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.

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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: http://issuu.com/eccomagazine/docs/sept_gyb_newsletter__1_  August issue, including my interview with Mr. Chalifour, is here: http://issuu.com/eccomagazine/docs/august_gyb_newsletter_final 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: yardedge.net)

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

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: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2358  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

Others:

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:

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Attorney-found-dead  (Attorney found dead – Jamaica Observer)

http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/three-killed-shootings-rock-granville-st-james (Three killed as shootings rock Granville, St. James – Radio Jamaica)

http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/losing-that-loving-feeling-jamaica-50/#comment-958 (Losing that loving feeling – Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Unqualified-teachers—Minister-says-only-16–qualified-to-teach-Math_12308827 (Minister says only 16 per cent qualified to teach Math – Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/CXC-furious–Wants-Jamaican-critics-to-stop-the-blame-game_12307764 (CXC furious, wants Jamaican critics to stop the blame game – Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120818/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Assessing CSEC exam results – Gleaner editorial)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/After-Jamaica-50–Olympics-comes-economic-reality_12306785 (After Jamaica 50, Olympics comes economic reality – Dennis Chung/Jamaica Observer)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Our-region-is-feting-when-we-should-be-fretting_12312137 (Our region is fêting when we should be fretting – Sunday Observer editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/cleisure/cleisure3.html (Why is Marcus Garvey a National Hero? – Carolyn Copper/Sunday Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/EVICTED–Pregnant-woman-with-eight-children-among-60-thrown-off-Duke-Street-property (Pregnant woman with eight children among 60 thrown off Duke Street property)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/news/news1.html (A cycle of poverty – Sunday Gleaner)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120819/lead/lead92.html (UHWI operating with only one ambulance – Sunday Gleaner)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Taking-best-care_12276664 (Taking best care – Attorney General’s Department – Jamaica Observer)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=39238 (Bruce Golding’s recovery to take months)

Jamaica 50 Special: Monday, August 6, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)

Marcus Garvey in Jamaican schools (caribbean360.com)

Dark (petchary.wordpress.com)

Sunday Shuffle (Yes, I know, the first one was called Sunday Stumble)

I have settled on “Sunday Shuffle” now, finally – because this really describes how I work my way through the newspapers.  All the sections get shuffled into each other – very annoying for my husband.  I try to put them back together again, but somehow it never quite works.  They remain in a disheveled state.

OK, let’s go.

A fireman helps to put out a fire at Riverton City dump

A fireman working on a fire at Riverton City dump in 2010. If you do a search, you will find reports literally every year on fires at Riverton, and letters and articles about what can be done about them.

This week’s Story to Ponder:  The National Environment and Planning Agency – NEPA (yes, the E and P still sit uncomfortably together, in my mind) released a report on the conflagration that was the Riverton City dump fire (and let’s not call it a landfill, it’s not).  The report stated baldly: “The data showed ambient air quality with respect to PM10 (particulate matter 10) within a one-kilometer radius of the site to be ‘very high risk,’ according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Canadian Air Quality Index definitions.”  The communities at very high risk were/are the very low income communities of Riverton Meadows (about as far from a meadow as I have ever seen), Seaview Gardens, Cooreville Gardens and a little beyond.  Up to two kilometers from the flickering fires was just “high risk,” including Washington Gardens and Duhaney Park.

[Pause for thought: I always find it ironic that some of the most struggling, barren stretches of Kingston’s residential areas are all gardens and parks and meadows.  I don’t want to offend anyone living in these communities, but the original planners and developers must have named these in a fit of extreme optimism, much like those pretty but unreal architectural drawings one sees with trees and flowerbeds and people sitting on charming park benches].

And over these communities hung, for at least a week in February, the pall of toxic chemicals from the Riverton City dump.  The clouds of smoke were a murky grey-brown, tainted with chemicals pouring out from plastics, tires, dead animals, household garbage – you name it.  Many residents suffered from asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.  But my question is, what is still hanging in the air?  And what  are the “volatile organic compounds” and metals that may still be up there, or that may have descended on our homes, our earth, our water, our heads?  This is just one report, but according to today’s Sunday Observer report by the excellent environmental journalist Petre Williams-Raynor, NEPA noted some fundamental and major deficiencies in the monitoring system – no permanent air quality monitoring stations; no sampling equipment; and no equipment for the testing of “additional pollutants” (these are the ones that worry me), such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

 

Riverton City dump

Another day at Riverton City dump...

We have a Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Mr. Robert Pickersgill.  He has been on a very fast learning curve since taking up office, poor man.  He wants to do the right thing to make sure that this “never, ever happens again” (my quotation marks – but good heavens, it has already happened so many times before…)  Basically, Minister Pickersgill needs money to fix the problem – but there is none.  The previous administration decided not to fill in the land at a cost of some $35 million – money which would have been well spent, as it cost far more to put out the fire, and law suits are in the offing.  Riverton City is, I repeat, not a landfill but a giant, open trash heap, scattered with bulldozers, scavenging Jamaicans, herds of cattle, pigs and goats (!) seagulls and rats and filth.  Just festering, open to the sun and wind.  No proper sorting or recycling goes on (please correct me if I am wrong on this, dear readers).  So, it comes down to this – it’s not just about money.  It’s about political will.  It depends how high on the priority list the health of Kingston residents comes, in the eyes of the politicians.  But what scares me is: How much damage has already been done?  The Ministry of Health is also doing some studying, measuring etc.  Will the public be informed, soon, on the results of these studies?  And what about all the toxic materials that we don’t have any data on at all?  I’m very nervous, and far from reassured.

On the topic of climate change, local environmentalists such as the Jamaica Environment Trust’s Diana McCaulay are not impressed by the government’s performance, despite Minister Pickersgill’s declaration that it is “a serious concern to our sustainable development.”  But meanwhile, the University of the West Indies‘ new Faculty of Law has introduced an environmental law course as an elective for final-year students.  As lecturer Laleta Davis-Mattis says, “There is a role for advocacy in environment.”  Come on, young law students, give it some serious thought.

Why bother: The ongoing wrangling between the Jamaica Teachers Association and the Ministry of Education seems to be a spillover from the previous administration.  The one-upmanship continues over the establishment of a Jamaica Teaching Council.  Before that, other “controversial” issues were chewed over, put on one side and stuck on the underneath of school desks like old chewing gum – perhaps to be picked up and re-chewed at a later date.  Ugh.  Some lofty words are being spoken, as well as some rather confrontational ones.  I sigh and wait for it to be sorted out.  How is this all going to affect the quality of the education delivered to thousands of Jamaicans?  Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader, but do enlighten me, if you know.

Anglican Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory

Bishop Howard Gregory

Talking of schools, the new Anglican Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory (a clear-sighted man, I believe) is putting his foot down over state schools built on church-owned lands.  “We would like to have more say in what happens in our schools,” says Bishop Gregory.  Fair enough, I think. The leases are up on the nine secondary schools and 101 primary schools owned in some way by the Church but administered by the State, and the goodly Bishop has no wish to renew them.  The matter is under discussion with Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites – a lay preacher himself.  We’ll see.

Last week, the city of Kingston also acquired a new Mayor, its 53rd – Her Worship Councilor Angela Brown-Burke (why do we have to worship a mayor, by the way?)  The hard-working councilor struggled laughingly into her ceremonial robes (that huge medallion reminds me of a rapper showing off his “bling,” and the hat is a trifle ridiculous) with the assistance of her two predecessors from the other side of the political fence, Desmond McKenzie and Lee Clarke.  The ceremony in the Senate avoided the unpleasant partisanship of earlier mayoral installations (especially in Montego Bay and Portmore) – I was embarrassed for the departing mayors, who were booed by supporters of the People’s National Party, but managed awkward smiles.  (They weren’t that bad, were they?)

Here’s a Quiz Question: Which Jamaican National Hero served as Mayor of Kingston?  

And a question I couldn’t find the answer to: How many female Mayors (Mayoresses??) has Kingston had?

Commendations are also in order for…

The Observer newspaper’s “Moguls in the Making” – supporting young entrepreneurs finding their way through the hazardous landscape of the Jamaican business.  I wish them determination, fortitude, and ultimately, huge success.

Swearing-in of Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown-Burke

Oops! The ridiculous hat eventually settled down on Mayor Brown-Burke's locks... with a little help from several gentlemen.

Ms. Megan Deane, the CEO of the first full-service credit bureau in Jamaica, Creditinfo Jamaica.  Ms. Deane is a lady of solid credentials, a woman who more than holds her own in the (still largely) man’s world of finance.  In the next six months we should see and hear more about the credit bureau’s products and services.  Excellent and well-needed.

The Saturday Gleaner for its excellent “Rural Express” – a section I always read with great interest.  The only part that worries me is (despite the delightful stories of quiet success) the underlying and persistent theme of rural decline and decay.  More on that in another Shuffle.

Condolences:

To the families of Ms. Pauline Reid and Ms. Ruby Martin - two Jamaican women who contributed a great deal in their different fields of endeavor.  Ms. Reid, the first female President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, died on Saturday in hospital in Washington, DC.  Apart from her lobbying for the city’s Convention Centre and several other successful projects, she had a deep personal love for the town and for her country.  Ms. Martin was dedicated to the Ward Theatre Foundation and struggled for many years to get financial (and political) support for its restoration.  She also bravely confronted cancer in recent years, and died yesterday evening.  Meanwhile, the Ward will be 100 years old this coming December, and is literally crumbling and unusable, as we speak.  The area around it is filthy, greasy and broken.  The least that could be done perhaps in Ms. Martin’s memory would be to make some attempt at restoring it before it becomes one of downtown Kingston’s (and Jamaica’s) many sad ruins.

A concern, and the Las’ Lick:

Could Ms. Lisa Hanna, Minister of Culture and her predecessor Ms. Olivia Grange stop sniping back and forth over the budget for Jamaica 50?  Ms. Hanna (wearing a perhaps inappropriate transparent blouse) noted haughtily at a press briefing last week that the budget prepared by Ms. Grange was preposterously high and that she had scaled it right back (she had already told us all about this several weeks ago).  Ms. Grange retorted testily that this was not a budget, just a plan, and that it would also have involved the private sector.  The Auditor General is auditing, and Mr. Robert Bryan (I remember him, I think, from the overblown West Indies World Cup Cricket days – perhaps not very auspicious) has appeared, saying there is not enough time.  Meanwhile, what gives?  Where is the Jamaica 50 plan, and as columnist Tamara Scott-Williams notes today, can we please all just be allowed to enjoy ourselves this year, budget or no budget?

Cool it, ladies.

Las’ Lick:

This is an important one, and a topic I will return to, but meanwhile please read and think about the relatively short but significant article  by Byron Buckley in today’s Sunday Gleaner, headlined “Church Opposes Gay Stigma on HIV/AIDS Advocacy,” which refers to recent consultations between UNAIDS and Jamaican church leaders.  The challenges are many.

That’s all for this week!  Feedback, commentary, questions, corrections, enlightenment… all are welcome from you, dear readers.

Ms. Pauline Reid

Ms. Pauline Reid, the first female President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, died this weekend.

Related articles

Ms. Ruby Martin, philanthropist

Ms. Ruby Martin, a graceful, brave and dignified lady.