time to squeeze back into the bus. We were more talkative on the way back; there was a satisfied feeling that it had been a job well done. We now look forward to the final tally from JET, in terms of numbers of volunteers and tonnage of garbage collected; Jamaica is aiming to break into the top ten of cleanups worldwide.

Here are a few pictures I took during the morning; just a little glimpse of what was happening. I did not walk down the beach, where volunteers scattered right down to the lighthouse and up towards Port Royal itself. They even cleaned up along the roadside.

Here’s a quote to consider, from the always sensible and inspiring Dalai Lama:

“A clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.”

And of course, there were the mountains of garbage. This is just the plastic bottles.

And of course, there were the mountains of garbage. This is just the plastic bottles section.

A young student from Tarrant Primary School tried out some dancehall moves at the end of the morning.

A student from Tarrant Primary School tried out some new dance moves at the end of the morning.

One of my favorite teams was J-FLAG. Staff turned out in their numbers along with members of the LGBT community. Everyone loved their anti-discrimination T shirts with the "We Are Jamaicans" message on the back.

One of my favorite teams was J-FLAG. Staff turned out in their numbers along with members of the LGBT community. Everyone loved their anti-discrimination T shirts with the “We Are Jamaicans” message on the back. Great community service!

The KOOL FM family pose for their picture in front of an inflatable "Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica" bag. Note the latest style in T shirts (full length for children!)

The KOOL FM family pose for their picture in front of an inflatable “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” bag. Note the latest style in T shirts (full length for children!)

"Army of Good": Student leader Germaine Bryan was there, representing the University of the West Indies'

“Army of Good”: Student leader Germaine Bryan was there, representing the University of the West Indies’ Actuarial Science students.

The media were all there - including the ubiquitous Dervan Malcolm of Power 106 FM with his roving microphone. Here he is waxing lyrical! While Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica Ambassador and comedian Bella Blair watches in amusement.

The media were all there – including the ubiquitous Dervan Malcolm of Power 106 FM with his roving microphone. Here he is waxing lyrical! While Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica Ambassador and comedian Bella Blair watches in amusement. Dervan is a marvel!

The St. John Ambulance was there. They were a reassuring presence, as one volunteer who was an asthmatic needed help. This St. John representative helped her to breathe.

The St. John Ambulance was there. They were a reassuring presence, as one volunteer who was an asthmatic needed help. This St. John representative helped her to breathe.

I think the youngest team was the Duhaney Park Primary School. Well done, children!

I think the youngest team was the Duhaney Park Primary School. Well done, children!

Some Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were on hand, just in case there was any trouble. They were from the Port Royal Coast Guard base.

Some Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were on hand, just in case there was any trouble. They were from the Port Royal Coast Guard base.




The Brave, the Beautiful…and the Proud

It was an extraordinary Emancipation/Independence holiday in Jamaica, in more ways than one.

It was a “first.” One could even say that history was made. J-FLAG, the non-governmental organization that supports and advocates for the Jamaican LGBT community, held its first “Pride” celebration under the theme: “The Pride of a People: Breaking the Rules of Oppression.” 


I would really recommend an excellent, detailed three-part series by the Antillean Media Group (AMG), which includes an interview with the marvelous Latoya Nugent – a dynamic, focused and extremely hard-working woman whom I spoke with a few months back (when she first mentioned plans for a Pride celebration). By the way, Latoya was almost unrecognizable in her full “Pride” costume! Part One of AMG’s series is here:  I will just add a few of my own thoughts…

There were doubts. Some Jamaicans told me they thought it was a most inappropriate time to have a Pride celebration, since the holiday is about tradition, about celebrating Jamaica. But Pride was intended as a “positive” event, too – recognizing the achievements of the LGBT community so far, acknowledging the successes, and reinforcing the national motto “Out of Many One People.” The word “Oppression” in the theme is heavy, but quite appropriate in the context of Emancipation.

Mayor of Kingston & St Andrew Angela Brown Burke lent her valuable support.

Mayor of Kingston & St Andrew Angela Brown Burke lent her valuable support, and it was much appreciated.

So, on Emancipation Day morning, a group of young J-FLAG activists staged a “flash mob,” danced to soca music and enjoyed themselves for fifteen minutes under the watchful eyes of armed policemen, next to the statue on the corner of Emancipation Park in New Kingston. The statue has become a convenient, suitable spot for protests and demonstrations by Jamaican citizens (usually with more police than demonstrators). Most passers by are motorists, who cannot usually stop for long, but who can toot their horns or shout out of their window. The few pedestrians who might pass by are usually wandering visitors, who aren’t going to be greatly concerned, some of whom might want to take a photo or two of the lumbering statue on the corner. It is not a busy spot, and Jamaican demonstrations/protests are generally very well-behaved!

Some journalists were there. Much of the local media did not appear to know about it in advance, and media coverage was not extensive either before or after – with one or two media houses noting there was going to be a Pride parade – a report which J-FLAG immediately corrected; there were never any such plans. There was a touch of Hollywood, though; movie star Ellen Page was there, garnering more overseas attention.

It's always important to tell your story. Stories are powerful.

It’s always important to tell your story. Stories are powerful.

So that was the public part of the celebration. The Opening Ceremony was that same evening (a heartfelt thank you to USAID for their support once again). It was attended by the Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke (and enormous kudos to her). There were several other musical and social events throughout the week, by invitation only. Due to my illness, which has kept me at home for ten days now, I did not attend any of the events, so I did not really get a “flavor” of them, at all. So I will leave you with some of these wonderful photos, which demonstrate the exuberance, the optimism, and the sense of progress.

Security "tight," but I heard this party went very well...

Security “tight,” but I heard this party went very well…

By the way, Minister of Justice Mark Golding also put out a statement endorsing the Pride events and calling for greater tolerance. This is excellent and quite unprecedented for a government minister, I believe (although one must always bear in mind that politicians always have their agendas – but it doesn’t hurt!)

A well-crafted message from Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding.

A well-crafted message from Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding.

The Jamaican LGBT community has come a long way. There is still a long way to go. One step at a time. As the very bright media person Joi Ito said:



#ObamaStress: Some Purely Parochial Thoughts on The Visit


This article was written yesterday. Due to an extended Internet outage, I am just posting it today…

Darkness falls, and an air of nervous anticipation hovers over Kingston town. Why? Because the President will actually be on our island tomorrow evening!

Yes, the President. The one with the now graying hair and the big smile despite everything. The one who said “Yes We Can” and whose administration just agreed on a deal with Iran and is warming things up with Cuba. The one who is on his way to a historic Summit of the Americas in Panama City, where he will meet with President Castro on the sidelines I understand. Yes, that awesome President. (OK. Unabashed fan here).

The Obamas' Easter photo, shared on social media. Aren't they adorable? (White House pic)

The Obamas’ Easter photo, shared on social media. Aren’t they perfectly adorable? (White House pic)

And now to the parochial stuff… We are a small island, you know. Indulge us.

The past couple of days on social media and broadcast radio/TV have veered wildly from the sublimely funny to the intense to the perfectly ridiculous. We started off with the furious roadworks – daily (sometimes into the night) for the past week or so. Ashphalt is being thrown around in ever-increasing quantities, and there are questions about where the money is coming from to pay for all this. We thought we were broke! “Lack of resources” is the cry of our government officials. Did the U.S. State Department slip the Jamaican Government a little subsidy, one wonders? I hope the asphalt has cooled by the time the President’s “Beast” drives on it.

Yesterday evening in my neck of the woods - frenzied road works...

Yesterday evening in my neck of the woods – frenzied road works…

Dream City: "Kingston by the time President Obama arrives" - circulated on Twitter.

#ObamaCity: “Kingston by the time President Obama arrives” – circulated on Twitter…What a fantasy…

The traffic arrangements. From tomorrow evening until Thursday evening, the city will slowly grind to a halt – mostly uptown New Kingston. As I write, my friends on Twitter are busy poring over maps, trying to figure out if they can get to or from the office. As our street is not on the list of roads to be closed, I have a bad feeling that it will be used as a detour by the entire uptown traffic and we will pass out from the traffic fumes. “I’m glad to be in Portland” said one country-dwelling friend.

We will just huddle indoors on Thursday and watch the President’s Town Hall meeting with Young Leaders live streaming on the Jamaica Information Service website (they’d better do it properly). A bunch of people will be taking a day off and others are holding their invitations to the Town Hall close to their chests and feeling very special…

#ObamaWelcome on airport road.

#ObamaWelcome on airport road.

One “young leader” unfortunately used his invite from the White House as an opportunity to brag, and to diss the (also still young) Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. First-time member of Parliament Dr. Dayton Campbell – a medical doctor in St. Ann, whom I have often congratulated for his hard work in his constituency – went and put his foot in it, and quite unashamedly, too. He migrated from Facebook to Twitter, and continued his nonsense there. I am deeply disappointed in Dr. Campbell, and told him so – whereupon he promptly unfollowed me. Such is life on social media. Some people just give themselves away!

The Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke has also waded into the murkier swamp that social media can easily become. She posted a nice official photo of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller with President Obama and the First Lady, with the caption: Bad mind aguh kill some a oonnu (Jealousy will kill some of you). Like Dr. Campbell’s boasting, this is childish, petty and divisive at a time which should be historic and a lovely occasion for the whole of Jamaica.

Journalists and others are asking the Mayor questions about the sudden eviction of vendors who have plied their delicious wares (in the form of crab and corn) near the gate of National Heroes Park for several decades now. Their stalls were smashed up and thrown into a truck. There was considerable outrage. The Mayor responded by telling us the vendors had been informed last week that they had to move for security reasons. Then she spent a lot of time talking about the lack of hygiene, no toilets etc in the complex (issues which have not been addressed in the past forty-odd years, but are now suddenly issues). We are told the vendors will soon be returned to the same spot. These vendors are quite famous, having been featured on “foodie” and travel channels overseas in the past. 

The stalls removed. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

#ObamaVendors The stalls removed. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

My thought was: Instead of alienating “ordinary Jamaicans” (mostly women bread-winners for their families) – why not turn the vending area into an attraction? Quickly spruce it up with some bright paint, vending women in their Sunday best, offering the President a taste? Awesome photo-op for the President and for Jamaica (yes, “Brand Jamaica”!) But no. No imagination. Just get those vendors out of the way quick, and then say they are unhygienic (although the Mayor herself said she had eaten the crab and never got sick, but hey…)

In defense of her strategy, the Mayor posted online (The final sentence took my breath away – I highlighted in bold):

The KSAC from last week has been talking to vendors in some specific areas that were identified to be temporarily re-located. I know that this is an inconvenience to all of them. Whether they have been there since the last twenty years, the last five or the last two. the only group who insisted that they would not cooperate because they “were labourites and nobody caan move them” was the group of crab vendors. these stalls as we know are built taking up the entire sidewalk and are unsanitary and unhygienic. However i understand that many persons still buy there. They and their representatives are aware that this is a temporary move …SMDH. oh for the day when the arguments are based on the merits and not their politics

Let’s not forget the homeless, many of them mentally ill, who are being rounded up and carted away by Kingston & St Andrew Corporation officials. I believe the mentally ill have been taken to Bellevue Hospital. And the others? This brings back painful memories of the “Montego Bay Street People” scandal, when the homeless were similarly carted away from and dumped near a toxic red mud lake in the middle of nowhere. Simply dumped out of the back of pickup trucks, sixteen years ago.

Another embarrassing #fail: Just today, the Information Minister Sandrea Falconer (sounding more than usually prickly) admitted that this was not in fact a “State visit” – but just a “visit.” When our journalists quizzed her on this at the post-Cabinet press briefing, she could barely conceal her irritation, suggesting they should stop dealing in “trivialities.” Trivialities? I think not.  Anyway, the Office of the Prime Minister put this out (italics are mine). Make of it what you will:

The visit to Jamaica by the President of the United States of America, The Hon. Barack Obama on April 8 and 9 is no longer being designated a State Visit, which had previously been agreed [with whom?] and communicated. The change takes into account the time constraints of the short duration of the visit [didn’t we always know it was short?] and the established nature of a State Visit in the Jamaican context.

Oh, I really wish I could share more of the incredibly witty and crazy jokes circulating about The Visit on social media, but most of them are in broad patois and include local references that would be lost on many of my readers, I fear! It’s one thing I love about Jamaicans – the humor is devastating, often taking one step too far over the line! There have been so many “LMAO” and “LOOOOOOOL”s on my timeline…



By the way, a lot of my younger online friends in particular would simply love a visit from the First Lady. The recent BET program #BlackGirlsRock really resonated with many young women here. I wonder if Mrs. Obama might come and see us one day? Our girls and young women need all the support they can get…

FLOTUS' message to her dear husband - a Twitter meme today.

FLOTUS’ message to her dear husband – a Twitter meme today.

And please – can we put the partisan politics on one side, just for once? This will be an exciting event for Jamaica and Jamaicans – not for the Green and Orange Ones. This is Jamaica’s time!

Meanwhile, I am waiting to exhale come Friday morning!

Not everyone is impressed by the President's visit. My favorite Jamaican protest singer Kabaka Pyramid has some sharp words on how the Jamaican Government has handled it. He wrote the sharp social commentary "Well Done."

This man is also not impressed by the Government’s handling of the President’s visit, accusing them of being “ashamed of our culture” by banishing the crab vendors. My favorite Jamaican protest singer Kabaka Pyramid wrote the sharp social commentary “Well Done.”



Social Media and Politicians, Entertaining Dolphins and Recycling: Monday, December 15, 2014

It’s been raining forcefully every afternoon for the past few days. Afternoons are gloomy, and evenings fill with rain. This must be dampening the Christmas season; shopkeepers and vendors are complaining.

The Instagram Minister, redux: Yesterday the Gleaner newspaper revived the issue of Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna’s regular postings of her well-toned body on social media. This already seems an “old” issue, but traditional media has just caught up. I am doubtful about politicians using social media to build their personal fan club in this way. But clearly this is a strategy, and since the Minister is a politician I assume it is a political strategy. Perhaps this is what women leaders in Jamaica feel they have to do to gain credibility and influence people – which is a sad commentary, if so. Very sad.

Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna at the Opening of Parliament. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna at the Opening of Parliament. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

But why are we discussing Ms. Hanna’s “curvaceous thighs”? I am more interested in what she is doing for the youth – in particular, our most at-risk and marginalized children and young people – and her work on behalf of the Jamaican people. But all I hear about is her physical beauty. She is not a beauty queen any more; she is a government official. She should not get the two “persona” mixed up. What about the children’s homes? And how is she representing her St. Ann constituency? Does Minister Hanna really want to be defined by her six-pack?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller…Keeping the party in check on the social media.

Social media and the politicians: An underlying issue is how public figures handle their private lives vs their public ones. They need to handle social media with care. Many Jamaicans seem to see nothing wrong with mixing it all up. Interesting that today’s Gleaner front page stories both deal with social media. The Prime Minister (who celebrated her 79th birthday last week) is apparently uncomfortable with some People’s National Party members who have expressed their views on the Outameni issue on social media (including Julian Robinson; I always read his tweets and think he uses Twitter well and responsibly. But…)

NIS running out of money? Reports have emerged that the National Insurance Fund for state pensions is likely to have run out by 2020 (so soon!) Experts say the NIS is in a “really bad state” and the contribution should be doubled to ten per cent. There are currently 108,000 Jamaicans receiving the (very modest) old age pension. Some of it is actually diverted to the National Health Fund – an excellent scheme providing cheaper drugs that many Jamaicans, including pensioners, benefit from.


The Outameni issue (and, I believe, the mishandling of the chikungunya outbreak) appears to have put quite a dent in the administration’s popularity – and it’s not just the opinion of the “articulate minority” that comments on social media. Civil society has had its say on Outameni and the Opposition has filed questions in Parliament. Is that it? Can the Simpson Miller administration (and the NHT board) now relax and consider the matter over? According to a poll released today, 87 per cent of Jamaicans have reported that their family has been affected by “chik v” – 38 per cent severely affected. Also alarmingly, 49 per cent said they did not believe the virus was transmitted by mosquitoes, which means that the public education campaign fell down badly.

An upside-down dolphin with young woman in tow. (Photo: Dolphin Cove website)

An upside-down dolphin with young woman in tow. (Photo: Dolphin Cove website)

Dolphins for entertainment: The operators of a tourist attraction called Dolphin Cove (which caters largely to cruise ship passengers) have received the Jamaica Observer’s annual Business Award. They have sharks and stingrays, too. Personally I am not at all comfortable with a business that offers wild animals, held in captivity, for entertainment. Is the term “in their natural environment “ accurate? Can the dolphins really come and go as they please? How were they caught in the first place? The fact that people from Sea World visit and “look after” the dolphins does not bode well. Sea World is under severe pressure because of its alleged despicable treatment of magnificent wild marine mammals. The documentary film “Blackfish” is really shocking. 

The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) captured this photo of a dolphin close to Goat Island. Several more were diving under the boat at the time. (Photo: C-CAM)

The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) captured this photo of a dolphin close to Goat Islands. Several more were diving under the boat at the time. (Photo: C-CAM)

Dolphins actually can be seen in the wild all around the island – for example, around Goat Islands in Old Harbour Bay, and even close to Kingston Harbour. I actually had the company of two dolphins when swimming in San San Bay, Portland a few years ago! I have had unforgettable experiences whale-watching (plenty of dolphins too!) in Monterey, California. That to me is far more exciting and inspiring than a dolphin standing on its head and begging “rewards” for its cute behavior – and would be a tremendous tourist attraction, too. But this government continually looks away from eco-tourism.

Minister of Tourism Dr. Wykeham McNeill. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Tourism Dr. Wykeham McNeill. (Photo: JIS)

But on the topic of tourism – the outlook is rosy as the season begins today – according to the Minister and other players in the industry. Ever upbeat! January through October Jamaica 1.7 million stopover visitors, a 3.1 percent increase over the same period last year. The Minister expects the increase to double.

I am glad to see the Police High Command is taking a firm stance on freedom of the press. After a freelance journalist was arrested recently, the Commissioner’s Office pointed out that media should be allowed to film and record situations involving the police. The Gleaner reports it has followed up with a general reminder to the Jamaica Constabulary Force personnel that “the recording of people, activities or items plainly visible in public spaces is not a violation of Jamaican laws.” But otherwise? There seem to be grey areas that would be worth further investigation.

Perhaps I missed this, but what is the latest on A) the Trafigura court case and B) the 350 megawatt power project? Anybody?

Kudos to all! 

Loshusan Supermarket New Kingston employs three young people with disabilities at checkout. I am told the service is excellent. This is the inclusiveness that Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation Samantha Chantrelle was referring to at the Foundation’s excellent Special Needs Forum last week.

Mayor Angela Brown-Burke, chairman of the KSAC. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Mayor Angela Brown-Burke, chairman of the KSAC. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Mayor Angela Brown Burke and the Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) plan to increase AIDS awareness as well as seek to reduce stigma and discrimination. Ms. Brown Burke just returned from a UNAIDS Conference and I hope that the resolution passed by the KSAC will bring about positive results.

The recycling plant in Trinity, St Mary, which was officially launched on December 4. ({Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The recycling plant in Trinity, St Mary, which was officially launched on December 4. ({Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Hurrah! The first recycling collection point has opened in St. Mary on land provided by the local parish council. This is a project of Recycling Partners (a public-private sector program spearheaded by Francois Chalifour of Wisynco and other business people). I wrote about it in ECCO Magazine’s “Green Your Biz” newsletters in August and September. Take a look at the September edition here:  August issue, including my interview with Mr. Chalifour, is here: That’s for plastic bottles; I wish we could do something about styrofoam, now.

Award-winning artist Ebony Patterson's "Lilies, Carnations and Rozebuds (from Dead Treez)" installation at Devon House. (Photo: National Gallery of Art Jamaica)

Award-winning artist Ebony Patterson’s “Lilies, Carnations and Rozebuds (from Dead Treez)” installation at Devon House. (Photo: National Gallery of Art Jamaica)

Congrats to the winner of the 2014 Aaron Matalon Award – Ebony G. Patterson; and the co-winners of the inaugural Dawn Scott Memorial Award, Kimani Beckford and Camille Chedda! ‪The winners were announced at the official opening yesterday of JamaicaBiennial 2014‬, which was an exciting event. The Biennial is a must-see!

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and Member of Parliament for East Rural St. Andrew, Hon. Damion Crawford (2nd L), discusses aspects of the mitigation strategies to be implemented in the Bedward Gardens community with Research Analyst at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Christopher Gayle (L), and Councillor for the area Artnel McDonald (R). Occasion was the breaking of ground for the mitigation project on Thursday (Dec.11) in the community.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and Member of Parliament for East Rural St. Andrew Damion Crawford (2nd L), discusses aspects of the mitigation strategies to be implemented in the Bedward Gardens community with Research Analyst at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Christopher Gayle (L), and Councillor for the area Artnel McDonald (R). Occasion was the breaking of ground for the mitigation project on Thursday (Dec.11) in the community.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is implementing a landslide and flood mitigation project in Bedward Gardens, August Town; it is part of a US$2.4 million Landslide Risk Reduction and Mitigation Program. I am not sure who the funder is.

As of Saturday evening, there were 307 fatalities on the road this year, surpassing last year’s total of 291 for the same period. Speeding appears to be a major cause. Interviewed on television, the traffic police said they did indeed conduct speed checks on Hope Road (an area I mentioned recently that is known for its “racing”) and wrote 25 tickets for speeding in two hours. The police also warned parents about allowing their teenage children to go out late at night and return early in the morning – often driven by someone who has had too much to drink. Please be careful people, over the holiday season!

Professor Alvin Wint of the University of the West Indies feels the local media have not been fully reporting on a steady decline in the murder rate – not just this year but over the past two to three years. He may have a point. I think the sense is that with the general crime rate remaining high, and the murder rate still one of the highest in the world, we are not seeing enough of a reduction. In a way, we are not “feeling” it. My sympathies to the families of the following: 

Dale Davis, teen, Tivoli Gardens (killed by security forces – INDECOM)

Sadene Jackson,   (the victim allegedly met her killer on Facebook)

Alphanso Douglas, 55, Beacon Hill, St. Thomas

The name of the gunman who fired at music promoter Corey Todd outside his Montego Bay nightclub last Thursday is 25-year-old Corey Grant of Kingston. Mr. Grant was shot dead at the scene by an off-duty policeman.

A Mercenary By-Election, The Instagram Minister and Farewell to Luke: Sunday, December 7, 2014

I am slipping a little in my posts. As Christmas looms ever nearer, there is a frenzy of activity in Kingston. All I want to do is slow down and laze around… But not yet! The weather is exquisite – calm and reflective as the year draws to an end, with little showers and warm (not hot) sunshine.

The victorious Dwayne Vaz gets a congratulatory smooth from the Prime Minister, who spent a lot of time and energy campaigning for her party in Central Westmoreland. Mr Vaz won the by-election there comfortably on Monday. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

The victorious Dwayne Vaz gets a congratulatory smooch from the Prime Minister, who spent a lot of time and energy campaigning for her party in Central Westmoreland. Mr Vaz won the by-election there comfortably on Monday. During the campaign, the Prime Minister called the constituency “PNP Country.” (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Hey! Over here! Votes for Sale: One issue made me sit up in alarm this week – vote buying. Yes, you heard me. None other than the General Secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP) Paul Burke said on radio that this had taken place during last week’s by-election in Central Westmoreland, when young PNP candidate Dwayne Vaz was ushered into the seat. Just to note that this practice is, obviously, illegal. Why did the PNP officials present (there were two ministers there, I understand, who were aware of it) report this to the police immediately?  Burke said over-zealous party supporters took it upon themselves to pay people to vote, because they were worried about the outcome of the by-election; he said the dedicated supporters thought the PNP could have had a much smaller majority – or even lost, otherwise… But, “I don’t think it could have been more 500 [bought] votes,” said Burke in a reassuring tone. Maybe less. Mr. Burke, even one bought vote is a crime! There are heavy fines!

When interviewed on the matter, National Security Minister Peter Bunting bemoaned the fact that there was a much more “mercenary” approach to elections these days, compared to the good old days of political tribalism. Nowadays, people want to be paid for transporting party supporters to polling stations, for example. Opposition Member of Parliament Audley Shaw was pretty evasive, too, on radio. I was not at impressed by either of them, although Minister Bunting did say perhaps one should look into it. What? You are Minister of National Security? May I repeat: Vote-buying is illegal and a threat to democracy. Full stop!

The voter turnout was 17 per cent (according to Nationwide News Network) at midday, but rose to 32 per cent by the time polls closed at 5:00 pm. There must have been a heck of a rush in the afternoon, don’t you think? By the way, did the Electoral Office of Jamaica say anything, apart from that the election went “smoothly”? As an observer with Citizens’ Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) at three general elections and a by-election in Hannah Town, I have seen procedures being very properly observed in and around the polling station. But what happens in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the election? That is what worries me. It truly does.

On December 1, the JLP's Faye Reid Jacobs lost to the PNP's Dwayne Vaz with 6,228 votes to Vaz' 8,720 votes. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

On December 1, the JLP’s Faye Reid Jacobs lost to the PNP’s Dwayne Vaz with 6,228 votes to Vaz’ 8,720 votes. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

On Twitter, I asked the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s youth arm, Young Jamaica, what they thought about vote-buying. They responded that they strongly condemned it. They put out a statement that “all Jamaicans must roundly reject the efforts of these unscrupulous individuals to use big money to influence the outcome of elections. It is a gross insult to the memory of those who fought for universal suffrage in this country.” Yes, that all sounds very noble, but was the JLP aware of any vote-buying by enthusiastic supporters on their side? I don’t have an answer to that.

Now for the “cleaning” of the electoral list. Oops. The government says it doesn’t have any money to do it! Well, we will put that on one side, for now. Anyway, a new list has been published with 32,431 new names. And according to RJR, Central Westmoreland has the highest number of electors (40,180) – how interesting.

Yes, things look rosy this week for our democracy. The bravely outspoken PNP councilor Venesha Phillips (who, ironically, calls herself a “straight shooter” on her Twitter profile) was with some workers building a ramp on the sidewalk for the Sir John Golding Rehab Centre when a group of men fired at them. Ms. Phillips said at least one gun was aimed at her. It must have been terrifying, but no one was hurt. Why did this happen? Because Ms. Phillips has been accused of giving the work (which is not even a whole lot of work, at all) to Jamaicans who happen to perhaps not support her party. How very sad. Ms. Phillips said she does not use party affiliations as criteria for giving out work. Good. She seems to be a strong woman, pushing against the tide. She had the clear support of her Mayor, Angela Brown-Burke. And both parties put out press releases “condemning” the incident. I understand one man has been held.

Hopeful signs: A young man was recently arrested for filming some police officers. Police Commissioner Carl Williams was not happy and ordered his release. I am also glad that the Commissioner has recently ordered an investigation into the murder of two men in the Savannah-la-Mar police lock-up. Why were knives in there? Following the tragedy of Mario Deane, there were promises to tighten up on the supervision of the lock-ups. How could those in charge of these men and responsible for their safety have neglected to find weapons in the possession of inmates there? I am glad to see Commissioner Williams enquiring into these matters.

Looking like a corny ad for "Come to Jamaica" from the 70s, here is our Minister of Youth and Culture, who enjoys flaunting her body on Instagram on a regular basis.

Looking like a corny ad for “Come to Jamaica” from the 70s, here is our Minister of Youth and Culture, who enjoys displaying her body on Instagram on a regular basis with a Ministry handle. Sorry. Tacky.

A Government Minister or a fashion model?: Our Minister of Youth and Culture and former Miss World Lisa Hanna seems to think there is nothing wrong with advertising her scantily clad, enviably toned body on Instagram on a regular basis. Many Jamaicans love this (largely young males, understandably). But does she really wish to be taken seriously as a government minister, when posting photos of self in a skimpy bikini bottom and wet Tshirt under her handle lisahannamyc ? If this was a personal account, fine. Ms. Hanna should drop the myc part. And perhaps spend more time doing some serious work in Parliament, instead of hours at Spartan Gym.

Luke Somers in Sana'a, Yemen, wearing a Trench Town Reading Centre T shirt.

Luke Somers in Sana’a, Yemen, wearing a Trench Town Reading Centre T shirt, not long before he was captured.

Luke Somers was a kind young American (born in my home town, London). I met him at Trench Town Reading Centre, where he was volunteering, in 2010. The kids clearly loved him. Luke was murdered by Yemeni militants (I will just call them terrorists) who took him hostage in September, 2013. Pierre Corkie, a South African teacher and also a hostage, was killed at the same time, along with several Yemenis. Dear Luke, rest in peace. I hope you did not suffer too much. As Reading Centre supporter Owen “Blakka” Ellis wrote on Facebook, ” Rest in Peace and Rise in Power Luke! Your spirit and your good works live on. “ Trench Town misses you (more about Luke in previous blog post). 

There is so much more to write about. I will try to catch up in the next post. I have not even touched on the PetroCaribe uncertainties, nor the Commission of Enquiry into the incursion in Tivoli Gardens.

Kudos to: 

The co-founders of a small NGO, Feeding of the 5,000, whom I had a chance to chat with at JN Foundation's National Volunteer Symposium on Friday. (Photo: JN Foundation)

The co-founders of a volunteer organization, Feeding of the 5,000, whom I had a chance to chat with at JN Foundation’s National Volunteer Symposium on Friday. (Photo: JN Foundation)

  • JN Foundation, Cuso International and Council for Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) for an exciting day at the National Volunteer Symposium in Kingston. It was uplifting and energizing and the bloggers and tweeters appreciated being invited. We had enormous fun!
  • All the winners at the Caribbean Blog Awards and Social Media Awards, which took place at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel Friday night. I was not able to attend – but was very pleased to see young journalists such as Abka Fitz-Henley of Nationwide News Network recognized. Abka (and others) have a great presence on Twitter.
Alia Atkinson. (Photo: Gleaner)

Alia Atkinson. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • Our Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson keeps going from strength to strength. Today she equalled the world record in the 100m breaststroke at the FINA World Short Course Championships in Doha, Qatar. She also became the first black woman to hold a world short-course record since Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands 40 years ago.  Congratulations, Alia! This blog has been watching your progress and bigging you up every step of the way!
The Jamaican Canadian Association put on a Christmas treat for the children. (Photo: Twitter)

The Jamaican Canadian Association put on a Christmas treat for the children: burgers, hot dogs, patties, sweeties…Belly full! (Photo: Twitter)

  • The Jamaican Canadian Association in Ontario, who put on a Christmas treat this weekend for the Jamaican community. Kudos to you and to all the organizations in the diaspora who reach out to Jamaicans at home and in Jamaica itself at this time of year.

My condolences to all the families who are mourning these sad murders. A former police officer was found with stab wounds in his car, which he crashed in St. Lucia Avenue, New Kingston on Friday. His name has not yet been released.

Eric Stewart, 57, Waltham Park Road, Kingston

Norbert Hunter, 20, Waltham Park Road, Kingston

Mosiah Morgan, 28, of Red Ground in Negril, Savannah-la-Mar Police Lockup, Westmoreland

Romario Reid, 20, of Hermitage/Bethel Town, Savannah-la-Mar Police Lockup, Westmoreland

Vanessa Wright, 17, St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann

Lentille Ellis, 50, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Junior Shaw, 27, Rose Heights, St. James

Juwan Gordon, 37, Brandon Hill, St. James


Mosiah Morgan, one of the two inmates murdered in the Savannah-la-Mar police lock-up.Mosiah Morgan, one of the murdered inmates. (Photo: Phillip Lemonte/Ja Observer)

Mosiah Morgan, one of the two inmates stabbed to death in the Savannah-la-Mar police lock-up. Why were there knives in the lock-up? (Photo: Phillip Lemonte/Ja Observer)

No Surprises, Standing and Walking Out and Replanting Trees: Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The days are galloping along amidst golden sunshine and light showers. The garden is blossoming and as Bob Marley would say, “The weather is sweet.”

A big day yesterday: I am not sure why the scheduled (and announced in advance) press briefing by the National Housing Trust (NHT) could not have been streamed live. Wasn’t it important enough (it has been virtually the only topic of political discussion for the past three weeks or so)? Be that as it may, Chairman Easton Douglas spoke to the press on Monday and declared he would not be resigning. In a defiant tone, he added that the failed tourist attraction, Outameni, was a “tangible living investment” that would bring cultural benefits for the Jamaican people, since the property included a 300-year-old “great house.”  The Jamaican public sighed/shrugged/groaned/grumbled. But it came as no surprise.  Later in the day, after a long Cabinet meeting, there was the highly anticipated “statement” from the Prime Minister. This simply named the four new board members to replace those who have resigned: a retired actuary (the Deputy Chair, a woman), a teacher, a policeman and a pastor (all three men). And that’s it. That’s it! Again, did we really expect anything more? The two press contacts by Mr. Douglas and the PM had been carefully coordinated. Upkeep on the property, the Gleaner reports, is J$1.2 million per month of taxpayers’ and NHT contributors’ money.

National Housing Trust (NHT) Chairman, Easton Douglas (centre) during a media briefing at the e on Monday. Flanking him are Board members, Norman Horne (left), and Percival LaTouche via the Jamaica Information Service.

NHT Chairman Easton Douglas (centre) speaks at Monday’s media briefing. Flanking him are Board members, People’s Naitonal Party Treasurer Norman Horne (left), and Percival LaTouche, who have refused to resign. (Photo: JIS)

One comment by Mr. Douglas (who told radio interviewers the NHT had purchased Outameni “lock stock and barrel” not long ago) quite amused me. When asked if the NHT was seeking to obtain the intellectual property of Outameni, he responded no, not right now, because “we don’t want to appear to be arrogant and not listen to what the public has to say.” I also said “humph” to myself on hearing him say he was sorry Jamaicans had got the wrong end of the stick, and perhaps we misunderstood his earlier explanation of this (still murky) deal. Sorry Mr. Douglas, yes we are rather dense. Perhaps you could have enlightened us a bit earlier?

Standing orders seem to be moving? And Opposition walked: You may recall Opposition Leader Andrew Holness tabling a second set of questions on Outameni for the Prime Minister to answer last week Tuesday, in the Lower House. Well, he might have expected the Prime Minister to provide answers today, since last week she did respond after just one week to his first set of questions. But today – no, the House Standing Orders came into play. The Speaker of the House ruled that answers are not due until tomorrow as they need “seven clear days.” The House of Representatives will not meet again until next Tuesday, December 2. The Opposition gathered its accoutrements (just threw in that word because it’s nice), got up and left. More sighs, groans etc. from the Jamaican public.

 The Prime Minister just doesn’t “get” it on the NHT matter. But it’s not just the Outameni issue. It’s a much bigger governance issue.

Patricia Watson, Eve for Life

Patricia Watson, Executive Director, Eve for Life. Eve’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign was featured in today’s recognition of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Humble pie tastes sweet: If you recall, last Friday Senator AJ Nicholson stood up in the Senate and read out an apology regarding his offensive remark in the same place three weeks earlier. Let’s face it, the previous apologies just did not cut it. The Senator (and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, please note) spoke at today’s high-level breakfast hosted by the UN team in Jamaica for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, launching Eve for Life’s “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign against the sexual abuse of girls. There were several other speakers, including Babsy “Olivia” Grange representing the Opposition Leader, Information Minister Sandrea Falconer representing the PM, and so on. Some expressed anger at the Senator’s mere presence at the breakfast; but to be fair, he did say he wanted to be involved in activities for the day in his apology – as part of the atonement for his sin. And at some point, when someone apologizes, aren’t you supposed to pause, give a deep sigh and say (however reluctantly): “OKOK, then Let’s have a little love and peace around here, and hope someone has learned a lesson. But let it not happen again, ever, ever… Please.

Angela Brown-Burke, chairman of the KSAC and vice president of the PNP. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Angela Brown-Burke, chairman of the KSAC and vice president of the PNP. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Two rebellious women: Something unusual has happened. Two members of the People’s National Party – Mayor of Kingston & St Andrew Angela Brown-Burke and another PNP councillor, Venesha Phillips, have both taken to Facebook to vent their frustration over the Outameni issue, according to one report. Now this really is a rare occurrence. Ms. Phillips reportedly feels the NHT chairman demonstrated “contempt for the people of this country” while the Mayor just wishes the NHT board would “shut up” (I know how she feels).

Venesha Phillips, the outspoken PNP councillor for the Papine Division. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Venesha Phillips, the outspoken PNP councillor for the Papine Division. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Do we need policemen at our public hospitals? There has been a string of violent incidents that suggest they are pretty insecure places. A man was stabbed when he and another man he had been having a fight with were receiving treatment in the A&E Department at Falmouth Hospital over the weekend. This follows an attack on a nurse at Mandeville Hospital, and some unreported incidents at Spanish Town Hospital, I hear. Now, in the early hours of this morning, a patient, reportedly mentally ill, attacked a nurse at Kingston Public Hospital. Her colleagues protested outside the hospital. It seems there are several issues here to be addressed. But this is disconcerting.

Two (unrelated) questions: How many people have died from complications from the Chikungunya virus? And can we get an update on the Ministry of National Security’s “Unite for Change” program please?

Forest in the Dolphin Head Mountains, Hanover. (Photo:

Forest in the Dolphin Head Mountains, Hanover. (Photo:

Kudos! To the Forestry Department, which has successfully prosecuted a man and his son for chopping down 911 (!) trees in the Bog Walk area. Henry and Norman Taylor were sentenced to 100 hours of community service to replant 911 seedlings, and maintain them until the expiration of the community service hours. The deforestation by the two men occurred in the HamptonForest Management Area on a private estate. They were also fined – not much, but the replanting is important.

Junior Achievement Jamaica's Curriculum Coordinator Yaneik Thomas (left) and Project Coordinator and alum Callia Smith (right) with Mrs. Thalia Lyn, OD, JP the owner for the Island Grill Restaurants across Jamaica. She is recognized as the 2014 Women Entrepreneurship Day Patron. (Photo: Facebook)

Junior Achievement Jamaica’s Curriculum Coordinator Yaneik Thomas (left) and Project Coordinator and alum Callia Smith (right) with Mrs. Thalia Lyn, OD, JP the owner of  Island Grill Restaurants last week. She is recognized as the 2014 Women Entrepreneurship Day Patron. (Photo: Facebook)

Go entrepreneurs! I am writing about last week’s Global Entrepreneurship Week activities in my weekly Gleaner Online article here:  Kudos to all who participated – especially the students, teachers and others involved in Jamaica Junior Achievement, and to Cecile Watson, supporters and sponsors for Jamaica’s first Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Julian Robinson (3rd left); and Founder of Halls of Learning, Marvin Hall, seem pleased with Diamond Brown’s (2nd left) coding work, during a workshop held recently, at the General Accident Insurance Company’s board room in Kingston. At right is workshop participant, Najeeka Rose. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Julian Robinson (3rd left); and Founder of Halls of Learning, Marvin Hall, seem pleased with Diamond Brown’s (2nd left) coding work, during a workshop held recently, at the General Accident Insurance Company’s board room in Kingston. At right is workshop participant, Najeeka Rose. (Photo: JIS)

Great initiative: 25 girls aged 11 to 15 from schools across Kingston are learning computer coding, under a program organized byJulian Robinson, Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining. I like this initiative! This is a collaboration with the  founder of Halls of Learning, an innovative young educator called Marvin Hall, who participated in a recent UNICEF dialogue on education.

Crime is down by 20 per cent in three rural parishes – St. Ann, St. Mary and Portland – compared to last year, which is excellent news. Congratulations to the hard-working Assistant Commissioner of Police Ealan Powell, who seems to be making an impact in St. Mary. In St. Ann, however, murders have increased slightly. Portland, always by far the quietest parish, has only had six murders this year.

Nevertheless, my condolences go out to the families of these people who lost their lives since I last posted, four days ago:

David Thompson, 39, Crooked River, Clarendon

Mulgrave Rowe, 74, Manchester

Kenroy Montague, 44,Caledonia Road/Mandeville, Manchester

Aaron McGeahy, 47, Caledonia Road/Mandeville, Manchester

Winston Blackwood, 74, Islington, St. Mary

Three unidentified men, Paw Mountain/Kitson Town, St. Catherine (killed by the police)

Sunday Sighs: August 19, 2012

Why are we sighing? Because it seems that, after all the jubilation and celebration, Jamaica is returning to reality. And reality doesn’t look too good right now.

For a start, the police recently announced a decrease in major crimes, and even a sixteen per cent drop in murders. Coming on the heels of our celebrations, this felt rather good. OK, Jamaica is regrouping. But. If you look at the list of names at the end of this post – it has been a very bad week. As the police doggedly pursue the scavengers and vampires otherwise known as the “lotto scammers” (eight more were arrested in the Montego Bay area) three people were murdered in one small area of the city yesterday; one does not know, of course, if the two activities were connected. And this morning came news that an attorney-at-law and lecturer at the Norman Manley Law School and University of Technology in Kingston, Clover Graham. The bare, cruel facts are that her body was found this morning in Caymanas, St. Catherine, near the Polo Club – a lush, green and relatively undeveloped area off the highway between Kingston and Spanish Town. Nearly four years ago, Ms. Graham’s son Taiwo McKenzie and his girlfriend Janelle Whyte were murdered in what came to be known as the “good samaritan” murders. The couple were involved in an motor vehicle accident in Kingston in which two men were injured. They took the men to hospital and the next day went to help them, taking with them medicine, crutches etc – and were never seen again. Two men were convicted of their murders in June.

Crime scene in Caymanas

Ms. Clover Graham’s body was found here.

So another intelligent, caring Jamaican who had already given – and still had so much to give – to Jamaican society has been cruelly killed. It is hard to make any sense out of all this. The old, familiar feeling of loss hits you. When a middle-class member of society is murdered, the shock lasts for a few days in uptown Kingston, and then we get back to our lives. There is a big funeral, eulogies, tears. And then on, until another “high profile” murder occurs.

For me, all such sad and violent deaths are high profile – whether uptown or downtown. All are stories of a life abruptly severed. That is why I include a list of all those Jamaican citizens, young or old, rich or poor or in-between, who have left us. I grieve for their families, their friends and colleagues. We see them nightly on the television news, unable to find words, a lost and distant look in their eyes; or wailing and throwing themselves to the ground while sympathizers try to hold them up on their feet. People who live outside Jamaica don’t know how it feels to experience this almost on a daily basis. Perhaps we should be numb. I need a heavy anesthetic, the kind where you can sense something happening, but you don’t feel the pain.

It was not my plan to talk about the crime issue today, but to point to a couple of other issues that flared up last week. The two “e”s – Education and the Economy.

Now, I have often teased our Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites in this blog about his many stirring motivational speeches over the past few months. But he brought me up sharp on Thursday morning, during an interview with radio talk show host Barbara Gloudon. The topic was, unsurprisingly, teachers. The disappointing Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination results had already dropped into the lovely calm pool of post-Independence, post-Olympics “good vibes” – creating disturbing ripples. Minister Thwaites bluntly told Ms. Gloudon that during his tour of the island visiting numerous schools, he was “not sanguine” about the quality of English teachers – in fact, he suggested, many of them are not capable of teaching English properly. They must be proficient in English themselves. The thorny issue of patois-speaking teachers teaching standard English – and admonishing the students, as I have often heard, in raw patois – has been with us for a long time and is unresolved. Minister Thwaites declared, “We have to overcome our ambivalence about the English language…This is crazy.” Crazy, indeed. He then dropped a bombshell that reverberated like the fireworks I heard after the Independence Grand Gala, which shook our windows. Only sixteen per cent of teachers, Minister Thwaites pointed out, are actually qualified to teach Math.

I wondered if I had heard right. He must have said sixty per cent. That would have not been very impressive, either. But no – he did say sixteen! I foresee a bit of a battle with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, which is probably overdue anyway. But I do applaud the Minister for telling it like it is. I also feel (as the government has been saying for some time) that much more emphasis must be put in at the primary school level. High school is too late. There is a push towards building early childhood education and literacy; but I know of one newly-qualified early childhood literacy specialist, young and eager to teach, who is still seeking work, with no success. There must be jobs for the teachers if they are encouraged to gain qualifications in these priority areas. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

I agree also with Minister Thwaites that education is not all about “swotting” for exams. Self-expression must be encouraged, imaginations sparked, critical thinking taught. During the same program, Ms. Gloudon spoke with the Ministry’s chief public servant about practical matters related to Back to School (often written with upper case these days I’ve noticed), as we are entering that annual period of nervous anticipation now.  When asked about school security, she said that fixing school perimeters with fencing or even walls would cost at least J$50 million and there was simply no money for that. She added, with a somewhat wistful air, that “the community must be a watchdog” in keeping the school secure and preventing the frequent vandalism and robbery that takes place. But it seems to me that the community often preys on the institutions that are there to serve and uplift their children. (New computer lab? Ah, that’s a tempting thought…) I can barely suppress my anger when I see some overwrought school principal on television, bemoaning the loss of some recently-donated computers, while the camera pans to empty electrical sockets and a few dangling wires, and perhaps also a ransacked office where the vampires have been searching for cash. (Yes, vampire is my word of the day, I think!)

Rumblings on the economy, too – like today’s thunderstorms rattling around the hills. In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, our Net International Reserves are declining as, I believe, the Bank of Jamaica continues to support our gently sliding Jamaican Dollar. Because yes, it is sliding. Let’s call it J$90/US$1 now – we are just a few cents below that. CVM Television broadcast two well-edited and hard-hitting reports last week that included interviews with local financial analysts Dennis Chung and Ralston Hyman. Both were sharply pointed in their comments. I would recommend Mr. Chung’s article in Friday’s Jamaica Observer, in which he draws our attention to some uncomfortable facts of life. (By the way, Mr. Chung also believes that Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is “on the right track,” and I agree). There is still no agreement with the International Monetary Fund (although we were led to believe that the whole thing would have been “renegotiated” in short order by the current administration, during last year’s election campaign). In fact, we appear to be nowhere near an agreement. There are warnings from ratings agencies, and we all know that markets – and investors – don’t like uncertainty. That’s one thing they hate. But these are very uncertain times.

The Sunday Observer editorial comments on this unnerving state of affairs today, referring to the Caribbean in general. We have taken a “self-inflicted” course – what seemed to be the easy road, one might say. The editorial comments, very cogently, “Common to all governments in the Caribbean is the ability to deny reality. If we do not take life seriously, do not expect anybody to take us seriously.” But we haven’t grown up. We are still fêting, as today’s Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon suggests…

Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon, August 19, 2012

Sunday Gleaner editorial cartoon, August 19, 2012: “We know how to throw a great party!”

Meanwhile, the Finance Minister was busy talking to People’s National Party followers last weekend about Independence. An interesting report in Thursday’s Gleaner  (which I cannot find online – what has happened to your search engine, Gleaner?) by Carl Gilchrist notes Minister Phillips’ comments on the great strides Jamaica has made since August 1, 1962. “Let no one tell you no fairy tale that colonialism was a good thing or better for us; foolishness, absolute nonsense!” he expostulated. I would have hoped that a man of his education and knowledge could have put it a little better – and perhaps indicated how, and why, Independence has been good for us in more detail. Perhaps he did. After all that blustering, he did concede that Jamaica still had to deal with one troublesome little matter: poverty. Humph.

Any word on the economy, Minister Phillips? No? Well, as usual in the eternal conflict, politics trumps the economy, every time. So it guh.

Meanwhile, we are currently hosting an illustrious visitor – Dr. Julius Garvey. Dr. Garvey is the son of Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey, to whom much lip service is paid. And I am pleased to say that the Mayor of Kingston has declared August 17 (his birthday) Marcus Garvey Day. Friday was a special day — Marcus Garvey’s 125th birthday. Please note the background color of my blog – the flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which the revered civil rights activist founded.

As Dr. Garvey marched along Duke Street – heading to or from Liberty Hall, I am not sure – with flag-waving Garveyites in tow, he walked straight into a chaotic scene. Close to sixty squatters had been evicted from a property that many of them had occupied for decades. The media focused on a forty-year-old woman, who has eight children and expecting another. The woman, looking many years older than forty, exclaimed, “We are treated like animals…On the street with a million kids!” The property is privately owned, and with the (albeit slow) development of downtown Kingston the owner probably wants to do something with it. The bailiff, and others officials, say that they had been negotiating with the squatters for some time to get them out, but all deadlines had expired. Meanwhile, their Member of Parliament and former mayor Desmond McKenzie has promised to help.

The reaction of many Jamaicans online has been unsympathetic, rather harsh, even sarcastic. Where are the fathers, they ask? These children are all going to grow up to be gunmen. Why don’t these women get their tubes tied? And so on.

Well, guess what, Dr. Garvey. This is the face of poverty – the issue that, by Dr. Phillips’ own admission, we have not got a handle on yet, after fifty years.

Demolition of squatter settlement

Ten-year-old Rusheda Brown looks at her demolished home on Duke Street. (Photo: Norman Grindley, Gleaner)

But this is terrible, said Dr. Garvey. Why weren’t arrangements made for the squatters to be relocated, how could they be sitting on the street? Speaking on Television Jamaica, Dr. Garvey pointed out, in a polite and low-key way, that Jamaica must stop blaming others for these problems. He said, in some many words, that we have too much “baggage.” A sensible and thoughtful man. When asked what the solution was for Jamaica, he simply said, “Education, education, education.” 

Evicted children

Children on the street after last week’s eviction on Duke Street, downtown Kingston.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips

Finance Minister Peter Phillips (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Congratulations are in order..

To the business community of St. Elizabeth, a parish where much activity takes place, especially in the field of agriculture. It has re-established the long-dormant St. Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, now headed by Mr. Howard Hendricks. We look forward to hearing more about their activities.

To the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) which held an open day in Mandeville on Friday to highlight and educate the public about its work. INDECOM investigates all types of abuses by the security forces. I am glad also that Minister of National Security Peter Bunting (who is Member of Parliament for the area) spoke at the event and expressed his support for INDECOM, which has replaced the former Police Public Complaints Authority. The police have not exactly welcomed the government agency with open arms. And Minister Bunting did appear to have a little dig at INDECOM when he said it was important to remain “unbiased”  – its head Terrence Williams had participated in a press conference held by human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice some time ago (but aren’t both organizations upholders of human rights?). I am not sure if Minister Bunting’s comment was really necessary, even though it was a sort of aside.

To the Mayor of Kingston, Angela Brown Burke, for declaring August 17 Marcus Garvey Day. This is overdue. OK, I know a day is just a day. But special days are symbolic, and they are reminders. The importance of Mr. Garvey’s legacy cannot be overlooked or denied. I am happy that his teachings are to be incorporated into the school curriculum, but wonder whether the teachers themselves can understand or interpret it.

Dr. Julius Garvey gets the keys to the City of Kingston

Kingston’s Mayor Angela Brown Burke presents the keys to the city of Kingston to Dr. Julius Garvey. Town Clerk Errol Greene is on the right.

To the Attorney General’s Department for its outreach to the Best Care Children’s Home. They didn’t just hand out sweeties and pat the kids on the head. I was quite moved by the report on their visit; they had sourced gifts that had been personally requested by the residents.

USAID for its annual Camp Summer Plus. The “plus” is that this is not your average summer camp. According to USAID’s press release, the camp’s two main aims are to provide focused, intensive, data-driven academic programmes through technology and the arts in the critical areas of reading and mathematics; and to provide nutritional, psychological, social and other support which are known to impact student performance.”  Serious and well-conceived.

To Jamaica’s female cricketers! They defeated Trinidad & Tobago yesterday in the T-20 finals, and now dominate the English-speaking Caribbean. Kudos to the ladies!

Finally, a big “Get Well Soon” to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is recuperating in Miami from a very serious infection in his back. The infection started after surgery in Jamaica and was not corrected by second surgery, so he went overseas. It seems that the Jackson Memorial Hospital came to his rescue. His recovery is likely to take months. I wish him a full recovery and send best wishes to his loving wife and family.

And last but by no means least, I send my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the following Jamaicans, who were murdered over the past week. Our land is stained with their blood.

USAID summer camp

Students at Camp Summer Plus do the Bolt thing, with USAID Director Denise Herbol right at the back there.

AG at Best Care Home

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson helps a resident at the Best Care Home with her drink. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood, Jamaica Observer)

Killed by the police:

Oteno Chambers, 22, St. John’s Road, St. Catherine

Damion Saunders, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13

Romaine Ferron, Fitzgerald Avenue, Kingston 13

Errol Cohen, 48, Spaldings, Clarendon


Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston

Kevorn Thompson, 17, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine

Christopher Walters, 44, Dyke Road, Portmore, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Old Harbour Villa, St. Catherine

Demus Williams, Westchester, St. Catherine

Bentley Parker, Westchester, St. Catherine

Kevin Butler, 32, Annotto Bay, St. Mary

Linton Banton-Dean, 24, Annotto Bay, St. Mary

Unidentified man, Allman Hill, St. Andrew

Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Roaring River, Westmoreland

Shernette Parker, 32, Knoxwood, St. Elizabeth

Peter Cunningham, 34, Retirement, St. James

Keith Maxwell, 65, Granville, St. James

Ramesh Sutherland, 25, Granville, St. James

Simon Munroe, 26, Flanker, St. James

Chase Facey, 24, Westmeade, St. Catherine

Clover Graham, 56, Caymanas, St. Catherine

Related articles:  (Attorney found dead – Jamaica Observer) (Three killed as shootings rock Granville, St. James – Radio Jamaica) (Losing that loving feeling – Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog)—Minister-says-only-16–qualified-to-teach-Math_12308827 (Minister says only 16 per cent qualified to teach Math – Jamaica Observer)–Wants-Jamaican-critics-to-stop-the-blame-game_12307764 (CXC furious, wants Jamaican critics to stop the blame game – Jamaica Observer) (Assessing CSEC exam results – Gleaner editorial)–Olympics-comes-economic-reality_12306785 (After Jamaica 50, Olympics comes economic reality – Dennis Chung/Jamaica Observer) (Our region is fêting when we should be fretting – Sunday Observer editorial) (Why is Marcus Garvey a National Hero? – Carolyn Copper/Sunday Gleaner)–Pregnant-woman-with-eight-children-among-60-thrown-off-Duke-Street-property (Pregnant woman with eight children among 60 thrown off Duke Street property) (A cycle of poverty – Sunday Gleaner) (UHWI operating with only one ambulance – Sunday Gleaner) (Taking best care – Attorney General’s Department – Jamaica Observer) (Bruce Golding’s recovery to take months)

Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (

Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012 (

Marcus Garvey in Jamaican schools (

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