This will be my last news post before Christmas. You can expect another one after I have recovered from the surfeit of food and drink that is yet to come. I am looking forward to Boxing Day and to those empty few days drifting up to New Year, when I can collect my thoughts, make pointless resolutions to do better, etc.
In my last update, I omitted to mention the most important non-event of the month: the December 16 meeting of the Partnership for Jamaica, chaired by the Prime Minister. Shall we leave it at that? Status quo firmly anchored in place…
Now local media are indulging in the inevitable end-of-year roundups. Broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson Miller has listed her Top Five Stories of the Year, in ascending order: #5 The firing of Professor Brendan Bain by the University of the West Indies over his remarks in a Belize court on decriminalizing buggery; #4 The summer-long drought and water shortages; #3 Government’s decision to reform marijuana laws; #2 The killing of Mario Deane in custody; #1 Yes – it had to be chikungunya! Do you agree with Dionne’s choices? Personally, I do not believe the NHT/Outameni issue has been laid to rest. A new board will be appointed in April. And there are many related issues that may well resurface.
Radio talk show host Cliff Hughes also did a quick poll yesterday on the three best- and worst-performing government Ministers this year. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites (although with a “basket to carry water”) came out pretty well, as did Justice Minister Mark Golding and Finance Minister Peter Phillips (who must get credit for his unswerving focus on passing International Monetary Fund tests, if nothing else. Go to the top of the class, Minister).
I would add National Security Minister Peter Bunting. There has been a steady decline in murders (albeit numbers are still too high), a new Police Commissioner who seems to have his head screwed on right so far, and a precipitous drop in police killings. The police seem to be making real dents in the lotto scam, and prosecuting people. And astonishingly police officers have been charged and at least one even convicted of murder! The community outreach efforts continue (Unite for Change). There are real results Minister Bunting can point to. Speaking of INDECOM, the Police Federation still has a beef with them; they want the Government to set up an “oversight body” to monitor the way they do their job. And who will oversee the oversight body? A meeting with the Justice Minister has been postponed until after Christmas. I am sure Minister Golding will be fair and measured in dealing with this matter.
As for the worst performers: I would say Minister Fenton Ferguson for his mishandling of the chikungunya epidemic, Minister Omar Davies for a disgraceful lack of transparency on the Goat Islands issue and Minister Derrick Kellier for doing pretty much nothing as far as I can see (and now he has two ministries!) Worst of all, I am afraid, would be the Prime Minister. Any pretense at leadership, transparency, decisiveness, connecting with the Jamaican people (apart from her party supporters), holding ministers to account etc. has all gone out of the window. It’s tragic. I so wish it were not so.
Fuel prices down…far enough? There is a bit of a war of words over whether the price of gasoline at the pumps has come down sufficiently considering the drop in global oil prices. The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica’s (PSOJ) new head William Mahfood says the state-owned Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (Petrojam) has not passed on price reductions over the January-November period, according to PSOJ research. Petrojam says its prices are not related to crude oil prices but to foreign currency fluctuations andUS Gulf Coast Reference prices.
A white elephant in the making? I wonder what is the average daily use of the twenty-kilometer stretch of the North-South Highway from Linstead to Moneague, launched with much fanfare in August. Perhaps someone could ask Mr. Zhongdong Tang, General Manager of the Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited whether he thinks the investors, the Chinese government-owned China Communications Construction Company (parent of China Harbour Engineering Company, which built the road) will recoup their money from tolls any time soon. J$1000 seems a heck of a toll for a large truck to drive twenty kilometers. Are trucks using it? Private cars? Tourist transportation? I would love to know. Are any of our beautiful and expensive highways – the key to development, we are told – well used?
Mixed economic news has emerged recently:
- The Government is delighted by a Forbes Magazine report listing Jamaica as third in the Latin America/Caribbean region, after Costa Rica and Mexico, for doing business. They seem to have based their report on other global reports in which Jamaica came off well. Forbes lists Jamaica as 64th out of 146 countries surveyed, which doesn’t say a lot for the region really. But it is a bit of good news to hang on to. Here is the report: http://www.forbes.com/best-countries-for-business/list/
- Yay! Jamaica passed its sixth IMF test. The Executive Summary of the IMF’s Sixth Review, Jamaica’s fiscal performance is“on track” (we have checked all the boxes diligently) and “economic activity is slowly picking up.” But “risks to the program remain high,” the future of PetroCaribe was mentioned as a worrying factor and the “social consensus for pushing ahead with reforms may be difficult to sustain.” You bet it will be. The government wage bill was also mentioned – yes, the teachers are starting to make noises and the Government made it clear in October that there will not be a 2015/17 wage freeze. The Sixth Review can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2014/cr14359.pdf
- Meanwhile, Nestlé Jamaica has decided to cease manufacturing the much-loved drink Milo here in Jamaica; it’s cheaper for them to manufacture it in Malaysia (so far away!) and ship it in. So there are redundancies just before Christmas, including 215 workers laid off at the Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (owned by the Chinese) who operate the formerly state-owned estate at Bernard Lodge. What is going on there? Which company is to take over management? Why is the company planning to evict some fifty families, who have lived on the estate for many years? Where are the trade unions?
Back on the plus side, mining operations at the Alpart bauxite/alumina plant in Nain, St. Elizabeth are to resume next month (at what level, one wonders?) The refinery will officially re-open in December, 2016. If you recall, I noted in July that Mining and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell threatened to rescind the license of UC Rusal, owners of the Nain and Kirkvine refineries, if they did not restart operations within six months. Well, five months later some kind of mining will begin at Nain; the Kirkvine refinery remains closed for now. (Opposition Spokesman Karl Samuda made another baffling statement on the topic, but let’s not bother with that).
It’s the festive season, but sadly some Jamaicans are wreaking havoc with others’ lives. My sincere condolences to all those who are mourning these young men – among them a fourteen-year-old boy…
Damion Orrett, 32, Waterford, St. Catherine
Akroy Sterling, 26, Land Top, Hanover
Jermaine Thomas, 31, Friendship, Trelawny
Demario Gayle, 14, Seaton Crescent, Westmoreland
Junior Daley, 21, Grange Hill, Westmoreland