Touring Portland Bight, Part I: Old Harbour Bay

Young friends at Old Harbour Bay. The concrete objects in the background are Wave Attenuation Devices as part of an Artificial Reef pilot program. It was financed by the European Union in partnership with the Jamaican Government and the UN Environment Programme under its Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project.
Young friends at Old Harbour Bay. The concrete objects in the background are Wave Attenuation Devices as part of an Artificial Reef pilot program. It was financed by the European Union in partnership with the Jamaican Government and the UN Environment Programme under its Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction Project.

It was a humid, windless Saturday morning. As we drove onto the beach, there was the sharp scent of freshly caught fish. The boats were mostly in, and from the market on the beach voices rose above the quieter conversations at water’s edge. Business was starting to pick up. On the sidelines, boys played in and out of the water. Egrets, pelicans and a pair of circling frigate birds kept them company.

Passing the time of day at Old Harbour Bay beach.

Passing the time of day at Old Harbour Bay beach.

I was taking a tour of the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA), with Ingrid Parchment, Executive Director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) at the wheel. As I expected, Ingrid was an amazingly knowledgeable guide. Old Harbour Bay in St. Catherine was our first stop. I am sharing a few of my photographs, but if you want to take a look at all of them, please visit my Facebook page where I posted three albums full.

The vendors of Old Harbour Bay had sales on their minds. There was a large pot of homemade soup on the beach, and under the market roof it was business all the way. Large igloos were open and half-filled with fish; a man tipped a large quantity of fish we did not recognize onto a metal table. A Facebook friend identified them as Shad, another as Mangrove Snapper; the vendor called them “Makka Back.”

The mystery fish.

The mystery fish.

We noted with concern that there were large parrotfish for sale, resplendent in their rich blues and scarlets. This is a concern because this fish (albeit delicious to eat, but I will never eat one again!) performs valuable services for our environment. The fish clean coral reefs by eating the algae that grows on them, and excrete the substance that creates our fine (and endangered) white sand beaches. One large parrotfish can engender hundreds of pounds of sand in its lifetime. Environmentalists have been lobbying for a ban on parrotfish for some time; but local fishermen strongly object to the idea. Ingrid surmised that these large parrots may have been fished further away, perhaps at the Pedro Cays; a scientific assessment of the PBPA’s coral reefs last year noted very few large fish in the area.

Here I must give a quick “shout out” to the island of Barbuda in the eastern Caribbean, where the government passed legislation a year ago giving complete protection to parrotfish, and establishing one third of its coastal area as marine reserves. It’s now illegal there to catch parrotfish. Jamaican Government, it’s not too late…

An egret meditates, while Brown Pelicans ponder their next move at Old Harbour Bay. Beyond the mangroves in the background are Goat Islands, which are still threatened by the development of a mega shipping port.

An egret meditates, while Brown Pelicans ponder their next move at Old Harbour Bay. Beyond the mangroves in the background is the fish sanctuary adjoining Goat Islands – still threatened by the development of a mega shipping port.

We drove into the fishing village to visit the home of community activist Paulette Coley (I am not sure if she would describe herself that way). There were no paved roads here; only tracks that become muddy and flood easily when it rains. This area is very low-lying. Ms. Coley came and sat on the verandah; we were afraid we were interrupting her breakfast preparations, but she didn’t seem to mind. A man in the yard was mending a fishing net, his hands moving swiftly. Tiny kittens played and hid behind Ms. Coley’s chair, and a small, wide-eyed boy came out to see us.

Ms. Coley was planning a children’s treat, before the start of the school year; but, she lamented, no one had any money or goods to contribute to it, as they were all trying to find money for “back to school.” Ingrid suggested going into the town and asking businesspeople for contributions for food and drinks.

How was the community doing? Ms. Coley explained that it was somewhat divided politically, with a Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament (Everald Warmington) and a People’s National Party local councilor, who lives in Old Harbour. “We are not united,” she said. “Politics plays a dominant role, and some people are left out.” 

Paulette Coley (left) discussing community matters with Ingrid Parchment of C-CAM.

Paulette Coley (left) discussing community matters with environmentalist Ingrid Parchment of C-CAM, who conducts a great deal of this kind of outreach as part of her work.

Was this a slight exaggeration, though? When the conversation turned to the African tradition of burru drumming, which takes place at Christmas time in the community, it seemed to me from Ms. Coley’s description of the excitement surrounding the event that it brought the community together in a meaningful and positive way. “It is followed by a big party,” said Ms. Coley, “Everyone gets together.” In Old Harbour Bay, the event moves from house to house; the drummers, accompanied by a large crowd of residents, will come to your gate and call out your name. The group will likely mention certain things about the occupants of the house – whether positive or negative – that have taken place during the year. Some people consider burru drumming “demonic,” noted Ms. Coley, because of its association with spirit possession. But it is as popular as ever in the community.

This wonderful photograph shows Count Ossie playing the tall burru drums, while the legendary American jazz musician/composer Duke Ellington (far right) looks on. The Rastafarian movement adopted the burru drum into their nyabinghi rhythms and practices.

This wonderful photograph shows Count Ossie (left) playing the tall burru drums, while the legendary American jazz musician/composer Duke Ellington (far right, in white) enjoys the music. The Rastafarian movement adopted the burru drum into their nyabinghi rhythms and practices. (Photo from Paul Bradshaw’s blog Ancient to Future).

Fishing is a complex business these days. I lost track of a conversation about Hondurans and Jamaicans, illegal activities, court cases, boat registration and more. I recalled an unpleasant incident in 2011 when the captain of a Honduran fishing boat was shot dead. From time to time, accusations fly. Nothing is quite what it seems, in Jamaica – but one thing is certain: Jamaica’s laws need to be tightened to deal with this state of affairs. A bill to amend the 1976 Fisheries Act is still dawdling in the Jamaican Parliament, I understand.

We said goodbye to Paulette Coley after buying cold drinks and crackers from her tiny corner shop; but not before admiring her husband’s mobile sound system, built on bicycle wheels. It’s hard to describe the complex design, but it even boasted a small solar panel for extra power. I would love to see and hear it in action. Perhaps at the burru celebrations, come Christmas time…

The sound system even has a gear stick, side mirror and several impressive sets of speakers.

The sound system has a gear stick, side mirror and several impressive sets of speakers. As well as a lot of wires!

By the way, the Old Harbour Bay fish market is not more than about a half hour’s drive outside Kingston, if you take the highway. If you go down there at around eight or nine in the morning, you can take your pick of fresh fish! It’s recommended.

For more information on the work of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) in the PBPA, please visit their website at http://www.ccam.org.jm. You can also find them on Facebook and on Twitter @ccamfngo. 

Policemen in Trouble, The Teachers Give In, and It Rained: Tuesday, August 18, 2015

First off… The rain has been glorious. We almost feel human again. It is cooler, and we are hoping that some of the rain will have fallen in our watershed areas and made its way down to one of Kingston’s two reservoirs.

Water: This word crops up in almost every news item, and in every Kingston conversation: “You have water?” is a popular opening line. Whether we have more rain or not, many Jamaicans will still have no water in their pipes. Some areas of Kingston have had none for several days; others, especially outside Kingston, may not have had water for weeks. Meanwhile, there are concerns that trucks may be selling untreated water (even river water – although I haven’t seen a river with much water in it for a while) and this poses health concerns. I am very surprised that the Health Ministry has not issued any directions regarding clean water, hygiene tips etc., considering that our most densely-populated area is now under water restrictions.

Norman Allen (right) accepts the gavel from outgoing JTA president Doran Dixon last night. Looking on is the JTA's Dr Polly Bowes Howell. (Photo: Claudia Gardner/Gleaner)

Norman Allen (right) accepts the gavel from outgoing JTA president Doran Dixon last night. Looking on is the JTA’s Dr Polly Bowes Howell. (Photo: Claudia Gardner/Gleaner)

After all that…the teachers accept: After much defiant posturing over the last few weeks, 150 delegates of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, a powerful union, voted at their annual conference today to accept the Government’s seven per cent wage offer, by a reasonably large margin. Although they have accepted, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are happy, one gets the feeling; there are unresolved issues. They will have some improved benefits. This leaves the medical doctors, nurses and police still to be resolved. I suspect they will come into the fold, however reluctantly.

Uncomfortable: Having lost some of their officers to violence in recent times, the Jamaica Constabulary Force now has to deal with the high-profile arrests of two officers, who were apparently committing crimes, in the past two days. A policeman allegedly on leave was caught by two security guards as he tried to rob a business in St. Elizabeth, wearing one of those tams with fake dreadlocks! Another was caught in a sting operation while extorting money from a motorist in St. Catherine. A senior policeman says that the JCF is working on an ongoing basis to weed out dishonest policemen. The corruption seems never-ending and the police continue to struggle with a lack of co-operation and distrust from the citizenry. I urge the police to continue along this difficult and arduous road.

The Savannah-la-Mar Public General Hospital. (Photo: JIS)

The Savannah-la-Mar Public General Hospital. (Photo: JIS)

And then there was a riot: One example of this distrust was the anger of residents in Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland immediately following the deaths of a man and his son. Local people allege they were killed by the police, judging from their actions immediately after the shootings, which took place close to the hospital. The police categorically deny that they were involved and have a suspect in custody for the murders. Residents set fire to an ambulance that was out of commission, and a couple of buildings on the hospital compound. The parish of Westmoreland seems to be constantly on edge. Why is this? Is it the continuous under-development and lack of opportunities in rural areas? Or do we put it all down to lotto scamming activities, as National Security Minister Peter Bunting suggests?

I beg your pardon? Member of Parliament Damion Crawford went completely over the top at a political rally at the weekend and called a Commission of Parliament (yes, you’ve guessed it, INDECOM) an “enemy of the state.” I understand he retracted the statement later on. But what is this all about? What motivates Mr. Crawford to castigate INDECOM almost daily? Is he pandering to the police or to a certain segment of the electorate? And I wonder what Minister Bunting thinks about his “comrade’s” utterances?

People’s National Party candidate for Clarendon South Eastern Patricia Duncan Sutherland (centre) is flanked by her sister Senator Imani Duncan Price (left) and minister with responsibility for sports Natalie Neita Headley at Sunday’s party conference on the grounds of the Old Hayes School. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Raise those clenched fists: People’s National Party candidate for Clarendon South Eastern Patricia Duncan Sutherland (centre) is flanked by her sister Senator Imani Duncan Price (left) and minister with responsibility for sports Natalie Neita Headley at Sunday’s party conference on the grounds of the Old Hayes School. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Duncan Dynasty: Hanover Member of Parliament Ian Hayles dared to challenge veteran politician D.K. Duncan for a regional chairmanship in the People’s National Party (PNP). Isn’t that the cut and thrust of politics, though? Now, the sister of Senator Imani Duncan Price is a candidate to run against Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) veteran Ruddy Spencer. Mr. Spencer should be taking a back seat anyway; it’s about time, although the older ones seem very reluctant to step down, on both sides of the political fence. Anyway, Ms. Patricia Duncan Sutherland calls herself a “facilitator” and is seeking to bring a fresh approach to politics. It’s going to be a hard sell.

Hanover battle: Ian Hayles (left) and D.K. Duncan (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Hanover battle: Ian Hayles (left) and D.K. Duncan (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

So elections are just around the corner, it seems – I think they might take place in the last quarter of this calendar year. Peter Phillips told a gathering at the weekend to “get ready.” The Opposition JLP is, in its usual manner, trying to get its act together as best it can (and it’s not good enough, in my view). The PNP is busy having arguments and patching them up again as quickly as possible, to present a “united front.” Both parties have severe credibility issues – especially the JLP. Some followers appear restive; PNP supporters in Central Kingston, for example, are expressing dissatisfaction with their MP, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites. Has he not been giving out enough freebies, lately? I wonder, though: Will anyone feel inclined to vote for any of this lot, apart from the diehards that is? What do they have to offer?

Back to school worries: Talking of education, the new school year looms, with the usual pressures for parents who can barely afford the ever-growing costs of sending their children to school. I would like to put in a special plea for the vulnerable children of the young women (most living with HIV) who are supported by the non-governmental organization Eve for Life. Eve is collecting and purchasing books, uniform and stationery for the children in Kingston, Montego Bay and in northern Jamaica. The children are greatly in need. If you would like to make a donation in cash or kind, you can call Eve for Life at (876) 342-6107 or 754-3954, or email eflwellwishers@gmail.com. This would be greatly appreciated.

This bus ended up in a gully in Grants Pen recently. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

This bus ended up in a gully in Grants Pen recently. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

JUTC breakdown: Something is going wrong at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (and just when I thought Mr. Colin Campbell was doing a pretty good job as Managing Director of the state-owned bus company, which has had a checkered career). There were two awful accidents downtown (caused by reckless driving) that resulted in the deaths of two vendors; another bus ended up in a gully – thankfully no injuries there. There seem to be maintenance issues – a bus filled up with smoke a couple of days ago. As for the drivers, someone commented on tweeter that they saw one texting while driving, recently. Pull yourselves together! Fire some people! Do whatever it takes!

Notes on our National Heroes: Columnist and lecturer Dr. Carolyn Cooper made some wry comments on the 150th anniversary of Paul Bogle’s march from the village of Stony Gut to Kingston (which was August 12) to plead for ethe rights of the people of St. Thomas. Dr. Cooper comments: Paul Bogle died for the cause of black empowerment. So did George William Gordon. How many of our politicians today, whether PNP or JLP, would put their lives on the line for their constituency? How many would walk 45 miles to make a case on our behalf? How many of them could walk 45 miles? Or even 4.5 miles?” Because of our politicians’ large girth, she doubts any of them would make it. Oh dear!

There's a really nice Marcus Garvey reading room in the St. Ann's Bay Public Library. (Photo: Prof. Rupert Lewis/Twitter)

There’s a really nice Marcus Garvey reading room in the St. Ann’s Bay Public Library, painted in UNIA colors. It was opened on August 17, 2012. Thanks to Professor Rupert Lewis for this information and for the photo.

Then Monday, August 17 was the anniversary of Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s birth in St. Ann’s Bay in 1887. At least every two or three years someone raises the issue of his birthplace being refurbished and made into a national heritage site. Now it’s Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna’s turn to make this grand announcement. Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding broke ground for this in 2011, I do recall. I am not holding my breath; but I think this is long overdue. Perhaps the veteran roots reggae singer (and my favorite) Winston “Burning Spear” Rodney, who was born in the town, could make it happen. Just a thought; his Garvey songs are true classics.

And a note on the donkey: You may recall my recent blog post, mourning the deaths of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, and of a humble donkey at the hands of a Chinese worker in St. Ann, closer to home. I understand that a senior Jamaican veterinarian, who watched the video, has opined that the donkey was killed quite humanely, and would not have suffered. This might make us feel a little better, I suppose. Only a little, in my case.

UWI Leads members pose for their picture.

UWI Leads members pose for their picture.

 

“Big ups” and thank you’s to: UWI Leads, the University of the West Indies’ leadership program (“not a club”), which held its Student Leadership Conference last week and invited me to speak about “Finding your activist voice on social media.” We had a great discussion and I was impressed by the bright young people I met (special mention to members of the UWI Actuarial Society). I tried to tie in my thoughts on activism (and how social media can be used as a tool for that purpose) with reflections on key elements of leadership. I hope it all made sense.

The old lock-up in Alley, Clarendon - one of several fascinating historical sites I visited with C-CAM. (My photo)

The old lock-up in Alley, Clarendon – one of several fascinating historical sites I visited with C-CAM. (My photo)

Also to Ingrid Parchment of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), who took me on a fascinating tour of some parts of the Portland Bight Protected Area a few days ago. I learned a great deal and discovered what I think are often called “hidden gems”  – both the cultural and the environmental heritage of the area. I will be writing much more about this trip.

And huge congratulations to nine young Jamaicans, who have received Chevening Scholarships to study for one year in the UK: Oroyo Eubanks, Assistant Superintendent Gordon Ellison, Adley Duncan, Lavere Henry, Jerome Cowan, Sherika Whitelock Ballingsingh, Grace Lindo, Melissa Townsend and Rashawn Thompson. As posted earlier on this blog, applications are now open for the 2016/2017 and details are available at http://www.chevening.org/apply

The last few days have been terrible in the parish of Clarendon. Unfortunately I have not found the names of all the victims there, but will try to find them and post them next time. I do not want our Jamaican citizens, who have lost their lives in tragic circumstances, to be unnamed. My deepest condolences to all those who mourn their passing.

Romario Dixon, 21, Plantation Heights, St. Andrew

Daniel Thomas, 20,Plantation Heights, St. Andrew

Unidentified man, Halse Hall, Clarendon (body found by a passer by off the main road, concealed in an illegal garbage dump)

Glendon Rose, 51, Sandy Bay, Clarendon

Unidentified man, Frankfield, Clarendon (shot dead in a community called Railway)

Unidentified man, Osbourne Store, Clarendon (among a group of men playing dominoes)

Leon Cooper, 43, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Central Village, St. Catherine

Ricardo Sinclair, 43, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland (alleged police killing)

Ajani Sinclair, 18, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland (alleged police killing)

18-year-old Ajani Sinclair and his father Ricardo were shot dead outside the Savannah-la-Mar Hospital under somewhat controversial circumstances.

18-year-old Ajani Sinclair and his father Ricardo were shot dead outside the Savannah-la-Mar Hospital under somewhat controversial circumstances.

“Game Changers” Galore, An Attack on the Press, and Tweeting with “Uncle INDECOM”: Sunday, August 9, 2015

It’s the weekend after Independence Day. I have had an unproductive and somewhat miserable week, struggling with allergies – brought on, I suspect, by the endless drought. Only the lignum vitae trees in our yard seem to be thriving. I am not, and the yard is now undergoing a desertification process. Even Arsenal Football Club disappointed on their opening match of the Premier League, which they played with their feet on the handbrake, throughout. Most of them are also sporting awful new hairstyles (perhaps that is the problem).

The Walken-esque Evon Redman, who is seeking to take MP Raymond Pryce's seat in NE St. Elizabeth. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Walken-esque Evon Redman is challenging MP Raymond Pryce’s seat in NE St. Elizabeth. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Come to think of it, this week has been a bit of a mess, altogether. The extended Emancipation/Independence Day holiday seems to have fuddled some political brains. Looking at the political scene, both parties suffered embarrassing scenes at their headquarters, since I last wrote. First there was the PNPTireSlashingEpisode, during which supporters of Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce allegedly slashed three out of four tires on the car of his challenger Evon Redman (who reminds me strangely of the actor Christopher Walken), and all the tires on an independent auditor’s car (mistaken identity). PNP Chairman Robert Pickersgill was very grumpy about it all.

Then there was the WarBoatAtHisWorst débacle at Opposition HQ on Belmont Road, where a very long meeting was taking place to consider Andrew Holness’ future as Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader. Member of Parliament Everald Warmington stalked through the parking lot with his neck in a brace, looking like a thundercloud. As press cameras followed him, he turned on journalists and allegedly lunged at a young woman intern at the Gleaner, who had the nerve to take a photo of him. “When we want you, we’ll call you!” Warmington shouted, in between expletives; by his words betraying a typical attitude of politicians towards local media (only useful sometimes). The Press Association of Jamaica (not for the first time) protested the man’s behavior. CVM Television recalled a previous occasion when Mr. Warmington told reporter Kerlyn Brown to “go to hell” and hung up on her during an interview.

Everald Warmington, MP is like the Jamaican equivalent of Donald Trump. (Photo:

Everald Warmington, MP reminds me a little of Donald Trump (although Trump has refused to apologize for his recent misogynistic remarks). If I offend you, that’s your problem! (Photo: Jodi Imani Morgan/Gleaner)

Mr. Warmington appears to be the Jamaican equivalent of the loose cannon presidential candidate Donald Trump. He likes to pick on women, too, it seems. He did post an offhand and unconvincing “apology” on YouTube some time later, accompanied by a sarcastic half-smile and dismissive hand gestures. This was not good enough; but I understand he did visit the Gleaner offices last night, where he hopefully delivered a proper apology in person.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism Damion Crawford

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism Damion Crawford, M.P. I would like him to go and look after the interests of his constituents. Please. The small farmers of East Rural St. Andrew  need you, Mr. Crawford  – and Twitter does not!

And then there is young Member of Parliament Damion Crawford (or “Uncle INDECOM” as he calls himself on Twitter). He has written a piece in today’s Gleaner that defies logic and plain common sense. He has supported his stance with a Twitter dialogue that makes even less sense. Read and reflect on this paragraph: “Based on my own paradigm, I find even the concept of INDECOM unacceptable. Please note, I did not say I find the stated objective/s that led to the formation of INDECOM unacceptable, instead, I find the strategy of an independent oversight body for the police force unacceptable.” Well, he is the Entertainment Minister, after all.

Proud and free? Shameful petty politics in Portmore: What an extraordinary display of political tribalism in Portmore, where an Opposition councilor was booed by residents and councilors during the reading of  Andrew Holness’ Independence Day message at a civic ceremony. Some tribalists even walked out. They ought to be ashamed of themselves; Independence Day is not about partisan politics. By the way, when will Portmore hold mayoral elections? Since George Lee passed away in September 2013, there has been an “Acting Mayor.” So much for democracy in the Municipality of Portmore. And what about those boundaries?

Welcome to Twitterland, Finance Minister Peter Phillips!

Welcome to Twitterland, Finance Minister Peter Phillips!

Minister of Finance Peter Phillips will hold a press conference on the PetroCaribe US$1.5 billion debt buyback deal tomorrow morning. The Opposition JLP has been huffing and puffing about the arrangement, but most other analysts appear to think it is a good deal (including, of course, the Government’s regular echo chamber, Ralston Hyman). Our Inter-American Development Bank representative called it a “game-changer” (a catch-phrase that is becoming rapidly over-used). There has been so much analysis and discussion that it has been quite befuddling. But to his credit, Minister Phillips has opened a Twitter account (@PDPhillipsJa). In a series of tweets today he asserts that the buyback will lead Jamaica on a “low interest rate path” and also places the country on a path and trajectory for accelerated economic growth, employment creation and employment.” I hope he will continue tweeting.

Enough of politicians. A friend in Puerto Rico told me this week, “We have three days without water, one with, three without, one with. We expect the rationing to get worse.” Despite some spots on the island getting rain, Kingston remains parched and we are likely to get tighter restrictions, one fears.

These two men now control most of the existing media landscape: RJR Group chairman, Lester Spaulding (left) and The Gleaner's Chairman, Oliver Clarke, exchange documents sealing the deal of the merger. (Photo: Gleaner)

These two men now control most of the existing media landscape: RJR Group chairman, Lester Spaulding (left) and The Gleaner’s Chairman, Oliver Clarke, exchange documents sealing the deal of the merger. (Photo: Gleaner)

An “exciting” move? Another “game-changer”? Well, only from the business perspective, perhaps. I’m not sure how many of us saw this one coming. The revered Gleaner newspaper and the RJR Group announced they were merging, the day before Independence. To many it resembled a takeover by RJR. The two men in charge, RJR Chair Lester Spaulding and Gleaner Chair Oliver Clarke, both used the word “exciting.” These two men (and their two male counterparts, who will be CEO and COO respectively) will control about 80 per cent of our “media landscape.” I am pretty sure this so-called merger (I am not very business-minded, I confess) will inevitably incur layoffs. And it just seems sad to me. The Gleaner is the oldest company in the country (since FINSAC destroyed Mutual Life in 1998) and the oldest media house in the western hemisphere, having celebrated its 180th birthday last year; I don’t like the idea of it being “merged” at all. This deal may have been necessary for both companies’ survival (I don’t know), but it in no way enhances our current media industry. I hear rumors that another possible media takeover is in the works, too…

This, of course makes it even more important for more independent journalists (and online peeps such as myself) to assert themselves. Our traditional media might end up consisting of one or two big conglomerates; a depressing thought. In the media context, competition means quantity as well as quality. I shuddered when I heard that RJR is to take over the Gleaner’s online operations. The RJR website has been a non-user friendly nightmare for years. Its subsidiary Television Jamaica’s new subscription arrangement, 1spotmedia.com (wow! The Lotto Draw is free!) is also a complete non-starter. Help needed!

Where did all this sewage go to?

Where did all this sewage go to?

Are we serious about water, and public health? Here are a few recent stories: Manholes in Montego Bay opened up, allowing gallons of sewage to flow freely on the streets in the center of town. Restaurants, businesses, the public library, the main post office and even the Resident Magistrates Court were badly affected; only the Court managed to stay open. The pipes were “very old.” Things will be back to normal on Monday, until the next crisis (where did all that stinking sewage flow to, I wonder? The sea?) Most public swimming pools in Kingston are not certified by the Ministry of Health. The Amateur Swimming Association says the National Stadium Pool has not yet satisfied the Ministry’s requirements (!) and is among the 30 public pools (out of 37) not approved. Yikes! Most importantly, is the Health Ministry in the least concerned about the fact that many homes and businesses in the city now have very little or no water? Is this not a health concern, especially in densely populated areas? Correct me if I am wrong, but I have not seen or heard any public announcements re: the importance of clean drinking water, washing hands, etc.

Good things have been happening, too. Shout outs to:

Alia Atkinson celebrates her silver medal during the podium ceremony for the women's 50m breaststroke at the FINA World Championships. (photo: AFP)

Alia Atkinson celebrates her silver medal during the podium ceremony for the women’s 50m breaststroke at the FINA World Championships. (photo: AFP)

Our fabulous swimmer Alia Atkinson, who is collecting medals at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Kazan – a bronze in the 100 meter breaststroke and a silver in the 50 meters. Atkinson, who is based at Texas A&M University says, “They [Jamaicans] are all getting ready for the track and field, but some of the headlines are going my way.” And so they should.

Yolanda Silvera and her husband Shane. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

Yolanda Silvera and her husband Shane. (Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica Observer)

“Rags to riches” stories are always great, but that of University of Technology lecturer and mechanical engineer Yolanda Silvera is extraordinary. Take a look at today’s Sunday Observer for details. Ms. Silvera’s peers ridiculed her for studying under the street light at her mother’s sweetie stall in the rough inner city area of Dunkirk. But I would suggest Ms. Silvera, now pursuing her doctorate, has had the last laugh. Congratulations to her.

  Jamaica's goal attack Shanice Beckford (left) collects the ball ahead of England Eboni Beckford-Chambers during their Newball World Cup match played at the Allphones Arena at Sydney Olympic Park yesterday. England won 54-50. (Photo by Collin Reid courtesy of PetroJam, Supreme Ventures, Courts and Scotiabank)


Jamaica’s goal attack Shanice Beckford (left) collects the ball ahead of England Eboni Beckford-Chambers during their Newball World Cup match played at the Allphones Arena at Sydney Olympic Park yesterday. England won 54-50.
(Photo by Collin Reid courtesy of PetroJam, Supreme Ventures, Courts and Scotiabank)

The “Sunshine Girls” – our netball team, who are battling it out at the World Cup championships in Australia. Netball is a rather obscure game played by former colonies and doesn’t get into the limelight much. I was once in my school netball team; it always irked me that when you get the ball, you have to stand still! Anyway – keep going, girls!

Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, is a no-nonsense business leader. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, is a no-nonsense business leader. (Photo: Gleaner)

Good move: The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has just signed a deal with the US-based New Fortress Energy, who will provide JPS with Liquefied Natural Gas for its 120-megawatt power plant at Bogue in Montego Bay. The plant is being converted to run on gas instead of automotive diesel oil. Not renewable energy – but a positive move by the company under the positive and decisive leadership of Ms. Kelly Tomblin.

And last but not least, a warm thank you to all the local sponsors of the BirdsCaribbean International Meeting, which ended on July 29, at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston. You were awesome! We had over 220 delegates from 33 countries – lots of energy, hard work and fun, too. See the Birds Caribbean Facebook page for more information, conference feedback and tons of photos!

BirdsCaribbean's Ancilleno Davis (left) and President Dr. Leo Douglas doing a quick appeal for the non-profit organization at the Knutsford Court Hotel.

BirdsCaribbean’s Ancilleno Davis (left) and President Dr. Leo Douglas doing a quick appeal for the non-profit organization at the Knutsford Court Hotel.

Recently, National Security Minister Peter Bunting said that Jamaicans would be equally violent, with or without guns, because we have a “culture of violence.” I am not at all comfortable with this remark – are you? In fact, I find it offensive and it is certainly not true. And is it really helpful at this time of high murder rates and insecurity? Please, have a rethink, Minister Bunting. Meanwhile, my deepest condolences to the families of these Jamaicans, who were murdered so far this month. There has been a 77 % increase in murders in the parish of St. James in the first six months of 2015. 

Lloydel Pennant, 20, May Pen, Clarendon

Nigel Simpson, 20, May Pen, Clarendon

Kemar ‘Nagus’ James, 25, Farm/May Pen, Clarendon

Unidentified man, downtown Kingston

André Parkes, 43, Denham Town, Kingston

Oraine Gilmore, 18, Bond Street, Denham Town, Kingston (possible police killing)

Jamar Anderson, 20, Market Level, St. James

Shasha-Kaye Williamson, 21, Retreat, St Ann

Patrick Campbell, St. Mary

Unidentified man, Cousin’s Cove, Hanover

“For” and “Against”

I need to get a few things straight, dear readers. Just for the record, and you may take it or leave it – as you wish. As we reflect on our Emancipation and Independence (two different things – I am not fond of the term “Emanci-pendence“) over the next few days, it’s as good a time as any.

Here are some things that, over the years, I have whittled down to what I stand “for” and what I stand “against.” I think this has been reflected in my blog to a greater or lesser extent, but if you like – these are my guiding principles that I have held on to since I was a young woman. Sometimes I do fall down; but I do try.

For:  

  • Human rights for all. That’s what “universal” means in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, right? By the way, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on September 26, 2014, to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, seen as a critically important achievement for upholding the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So – human rights for all, no exceptions.
  • Respect for all,which pretty much goes hand in hand with human rights; but respect should also be a part of our day-to-day actions towards our fellow human beings. I see it as something to do with kindness, and good manners, and recognition of the other person’s humanity and dignity.
  • Freedom of speech – which (to me) means you can say whatever you want, but don’t expect everyone to agree with you (I don’t expect you to agree with me; I am simply expressing myself).
  • Freedom of expression: Which is “the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” It’s one of those rights listed above.
  • The protection of the environment! Yes, and that is non-negotiable for me (as you are no doubt aware…)
  • Empowerment of civil society, as opposed to its stifling.
  • Peaceful action, not words. Democracy in action, that is.

Against:

  • Corruption in all its forms, and as a member of National Integrity Action I would like to keep the focus on this.
  • Insulting and disrespectful language – whether it’s the dreaded “n-word” or a shouted insult when someone accuses you of “bad driving.” Sometimes you have to balance that freedom of speech with respect for others.
  • People using their religion as an excuse to be intolerant and uncaring. I am not religious myself, but I am not “anti-religion.”
  • I am not happy with some of the Chinese developments in Jamaica and the way in which details are apparently being hidden from us, as I fear they are not in the country’s best interest. But I am not “anti-Chinese,” and nor should anyone be. Actually, I would really, really like to be able to applaud them for something!
  • I want our environment protected above all, for our own survival as well as that of the “two likkle lizard.” But I am not “anti-development.” I am for sustainable development. I am overwhelmingly worried about climate change.
  • I often question or disagree with Government pronouncements or decisions, but I am not “anti-Government.” In fact, I also check the “like” box for Government actions and policies. The same with the Opposition. I just want them all to do their best for the country, as they all know they should. I am not “anti-PNP,” or “anti-JLP.” I just want them to try harder, and do the right thing.
  • Pontificating, talking behind others’ backs, talking, talking, talking and doing nothing!
  • And perhaps worst of all… Apathy, fear and silence. Here’s a familiar quote:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I don’t always get it right, as I said. If you think I am a troublemaker who should sit down and shut up, that is your prerogative. If I get something wrong or you disagree with me, please let me know. I have never been one for sitting on the fence (or on an uptown verandah, which is what applies in Jamaica).

I hope that clears the air, a bit. Thank you for reading this far! At times I think it would be so much easier to write a pretty little story with a happy ending in my blog, perhaps once a week. Trouble is, I am always pulled back to reality, and I think we all need to face up to it sooner or later.

Maybe I will start writing happy little fantasies. Then everyone can go back into their comfort zones, again.

Over 3,000 West Indians, British citizens and their supporters marched peacefully through London on August 1 for the cause of reparations. Are Jamaicans ready to stand up for such issues? No, 99% just pay lip service. (Photo: Jerry Tremaine/BrixtonBuzz)

Over 3,000 West Indians, British citizens and their supporters marched peacefully through London on August 1 for the cause of reparations. Are Jamaicans ready to stand up for such issues? No, 99% just pay lip service. (Photo: Jerry Tremaine/BrixtonBuzz)

 

 

Money in Politics: “He Who Pays The Piper Calls The Tune,” says National Integrity Action

Enthusiastic NIA members participate in a social audit training exercise in Kingston last week. (My photo)
Enthusiastic NIA members participate in a social audit training exercise in Kingston last week. (My photo)

Do we hear murmurings of a possible election in the air? Perhaps; politicians seem to be doing a lot of weekend campaigning in various parts of the country. Be that as it may, there are a number of electoral issues that have been not so much ignored as put on one side. The Jamaican anti-corruption lobby group National Integrity Action, a Chapter of Transparency International, has partnered with the Election Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) for a series of town hall meetings across the island under the theme “Respect Your Vote.” Please find below the text of the first presentation by NIA Executive Director Professor Trevor Munroe in Montego Bay last week. Here is food for thought – on campaign finance.

ECJ-NIA Town Hall Flyer

“RESPECT YOUR VOTE: YOUR RIGHT, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY”

ECJ-NIA TOWN HALL MEETING IN MONTEGO BAY, ST. JAMES

MAY 28, 2015

PRESENTATION BY PROFESSOR TREVOR MUNROE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTEGRITY ACTION; HONOURARY VISITING PROFESSOR, SIR ARTHUR LEWIS INSTITUTE (SALISES), Mona, UWI

Let me first express appreciation on behalf of the NIA for the partnership with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) in presenting this town hall meeting and the series to come. I am particularly happy that the first of the series, under the theme RESPECT YOUR VOTE, is taking place here in Montego Bay as I have a special attachment to this, Jamaica’s second city. This attachment comes from having lived in MoBay for a time as a youth at No. 19 Humber Ave. More so, because MoBay could be said to have laid an important foundation for my subsequent career; it was here that then teacher Howard Cooke accomplished what up until that point had proven impossible, namely, teaching me to understand the mysteries of mathematics- right angle triangles, how to calculate areas and so on. It was therefore him and Montego Bay which made me pass Common Entrance, enter St. George’s College and the rest is history.

I have been asked to speak with you this evening on the subject “Money in Politics”.

Money as you know is a necessity in the modern world. Having this meeting required money to rent the hall, print the flyers and, I hope, though I do not see it on the program, provide refreshments. Neither you nor I can live without money and similarly, there can be no politics without money. To administer elections for example we are told that the Central Westmoreland by-election in December last year cost the ECJ-EOJ thirty (30) million dollars and of course, it would have cost the candidates and political parties a great deal as well.

But every good thing carried to an extreme becomes a bad thing. When you control the money, that’s good, when the money controls you that’s bad; when money becomes God and is in control that opens the door to corruption. The Bible in 1 Timothy, Chapter 6, Verse 10 put it this way: ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’. Just look at what is happening with the top people at FIFA – taking positions not to serve football but to enrich themselves and to serve money and now they are facing many ‘sorrows’. So it is with money in politics. When you allow money to become the God in politics, your vote counts for little or nothing; in effect you disrespect your vote.

You ask the question: Why should you respect your vote anyway? Let me tell you why. Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents had no vote. Prior to 1944 only those Jamaicans with big money or big property had the vote. To be concrete, 19 out of 20 Jamaicans 80 years ago had no vote. Those with money and property along with the colonial governor controlled government and therefore, they got the benefit, so that they and their children enjoyed good education, good healthcare and the best things of life. In fact at that time, prior to us getting the vote, the health services were such that 100 out of every 1000 babies died in infancy; 97 out of every 100 Jamaicans had no place in secondary schools; there was no university; Champs was for boys only and only seven elite schools took part.

Since we got the vote in 1944, one out of every two Jamaicans could go to the polls. As a result benefits could now come to the majority. Today infant mortality is down to seventeen out of every one thousand, 91 out every 100 Jamaican teenagers can find a place in secondary schools; one out of every four are attending tertiary institutions, some right here in Montego Bay. And from seven schools in Champs in 1935, last year there were 111 boys’ teams and 114 girls’ teams at Champs.

Without the vote none of this would have happened. For this reason you must respect your vote, even though there is a long way to go in progress for the majority. Respecting your vote and using it responsibly is one way to get further progress.

But there is now a major danger, a major danger facing your vote here in Jamaica and in almost every single country around the world. The danger is this, the power of big money is coming back; it is threatening not to serve but to buy out politics and to return the lion’s share of benefits and of opportunities, just as it used to be before, to the minority who have the money, who have the connections and who can get things done for themselves. Without proper controls, without appropriate laws and strict regulations, you have heard it said and it is true: “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. So we in Jamaica like others around the world, if we truly respect our vote, must make sure that we pass and enforce laws to control money politics, and not allow money to control us, our parties and our politics. From experience here at home and elsewhere abroad I suggest that there are at least six important measures to ensure that it is your vote and not money that controls the politics:

  •  Enforce the law against vote buying and vote selling. Times are hard and there is much temptation, but you tell me how can taking a $5000 really help you, your children or the community? You get a food for two or three days, after that no opportunity for the other 362. Worse, the one with more money buys your vote and that may not be the one to give you more opportunity. In any event each of you who buy or sell a vote can be fined a maximum of $80,000 or three months in prison. Especially after the complaints in the Central Westmoreland by-election and the admission “that party supporters may have been involved in vote buying” (Gleaner December 5, 2014), the police must enforce the law and all of us who respect the vote must help them to do so.
  •  Register political parties. The ECJ recommended this and last year October and December respectively, the House of Representatives and the Senate approved this amendment to the law. One of the things that this now means is that parties have to submit audited accounts showing the source of funds to the ECJ and if they want public money, they have to submit those accounts to party members as well.
  • Limit the amount of money that can come to a party or a candidate from any single source. If you don’t have any limits as now then big money can in effect buy a candidate or buy a party and ensure that the candidate or the party looks out for the big money man and not respect your vote. The ECJ has made this recommendation; the Parliament has approved it but still no law has been passed to legislate this provision. This needs to be urgently done.
  • Ban certain contributions to candidates and to political parties. Ban anonymous contributions since you don’t know who the money is coming from; ban contributions from illegal entities like Olint or CashPlus. Prior to the 2007 elections, court documents from the Turks and Caicos Islands show that Olint, while legal at the time but having been issued a “cease and desist order” by the Financial Services Commission, nevertheless gave US$2 million to the People’s National Party (PNP) and US$5 million to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). David Smith was subsequently convicted for money laundering and financial crimes but was never charged much less tried in Jamaica. Ban foreign government money because this could give a foreign government more influence over our government than we who vote them in.
  • Disclose who is giving big money to the parties. This allows you and I, as well as the ECJ, to judge whether big money is seeking big favors from the government or the party at your expense and my expense. This disclosure is what happens in most mature democracies. In England where they had an election earlier this month, every voter could know who was giving big money to the Conservative Party or to the Labour Party prior to the elections. There, election regulations require that every quarter in each year, this information is published on their Election Commission website. In the U.S. they have similar regulations; in the last election, the citizen, and even you and I, could know who gave big money to Obama and who gave big money to Romney. We should have similar laws here in Jamaica, otherwise what happened in the last election will happen again. The two major parties’ central headquarters reported that they spent between them one billion Jamaican Dollars. Yet neither before the elections nor now, almost four years after do we know where this money came from, and whether those who gave it have gotten special favours at the expense of the majority of voters. To their credit six private sector companies responded to NIA’s representations by publishing how much they gave to each party. This wasn’t required by law but they did it nevertheless. Clearly they have nothing to hide. The law should require every big company to do the same; why keep your donation secret if there is nothing to hide? Again the ECJ has made recommendations along these lines. The Parliament has approved the recommendations. A Bill has been drafted. But this process is taking too long; the Campaign Finance law requiring some disclosure needs to be passed quickly. Otherwise we are going to have another election without us knowing who is paying the piper and therefore, being able to call the tune.
  • Provide some public funding to balance money from private sources. This amendment to the law has now been passed and brings Jamaica into line with a majority of democracies who recognize that the public, through their taxes because most don’t have money in their pockets, should contribute to parties, so long as they live up to certain requirements. Otherwise big money – commercial or criminal – will monopolize contributions and influence policy to serve their private needs and not the public interest, to perpetuate policies that benefit them and deprive the majority of opportunity.

And so we conclude money in politics is necessary but without control and regulation big money can buy out politics. With controls and regulations such as proposed by the ECJ and NIA, we can ensure that you respect your vote; that politics respects your vote and that he who pays the piper is less able to call the tune.

Participants in a social audit training session organized by NIA, May 26-27 at Four Seasons Hotel in Kingston. (My photo)

Participants in a social audit training session organized by NIA, May 26-27 at Four Seasons Hotel in Kingston. (My photo)

 

The Black Carpet, A Show of Unity and Super-Nepotism: Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Delicious rain fell in the wake of the Boys’ and Girls’ Championships at the National Stadium. The discordant ring of the vuvuzelas (a once-popular invention  Jamaicans apparently still cling to) has receded, the busloads of students have careered off into the distance. It is cool and it is relatively calm. But local journalists are still chewing over one aspect of the largest high school track and field event in the world…

Calabar High School's Michael O'Hara won four gold medals at Boys' Champs and is Digicel's latest Athletics Brand Ambassador. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Calabar High School’s Michael O’Hara won four gold medals at Boys’ Champs and is Digicel’s latest Athletics Brand Ambassador. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

An “extraordinary” fuss: Speaking of “Champs,” our local media houses is obsessed with a story of so-called “ambush marketing” by Digicel. The telecoms firm announced on Saturday that the brilliant up-and-coming sprinter Michael O’Hara of Calabar High School was its new Ambassador. Digicel’s fierce competitor LIME was the major sponsor of the Championships. After winning a race, O’Hara removed his Calabar jersey to display Digicel’s slogan “Be Extraordinary” emblazoned across his chest. This was considered unethical. I call it…marketing. O’Hara is now claiming it was his own idea to reveal the slogan, anyway!

The following stories that emerged this week are of much greater concern to me than Digicel’s marketing tactics, but apart from the politics stirred much less comment:

  • A schoolboy stabbed a twelve-year-old classmate to death during a fight over a bench at Barrett Town All Age School in St. James. I agree with the child’s mother: There should be security checks on every student at the gate. And that should apply to every other school in the country, in my view.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness now has an uphill task in rebuilding his party before the next general elections appear on the horizon. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness now has an uphill task in rebuilding his party before the next general elections appear on the horizon. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

  • After a meeting lasting 3 1/2 hours on Monday, Jamaica Labour Party Members of Parliament confirmed Andrew Holness as Opposition Leader. Seven reportedly voted against and thirteen for Mr. Holness. As expected, there were staunch declarations of “unity.” The media was busy putting two and two together to figure out who voted against “Anju” (who was himself busy quoting extensively from the Bible at a political gospel concert on Sunday).
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) completed the seventh review of Jamaica’s economic performance and approved an additional US$39 million worth of debt for the Jamaican Government. Their release is here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr15147.htm The IMF emphasizes the need to strengthen the financial sector, broaden the tax base, step up public sector reform and impose public sector wage restraint (a regular refrain).
  • A young man who was mentally ill was allegedly killed by the police in Olympic Gardens, Kingston. Very, very sad on so many levels.
  • There was a huge seizure of guns and ammunition yesterday when a vehicle was stopped by the police in Trelawny. Spread out on a table, the arsenal looked terrifying. Where did these guns come from, and where were they headed?
Ms. Shernet Haughton has been accused of handing out contracts to several family members. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Ms. Shernet Haughton has been accused of handing out contracts to several family members. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

  • The lawyer for the former Mayor of Lucea, Shernet Haughton, says she “did nothing wrong,” despite the Office of the Contractor General’s report that revealed pretty extensive nepotism, favoritism, conflict of interest, irregularity and impropriety in the award of government contracts. It appears that Ms. Haughton’s spouse, sisters and a brother along with daughters and a son, as well as a brother and sister-in-law all benefited from said contracts. Keeping it in the family. It is depressing that the former Mayor is adamant says she is not resigning as a councilor. Ms. Haughton has been asked to appear before the People’s National Party (PNP) Integrity Commission, which will report by April 20 (I am making a note in my calendar). There should be a long line outside the Commission’s door, but one is selective, you understand. But Ms. Haughton was voted out of office by her own party, this time. No closing ranks.
Senate President Floyd Morris told Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte to stop her presentation - I am not too sure what her alleged transgression was, to be honest.

Senate President Floyd Morris told Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte to stop her presentation – I am not too sure what her alleged transgression was, to be honest.

  • The Senate continues to be an interesting place. The two original Opposition Senators, Christopher Tufton and Arthur Williams, were welcomed back last Friday after their sojourn in the wilderness. Then another Opposition Senator, the “likkle but tallawah” Marlene Malahoo Forte (a Yale Fellow, by the way) was not allowed to speak in the Budget debate on her portfolio of Health (and there’s quite a lot to talk about there). The Senate President apparently thought she was going on too long.
Once again, I would like to ask Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton who is stealing all this cable for years - and how, and why… I raised this issue in September 2013 and nothing seems to have changed. Thank you.

Once again, Dear Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton: Who is stealing all this cable for years – and how, and why? I raised this issue in September 2013 and nothing seems to have changed. Thank you.

I thought the scrap metal trade was regulated? I feel sorry for the amiable former journalist Elon Parkinson, now PR man for the telecoms firm LIME, when he talks about the continuous and regular theft of wire from LIME installations. The thievery often causes major disruptions in Internet and telephone service. Someone, somewhere is benefiting from this. Can’t the police get a handle on it? And I thought the scrap metal trade was properly regulated nowadays? It wreaked havoc several years ago until it was completely shut down by the former Jamaica Labour Party administration. Is Minister Anthony Hylton making any effort in this regard? Does he consider the persistent targeting of a major telecoms firm by thieves might possibly deter other investors? I don’t know how LIME puts up with it.

Firemen seek to control the  fire at Riverton City dump on Sunday, March 16. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Firemen seek to control the fire at Riverton City dump on Sunday, March 16. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Today firefighters left the Riverton dump, suggesting the fire there is now extinguished. But do we know enough about the air quality test results? Have they been properly explained and clarified to us? Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) thinks not. I certainly feel none the wiser, and now it is all allowed to blow over (until next time)? That can’t be right. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has withdrawn its case against the Ministry of Local Government. Moving on…

Bad food: Now there are shocking reports that rotten meat obtained from the dump is being sold in downtown Kingston. And, today, a fish kill in Portmore was announced! Warnings are going out not to eat any of this stuff, and an interminable discussion on Twitter focused on “how could one ever be poor or hungry enough…?” Yes, one could.

The garbage dump in Middle Cay (Pedro Cays) in September 2012. Hello, NSWMA?

The garbage dump in Middle Cay (Pedro Cays) in September 2012. Hello, NSWMA?

NEPA is busy: The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) served notice on the NSWMA for its inability to manage the waste on the distant Pedro Cays – a scattering of small islands used by fisherfolk that have no sanitary arrangements, landfill etc. NEPA has also just warned J. Wray & Nephew, the rum company, for polluting the North Elim River at Appleton Estate. How disgraceful! This is by no means the first time rum companies have  polluted waterways. There is no excuse.

These “entertainment zones”: The Gleaner’s Melville Cooke wrote an excellent piece about the proposal to “zone” certain areas. I know that all-night street dances provide income for many communities – but senior citizens, young children and the sick and frail also live there. Can they co-exist with dancehall music until 4:00 a.m.? That is just one issue – there are many others that need to be worked out.

The "black carpet" on one major road in Kingston. Laid out for President Obama?

The “black carpet” on one major road in Kingston. Laid out for President Obama?

The President’s pending visit – rolling out the “black carpet”: That is how a friend on social media described the suddenly beautiful surface of Marescaux Road in Kingston, going right into Crossroads. Is President Obama perchance going to be traveling that way? The National Works Agency says it’s coincidence that they are fixing the road. Yeah right, say my cynical online friends. A pity though that we tend to only clean up our yard when overseas visitors are coming; I recall the speedy makeover to our roads ahead of Pope John Paul II’s visit some years ago. Now, road works are even going on at night, I hear (a very unusual occurrence).

I have a bunch of kudos to hand out…

  • The Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) is working hard. MOCA did a number of raids on several locations in Kingston today. We wait to hear more, and I commend them for their pursuit of public sector corruption. Meanwhile, they are in hot pursuit of lotto scammers and more arrests have been made.
  • The hard-working Greig Smith of the Office of the Children’s Registry, who is visiting schools and talking to students directly about self-respect and protecting themselves from sexual abuse. His is a challenging job.
CEO of Island Grill Thalia Lyn aims to greatly reduce the restaurant chain's plastic and styrofoam use.

CEO of Island Grill Thalia Lyn aims to greatly reduce the restaurant chain’s plastic and styrofoam use.

  • Our Jamaican fast food chain, Island Grill will introduce recyclable containers instead of plastic ones for its (a sponsor of Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica) Thanks and well done to Thalia Lyn and her team! Island Grill is one of the sponsors of JET’s “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” campaign.
  • Portmore HEART Academy’s solar power installation is already reaping dividends. Good to hear!  Well, Portmore is often called the Sunshine City…
A new professor: Dr. Matthew Smith of the Department of History at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

A new professor: Dr. Matthew Smith of the Department of History at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

  • Three lecturers were promoted to professorships at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus recently: Dr Colin McKenzie of theTropical Metabolism Research Unit; Economist Dr David Tennant; and historian Dr. Matthew Smith, who has published several works on Haiti, and is also a Fulbright Scholar. Congratulations to all!

And plaudits to two Jamaican bloggers today: Young Francine Derby wrote a sad, thoughtful piece on an emotionally abusive relationship, from her own experience. I am sure it will be helpful to many; look for the warning signs! Here’s the link: http://francinederby.com/2015/03/30/the-other-side-of-abuse/

Big ups to the dynamic Cecile Watson for her very first blog post, here: https://acecilewatson.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/end-the-silence-the-courage-of-millenials/ in which she praises the “emancipated millennials” for their openness and honesty about women’s health issues that have previously been taboo.

As a reader reminded me recently, every death is a tragedy. My deepest condolences to the families of these Jamaicans who have been murdered in the past few days.

Romero Earrier, Luke Lane, Kingston

Richard Reynolds, Olympic Gardens, Kingston  (killed by police)

Kemar Turner, 33, March Pen Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Shaheem Lewis, 12, Barrett Town All Age School, St. James

Robert Williams, 29, Bevin Avenue, Montego Bay, St. James

Kirk Porter, 28, Spalding, Clarendon

Unidentified man, Discovery Bay, St. Ann

Richard Jones, 46, Spring Village, St. Mary

Jacinth Johnson, mother of 12-year-old Shyheim Lewis who was fatally stabbed by his classmate, is comforted yesterday by her spouse Linton White outside the Barrett Town All Age School as Police Superintendent Gary Francis looks on. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Jacinth Johnson, mother of 12-year-old Shyheim Lewis who was fatally stabbed by his classmate, is comforted yesterday by her spouse Linton White outside the Barrett Town All Age School as Police Superintendent Gary Francis looks on. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

 

The Lawyers Are Busy, The Fire Smolders and a Speech is Interrupted: Thursday, March 26, 2015

Well, what a week it’s been. Blustery weather (figuratively and literally) and our dry stretch continues. And the smoke, you may ask? Smoke? Well, since you asked…

The more things change...A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke. When was this taken? Oh, back in February, 2012. (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

The more things change…A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke. When was this taken? Oh, back in February, 2012. The headline then: “Riverton Nightmare.”  (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

Rumor has it that the fire at the Riverton Dump is finally out, fifteen carcinogenic days later. It is apparently “smoldering” and some businesses downtown reported smoke nuisance this morning.The air quality test results finally came back, and the anxiety, alarm, and questions began. The report showed record-breaking levels of benzene, from the fire. Plus about twenty other chemicals. Health officials then went on to say benzene is always present in our air to some extent, from traffic fumes. But why, may I ask, did a senior health official tell us there would be “no long-term effects” from the fire (before we even got the result of the air quality tests from Canada?)

odpem_logo

Trying to obtain information from any of the government agencies involved has been like getting blood out of a stone. This week, updates and bulletins on the fire have been almost non-existent – from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) for example, which clearly does not believe that  social media might be useful for this purpose. The last tweet from them was two days ago. Another communication “fail.” After some persuasion, the Health Ministry had the air quality report posted here: http://jis.gov.jm/riverton-city-disposal-site-air-quality-report/it’s a lot of numbers that need analysis and interpretation. The opacity of the Government’s response reminds me of another major health issue that happened a few months back now – chik v. And yes, I know people still suffering pains.

Perhaps, as with the very successful MAJ/Health Ministry Public Forum on Chik v, one on air quality in Kingston might help? As I said, there are still many questions. This would be appreciated by the Jamaican public, I believe.

Fiona Richards of Buff Bay High prepares to launch the shot put during the girls' Class Two final at the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls' Athletic Champio ships at the National Stadium yesterday. Ricrahds won with a throw of 15.21 meters. Another great photo by the Gleaner's Ricardo Makyn.

Fiona Richards of Buff Bay High prepares to launch the shot put during the girls’ Class Two final at the GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls’ Athletic Champio ships at the National Stadium yesterday. Ricrahds won with a throw of 15.21 meters. Another great photo by the Gleaner’s Ricardo Makyn.

But the planned (and postponed) GSAT examinations went ahead today, and the Education Ministry says it all went fine apart from “residual smoke.” The Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships also started yesterday at the National Stadium, with Jamaica College currently leading for the boys and Edwin Allen for the girls. 

Trying to obtain information from any of the government agencies involved has been like getting blood out of a stone. This week, updates and bulletins on the fire have been almost non-existent – from the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) for example, which clearly does not believe that  social media might be useful for this purpose. Eventually, the air quality report was put up on the website here: http://jis.gov.jm/riverton-city-disposal-site-air-quality-report/but it’s a lot of numbers that need analysis and interpretation. The opacity of the Government’s response reminds me of another major health issue that happened a few months back now – chik v. By the way, I know people who are still suffering pains from the side effects.

Meanwhile, the (much smaller) dump in Montego Bay was also set ablaze. Twice. I am not sure whether the media has really investigated the situation there. Suffice it to say that this was not the first time, either. The Jamaica Environment Trust has posted a lot of past reports on Riverton, air quality etc here, for those who want to delve deeper into all of this: http://www.jamentrust.org/advocacy-a-law/campaigns/riverton-city-dump.html

How about something like this - a hazardous waste drop-off center? (I hear terrible stories about syringes etc. on the dump).

How about something like this – a hazardous waste drop-off center? (I hear terrible stories about syringes etc. on the dump).

Hazardous waste: The issue of e-waste (computers and all kinds of other technology that may contain harmful substances) remains a difficult question – asked by a participant at the recent Green Economy Conference. No one seemed able to address it then, which surprised me. Jamaica has no legislation on storing and treating hazardous waste. There does at least seem to have been a project to process and treat used lead batteries and the Government seems to think people could start a business that way. Meanwhile the University of the West Indies is working on storing and eventually destroying e-waste. We shall see. There is so much talk. If I hear the phrase “waste to energy” one more time I will scream. Don’t talk, let’s get it done, Minister Paulwell! Thank you.

Jennifer Edwards' contract expired today, but she is taking legal action against the Board, it appears.

Jennifer Edwards’ contract expired today, but she is taking legal action against the Board, it appears.

The dump is political (in many senses of the word): Now, the CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) Jennifer Edwards was effectively dismissed when the Board decided not to renew her contract, which ends today. However, bear in mind: As head of the People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement Ms. Edwards has strong support in the party (including, I believe, from the Minister of Local Government and the Prime Minister herself). She may not go without a fight – in fact today she sought a court injunction to block the Board’s action, which her lawyers called “arbitrary, oppressive, unlawful and unreasonable.” The aggrieved Ms. Edwards says she did not know what the “allegations” were against her. The judge refused the injunction but said they could serve documents on the Board and return to court on April 2.

Citizens protested outside the offices of the NSWMA this week. However, another group of supporters of Ms. Edwards also demonstrated and got plenty of air time on local television.

Citizens protested outside the offices of the NSWMA this week. However, another group of supporters of Ms. Edwards also demonstrated and got plenty of air time on local television.

Oh, and don’t forget: The Ministry of Health is suing senior officials of the Local Government Ministry over the fire, and Minister Arscott (he who wore the monstrous gas mask at the dump the other day, while others wore flimsy dust masks) is not amused by this. That court date will be set in the next week or two.

Former Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck, MP resigned immediately after the court ruling. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Former Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck, MP resigned immediately after the Court of Appeal’s ruling. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

And talking of court cases: The inevitable happened yesterday. The Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court’s decision on Andrew Holness’ messing around with Senate appointments. This means that, as the Supreme Court stated pretty clearly in the first place, Senators Arthur Williams and Christopher Tufton always were, and will remain Senators. For those who like the legal stuff, the Appeals Court ruling is here: http://www.courtofappeal.gov.jm/content/holness-andrew-v-williams-arthur Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck resigned from his position immediately after the ruling; he had suggested he would if the appeal was denied.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was thoroughly embarrassed by the Appeal Court's ruling.

I think Opposition Leader Andrew Holness was thoroughly embarrassed by the Appeal Court’s ruling. He jumped into a car to avoid journalists outside the court.

I cannot understand why the Opposition Leader a) did that secretive undated signed letters thing (and why did the senators agree?) b) took legal action and c) appealed the court’s decision, which seemed as clear as daylight to me. It was a series of incredibly bad decisions that make him look like a most unsuitable leader. I still believe Mr. Holness should step down. Most disappointing, as he did set himself up to be “new and different” in the way he went about things, and he occasionally showed promising signs. One had hopes. But he has shown himself to be immature and clearly had incredibly bad (legal?) advice – or was it also mixed with political advice? Was he advised this was a smart move?

The Jamaica Labour Party’s former leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga told the media today that Holness should “not give up this fight” and should take his appeal to the UK Privy Council; he then added “But I’m not a lawyer.”  I understand however the Privy Council is not an option under the Constitution. I feel the Attorney General must be right in his view that “the matter is, in fact, settled.” But then, I’m not a lawyer, either.

Seems to me only the lawyers are benefiting from all of the above; good business for them, and our media houses have  lawyers all lined up to offer their views, ad nauseam. I’ve never known a place to be so fascinated with lawyers and their opinions. How are any of these legal shenanigans helping the progress of Jamaica, and Jamaican citizens? Maybe I am missing something. In that case, please tell me. Is this what governance is all about in 2015? It’s all nonsense, and egos, and distractions. What about the people’s business?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her meeting, which turned out not to be a "town hall" - no questions. (Photo: Twitter)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her meeting, which turned out not to be a “town hall” – no questions. (Photo: Twitter)

A speech, interrupted: Our Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is in New York. She made a nice speech for the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, when the rather beautiful memorial “Ark of Return” was unveiled. This evening she spoke to a group of Jamaicans in a church in Lower Manhattan. A group of LGBT activists interrupted her speech, reportedly shouting “Gay lives matter” and accusing her of breaking her “promise” to the LGBT community to do something about the archaic law against buggery. I am afraid they expected far too much from Ms. Simpson Miller in the first place. The ground is littered with broken promises of all kinds, sadly. I understand the audience was sparse in Lower Manhattan, and no questions were taken.

I nearly forgot: Before she left for the Big Apple, the PM made a speech to close the Budget Debate in Parliament. On the oppression, trafficking, abuse and murder of our women and girls, she said: “We must speak with one voice: It is wrong! It must stop!” Yes, ma’am. It must stop. I agree with you. What is your government going to do about it? Any ideas? Remember, you are in charge. Here is the full speech: http://jis.gov.jm/prime-minister-hon-portia-simpson-miller-20152016-budget-presentation/

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller speaking at the unveiling of the Ark of Memory memorial at the United Nations in New York yesterday.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller speaking at the unveiling of the Ark of Return memorial at the United Nations in New York yesterday.

Oh, by the way, tourism to Cuba increased by nearly 250% this month. But we’re not worried, are we?

Bubbling under… Public sector wage talks have started with the Government after years of wage restraint, and I foresee some snags – as I have noted before. It seems highly unlikely the Government will grant anything near what the likes of our teachers will be demanding. This is going to be a tricky one.

“I don’t watch the news…” About a year ago, our Prime Minister disclosed to a journalist that she gets local news from her husband because she doesn’t watch it herself. More recently, a former Attorney General said she didn’t watch local news either (at the Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens massacre). So I laughed out loud when a Barbadian friend on Twitter shared this quote from their own Prime Minister, Freundel Stewart. Do our politicians really expect us to take them seriously? What if President Obama made a comment like that?

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The residents of West Kingston are not happy. And I don’t blame them. They are going to lose the awesome SSP Steve McGregor (who is always put in charge of the toughest police divisions, and is now being sent to St. James). He has been doing great work in the often crime-ridden community, with regular meetings with residents. He has also settled a lot of problems in the transportation sector there, which was targeted by extortionists. Big ups to him!

What is happening in small rural towns like Steer Town/St. Ann, Annotto Bay/St. Mary, Linstead/St. Catherine? They are struggling with endemic crime, and have been doing so for quite a long time. Our small towns are underdeveloped and lacking in opportunities for young people – and mostly ignored by their political representatives who are busy in Kingston.

There have been a number of murders since I last posted on Sunday. My deepest sympathies to all those who are mourning these Jamaicans who died:

Akeem Stewart, 22, Cheshire Village/Elletson Flats, Kingston (Killed by police)

Ransford Lewis, 38, Collie Smith Drive, Kingston

Jovan Wallace, 20, Hall’s Delight, St. Andrew

Wadeworth Briscoe, 23, March Pen Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Esperanzo Hines, 38, Nugent/Adelaide Street, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Gary McGregor, 46, Porto Bello Meadows, St. Catherine

Unidentified woman, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Marlett Briscoe, 29, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Pantry Pond/Bunkers Hill, Trelawny (mob killing)

Unidentified woman, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas

Akeem Stewart, a student of Excelsior Community College, was killed by the police, sparking an angry protest and road block near the University of the West Indies campus on Monday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Akeem Stewart, a student of Excelsior Community College, was killed by the police, sparking an angry protest and road block near the University of the West Indies campus on Monday. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)