Shooting Yourself in Both Feet, The Power of Wind – And Yes, We Still Have Chik V Pains: Thursday, February 26, 2015

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!

Looking a tad gloomy: James Stewart (left) director, Economic Planning, Research and Policy Logistics Division at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ); Collin Bullock, director general; and Richard Lumsden, deputy director General, Economic, Planning and Policy Ligistics Division at the PIOJ, at the quarterly press briefing.

Looking a tad gloomy: James Stewart (left) director, Economic Planning, Research and Policy Logistics Division at the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ); Collin Bullock, director general; and Richard Lumsden, deputy director General, Economic, Planning and Policy Ligistics Division at the PIOJ, at the press briefing.

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?

Students on the farm at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, Portland. (Photo: Gleaner)

Students on the farm at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education, Portland. (Photo: Gleaner)

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.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness: Is he lacking maturity, ill-advised, or totally lacking in judgement?

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness: Is he lacking maturity, poorly advised, or totally lacking in judgement?

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.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting.  (Photo: Gleaner)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

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 aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread dengue and "Chik V" fevers were once restricted to tropical and sub-tropical climes but can now be found almost everywhere. There have been cases of "Chik V" in Texas and Florida.

The aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread dengue and “Chik V” fevers were once restricted to tropical and sub-tropical climes but can now be found almost everywhere. There have been cases of “Chik V” in Texas and Florida. Touch wood, we haven’t seen any in our home recently.

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?

MP Raymond Pryce

MP Raymond Pryce (standing) wants civil society groups to be accountable and transparent. I hope that his party, and the Jamaica Labour Party, will do likewise. (Gleaner photo)

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 success and expansion of the Wigton Windfarm is positive news.

The success and expansion of the Wigton Windfarm is positive news.

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.

Do you know this building? It is the Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre, built in honor of the late Hugo Chavez' favorite Venezuelan, Simon Bolivar, who stayed for a while in Kingston in 1815. The Government has reportedly set aside J$34 million for its operation this year. It is not yet open to the public.

Do you know this building? It is the Simon Bolivar Cultural Centre, built in honor of the late Hugo Chavez’ favorite Venezuelan, Simon Bolivar, who stayed for a while in Kingston in 1815. The Government has reportedly set aside J$34 million for its operation this year. It is not yet open to the public.

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!

National Road Safety Council - tips.

National Road Safety Council – tips.

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.

MLK Jr. Essay grand prize winner, Deneve Sweeney of Wolmer's Girls' School in Kingston, receives her gifts from Ambassaor Luis G. Moreno

MLK Jr. Essay grand prize winner, Deneve Sweeney of Wolmer’s Girls’ School in Kingston, receives her gifts from Ambassaor Luis G. Moreno. She won an iPad and books for the school library.

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

Hats or Not, Masks or Not, and Santoya’s Tragedy: Saturday, February 21, 2015

It’s been an interesting week. Rain has fallen. There was a holiday in the middle of it (Ash Wednesday) when we took a little pause. The weather remains “cool” by Jamaican standards, and we can’t complain.

Where are the hats? Come on, now! The Prime Minister leads her parliamentarians down the road. Good exercise for some of them, anyway. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Where are the hats? Come on, now! The Prime Minister leads her parliamentarians down the road. Good exercise for some of them, anyway. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Parliament officially reopened yesterday. The annual colonial-era parade of the two parties striding down Duke Street, while their little groups of die-hard supporters cheer and shout slogans and “dissed” each other. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters were especially vociferous this year, mobbing their somewhat beleaguered leader Andrew Holness. The People’s National Party (PNP) followers were contemptuous: “Dem nuh have nuh leader,” said one. Women parliamentarians usually dress to the nines in snazzy outfits, but there were very few fancy hats this year. The Governor General read out a speech (the so-called Throne Speech) handed to him by the politicians. He has a nice voice. Opposition Leader Andrew Holness gave a short critique of the speech to a TV reporter; quite respectful and balanced. When asked for a response, Prime Minister Simpson Miller once again disappointed with her angry  and disrespectful tone. Don’t take any notice of what Holness says, she retorted; he never has anything positive to say (in fact he did say one or two positive things). The PM said something about the Opposition’s “head gone somewhere else.” I didn’t get that. But the overall impression was coarse and aggressive.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant, addresses the 2015 staging of the Hague Agriculture and Livestock show in Falmouth, Trelawny on Wednesday, February 18. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

This hat doesn’t appeal to me. President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, Senator Norman Grant, addresses the 2015 staging of the Hague Agriculture and Livestock show in Falmouth, Trelawny on February 18. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

But here’s a hat: It is traditional at agricultural shows that officials wear a ridiculous hat. The late Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke had a full range of them. It is supposed to show that you are at one with those who till the soil. I have never seen a farmer wearing one like this Senator, however…

Hooray! An elevator that works! Minister Ferguson is gratified. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Hooray! An elevator that works! Minister Ferguson is gratified. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

An elevator is actually working! With much joy and ceremony, Health Minister Fenton Ferguson unveiled (?) or rather re-energized an elevator at Kingston Public Hospital. The complete lack of functioning elevators had resulted in many surgical operations being postponed over the past seven months, because patients could actually not physically reach the operating theater. But guess what? There are still at least two other elevators not working…as yet.

Board Chairman for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Andrei Cooke (2nd right); applauds the official opening of a telemedicine centre on February 19 at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Also participating in the opening are: Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Robert Ready (right); Wayne and Nigela Purboo (centre) of Quick Play Media; Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank Group, Jacqueline Sharp (left); and Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Board Chairman for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Dr. Andrei Cooke (2nd right); applauds the official opening of a telemedicine centre on February 19 at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston. Also participating are: Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, His Excellency Robert Ready (right); Wayne and Nigela Purboo (centre) of Quick Play Media; Chief Executive Officer, Scotiabank Group, Jacqueline Sharp (left); and Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

No doubt, our public health facilities are stretched to the limit, with persistent stories of supplies running out and equipment not working. I wrote about this (and possible solutions) recently in my Gleaner Online blog here: http://blogs.jamaica-gleaner.com/socialimpact/?p=2511 One solution is, of course, more private sector support and Scotiabank along with Sick Kids International and Quick Play Media opened a telemedicine center at the Bustamante Hospital for Children this week. Great!

Kelly Tomblin, President and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kelly Tomblin, President and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company. (Photo: Gleaner)

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) did not have a good week. Again. Ms. Tomblin’s stoicism in the face of apparent adversity is quite admirable. Last Monday the Office of Utilities Regulation directed JPS to repay over J$973 million to customers, noting that it was unilaterally imposed as foreign exchange adjustments on fuel supplied by Petrojam Limited from March to December 2013. Customers should receive their full refunds by mid-August. It’s not clear whether JPS will appeal.

There is a campaign to make sure Jamaican children are up to date with their measles vaccinations, in light of reports and controversy in the United States. I had measles as a young child, and was very ill for weeks. It is “no joke ting” and causes thousands of death worldwide every year. I happen to know that some Jamaicans, too, refuse to have their children vaccinated. In my view, this is selfish and grossly unfair.

The 6th Biennial Diaspora Conference (June 13 – 18 in Montego Bay) was launched with a flourish on Friday. The theme is “Jamaica and the Diaspora: Linking for Growth and Prosperity.” Did any growth and prosperity come out of the 5th Conference? I would love to know the concrete results coming out of it. A list of them?

Industrial relations looking shaky: As I had mentioned in earlier blogs, the specter of public sector cuts looms large just behind Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ shoulder. I shouldn’t think he is very comfortable. The agreement with unions representing public sector workers (essentially a wage freeze) expires on March 31, and after that one is not clear what will happen. There are rumblings from various quarters.

Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington gives evidence at the Commission of Enquiry. (photo: Gleaner)

Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington gives evidence at the Commission of Enquiry. (photo: Gleaner)

The Tivoli Commission of Enquiry has taken a break until April 8. Today, former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington trotted out those stories we have heard several times before: the “don” of Tivoli Gardens, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, “escaped” from the area via “tunnels” (what/where were these tunnels, exactly? Were they drains or gullies?) It is with a wearying sense of déjà vu that I listened to the former Commissioner repeating that 300 “criminals” had gathered in the community, etc, etc. (Where did they all go?) He also said 75 per cent of police weapons tested showed they had not been used to kill anyone (what about the remaining 25 per cent?); the guns were returned to service.  Ellington said that subsequent to the event, 115 guns were found; I understand they were not found in Tivoli itself (and nor was Dudus, of course; was he ever there, at all?)  No police wore masks, said Ellington, who also denied a suggestion that any of the guns recovered came from an alleged stockpile of police guns.

Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

Women and soldiers in Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

Earlier in the week, Former Attorney General/Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne responded to a number of questions in an exasperated tone, her voice raised higher. The déjà vu feeling was even stronger; Ms. Lightbourne had testified at the Enquiry into the Manatt débacle just four years ago that she did not know how to send an email. Her secretary sent them for her. This time, she told us all that she does not watch the news or read the newspapers. Because it’s too depressing, she added, going on to tell us, quite cheerfully, that she does keep up with the international news. So the horrors of ISIS, Syria, Ukraine and so on are not as depressing as Jamaica? I feel a headache coming on…

Ms. Lightbourne is not the only one: Last week former Prime Minister Bruce Golding said he did not follow local news. And some time last year our current PM Portia Simpson Miller retorted during an interview that she did not watch the news, either. Rather worrying, I think.

Documents are important: Human rights activist Susan Goffe pointed in a Gleaner column to the importance of documents being available to support the questioning of witnesses. The Public Defender’s office has requested quite a few, and most are…unavailable. How did this happen? There is an issue regarding the original document containing the security forces’ operational plans. And surely a crucial issue in the entire enquiry is how was this all planned?

Mayor George Lee of Portmore

Mayor George Lee of Portmore died in September, 2013. No election has taken place for his replacement.

Puzzling Portmore: Months ago I asked what is happening in Portmore (a dormitory town with a population of around 300,000) the only municipality with a directly elected Mayor. Now, the People’s National Party (PNP) Mayor of Portmore George Lee died in office on September 29, 2013.  Since then, there has been no election, and an “acting” PNP Mayor took over. He should have stepped down and an election held by the end of April, 2014, I understand. However, the local PNP Member of Parliament said we might as well wait until local government elections, which are due to be announced soon. The Portmore Citizens’ Advisory Council has not existed since February 10, 2014 and is still to be reconstituted, according to Howard Hamilton, a local resident. Meanwhile the Electoral Office of Jamaica is conducting an exercise to expand the boundaries. Wow. Democracy in action!

Corruption convictions: Two police constables were convicted for soliciting and accepting a bribe from a motorist and are now awaiting sentencing. It has been all of six years since the case first came up… Too long.

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), discusses plans to upgrade the Old Harbour Bay Beach with Member of Parliament for South Western St Catherine, Everald Warmington (right), and Mayor of Spanish Town, Councillor Norman Scott.  (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), discusses plans to upgrade the Old Harbour Bay Beach with Member of Parliament for South Western St Catherine, Everald Warmington (right), and Mayor of Spanish Town, Councillor Norman Scott. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Just curious: While controversy surrounds the possible creation of an offshore breakwater of boulders in Negril, and opposition is growing to the destruction of Old Harbour Bay and its environs, including Goat Islands, our Minister of Tourism is busy visiting both locations. Negril is getting a pedestrian and bicycle lane, which might help. As for Old Harbour, Minister McNeill was seen on Old Harbour Bay Beach discussing its “multi million dollar” rehabilitation. He stressed recently at the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” launch that he was keen to see more beaches fixed up and accessible to the Jamaican public (that will be the day). Is there something I am missing here, though? I thought Old Harbour Bay was slated for destruction at the hands of the Chinese?

Wonderful stuff! … from two Jamaicans in the United States:

Tanya Chutkan.

Tanya Chutkan.

Jamaican Tanya Chutkan was sworn in as a judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia on February 6. Born in Kingston, she received an Economics degree at George Washington University and a degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She worked for a number of years in the DC Public Defender’s Office.

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

Kingston-born Dr Chad R. Ritch has joined the faculty at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in the UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Dr. Ritch, a graduate of Duke University and University of Chicago, specializes in urologic oncology.

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A few years ago in Mandeville I met a bright and energetic young woman, Lanisia Rhoden, who had just founded a mentorship group called Young Women O Purpose. It is now Young Women and Men of Purpose. The group obtained funding from the Nairobi-based UN Habitat Urban Youth Fund and with support from Mandeville Mayor Brenda Ramsay, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and the Youth Information Centre organized a successful entrepreneurship training and mentoring program. Congratulations, Lanisia and Project Manager Shamoy Hajare!

A tragedy: A 37-year-old businessman who turned himself in for the murder of teenager Santoya Campbell in Westmoreland last month was convicted and sentenced to life in prison this week. The student of Frome Technical High School was pregnant when she was killed, a post mortem revealed. Her mother had arranged for the man, who had known the family for years, to pay for her lunch, following which he began a sexual relationship with her. This situation is not uncommon and this terrible tragedy points to a number of major social issues. At the heart of it is poverty and the vulnerability of our young girls to trafficking, of all kinds, even by their own families. My sympathies to all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones at this time. They are not statistics; they are people.

Mark Smellie, 37, Deanery Road, Kingston

Everton Wilson, 62, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Junior Bailey, 48, Wagonwheel District, St. James

Unidentified man, Greenvale, Trelawny

Jermaine Bartley, 29, Wakefield, Trelawny

Javar George, 21, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas

Santoya Campbell's body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bridge in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland on January 27. A 37-year-old businessman confessed to her murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment this week.

Fourteen year-old Santoya Campbell’s body was found wrapped in garbage bags under a bridge in Shrewsbury, Westmoreland on January 27. A 37-year-old businessman confessed to her murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment this week.

SMH! The Panty Tree, Half-Senators and Saying Goodbye: Monday, February 16, 2015

The past few days have been “smh” days. As you probably know, dear readers, “smh” means “shake my head” in social media parlance. The accompanying emoticons might vary from that baffled one with mouth open to the one with tears flowing copiously. This would apply to both local and overseas news.

One part of the Panty Tree at Chancellor Hall, a male hall of residence. I understand the students steal girls' underwear and hang it there to humiliate them. There is also a prize at the hall for the resident who has slept with the most women during the academic year. How inspiring! (Photo: Twitter)

One part of the Panty Tree at Chancellor Hall, a male hall of residence. I understand the students steal girls’ underwear and hang it there to humiliate them. There is also a prize at the hall for the resident who has slept with the most women during the academic year. How inspiring! (Photo: Twitter)

#SpeakUpUWI: There has been growing anger over the heads-in-the-sand attitude of the administration of the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Mona campus regarding the sexual harassment of female students (who make up 70% of the population). While UWI officials were busy denying that it was actually a problem in any way at all – or, at least, only a small problem – two female students were attacked (stones were thrown at them) by male students of Chancellor Hall last Tuesday. One student suffered serious head injuries. Other male students and a security guard nearby reportedly did nothing to help. One alleged attacker has had his bail extended and will return to court on April 7. The President of the Guild of Students is permanently located at this hall; does the Guild not expect to have a female head any time soon? The current President issued a somewhat belated and (to my mind) wishy-washy press release, commenting: “We do leave it in the capable hands of the Law and pray that justice is served in due course.” This is also the hall where the Panty Tree stands. Yes, the Panty Tree. I learned about this for the first time last year. Is it still there or has it been hastily dismantled, I wonder? Let me know!

I have heard many instances of harassment and stalking of women students for years. Were they all reported? Perhaps not all. But for the administration to close its eyes and ears to it is an utter disgrace. It has already backfired on them. The role of the campus security also needs to be closely examined. Meanwhile, women continue to live in fear.

What a fiasco: The mess in the Upper House, created by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ ill-conceived “resignation letters,” was made worse last Friday. The session started late and did not last long. Senate President Floyd Morris decided not to allow Senators Christopher Tufton and Arthur Williams to speak at the session! Those appointed to replace them, Nigel Clarke and Ruel Reid, stayed away. Did President Morris not understand the Supreme Court opinion, or the Attorney General’s advice? It seemed pretty clear to me, and I am no lawyer – but perhaps I am missing something. Anyway, in an “abundance of caution,” it seems, the Senate President is going back to the court to get a definitive word, because apparently the Court’s view that the appointment of Messrs. Clarke and Reid’s appointments were “unconstitutional, null and void” is not clear enough. So until the Court has spoken further (how long will this take?) all four senators affected will remain in limbo. Will it be possible for the ordinary business of the Upper House to go ahead under these circumstances?

Christopher Tufton heads the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a local think tank. He was quoted in the media as saying he has no intention of being a "half-Senator." (Photo: Gleaner)

Christopher Tufton heads the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a local think tank. He was quoted in the media as saying he has no intention of being a “half-Senator.” (Photo: Gleaner)

We have Mr. Holness’ underhanded tactics to thank for this horrendous mess. The episode with the letters spoke volumes to me about the quality of his leadership. I still believe he should resign. I know this will not happen. With the many intelligent and highly able men and women in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) working hard and making good contributions (including Young Jamaica and G2K), this muddle is all the more pitiful. And deeply embarrassing for all the Opposition Senators, who should of course never have gone along with Mr. Holness’ ruse in the first place.

Floyd Green (left) shakes hands with JLP leader Andrew Holness at G2K's youth conference yesterday. (Photo: Richard Hamilton/Jamaica Observer)

Floyd Green (left) shakes hands with JLP leader Andrew Holness at G2K’s youth conference yesterday. (Photo: Richard Hamilton/Jamaica Observer)

Talking of the JLP, Floyd Green is stepping down as head of G2K (a largely effective organization, in my view) and turning to representative politics. He will be the candidate for the South West St. Elizabeth constituency in the next general election. I wish Mr. Green all the best; he is a young man with good ideas and has a vision for his party – but is not happy with the current confusion.

Member of Parliament for West Portland Daryl Vaz was acquitted of corruption charges today. (Photo: Gleaner)

Member of Parliament for West Portland Daryl Vaz was acquitted of corruption charges today. (Photo: Gleaner)

Meanwhile, two politicians were in court today: I didn’t expect much to come of either of these corruption trials. In the case of Opposition Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz, a prosecution witness (a policeman) today said he couldn’t remember anything, so was of no use. Thus Mr. Vaz was acquitted – no surprise. Last year, Mr Vaz allegedly sought to persuade a senior policeman to assist a businessman, who was stopped for a minor traffic offense and was accused of trying to bribe a police officer. The senior policeman was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice; the businessman, whose action precipitated the whole thing, was acquitted. The second, older case involves the Mayor of May Pen Sean Barnswell, who is accused of attempting to intentionally deceive the Office of the Contractor General. No word on this one.

Culture clash? I understand all is not well on some of the construction sites where Jamaicans are working for the Chinese. We still do have labor rights, here…

Spelling bee coach Rev. Glen Archer returns to Jamaica with Jodi-Anne Maxwell of Ardenne High School - the only Jamaican to have won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in the U.S. in 1998.

Spelling bee coach Rev. Glen Archer returns to Jamaica with Jodi-Anne Maxwell of Ardenne High School – the only Jamaican to have won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in the U.S. in 1998.

Sad to say goodbye: To the Rev. Glen Archer and to Annabella Proudlock – both amazingly dedicated people who contributed enormously in different fields. For Rev. Archer, it was surely hard work to persuade adolescents to endure the rigor of school quizzes and spelling bees. There must have been a lot of “carrot and stick.” A marvelous man! He had been suffering from renal failure for the past few years and undergoing dialysis. According to one report it was only when he caught the chikungunya (“chik v”) virus last December that his health took a serious turn for the worse. 

Annabella Proudlock (right) chats with broadcaster Barbara Gloudon at the opening of her own art exhibition in October, 2013.  Her own art work includes delicate collages of shells and found objects, revealing her love of nature. (Photo: Tallawah Magazine)

Annabella Proudlock (right) chats with broadcaster Barbara Gloudon at the opening of her own art exhibition in October, 2013. Her own art work includes delicate collages of shells and found objects, revealing her love of nature. (Photo: Tallawah Magazine)

Annabella came to Jamaica from England in the 1960s after a career as a fashion model (she was a beautiful woman, with a  quiet husky voice and a big smile – and beautiful on the inside, too). She worked with Operation Friendship for many years, then acquired the lovely Harmony Hall near Ocho Rios in 1980, which she helped transform into an art gallery. Harmony Hall became a center for Jamaican art over more than thirty years. It is a place of happy memories for me and my family. Annabella encouraged the little-known “Intuitives” such as Allan Zion, Ras Dizzy, Deloris Anglin, Michael Parchment and many others. Just before she died (on Valentine’s Day, after a long battle with cancer) she attended the opening of the Jamaica Biennial 2014. Her love of art (and Jamaica) remained strong. We will miss you dearly, Annabella.

Harmony Hall in St. Ann was run as an art gallery by Annabella Proudlock and her husband Peter for decades and became a key center for Jamaican art - especially the "Intuitives."

Harmony Hall in St. Ann was run as an art gallery by Annabella Proudlock and her husband Peter for decades and became a key center for Jamaican art – especially the “Intuitives.”

“Big ups” are in order:

Gregory Cook (left), co-founder and executive vice-president of doTERRA, and Neil Curtis, founder and chairman of Farm Up Jamaica. (Photo: Dave Rodney)

Gregory Cook (left), co-founder and executive vice-president of doTERRA, and Neil Curtis, founder and chairman of Farm Up Jamaica. (Photo: Dave Rodney)

To doTERRA’s Healing Hands Foundation, which has donated J$5 million to Farm Up Jamaica for improvements to an organic onion farm in New Forest, Manchester – including a solar drying facility. doTERRA is a Utah-based organization, which was involved in a successful ginger-planting project in Westmoreland last month. I like the sound of this ongoing partnership.

To the World Bank for its focus on violence prevention. I attended a fascinating videoconference last week (thanks to Gerry McDaniel for the invite!) which I will be writing about shortly.

To the Medical Association of Jamaica, currently enjoying the celebration of their fiftieth anniversary, but not resting on their laurels! Despite (and because of) the huge challenges facing our health sector, there is an important focus on private sector partnerships.

Human rights activist Susan Goffe.

Human rights activist Susan Goffe.

To human rights activist Susan Goffe, who has been diligently tweeting from the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry. Both former National Security Minister Dwight Nelson and former Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne (like the former Prime Minister Bruce Golding before them, last week) seem puzzlingly unaware of what was going on around them before, during and after the incursion of security forces into Tivoli Gardens. Mr. Nelson seems not to have received any reports from anyone about anything.  Someone must have been in charge!  As I said at the beginning…smh!

As always, there are so many deeply sad stories behind the violent deaths of these Jamaican citizens. Stephan Hanson was a student of Holmwood Technical High School, who got into a fight with another student in the town of Mandeville and was stabbed to death. My deepest sympathies to the families.

Sheldon Johnson, 36, East Street, Kingston

Unidentified man, Oak Glades complex, St. Andrew

Marvin McLeary, 30, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Oma Johnson, 59, Thompson Pen, St. Catherine

Harold Stewart, 54, Peterkin District, Clarendon

Oral Morse, 34, Rosewell, Clarendon

Stephan Hanson, 16, Mandeville, Manchester

Demario Pryce, 18, Cold Spring, Hanover

Oral Morse ("Eddie), a deaf-mute man, was shot dead when gunmen went on a rampage in a bar in Rosewell, Clarendon on Friday night. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Oral Morse (“Eddie), a deaf-mute man, was shot dead when gunmen went on a rampage in a bar in Rosewell, Clarendon on Friday night. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Internal Affairs, Too Many Lawyers and Tangible Intangibles: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Two long-winded but very important issues have dominated the news. Firstly there is the confusing muddle that Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has put himself into over the Senate resignation letters. Secondly, the Commission of Enquiry into the incursion by security forces in Tivoli Gardens re-started this week. And thirdly – oh yes – there is a third thing – the so-called plot to kill Mr. Holness, which the police now say was “fabricated.”

Andrew Holness, Leader of the Opposition, seems to have exhibited poor judgment. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Andrew Holness, Leader of the Opposition, seems to have exhibited poor judgment. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Twists and turns: The media have been chewing over the conundrum of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) senators and the undated letters they signed for days now. Every commentator, politician, journalist or lawyer has an opinion on it. We have all turned into constitutional experts. Last night, JLP Members of Parliament met to discuss the issue. Delroy Chuck (the Opposition Spokesman on Justice, ironically) did not attend the meeting he himself had called for on Sunday in an email to Leader of Opposition Business Derrick Smith. In that email Mr. Chuck said Holness should resign in the wake of the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the letters were unconstitutional. I agree. But we know it is not going to happen, especially after those who attended Tuesday night’s meeting came out expressing their “full support” for their leader. It seems a mere breach of constitutional principles is not enough to make our political leaders step down. I am sure it would have been the same if Portia Simpson Miller had done such a thing; it’s not at all easy in Jamaica to get one’s party leader fired. Both parties are stuck with them.

The Jamaica Labour Party's Senator Arthur Williams, another of the ubiquitous lawyers in Parliament. Which begs the question… Oh well, never mind. I won't go there.

The Jamaica Labour Party’s Senator Arthur Williams, another of the ubiquitous lawyers in Parliament. Which begs the question… Oh well, never mind. I won’t go there.

Now what will happen to the two Senators who got caught out by signing their own resignation letters (how dumb is that) – and to the two who then replaced them, whose appointments must surely be void? One of the Ousted Ones (Arthur Williams) says he plans to attend Senate on Friday. The Attorney General says he will advise Senate President Floyd Morris on how to proceed tomorrow. What silliness this is. It not only reduces Holness’ credibility, but every single JLP parliamentarian’s too.

“Internal affairs”: Now JLP General Secretary Horace Chang says the party’s “issues” will be dealt with “internally.” I suppose he feels too much dirty linen has been aired. But no, Dr. Chang. These issues affect Jamaica, and Jamaicans. And there is something called “transparency.”

Then Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for West Kingston Bruce Golding visits one of the houses destroyed by fire in Tivoli Gardens during the assault on the area by security forces in May, 2010. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Then Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for West Kingston Bruce Golding visits one of the houses destroyed by fire in Tivoli Gardens during the assault on the area by security forces in May, 2010. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Words, words, words… Lawyers are getting dramatic at the Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens incursion. Frankly, I am becoming so very tired of lawyers pontificating all over the local media – whether it’s their efforts to “up the ante” at the Commission of Enquiry or their views on the JLP débacle – or anything to do with politics. And most of our politicians are lawyers, too! Can’t get away from them! At the Enquiry, Mr. Bruce Golding, who presided over the massacre as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, has been testifying all week so far. In terms of credibility, for me personally the former Prime Minister’s flew out of the window five years ago, and my skepticism remains healthy. But I agree with him (and Commissioner Sir David Simmons, who is doing a good job so far in my view) that the Enquiry cannot conclude without reference to complete ballistics reports. Sir David says he is willing to postpone the Enquiry if necessary to ensure that the reports are received and considered. Otherwise justice will not be done.

The plot that…wasn’t? Sections of the media were very excited about an alleged plot to kill Andrew Holness and Horace Chang. I expressed cynicism about this in an earlier post, suppressing a mental “yawn” at this dramatic “news.” Now, the police say the plot was “fabricated” and have arrested an unemployed man of no fixed address for creating public mischief.  But…but. Was he a lone wolf or did someone put him up to it? Will we ever know?

Greg Christie, former Contractor General.  (Photo: Gleaner)

Greg Christie, former Contractor General. (Photo: Gleaner)

An anti-corruption Minister: Former Contractor General Greg Christie had (in March 2014) publicly recommended an Anti-Corruption Minister in the Cabinet. Now the new Greek government has appointed one – with a particular focus on fighting tax evasion. Interesting, as Private Sector Organization of Jamaica President William Mahfood just today reiterated his organization’s concern about this very topic, warning that he would continue to keep up the pressure on this issue.

Speaking of corruption, do please “like” the Facebook page of National Integrity Action Limited, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization aimed at combating corruption in Jamaica through education, encouraging anti-corruption vigilance and activism, and through lobbying the government to enforce anti-corruption laws.” NIA is well worth supporting.

Remember the Ebola scare? Well, the Nigerian man who claims a doctor at Mandeville Regional Hospital told him, staff and patients that he probably had Ebola – causing total panic – is now suing the hospital and the Southern Regional Health Authority. He is claiming damages for false imprisonment, defamation, unlawful disclosure of patient information, and breaches of his constitutional right to privacy. He might have a case.

Sean Latty returns to Digicel as Chief Operating Officer in charge of mobile. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Sean Latty returns to Digicel as Chief Operating Officer in charge of mobile. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Bounceback: You will recall my post about the telecoms merger between Columbus Communications (Flow) and LIME (Cable and Wireless), which was recently approved. Now interestingly this week, Sean Latty – who had been Managing Director of Flow for only six months – has resigned and returned to Digicel, from whence he came and where he had served for twelve years. Not sure if we can read too much into this, but maybe he didn’t like the merger.

Young Grammy winner Sam Smith got the heavy hand of the TVJ censor on Sunday evening. How dare he mention his former male partner? (Photo: WireImage)

Young Grammy winner Sam Smith got the heavy hand of the TVJ censor on Sunday evening. How dare he mention his former male partner in a speech? (Photo: WireImage)

Silly censorship: On Sunday evening, many of my “tweeps” gathered round their television sets to watch the Grammy Awards show (which goes on for hours). A local television station had bought the rights to it. There was irritation at the interruption of the program for the lotto draw. And downright disgust when the TV station decided to censor Sam Smith’s thank you speech, in which he said his former partner inspired him to write his winning break-up, I’m-so-lonely song, which we all love. Did Mr. Smith use a string of obscenities or hate speech? Er, no. He just had a male partner. That was enough. This kind of nonsense is really a joke. We are all grown-ups. Yes, gays do exist, TVJ. Get over it. Meanwhile both local stations are happy to show us scenes of violence, child abuse, rape and murder etc. Double standards!

Executive Director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs Faith Webster.

Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs Faith Webster.

Update: Remember that almost a year ago Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs Faith Webster was indicted for “irregularities” following an internal audit? Ms. Webster’s court case comes up next Monday, February 16. I hope this can be resolved, fairly. Ms. Webster claims she was never allowed the opportunity to defend herself against allegations, and took legal action. Allison McLean, a director in the Office of the Prime Minister, has been supervising the office.

An exhibit of "intangible" items at the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica. (Photo: Ministry of Youth and Culture)

An exhibit of “intangible” items at the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica. (Photo: Ministry of Youth and Culture)

How can you have an exhibit of “intangible” things? I am not sure, but the Minister of Youth and Culture happily visited an Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition recently, which included some very tangible-looking drums, basketry and Rastafarian flags. Can someone explain?

 

Actually, JAWS is one of my favorite movies. But this is a different JAWS!

Actually, JAWS is one of my favorite movies. But this is a different JAWS!

Muchos kudos to Tanya Batson-Savage and the Jamaica Writers Society (with the somewhat scary acronym JAWS) which has relaunched the Lignum Vitae Writing Awards with the support of the Jamaica Copyright Licensing Authority (JAMCOPY). More on this anon.

Sandals Foundation and residents clean up a beach in St. Ann. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Sandals Foundation and residents clean up a beach in St. Ann. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Sandals Foundation, who collected over 100 bags of garbage from Fisherman’s Beach in St. Ann in support of the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” campaign spearheaded by the Jamaica Environment Trust and the Tourism Enhancement Fund. Fantastic effort! I hope now the fishermen and residents will keep that beach clean themselves!

And to the anti-lotto scam police, who are really making inroads into this activity, which has been going on for years and has caused much grief and hardship. They are armed now with stronger legislation and efforts are paying off.

Ending with a couple of interesting things happening this coming Sunday, February 15. One is in Kingston, the other in Montego Bay…

The thought-provoking Dr. Cooper at Mary Seacole Hall, University of the West Indies, Mona at

The thought-provoking Dr. Cooper at Mary Seacole Hall, University of the West Indies, Mona at 4 pm.

"The First Rasta" film and discussion at I&I Livity Museum, Montego River Gardens, Porto Bello, St. James. (1 pm)

“The First Rasta” film and discussion at I&I Livity Museum, Montego River Gardens, Porto Bello, St. James. (1 pm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following Jamaicans have lost their lives in the past few days. My deepest sympathies to their grieving families. There is too much hurt.

Aleris Ramieres Acosta, Seaview Gardens, Kingston (Cuban national)

Gary Dawkins, 42, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Alton Lampart, 46, May Pen, Clarendon

Bertram Fagan, 37, Chapelton, Clarendon

Anthony Nugent, 44, Barham, Westmoreland

Oshane Miller, Barham, Westmoreland

Jowayne Palmer, 22, Pitfour, St. James

Junior Rodney, 22, Steer Town, St. Ann

Christopher Gardner, 31, Nine Miles/Bull Bay, St. Thomas

Alton Lampart was about to leave for work at Jamalco, when a lone gunman walked up and shot him and then ran. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Alton Lampart was about to leave for work at Jamalco, when a lone gunman walked up and shot him and then ran. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Marley Celebrated, Women Abused, Opposition Embarrassed: Friday, February 6, 2015

Jamaica is supposed to be celebrating Bob Marley’s seventieth birthday today. Marley is getting plenty of “blessings,” as Kingston is drenched in rain. Oh – I would also like to sincerely wish media entrepreneur Tyrone Wilson a happy birthday, too! Tomorrow evening there will be a concert with some Marley sons (I am not sure which – there are quite a few to choose from) and others, at the downtown Kingston waterfront. And yet another Marley statue… My favorite is still the Christopher Gonzalez one that was shipped off to Ocho Rios because no one liked it. It’s the only one that portrays Marley’s spirit. I think we have enough Marley statues now, perhaps?

A new Marley statue to be set up in the Culture Yard on First Street. The old one will go up in the scruffy football field next to Trench Town Reading Centre, where Marley used to play. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Gleaner)

A new Marley statue to be set up in the Culture Yard on First Street. The old one will go up in the scruffy football field (the so-called Vin Lawrence Park) next to Trench Town Reading Centre, where Marley used to play. (Photo: Garfield Robinson/Gleaner)

Women under siege… I’m tired of this nonsense now. Here are just four very recent examples of the disrespect (and far worse) meted out to women and girls in our society. On Monday a policewoman, whom the Resident Magistrate in Brown’s Town, St. Ann decided in her wisdom was in contempt of court, was placed in a holding area with several men. They proceeded to sexually assault her. What the hell! I am glad to see the Police High Command is taking this atrocious incident seriously and conducting a full investigation, while the woman is receiving counseling.

28-year-old cosmetologist Jodian McNair was stabbed to death by her common-law husband, who then hanged himself. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

28-year-old cosmetologist Jodian McNair was stabbed to death by her common-law husband, who then hanged himself. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Secondly: A man was charged with “having sexual intercourse” with a minor – in other words, with a child (child abuse!). It is quite possible (a recurring issue with underage girls) that this was forced sex. The man received a two-year suspended sentence. What is the point? Thirdly: A mother of two (her young daughter is disabled) was killed by her abusive spouse, who hanged himself. I can hardly bear to read these stories of abuse ending in tragedy. Her common-law husband was apparently jealous of her growing independence; she had set up a cosmetology business, working long hours and had moved to her sister’s house.

Fourthly: The University of the West Indies (UWI) is rushing to deny last Sunday’s front page Gleaner report on “Halls of Horror” – admittedly an over-the-top headline. I understand, from those who know, that UWI has been in denial on the issue of sexual harassment and even assault of women on campus for a considerable length of time. But most of the incidents I have heard about over the years were not reported to the police and so not investigated properly or prosecuted. UWI issued a defensive statement, asserting there is insufficient data to back up the Gleaner’s allegations. But they know it happens, although not “wide-scale.” UWI used the cliché “a microcosm of society” to explain that some of its students behave in an anti-social manner. Another cliché was “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment. And yes, they have a policy in place and run workshops. So I guess we are going to continue burying our heads in the sand, until something dramatic happens, the problem becomes wide-scale” and urgent action is taken. Question: Are women safe at UWI? I understand the security guards do their very best. But problems there are. Let’s not pretend.

Andrew Holness (left) and former senator Christopher Tufton, who was thrown out by way of an undated letter - signed by himself. (Photo: Gleaner)

Andrew Holness (left) and former senator Christopher Tufton, who was thrown out by way of an undated letter – signed by himself. (Photo: Gleaner)

This is embarrassing: A Constitutional Court ruled today that Opposition Leader Andrew Holness did something unconstitutional – in its words, “inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy and… accordingly null and void.” If you recall, former Senator Arthur Williams challenged Holness’ use of undated, pre-signed (!) resignation letters, that Williams helped draft (?) in having Williams and former senator Christopher Tufton removed from the Senate. Excuse the brackets, but the whole thing seemed so nonsensical in the first place. Why did the senators sign undated letters? Didn’t Holness think this would backfire on him (personally) at some point? And that’s exactly what has happened. Holness has dug himself a hole and jumped straight into it. If he’s not careful, his opponents inside and outside the party will start shoveling earth into it.  If you want to wade through the whole thing, Nationwide News Network kindly shared the court’s decision here: http://nationwideradiojm.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Judgment-Daye-McDonald-Bishop-Batts.pdf What is not clear is whether the two senators appointed in Williams’ and Tufton’s place will now have to step down. Holness says not, but lawyers seem to disagree on the subject (as lawyers are wont to do). Not only Holness, but his party has truly messed up.

I am afraid the "fake Rastas" (an example here is the former "Snoop Lion") may lose out with this new legislation.

I am afraid the “fake Rastas” (an example here is the former “Snoop Lion”) may lose out with this new legislation. But Snoop himself is reportedly investing in a huge startup operation in the U.S. now – ganja, of course.

Ganja law passed in Senate: The debate in the Upper House today on the decriminalization of ganja (or whatever you want to call it) seemed to go all over the place, but they eventually passed the legislation (with five amendments). It will go to the Lower House for further debate some time in March. As I mentioned before, the question of Rastafarians’ use of the weed is a tricky one; not only will they have to prove they are Rastas (through membership in a Rasta organization) but also will have to obtain a license. I guess the “fake Rastas” (entertainers, rent-a-dreads etc) will have to prove they actually hold religious beliefs, besides flashing their locks. Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte called the legislation “very, very badly drafted, and incomplete”.

KellyTomblin

Ms. KellyTomblin, President/CEO of Jamaica Public Service Company.

JPS decides to appeal: The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has been mulling over the Office of Utilities Regulation’s (OUR) decision not to grant it an electricity rate increase. It has decided (reluctantly, CEO Kelly Tomblin says) to appeal. In a long series of tweets, JPS explained: “The primary objective of the Appeal is to ensure that Jamaica has a strong energy sector that can fuel economic growth,” going on to talk about “equity.”

So I hear the Students’ Loan Bureau is giving priority to students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – the so-called STEM subjects. This seems sensible to me. Don’t we have enough Sociology graduates struggling to find work? The cynical response is that all these STEM students, once qualified, will be shipped abroad. Be that as it may…

INDECOM-logo

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) held a press briefing on Wednesday. A rather staggering number of police officers are now facing murder charges, INDECOM reported. Fifty-three. Yes, fifty-three! The fear of prosecution must certainly have been a factor in the drastically reduced number of extra-judicial killings in 2014 (from 258 in 2013 to 129).

Caribbean drug trafficking routes.

Caribbean drug trafficking routes.

Drug routes: Sharing with you a map of Caribbean drug-trafficking routes. Is it my imagination, or does Venezuela seem to be a bit of a hub, these days?  A go-fast speedboat to Jamaica does seem quite a trek, though.

Pulling no punches: Businesswoman Yaneek Page is refreshingly outspoken at all times. At the launch of an entrepreneurship competition at UWI last week, she chastised the Government for continuing to put up bureaucratic hurdles, citing the example of a pepper spray she has been developing for the past five years, with an investment of J$1 million. I spoke to Yaneek and fellow-striver Erica Wynter about their challenges (and successes) recently: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/keeping-the-faith-the-bright-energy-of-entrepreneurs/

Major “big ups” to:

Students of Mt. Alvernia High School receive a large cheque from the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation for Spanish exam fees. (Photo: Spanish-Jamaican Foundation/Facebook)

Students of Mt. Alvernia High School receive a large cheque from the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation for Spanish exam fees. (Photo: Spanish-Jamaican Foundation/Facebook)

The Spanish-Jamaican Foundation, which paid the CSEC Spanish Oral Exam fees on behalf of all students (over 4,000) slated to take the exam in St. Mary, St. James, Hanover and Trelawny. Spanish Ambassador Aníbal Jiménez Abascal also gave students at Mt. Alvernia High School in Montego Bay a “pep talk” about the importance of learning languages – at least one. I could not agree more! Having a language gives you that competitive edge, and Spanish is the most useful in this part of the world.

Following his Friday, February 6 swearing in as judge of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Jamaican jurist, Patrick Robinson is flanked by Her Excellency, Vilma McNish, Ambassador of Jamaica to Belgium and his son the Hon. Julian Robinson, State Minister in the Ministry of  Science, Technology, Energy and Mining. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Foreign Trade)

Following his Friday, February 6 swearing in as judge of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Jamaican jurist, Patrick Robinson is flanked by Her Excellency, Vilma McNish, Ambassador of Jamaica to Belgium and his son the Hon. Julian Robinson, State Minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Foreign Trade)

Justice Patrick Robinson, sworn in today as the first Jamaican to serve on the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Colin McDonald, CEO of Our Story Tours Limited (right) signs the lease agreement with Chair of the Old Harbour Development Area Committee Randy Finikin and Kadene Campbell, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust's legal officer, at Colbeck Castle. (Photo: Old Harbour News)

Colin McDonald, CEO of Our Story Tours Limited (right) signs the lease agreement with Chair of the Old Harbour Development Area Committee Randy Finikin (center) and Kadene Campbell, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust’s legal officer, at Colbeck Castle. (Photo: Old Harbour News)

The Old Harbour Development Area Committee, a community-based organization, which recently signed a one-year lease to manage and maintain Colbeck Castle, taking over from the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. If the Committee does a good job it will be eligible for a much longer lease. It is encouraging to see the development of community tourism in St. Catherine and in nearby Clarendon, an area with a rich cultural heritage.

That crazy young man Russhaine "Dutty" Berry (center) chats with Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill and CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay at the launch of the "Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica" campaign. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust/Facebook)

That crazy young man Russhaine “Dutty” Berry (center) chats with Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill and CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay at the launch of the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” campaign. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust/Facebook)

Jamaica Environment Trust which launched its “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” public education campaign in support of the Ministry of Tourism’s pilot Clean Coasts Project, this week. Special, special kudos to the Tourism Enhancement Fund, which is funding it in full. Island Grill, headed by the dynamic Thalia Lyn, are producing eco-friendly containers; and Agricultural Chemicals, are providing branded bins (which I hope will be emptied regularly); and Diageo/Red Stripe. As for young Russhaine “Dutty” Berry – he was a delight, the perfect “Ambassador” for the campaign! Here is his very funny video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOKC3-tkKGc  Non-Jamaican readers, I am not sure you will understand it all!

UWI Medical Science Complex: UWI’s Mona campus really seems to be improving the quality of their product by investing a large amount in medical sciences. This makes sense to me. If they want to prioritize and save money they could at the same time “retire” some other departments that are less than effective, and focus on medicine, law and the sciences. Just my thoughts.

There were 97 murders in January (including ten women/girls, five teens and a little girl aged 3); plus at least eight killings by the police (one or two are disputed). This is not happy news, representing a 31% increase over January 2014. And now, in February, the following Jamaicans have been murdered. I extend my deepest sympathies to the families, who are grieving:

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (second left) has a word with Dr Keith Mckenzie (centre), medical student from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Class of 1948, while he’s being greeted by UWI Vice Chancellor E Nigel Harris (left) at Wednesday’s ceremonial opening of the $4-billion Faculty of Medical Sciences Teaching and Research Complex at the institution’s Mona campus. Sharing in the moment are Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites (second left) and Professor Archibald McDonald, principal at UWI. (Photo: Aston Spaulding/Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (second left) has a word with Dr Keith Mckenzie (centre), medical student from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Class of 1948, while he’s being greeted by UWI Vice Chancellor E Nigel Harris (left) at Wednesday’s ceremonial opening of the $4-billion Faculty of Medical Sciences Teaching and Research Complex at the institution’s Mona campus. Sharing in the moment are Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites (second left) and Professor Archibald McDonald, principal at UWI. (Photo: Aston Spaulding/Jamaica Observer)

Jamieke Smith, 16, Fletcher’s Land, Kingston

Dennis Roye Wright, 49, Kingston 11

Jodian McNair, 28, McCook’s Pen, St. Catherine

Logan Taylor, 36, Bog Walk, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Shelter Rock, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Mt. Salem, St. James

Delano Campbell, 32, Norwood Gardens, St. James

Carlton Reid, 54, Seaforth, St. Thomas

Daniel Montaque, 71, Frome, Westmoreland

A Mini-Sermon from Joe, Dismissive Dr. Davies and Rural Jamaica on Edge: Friday, January 30, 2015

It’s been a whirlwind ten days or so, which is why I am late. It has not been an easy month for Jamaica, especially in terms of crime and what the media like to call “crime-fighting.” We are facing another challenging year, it seems.

I visited the state-owned Wigton Windfarm in Manchester a few years back, and was duly impressed. It made a decent profit last year, too.

I visited the state-owned Wigton Windfarm in Manchester a few years back, and was duly impressed. It has since expanded and made a decent profit last year, too. The new wind farm in St. Elizabeth will be the largest on the island.

Energizing: Caribbean countries attended a Caribbean Energy Security Summit in Washington and issued a Joint Statement (full of the usual “recognizing” and “recalling”) on January 26. Jamaica signed off on its “commitment” to plans for “climate-resilient” clean energy (so what’s this about a coal plant at the proposed mega-port at Goat Islands, which Minister Davies mentioned oh, so casually some time last year?) OK, and let’s not forget the open, transparent, competitive and criteria-based processes” whereby said energy is obtained. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Anyway, despite wincing at Vice President Joe Biden’s mini-sermon on corruption (Joe tends to “go there” when other politicians are afraid to discuss certain topics) Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Phillip Paulwell were happy at the VP’s announcement that the 34-megawatt (MW) greenfield wind farm being built by US-owned BMR Energy in St Elizabeth is to receive a US$90-million capital injection by way of a loan through a tripartite arrangement among the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the International Finance Corporation (IFC),) and the Government of Canada. Another good development is the HEART Trust’s plan for a new training program in renewable energy. Encouraging! The Joint Statement and Biden’s speech can be found on the White House website.

Minister of Transport & Works Omar Davies

Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies.

The dismissive Minister Davies: Meanwhile Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies says it’s not true the Government has been withholding information on the proposed Chinese megaport on Goat Islands. How can he even say that when it is blocking information requests at every turn! In an interview with Irie FM (kudos to them for pursuing several important environmental issues across the island) The Minister reportedly said “the project will go ahead as long as certain requirements are met, to include environmental assessments and recommendations from the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA).” He also claims the Government has been too free and easy in declaring Protected Areas. Well it was your colleague who declared the Portland Bight Protected Area with much fanfare on World Wetlands Day, 1999, did he not, Minister Davies? Under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act? Is it not a Wetland of International Importance, declared under the Ramsar Convention in 2006? The Minister also cynically commented that since a Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) power plant was not far away from Goat Islands, well we could mash up the area some more… Why not just expand the environmental destruction?

Mangrove trees in a lagoon at sunset in the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

Mangrove trees in a lagoon at sunset in the Portland Bight Protected Area of Jamaica. (Photo: Robin Moore)

Not a shadow cabinet: This week Jamaica Labour Party leader Andrew Holness introduced a 19-person council – not a shadow cabinet, as they will not be preparing to take over portfolios should the occasion arise. It seems like a good idea. He is trying to bring up some of the less experienced Labourites. Then Mr. Holness, please let the old dinosaurs (Samuda, Charles and the octogenarian Henry, for example) gently retire now please!

And a “plot” surfaces: Now, almost coinciding with this announcement, an alleged “plot” to kill poor Mr. Holness and JLP General Secretary Horace Chang has emerged. The media are excited about it, it seems, although they have virtually no details. Most of my friends on social media have yawned, and moved on. Whether this plot is actually real or not remains to be seen. The police reportedly “can neither confirm or deny” the “plot.” And, perhaps not surprisingly, the alleged “plotters” are supposed to be Labourites. “Okey dokey, then!” as Jim Carrey would say…

The curse of agricultural thieves: Michael Thompson, a distraught farmer in Brimmer Hall, St. Mary, asked how he was supposed to pay his lease and his bills, or buy his fertilizer, now that thieves have taken his crop of bananas and coconuts. Mr. Thompson went on to warn mothers and girlfriends who know their spouses are involved in crime to tell them to stop, or terrible things will happen… 

Westmoreland protests over an alleged police killing. Details remain unclear. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Westmoreland protests over an alleged police killing. Details remain unclear. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Anger in Westmoreland: Talking of terrible things, the district of Little London in Westmoreland flared up (literally) yesterday after the death of a bike taxi operator, who died allegedly at the hands of the police. An estimated 30,000 tons of sugarcane was destroyed when protesters set light to the fields, and the main road to Negril was blocked in several places. The residents say Kemar Powell was beaten to death; the police say he was trying to escape them and crashed into a light pole. The stories are confused, and Powell’s family are a little vague. But these stories beg the question…

Is rural Jamaica, so long ignored, on the edge? Do we pay enough attention to what is really happening in rural communities?

More questions: What has happened to the “passports for cows” project to combat praedial larceny? What is happening in the Trafigura case?

A painful accident: It’s a fairly common sight on Jamaican roads – a person in a wheelchair actually making his way along the road in the traffic – not on the sidewalk. It always worries me. Why does this happen? Because our sidewalks are very rough, full of obstacles or non-existent. A resident of Cheshire Village, a small community for the physically challenged, 39-year-old Marlon King, was killed by one of our huge city buses in Papine, near the University Hospital of the West Indies. Mr. King was a strong advocate for Jamaicans with disabilities and an entrepreneur. In fact, he has appeared on Yaneek Page’s “The Innovators” television show. People (including local councilor Venesha Phillips) are now wringing their hands over his tragic death. Despite the fact that many physically challenged people live in the area, the sidewalk there is blocked by a row of light poles and piles of rubble of some sort. This should have been sorted out years ago. But do we care about our disadvantaged minorities? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

The sad sight of Mr. King's wheelchair on the road in Papine.

The sad sight of Mr. King’s wheelchair on the road in Papine.

Road block: A large truck jackknifed on Mount Rosser, blocking it for several hours. Now the road is steep, narrow and winding so many vehicles were trapped for hours on the hill, unable to turn around. But wait! Don’t we have the North-South Highway, opened with much fanfare last summer? Wasn’t it intended to avoid this kind of misery? Why wasn’t this truck using the Highway? I understand many trucks are not (it is $1,000 each way for that short stretch). As noted before, I believe the Highway is heading for Jamaican White Elephant status, like the Sligoville Multi-Purpose Stadium in St. Catherine, built by the Chinese “as a gift to the Jamaican people” in 2007, and now used only by foraging goats and cattle egrets. And what of the Trelawny Stadium?

The Sligoville Multi Purpose Sports Stadium is in ruins.

The Sligoville Multi Purpose Sports Stadium is in ruins.

A royal drama: Jamaicans love beauty contests. This is a well-known fact. So when the sleek, slender figure of Jamaica’s Kaci Fennell stepped out in the Miss Universe competition, a fairly large segment of the population fell at her feet in adoration. There is no doubt she is a really beautiful girl; I am sure she will do well in a modeling career. She stumbled in the question segment and came fifth. A respectable position but patriotic Jamaicans were furious. They were all convinced she had won, should have won, did win. I think we’ll all get over it…right?

Kaci Fennell is a lovely young woman. I wish her well. You know what they say, "When one door closes…" (Jamaica Gleaner)

Kaci Fennell is a lovely young woman. I wish her well. You know what they say, “When one door closes…” (Jamaica Gleaner)

Too many frocks, not enough song: The over-hyped American singer Mariah Carey was given the thumbs down by most Jamaicans after her performance at the so-called Jazz and Blues Festival in Montego Bay (which has nothing to do with jazz or blues, of course!) She talked too much, trotted off stage at regular intervals to change her dress, and (worst of all) lip-synched. Apparently she can’t hit those high notes any more. Well in that case, dear Mariah, you should either adjust your repertoire or gracefully retire? The Festival apparently redeemed itself when a singer called Charlie Wilson, whom Jamaicans had never heard of, brought the house down! Phew!

Charlie Wilson (left) on stage in Montego Bay - he was by all reports most entertaining. (Photo: Gleaner)

Charlie Wilson (left) on stage in Montego Bay – he was by all reports most entertaining. (Photo: Gleaner)

Moving right along… Congrats are due to a number of people!

The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party's new "Shadow Cabinet."

The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party’s new “Shadow Cabinet.”

  • Senators Marlene Malahoo Forte and Kamina Johnson Smith, who have taken on weighty portfolios (Health and Education/Youth, respectively) in the Jamaica Labour Party’s new expanded “Shadow Cabinet” that is more of an advisory council. Glad to see some other women in the mix: former athlete and political newbie Juliet Cuthbert, who will assist Senator Malahoo Forte; Suzanne Leslie Bailey, deputizing in Foreign Affairs and Trade; Fayval Williams, who remains Deputy Finance Spokesperson; and Shahine Robinson and Olivia Grange, who retain their regular responsibilities.
Ralston Hyman (left) and Julian Robinson, Ministry of Technology at the Katalyxt Roundtable Discussion on January 28. (My photo)

Ralston Hyman (left) and Julian Robinson, Junior Technology Minister at the Katalyxt Roundtable Discussion at the University of the West Indies on January 28. (My photo)

  • Big ups also to Katalyxt Business Development. It is headed by the enthusiastic Winsome Minott, who always hosts interesting and valuable events and has a leaning towards the creative arts too. I enjoyed this week’s roundtable session on technology and growth, with Junior Minister Julian Robinson, financial expert Ralston Hyman, the Exim Bank’s Jerome Newton and Parris Lyew-Ayee of Mona Informatics.

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  • Looking forward to hearing more about the Rotaract Club of St. Andrew’s major project. The Club is aiming to provide needy kids in Primary School across the island with proper running shoes! “Like” them on Facebook!
  • Something else to look forward to later in the year is BirdsCaribbean’s biennial Meeting, to be held in Jamaica this year! More details to follow soon…
The Social Enterprise

Checking out naturally dyed clothing produced by Daughters of Indigo, one of the he Social Enterprise

  • The JN Foundation’s first Social Enterprise Summit was an amazing gathering – congratulations to the hard-working JN Foundation team headed by the always down-to-earth Saffrey Brown, with Warren Gordon a highly efficient social media organizer! The Social Enterprise Business Initiative (SEBI) is funded by USAID Jamaica, and kudos to Director Denise Herbol and her team… You can read more on my Gleaner blog: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2469 
  • Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay. (Photo: Gleaner)
  • Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, the first woman police chief in St. Mary, is composed, articulate and professional if you have ever seen her speak on television. I wish her all the best in her efforts to keep crime under control in the rural parish.

And on that topic, Minister of Youth Lisa Hanna has expressed horror at the recent murders of several children. Another 14-year-old was found dead in St. Mary this week; the cause of death is as yet unknown. A newborn baby was found in a garbage bin in Ocho Rios. Our young people are so much at risk, with so many sad stories it is almost overwhelming: For example, 18-year-old Stacy-ann Borough allegedly jumped into the Rio Cobre and drowned recently, after becoming distraught and distressed because her family had abandoned her. But Jamaicans are genuinely frightened by the alarming crime rate, and neither Security Minister Peter Bunting nor Police Commissioner Williams were very convincing when speaking in public on the topic of the eighty-plus murders this month. Minister Bunting says the majority have taken place in one police division, St. Catherine North. The murder rate has been 3.2 per day, which is entirely unacceptable. This list is unbearably long and my hearts go out to all the families in mourning and traumatized by these terrible deaths. Each Jamaican’s life is precious, for God’s sake…

Ralston Daley, 37, Molynes Road, Kingston

Unidentified man, Molynes Road, Kingston

Andy Morrison, 23, Luke Lane, Kingston

Cleon Thomas, Jacks Hill, St. Andrew (killed by police)

Rushane Smith, 24, Waterford, St. Catherine

Michael Morgan, New Nursery, Spanish Town, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Ricardo Nicholas, New Nursery, Spanish Town, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Floyd Gregory, 39, Board Villa,Spanish Town, St. Catherine

TWO Unidentified men, Cotton Piece/Ewarton, St. Catherine (during robbery, killed by licensed firearm holder)

Carmen Richards, 50, Lopez Heights/Ewarton, St. Catherine

Kemar Powell, 23, Little London, Westmoreland (ALLEGEDLY killed by police – death under investigation)

Santoya Campbell, 14, Frome, Westmoreland

Kevin Parnell, 35, Catadupa, St. James

Winton Persaud, 50, Bottom Cambridge, St. James

David Anderson, 35, Slipe District, St. Elizabeth

Ralston Daley and an unidentified man were shot dead in a bar on Molynes Road in Kingston. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Ralston Daley and an unidentified man were shot dead in a bar on Molynes Road in Kingston. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

A murder scene in August Town. Please can we see less yellow tape? (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

A murder scene in August Town. Please can we see less yellow tape? (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Revolving Issues, Costly Matters and a Fraudster Out of Jail: Thursday, January 22, 2015

I often get the sense in Jamaica that things are repeating themselves, over and over. It’s a bit like a revolving door: People (and problems) come in, stay for a little while and then go back out through the door, only to come straight back in again just when you thought they had gone. It’s been a revolving door kind of week.

Revolving issues:

Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Julian Robinson (right), addressing a Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) forum, held January 22 at the PCJ auditorium in New Kingston. At left is Chairman of the PCJ, Christopher Cargill. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Julian Robinson (right), addressing a Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) forum, held January 22. At left is Chairman of the PCJ, Christopher Cargill. (Photo: JIS)

Gas prices: The saga continues. The state-owned Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (Petrojam) held a press briefing today to explain their pricing mechanism “simply.” Well, of course it was far from simple. Petrojam and the Government want to have a “dialogue” with the public, they say. I think the public is thoroughly confused and irritated. Jamaicans just want to see meaningful price reductions at the pumps; and want to know why Petrojam seems to raise prices with alacrity whenever the price of oil goes up. That is the perception out there.

The “dollar slide”: (There was an old carnival song called “dollar wine”) Today, despite the intervention of the Bank of Jamaica, the Jamaican Dollar traded at J$115.52/US$1. Is this what our friends at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) want? In our current economic situation, is it important, or not?

Dead children: Yes, I am sorry to put this so starkly, but a five-year-old girl was found murdered today; she is the youngest murder victim so far this year, to my knowledge. At least seven teenagers have already been killed this month. Our youth are an endangered species. On that topic, I wrote about our vulnerable small children after visiting the Jewish Cemetery on Orange Street this week. Here is my article: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2459

Upper House to debate ganja law…Oh, and the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry: Our Minister of Justice has been under some pressure in recent weeks, with the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) foaming at the mouth over A) the surprisingly high cost of the Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli incursion; and B) the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). I am leaning on the side of Minister Golding on both counts. A coroner’s court to investigate the deaths of (at least) 77 Jamaicans is obviously not feasible and would be tremendously slow and costly. I do agree with the JLP that the CCJ should be put to a referendum for the public to vote on whether Jamaica should join it or not (but referendums are also costly and it’s not going to happen, people). It is a known fact that the alternative, the UK Privy Council, is enormously costly. You notice how often I have used that word? Yes, everything has its price, I am afraid. You can take it or leave it…

Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding (right), in discussion with Vice-Chair, Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association, Maxine Stowe, following today’s (January 21) Jamaica House media briefing. Among the matters discussed during the briefing were the proposed amendments to the current legislation concerning ganja. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Justice Mark Golding in discussion with Vice-Chair, Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association (what an amusing name!) Maxine Stowe, following a Jamaica House media briefing. Among the matters discussed during the briefing were the proposed amendments to the current legislation concerning ganja. (Photo: JIS)

Ah yes, the ganja law: The Upper House will debate the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2015, which seeks to decriminalize ganja for medicinal, religious, and private/personal use (Minister Golding is a Senator, that is why Upper House). The Bill will be tabled tomorrow. A Cannabis Licensing Authority is to be established and the Government will seek to discourage the abuse of ganja by, for example, adolescents. Well, good luck with that one, Minister Golding. We know that many adolescents already abuse ganja. Don’t we? A 2012 survey by the National Council on Drug Abuse showed that eighty per cent of boys with anti-social behavior used ganja. Alcohol and ganja abuse is quite common in our high schools; both are already easily available and will remain so.

Breaking News (sort of):

Mr. David Smith

Mr. David Smith, 47, once the darling of the cocktail circuit, who used to hang out with Jamaicans in the upper echelons of society, got out of jail early today on “good behavior.”

Out of jail! I was astonished to learn that one of our chief fraudsters (there’s more than one) David Smith, of the failed Ponzi scheme Olint, is out of jail in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He served less than four years out of his six-year sentence. Just to refresh your memory, Smith was convicted of defrauding thousands of investors of more than US$220 million, pleading guilty to 18 counts of money laundering, four counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. One assumes extradition proceedings will commence to have him shipped off to the United States, where he should then serve a 24-year sentence. Yes, he cheated Americans and Jamaicans.

Former Cash Plus boss Carlos Hill only defrauded Jamaicans and will face only seven years in jail, if he is ever convicted.

Former Cash Plus boss Carlos Hill allegedly only defrauded about 40,000 Jamaicans of an estimated J$10 billion and will face only seven years in jail, if he is ever convicted.

Which  reminds me: Can anyone give us an update on Carlos Hill, another alleged Ponzi scheme operator? I have no idea whether (or when) his trial date was fixed, after numerous delays. So far as I know, he is still out and about in Jamaica while his court case languishes. Unlucky for David Smith that he swindled American citizens; otherwise he might well have gotten away with it. He was arrested in 2008. Where are we now? Oh, 2015?

Other concerns: 

Fact check needed? Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna told a panel of UN officials in Geneva this week that it takes six months to one year to adopt a child in Jamaica. Really? That is not what I have heard, unless something has radically changed recently. Does the UN do a fact check? I assume our Minister has to provide data to back her claims.

The endangered Hawksbill Turtle in the photograph was caught in a fishing net in what I think is supposed to be a marine sanctuary in the tourist resort of Negril. Divers rescued it, but it died later. The Jamaica Environment Trust notes: “Lost and abandoned fishing gears, including “ghost nets”, pose a major threat to marine animals when they become entangled in the gear and drown or die of exhaustion or starvation. Entanglement can also cause serious and often fatal injuries to flippers.” What are we doing to our endangered animals? How can we continue to kill them either carelessly or deliberately, and not pay the price – sooner or later?

A hawksbill turtle trapped in a fishing net in Negril. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Heartbreaking: A hawksbill turtle trapped in a fishing net in Negril. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

Huge bouquets go out to:

Entrepreneur and motivator Yaneek Page.

Entrepreneur and motivator Yaneek Page.

  • Ms. Yaneek Page, entrepreneur extraordinaire, who has won an award from Enterprising Women Magazine! She will collect it at an awards ceremony in Florida in March. The annual Enterprising Women of the Year Awards recognizes the finest women entrepreneurs in North America and beyond. Nominees must demonstrate that they have fast-growth businesses, mentor or actively support other women and girls involved in entrepreneurship, and stand out as leaders in their communities.  Congrats, Yaneek!
  • Quality of Citizenship Jamaica

    Quality of Citizenship Jamaica

  • Read “The Caribbean Glass Ceiling” by businesswoman Marcia Forbes in the Caribbean Journal – a nice online read, by the way, along with “Repeating Islands,” an essential Caribbean blog with a cultural focus. Dr. Forbes points out that (despite the fact that Jamaica has the most female managers in the world according to a recent survey) most women get stuck at the middle management level. Males are still firmly in charge at the top. Here’s the link to Dr. Forbes’ piece: http://www.caribjournal.com/2015/01/19/the-caribbean-glass-ceiling/

Dr. Elizabeth Ward of the Violence Prevention Alliance is very concerned that more needs to be done in crime prevention in our rural areas. As you have probably noticed, homicides may have declined in parishes like St. James and Clarendon last year, but they are still a major concern and Dr. Ward believes more resources and greater effort is needed in rural Jamaica. Just today, Security Minister Peter Bunting toured the small town of Annotto Bay in St. Mary – a parish that has already seen several disturbing murders this year. One gets the impression that even in these areas, the “no informers” culture is prevalent, as it is in many inner-city areas. Commendations to Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay in St. Mary by the way – she is most articulate. And my sympathies to the families of:

Pete Ebanks, 24, Williams Street/Montego Bay, St. James

Allan Edwards, 52, Irwin Heights, St. James

Sharon James, 45, Beacon Hill/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Angel Grove/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Akeem Henry, Job Lane, Spanish Town, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Stephen Codner, 43, Newport, Manchester

Unidentified man, Golf View Club/Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester

Crystal Coleman, 5, Frontier District/Port Maria, St. Mary