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 (

Dark (

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.


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.