Jamaica on Sunday, April 3, 2016: A Promise That Cannot Be Broken, A Tidal Wave Hits, and Carnival Cricketing Joy

A happy Jamaica Carnival reveler. (Photo: Twitter)
A happy Jamaica Carnival reveler. (Photo: Twitter)

The long Easter weekend passed, leaving in its wake a slew of car crashes and (very sadly) murders. We had a minor earth tremor (did you feel it? I didn’t) fourteen kilometers below Clarendon. We had no rain. The well-heeled went to parties costing the equivalent of US$50 upwards, and posted pictures of themselves on Facebook. Others gave the thumbs up to the new north-south highway, despite photos posted on Twitter showing long lines at the toll booths. We were so happy to stay home in peaceful uptown Kingston. Of course, since Carnival is on with its usual vigor, it is not so quiet this weekend.

Finance Minister Audley-Shaw is - to use a cricketing term today - batting on a sticky wicket. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Finance Minister Audley-Shaw is – to use a cricketing term today – batting on a sticky wicket. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

“That promise is going to be kept”: So says Finance Minister Audley Shaw. But – oh, dear. Things have gone somewhat awry with the pre-election promise made by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that Jamaicans earning J$1.5 million and under per annum would receive up to J$18,000 more in their pockets, as of April (which is actually – well, this week). Comments made at a Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) meeting by Shaw, just before the Government went into a three-day retreat at Jamaica House last week, threw the media into a bit of a tizzy. Shaw told the PSOJ that funds in the Energy Stablization Fund (ESF) – hedging on the price of oil – which the new Government had planned to use for the tax break implementation were simply not available, after all. Most of it had gone into the Consolidated Fund to be used for another purpose (what purpose?). Phillips says the ESF actually owes money to the Consolidated Fund. Yikes! So, the money had not been set aside (in a transparent way, as former Finance Minister Peter Phillips emphasized at the time).

Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips.

Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips.

This is serious. The promise was ostensibly one of the main reasons why many Jamaicans voted for the JLP in February. There seems to be some obfuscation on the matter – on both sides. Peter Phillips said the JLP knew all along that the source of funds was not available – and that as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Shaw himself really ought to have known. A good point, and this has been backed up by Hansard (Parliamentary records) of September 29, 2015 – in which Phillips told the Committee: “The source of funding for the energy stabilisation and energy efficiency enhancement fund is the new fuel tax that has been imposed since April 2015. In the meantime, while the legislative amendments are being undertaken, a sub-account of the Consolidated Fund has been established to receive the proceeds of the tax.” Those legislative changes were not completed before the February election.

Oh dear. Oh dear! Our brand new government is going to have to find the money from somewhere. Moral of the story: Don’t make election promises you can’t keep.

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Shaw also commented on the PetroCaribe Development Fund, which he says is “now being called upon to appropriate US$110 million annually for servicing of the loan.” If anyone needs funds for any nice new projects, he said, the funds from this source are “not there any more.” They might have to change name to PetroCaribe Debt Servicing Fund, said Shaw. So, the question is: Where is the money going to come from for the tax break?

A head office in Kingston: The China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) – the state-owned parent company of our ubiquitous China Harbour Engineering Company – announced recently that it will open its regional head office in Kingston. It also had lovely things to say about the new Prime Minister. As has been pointed out a number of times by former Contractor General Greg Christie (and others), five years ago the World Bank announced the debarment of CCCC, and all its subsidiaries, for fraudulent practices under Phase 1 of the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Project. CCCC is ineligible to engage in any road and bridge projects financed by the World Bank Group until January 12, 2017.

Sweeping away crime and corruption…

Sweeping away crime and corruption…

High drama: Seven people, including a policeman, were among 19 people arrested during a series of police raids across the island on March 29 and 30. The operation was carried out with the help of “international partners” – taking a wild guess, the Americans. This must have been part of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Operation Tidal Wave (launched on March 17), which includes zero tolerance for petty crimes, community policing,  neighborhood watch meetings, check points, closer monitoring of entertainment centers, agriculture (60 farm watches have been set up to guard against theft) and dear old organized crime. Oh, and most importantly of all – cracking down on the never-ending lotto scam, which has taken such a toll at home and abroad. That’s a lot of things rolled into one.

A car crash on Spanish Town Road in Kingston earlier this year, in which three people were killed. The police said speeding was the cause of the accident. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A car crash on Spanish Town Road in Kingston in February, in which three people were killed. The police said speeding was the cause. That is what reports that “the driver lost control” mean. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Nightmare on the roads: What on earth is happening on our roads? The National Road Safety Council is tearing its collective hair out. Already over 100 Jamaicans have died on our roads, roughly a third of them motorcyclists or their passengers. Back in 1993 there were 400 deaths; but then, the numbers went down to 260 in 2012. However, this was not a trend, it seems, as the numbers are way up again. It’s hard to determine any pattern. What are the factors involved? Speeding is, obviously. However, I just sense the Traffic Police are not on top of their game; or am I being unfair? One sees the wildest driving on the roads, but they get away with it 99 per cent of the time. Trying to persuade people to drive safely has proved pretty ineffective. Enforcement of the law is needed, as well as proper education and testing of motorcyclists. Let’s pass that legislation on distracted driving, too.

Sugar on life support: With the Long Pond Sugar Factory now closed by its operators, Everglades Farms, Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda has a tricky situation on his hands. Farmers are trucking their crops elsewhere for processing. I agree with the PSOJ’s Dennis Chung: Put Long Pond into liquidation and start insolvency proceedings. It seems the Chinese Pan Caribbean Sugar Company could not manage the Monymusk Sugar Factory and will be relinquishing ownership as of next year. Pan Caribbean is immediately handing over to independent farmers (some of whom are asking why they can’t process their own crops) and the Government is to temporarily take over the factory that it divested a few years ago. At least, one hopes it will only be a temporary arrangement. What next for sugar? The future looks uncertain and many jobs are at stake, which is why the Government is trying to keep the industry on life support. Pull the plug, I would suggest, and start creating sustainable “green” jobs elsewhere.

Revered Merrick "Al" Miller, pastor of the Fellowship Tabernacle Church, is charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. His trial has been postponed on numerous occasions. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Revered Merrick “Al” Miller, pastor of the Fellowship Tabernacle Church, is charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. His trial has been postponed on numerous occasions. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Rev. Al’s trial: We have not heard much about the trial of Reverend Al Miller, who was arrested in 2010 while transporting a wanted man (Christopher “Dudus” Coke, in disguise) into Kingston in his car. Now I see he will be back in court on May 4 and a verdict will be handed down on June 14. Was this trial in camera or something? Why do we know so little?

Good move: Minister of Gender Affairs Olivia Babsy Grange has already got Cabinet to approve the re-naming of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to Gender Affairs (and thus the reinstatement of the Male Desk there). Quick work, and I look forward to hearing details of her other gender-related plans.

CARICOM complaints: Two Jamaicans have filed official complaints at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the Minister’s urging, regarding their alleged ill-treatment at Trinidad’s airport on March 21. Now the Trinidadian Government says the Jamaicans were denied because “they were likely to become a charge on public funds.” How do they figure this out? Is this within CARICOM regulations, freedom of movement etc? I don’t understand. I hope the Ministry can explain, but Trinidad says this was done in accordance with their laws.

PNP leadership – who’s lining up? Although former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has not indicated that she will be stepping down as party leader, there are a few things working against her. Behind the scenes, potential challengers may be positioning themselves. The ambitious Peter Bunting? Maybe. Former Finance Minister Peter Phillips (who lost a challenge against Simpson Miller in 2006)? I’d say not likely; he’s in a difficult position and has lost a whole lot of credibility in some ways, despite his IMF success. Mayor Angela Brown Burke? It’s possible perhaps. Senator Mark Golding, who apparently is not keen on the idea of representational politics. Julian Robinson is highly thought of, but maybe not ready yet. Whoever it is, they need to sort themselves out. “Who want to challenge me, can challenge,” Ms. Simpson Miller told radio talk show host Emily Shields last week. She’s not afraid of a challenge, she added.

“No one asked me”: Sadly, Ms. Simpson Miller made another astonishing statement a few days back. When asked why she had not given any media interviews during her term in office, she actually said that she had not received any requests! Whereupon Television Jamaica (and no doubt other media houses) listed the dates on which they had requested interviews, repeatedly. Words fail me. Meanwhile, her party’s National Executive Council (NEC) holds its first meeting since the election today. Sparks may fly.

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Joy, oh joy! The West Indies’ cup overfloweth. I am talking about that peculiar game of cricket, played only by the British Empire’s former colonies in a serious way (and for fun in some other countries). The West Indies’ Men’s T20 Cricket Team, the Women’s T20 Cricket Team and the Under-21 World Cup Team are all world champions, as of today. I am not a cricket fan, personally… but this is terrific news, and gives the Carnival revelers something more to celebrate today!

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange (left), speaks to young footballers at the launch of the Digicel Kickstart Clinic 2016, held today (March 29), at the Whole Life Sports Centre, Devon Road, in Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange speaks to young footballers at the launch of the Digicel Kickstart Clinic 2016 on March 29 at the Whole Life Sports Centre in Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

  • I didn’t know Digicel had a regional football coaching program – up and running since 2008. As a major fan of the sport I can only say “cheers”! The top three boys from each of 14 Caribbean and Central American countries will be selected to attend the Digicel Kickstart Academy. Coaches from Manchester City FC and New York FC will be visiting.

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  • Kudos to the amazing Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It has been through trials and tribulations, but has emerged strong and focused. JASL has just produced its April newsletter. Here’s the link: http://us6.campaign-archive1.com/?u=fdc4f7c4d7&id=61f7bcbc78

The crime scene remains depressing. There was another murder/suicide, a personal tragedy, in Manchester: a Jamaica Defence Force soldier and his partner, the principal of a basic school. Very disturbingly, also, a group of residents attacked and killed two men in rural Jamaica, after they found some goats in their car and suspected them of stealing them.  My deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of these Jamaicans, who were killed in the past eight days. It’s just too many.

Edmond Russell, 40, Fourth Street, Kingston

Ryan Boucher, 28, White Street, Rose Town, Kingston (killed by police)

Orville Myers, 34, Little Lane/Central Village, St. Catherine

Donovan Lawrence, 32, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, May Pen, Clarendon

Devon Segree, 46, Montego Bay, St. James

Unidentified man, Charles Gordon Market, Montego Bay, St. James

Gail Anderson, 46, Hope Village/Williamsfield, Manchester

Dennis Bacchas, 54, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Elijah Miller (“Quench Aid”), 46,Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Jennifer Richards, Logwood Pen District, Savanna-La-Mar, Westmoreland

Dave Campbell, 37, Bensonton/Claremont, St. Ann (mob killing)

Alphanso Perry, 22, Bensonton/Claremont, St. Ann (mob killing)

Roxborough Bramwell, 44, Brown’s Town, St. Ann

Damion Clark, 35,Brown’s Town, St. Ann

Kirk Williams, 31, Smoothland Road, St. Elizabeth

Theos Blake, 30, Lyssons, St. Thomas 

A police raid on a strip club on Ripon Road, Kingston, over the weekend. Part of the "Tidal Wave." (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

A police raid on a strip club on Ripon Road, Kingston, over the weekend. Part of the “Tidal Wave.” (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015: Return to Fort Rocky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American Airlines team leaders checking in.

The American Airlines team leaders checking in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Brave, the Beautiful…and the Proud

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

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

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I would really recommend an excellent, detailed three-part series by the Antillean Media Group (AMG), which includes an interview with the marvelous Latoya Nugent – a dynamic, focused and extremely hard-working woman whom I spoke with a few months back (when she first mentioned plans for a Pride celebration). By the way, Latoya was almost unrecognizable in her full “Pride” costume! Part One of AMG’s series is here: http://www.antillean.org/emancipendence-and-pride-jamaicas-first-official-lgbt-celebrations-signal-turning-tides-876/  I will just add a few of my own thoughts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#ObamaStress: Some Purely Parochial Thoughts on The Visit

#ObamaFlowers
#ObamaFlowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ObamaWelcome on airport road.

#ObamaWelcome on airport road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ObamaFlowers

#ObamaFlowers

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, I am waiting to exhale come Friday morning!

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

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

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

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

jduk_nht

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)