We are into the Lenten season now (for those who are of religious persuasion) and the pre-Carnival season (for the hedonists among us), with weekly soca sessions in . It’s an odd combination, isn’t it? The timing of Jamaica’s Carnival, a foreign import that started in the late 1980s, is from a religious point of view illogical. But no worries! Fun is fun, any time of the year!
Hi recession, we’re back! As some Jamaicans prepare for another round of jollification, the economy is faltering. We are back in recession after two consecutive quarters of negative growth (a contraction of 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2014). There were high remittance flows (yes, it was Christmas) and good tourism inflows (yes, peak tourism season). There still seems to be a lack of growth strategy. I am not seeing or hearing about it. Are you?
…AND we passed our seventh IMF test: Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave us another pat on the back, noting: “The Government of Jamaica’s resolute implementation of its economic program, centered on strengthening the foundation for growth and employment, is starting to yield tangible dividends. There is significant improvement in business and consumer confidence, which reached a two-year peak in September-December 2014.” The IMF added that Jamaica’s fiscal discipline is “impressive by international standards.” You can read their press release here, which gives an overview: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr1574.htm Tax revenue targets were missed, and tax reform is firmly on the agenda. No mention of public sector wages, etc. That remains to be seen.
What’s happening with agriculture? Since the sad passing of Roger Clarke, we only have half an agriculture minister. The sector declined by eleven per cent compared to the last quarter of 2013. Is anybody worried? Is this because of the drought, or what other factors?
Political suicide? And I repeat: I believe Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ credibility is now so low, he might as well resign. I am even more convinced of this, now. I am sorry. I had great hopes for him (he was the youngest Member of Parliament in 1997 and youngest Prime Minister in 2012, and is still only 42 years old). Holness’ secretive plan to have Senators sign undated resignation letters was his first huge unforced error. What terribly poor judgment on his part (and Senator Arthur Williams’ – he helped craft the letters). Now Holness has taken another step down the road of what some think could be political suicide. Immediately fter humbly apologizing in church over the weekend, he astounded us all by announcing he was going to appeal the recent ruling of the Constitutional Court that his actions were “inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful, and accordingly null and void.” The Opposition Leader appeared on television, telling us all: “I am assembling my legal team..” Well done, Mr. Holness. You have now shot yourself in both feet. You have reduced your ambitions of becoming prime minister again down to almost zero; but worse, you have let us all down. Badly.
So, while the legal team prepare to earn more money… Are he and his Opposition Spokespersons focusing on the many pressing concerns affecting our island? In his efforts to prove that he is “right” (which remains to be seen) the affairs of the State are being neglected. Now I hear his Jamaica Labour Party colleagues have been instructed not to talk to the press on the matter. This is one of those “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” situations.
Much applause: Parliament finally passed the Bill to amend The Dangerous Drugs Act, which was amended in The Senate earlier this month. The Bill decriminalizes small quantities (up to two ounces) of marijuana for personal use and will permit the use of hemp for manufacturing purposes. It also allows for the use of marijuana for religious, therapeutic and medical purposes. National Security Minister Peter Bunting warned those dreaming of waving fields of ganja plants and valuable exports of large quantities of the weed that they must think again. Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck (who seems to have lost the plot) wants kiosks selling marijuana in our tourist resorts, and the renegotiation of international treaties. Sigh.
The pain that won’t go away: I recently had the flu. For the last couple of days I started to feel joint pains. My toes, my knee, my knuckles. What was this? Why, it was chik v (the chikungunya virus) just reminding me that it is still there, in my system, nearly five months after I first contracted it. This week the Caribbean Public Health Agency is meeting to discuss chik v and its implications. Discussing a “communications strategy” (albeit after the fact) seems like a good idea. We were bewildered – infuriated – by the nonsensical under-reporting and lack of accurate information from the Ministry of Health, while suffering real pain; many Jamaicans were fearful, especially our seniors and those with small children. We all know of severe reactions to the virus among friends, acquaintances – and family. It now transpires that some twenty Jamaicans with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and other chronic ailments may have died as a direct result of contracting chik v, which worsened their condition. And the number of cases in Jamaica is greatly under-reported by the Pan American Health Organization – which has reported zero deaths on the island. Will you ever come clean, Minister Ferguson? I guess this is our “transparent” government at work, again.
An item in the Sunday Observer, which I found instructive this week (and less sensational than their usual fare): The National Housing Trust (NHT) is apparently stalling on providing the minutes of its board meetings for the past three years. The newspaper requested this on November 24, 2014 under the Access to Information Act – but nothing, yet. Isn’t this a straight-forward request? On the subject of the NHT, what is the latest on the status of the Outameni transaction?
Government transparency remains a huge issue. Needless to say we are still in the dark over the planned megaport that will destroy a protected area. Now, ironically, a parliamentary committee is to consider regulating non-governmental organizations and civil society groups; submissions from the public have already closed (did anyone know about that?) but it’s not clear when the committee will start reviewing the matter raised in a Private Members Motion filed in 2013 by government member Raymond Pryce. The motion called on Parliament to consider legislation “to protect democracy” from any damage by these sinister groups, “as could be caused by unknown or tainted sources of funds or hidden agendas.” Hmm. How about political parties disclosing their sources of funds – let alone hidden agendas? Can we have access to the parties’ certified and audited financial statements, please?
This administration seems worried about the growing influence of civil society, especially in light of the weak Opposition. Let me remind you, Mr. and Ms. Politician: Civil society consists of Jamaican people – the Jamaican people who elected you to serve them.
The awesomeness of wind: Years ago, when the state-owned Wigton Windfarm was just getting off the ground, I visited that hilltop and was awestruck by the huge, powerful turbines turning in the strong breeze. Now the installation has grown and is actually making money! The ground-breaking for Wigton III took place last week. It is eighty per cent funded by PetroCaribe and due for completion in the next year. Then the total output of the Windfarm will be 62.7 megawatts, increasing Jamaica’s renewable energy input to the national grid by more than two per cent. And the Windfarm has made J$500 million profit in the first nine months of the financial year. This is good news, indeed.
A milestone for me! I have just written my 1,000th blog post! I can hardly believe it. I guess I just kept going; it has become a habit, and a joy for me (and hopefully for my readers). Working towards the 2,000th now…
Are you on Twitter? (If not, you should be). The National Road Safety Council has started tweeting very useful and helpful messages to raise awareness on the issue. For example, they posted these road safety tips. Last week was horrendous in terms of road fatalities; please, please be aware. And slow down!
Maximum kudos to…
The winners of the U.S. Embassy’s Martin Luther King Essay Competition, Deneve Sweeney (first prize) and Sujae Boswell, the Popular Vote winner.
The United Nations Environment Programme, Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change and all involved in the Caribbean Green Economy Conference 2015, which took place this week, attended by specialists from across the Caribbean. Two days packed with information!
Environmental researchers from the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who presented the results of their survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including around Goat Islands) this week. The research was funded by the Waitt Foundation with support from the Jamaica Environment Trust. Important work.
I am very sad to hear of the deaths of these Jamaican citizens, who have been murdered in the past few days. My heart goes out to the families:
Oneil Thorpe, 35, Riverton City, Kingston (killed by police)
Richard Hutchinson, 37, Delacree Park, Kingston (killed by police)
“Manny,” Maverley, Kingston (the alleged “don”)
Two unidentified men, Diamond Avenue, Kingston 11
Lincoln Crossdale, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Ombretta Jackson, 18, Negril, Westmoreland
Dwight Graham, 44, Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester
Mario Kenyan, 30, Montego Bay, St. James
Unidentified man, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Jamar Robinson, Ocho Rios, St. Ann
Phillip Green, 34, Trelawny