Confident PM, Devastating Desmond and The Ghost of Trafigura: Sunday, May 29, 2016

A huge fire destroyed the 260,000 sq. ft. warehouse at Wisynco in Lakes Pen, St. Catherine. It started on Thursday afternoon and took many hours to bring  under control. Wisynco head William Mahfood tweeted:"I want to thank all Jamaica and our great people for the outpouring of well wishes and love. We will rise and have much to be thankful for." (Photo: Gleaner)
A huge fire destroyed the 260,000 sq. ft. warehouse at Wisynco in Lakes Pen, St. Catherine. It started on Thursday afternoon and took many hours to bring under control. Wisynco head William Mahfood tweeted:"I want to thank all Jamaica and our great people for the outpouring of well wishes and love. We will rise and have much to be thankful for." (Photo: Gleaner)

We’ve been having some lovely rain in Kingston, but on the eastern side of the island rural residents have been struggling with some flooding, landslides, lack of electricity and water and damaged roads… Some real challenges, and a schoolgirl, Brittany Cowell, sadly drowned in flood waters in St. Thomas. I do hope they get help quickly, because the hurricane season is breathing down our necks. This year’s hurricane names are out. Alexis and Bonnie have already been and gone, so on to Colin and Danielle – probably Earl, too. Hopefully we will not get to know Tobias, Virginie or Walter.

How GM mosquitoes work.

How GM mosquitoes work.

The mosquito fogging truck just came booming down the road, leaving chemical fumes in its wake. In neighboring Cayman Islands the Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes (which, as we know, carry the dengue fever, chikungunya, zika viruses plus yellow fever) have developed a resistance to the commonly used insecticide that is used in both aerial and terrestrial spraying. So, over the next nine months the Caymans will be releasing 22 million genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes; they are sterile and the larvae apparently never emerge as adults. Is Jamaica considering this option? Do we know if fogging is still effective here? There are reports of more Jamaicans with symptoms of Zika now (red eyes is one of them) – although still many will not show symptoms.

A surprisingly confident performance: Prime Minister Andrew Holness delivered his Budget speech in a robust and somewhat upbeat manner, and made rather a good impression generally. Of course, it’s always up to the PM to deliver some kind of consolatory nice things after the tough realities of our budget numbers. Yet, I get the sense that he took the wind out of the Opposition People’s National Party’s (PNP) sails (as the IMF did last week by praising Holness’ tax proposals) by going one step further. Despite his one-seat majority, Holness is making some bold moves in the Budget, which have perhaps caught the Opposition on the back foot. Housing and land is always – has always been – a major concern for the less financially endowed among us. Holness took this vexed issue squarely by the horns and in his closing budget speech handed out some “goodies” in terms of National Housing Trust benefits that should really make a difference to people’s lives. The link to the full speech is here: http://jis.gov.jm/prime-minister-hon-andrew-holness-budget-presentation/

Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted his remarks at a conference this week: “Government will focus less on announcement and more on implementation.” Our politicians (and others) are of course famous for making grand announcements, followed by little or no action. Many years ago now, a former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica ruffled some feathers when he commented on this tendency. Let’s hope the PM really does get cracking.

Member of Parliament for East Portland Lynvale Bloomfield gets to work on painting the police station on Labour Day - when huge amounts of paint are bought, all over the island! (Photo: Twitter)

Member of Parliament for East Portland Lynvale Bloomfield gets to work on painting the police station on Labour Day – when huge amounts of paint are bought, all over the island! (Photo: Twitter)

The PNP did, however, have something to complain about, and that is the apparent unfair sharing of funding for Labour Day projects. The Holness administration is under pressure to explain, although Prime Minister Holness asserted quite firmly that he is opposed to any allocation of funds on a partisan basis during his Budget speech. While many Jamaicans worked hard on Labour Day, these accusations (and the rather confused explanation by the JLP) threw a bit of a shadow over the day.

Postponed… like the pre-election political debates.

Postponed… like the pre-election political debates.

The party of postponement? The PNP had planned a tweet chat (#BudgetChatJa) this evening, but at 5:30 p.m. tweeted: “Pls note TweetUp postponed. We’re going to examine some of the issues raised in closing of debate so we can have a full #BudgetChatJA with u.” I wonder why it was postponed. Someone didn’t approve?

 Damian Crawford’s radio show: The former Entertainment Minister’s new talk show, called Str8 Fwd with Crawford starts tonight (May 25) 8pm on  Nationwide. Mr. Crawford has been known to go off on tangents quite regularly, so I think the name of his show may be a bit of a misnomer. We shall see how many detours and cul de sacs he encounters. The number of female voices on this radio station is dwindling, unfortunately.

Damian Crawford is adding to the roster of male voices on Nationwide Radio.

Damian Crawford is adding to the roster of male voices on Nationwide Radio.

Reading the riot act: Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie gave the Hanover Parish Council a real dressing-down, in person, a few days ago. I think he went over the top, as Mr. McKenzie is prone to do at times. “Over zealous” is a kind way of putting it, perhaps! The councilors must have felt like a classroom full of bad boys and girls, about to get heavy detention. Minister McKenzie has taken over all documents prior to conducting a three-week audit at Hanover; perhaps he is afraid some may disappear. He also says he is going to conduct “in depth” investigations into three other (as yet unnamed) parish councils. He has been “throwing shade” all over the place. In one comment, he said “the people don’t have the stomach” for local government elections, so people can become councilors with just a few hundred votes (let’s remember that local government elections are pending). Meanwhile, the section of the Royalton Hotel that did not collapse may reopen soon, Minister McKenzie says (he’s also keeping a beady eye on another development, the Karisma Hotel).

Horrible crash: Five people died in yet another horrific crash on a stretch of road in Llandovery, St. Ann that is habitually a race track. The minibus in which the five were traveling apparently developed mechanical problems. This gave the traffic police the opportunity to stress the importance of keeping one’s vehicle properly maintained. They are doing a lot of “spot checks” but it has not made any difference whatsoever, so far as I can see. 160 Jamaicans have died in road accidents since the start of the year (149 last year at this time). I am not impressed by the police as far as road safety is concerned. I have seen them myself, looking on while motorbike riders without helmets stop at traffic lights right under their noses. It’s a bit too much to hear them lecturing us on every television newscast, when they are not properly enforcing the laws.

Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill.

Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill.

On the political front, the PNP is trying to rearrange itself. As I noted in an earlier blog, Instagram Queen Lisa Hanna has decided to make her move, and tweeted this today. Former Tourism Minister Dr. Wykeham McNeill also plans to throw his hat in the ring at a regional meeting in St. James, replacing Derrick Kellier who is stepping down. The other Vice Presidents currently are Dr Fenton Ferguson, Angela Brown Burke, and Noel Arscott.

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And a terrible fire: Wisynco suffered a huge loss on Thursday afternoon, when its very large warehouse at Lakes Pen in St. Catherine caught fire. It took a long time to get it under control – a lot of plastic and styrofoam went up in smoke. Fortunately though, no one was hurt and no one will be laid off as a result of the fire.

Bank of Jamaica (BoJ) Governor, Brian Wynter (left), responds to a question during the quarterly press briefing at the BoJ’s headquarters, on May 26. Also pictured is the bank’s Deputy Governor, Livingstone Morrison. (Photo: JIS)

Bank of Jamaica (BoJ) Governor, Brian Wynter (left), responds to a question during the quarterly press briefing at the BoJ’s headquarters, on May 26. Also pictured is the bank’s Deputy Governor, Livingstone Morrison. (Photo: JIS)

Eeek! The dollar! It has been sliding rapidly in the last couple of weeks. Since May 20, the Bank of Jamaica has been intervening by selling substantial amounts into the market.

Remember Trafigura? It hasn’t gone away, although I am sure some people would like it to. The case resumes on Tuesday May 31. Dutch authorities still want to question PNP officials of the about a $31-million donation by Dutch company Trafigura Beheer to the party in 2006. Former PNP General Secretary Colin Campbell says he is not worried that the Trafigura case has reared its head again, telling one newspaper that it is “a whole lot of political propaganda [No, it’s a legal matter actually, Mr. Campbell]. “I was the general secretary [of the PNP] and that’s in the past, I took responsibility for it. It was not a personal issue, and as far as my character is concerned, I have shown that I am of sound character and refuse to take part in any wrongdoings like that,” Mr. Campbell said. You can find the August 2010 report of the Office of the Contractor General here: http://www.ocg.gov.jm/ocg/sites/default/files/OCG_Investigation_Trafigura.pdf The Contractor General at the time, Greg Christie tweeted earlier this week: “Former JA PM Simpson-Miller had previously contended that she enjoyed diplomatic immunity and couldn’t be compelled to answer questions.”

CHEC News: Our great friends China Harbour Engineering Company has built a space monitoring” base in Argentina, which is being entirely run and staffed by the People’s Liberation Army. Local media have not been allowed access, according to this report: http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/china-builds-space-monitoring-base-in-the-americas/  which describes the project as “the first-ever tract of sovereign Chinese territory in the Americas.” Is this the first, though? CHEC has also been very busy building those controversial islands in the South China Sea. It will not be busy building the planned Swansea Lagoon project in the UK, however, as was expected. Let us keep an eye on what these people are doing, elsewhere and here.

Predators: The non-governmental organization Children First suffered a terrible blow, when its training centre on Monk Street in Spanish Town was broken into and every item of equipment for its cosmetology and barbering training program was stolen – including three barbers’ chairs. Another non-governmental organization, the TrenchTown Reading Centre, has been sprucing itself up for the summer lately, but also suffered a loss when it was broken into and many large pots of paint etc. were stolen. One can only think this must be someone in the community that committed this crime, or organized it. The community is always “upset” but of course “no one knows” who does these things. They are unknown, preying on organizations that have so few resources and are trying to lift up their own children. It is hurtful and infuriating – compounded by the fact that there is a culture of silence.

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The I’m Glad I’m a Girl Summer Camp will run from July 24 to 30 at Mary Seacole Hall at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus. It’s a great, empowering event for teenage girls. Nadeen Spence is the organizer and founder of the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation, which is a flourishing mentorship program run by UWI students. It is seeking funds for this annual weeklong residential camp that features a range of activities. If you can make a donation – or sponsor one of the participating girls from a vulnerable community, you can go to the crowd funding site: https://www.gofundme.com/25e9m2rw  or make a contribution to their bank account: Bank of Nova Scotia, Liguanea Branch, I’m Glad I’m A Girl, A/C No. 823285.

Congrats to the Reggae Boyz! They beat Chile 2-1 on Friday night in an away friendly.Big ups to the goal scorers Clayton Donaldson and Joel Grant. Minnows beat one of the South American powerhouses. Cool!

maj-symposium-flyer

Very happy to hear that the Medical Association of Jamaica will this year focus on Emerging Issues Impacting the Health of Older Adults, and has designated the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) as its charity, this year.

Do we give enough thought to occupational health and safety in Jamaica? Dr. Yohann White has written a useful article on the topic: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/healthy-workers-companies-yohann-white-mbbs-phd-dtmh

Despite the politicking over the amounts allocated for Labour Day projects, much good work was done. Here are the Digicel Foundation, Positive Organization and Respect Jamaica volunteers in Trench Town, (with Digicel Foundation's Kemesha Kelly (2nd left) and Foundation Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin (in straw hat). Photo: Twitter

Despite the politicking over the amounts allocated for Labour Day projects, much good work was done. Here are the Digicel Foundation, Positive Organization and Respect Jamaica volunteers in Trench Town, with Digicel Foundation’s Kemesha Kelly (2nd left) and Foundation Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin (in straw hat). Photo: Twitter

 

Why are so many of our women being killed, week after week? And how come there are “gang feuds” in a small rural town like Steer Town? I am sending my deepest condolences to the families of all these Jamaicans who have lost their lives to violence, this week. Sudden loss and trauma is not something you just get over, just so.

Adrian Thompson, 34, Hughenden, Kingston

Fabian Reid-Thomas, 36, Hughenden, Kingston

Melvin Dyer, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, St. Catherine Correctional Centre (killed by correctional officer as he tried to escape)

Dennis King, 50, North Race Course Road/Mandeville, Manchester

Elvis Walters, 44, Cunningsburgh Road/Aleppo, St. Mary

Samantha Lindsay, 30, Grants Town, St. Mary

Orville Lawes, 40, Providence/Flanker, St. James

Unidentified man, Providence/Flanker, St. James

Lee Anthony Evans, 36, Rose Heights, St. James

Gregory McBean, 40, Steer Town, St. Ann

Shanique Smith, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Roger Scott, 38, Negril, Westmoreland

Still missing: Popular photographer NIketa Thomas and his cousin, Dwight Brown, have been missing since October, 2015, causing untold stress and major health problems for Niketa's mother. The police report more than 16,730 persons have gone missing since January 2010, of which 1,681 have not been found. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

Still missing: Popular photographer Niketa Thomas and his cousin, Dwight Brown, have been missing since October, 2015, causing untold stress and major health problems for Niketa’s mother. The police report more than 16,730 persons have gone missing since January 2010, of which 1,681 have not been found. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

The police are still looking for the boyfriend of 30-year-old Samantha Lindsay, after she was shot dead in Grants Town, St. Mary on Sunday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The police are still looking for the boyfriend of 30-year-old Samantha Lindsay, after she was shot dead in Grants Town, St. Mary on Sunday night. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

 

 

 

Shanique Smith, mother of three, was shot dead in Grange Hill, Westmoreland. (Photo: Jamaica Star/contributed)

Shanique Smith, mother of three, was shot dead in Grange Hill, Westmoreland. (Photo: Jamaica Star/contributed)

 

“Taxperity,” Life on Planet Poor – and A Surprise Visitor: Saturday, May 21, 2016

Businessman Don Wehby was sworn in as Government Senator on Friday, May 20. He had served as Senator before under the Bruce Golding administration (in 2007). Here he is speaking at the recent launch of his friend and colleague Douglas Orane's new book. (My photo)
Businessman Don Wehby was sworn in as Government Senator on Friday, May 20. He had served as Senator before under the Bruce Golding administration (in 2007). Here he is speaking at the recent launch of his friend and colleague Douglas Orane's new book. (My photo)

What a strange week it’s been – perhaps because I have not been feeling well. I believe I may I have had a touch of Zika (or a recurrence of chikungunya?) I get the feeling these nasty mosquito-borne diseases are overlapping. I seem to get them all! So please, people, take care out there. I am a bad example; I never notice mosquito bites and now that the weather has dried out a bit I am hardly even seeing any of the little buggers. Yet they seem to get me every time. Anyway, slap on your repellent, burn your candles and above all, don’t – don’t – have any breeding grounds around your house!

Health Minister Christopher Tufton must stay on top of the ever-changing pattern of scary diseases, and keep us regularly informed. (Photo: Gleaner)

Health Minister Christopher Tufton must stay on top of the ever-changing pattern of scary diseases, and keep us regularly informed. Daily, if necessary! This is no joke. (Photo: Gleaner)

Some pregnant women are showing symptoms of the Zika Virus, but none are yet confirmed, says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye. He says “we continue to monitor,” noting Jamaica is part of a PAHO research project on microcephaly. Pregnant women should increase their check-ups and include ultrasound to check on the size of the baby’s head, he added. We would still like to see regular (weekly?) updates on the Ministry of Health website, Minister Tufton! Is that so hard? There are, I understand, now ten confirmed cases of Zika. But I hear from different sources that there are far more suspected cases, and the Health Ministry itself says it expects around 70 per cent of the population to be eventually affected, even if they don’t show symptoms.

And then we have yellow fever – which, unlike the above-mentioned afflictions, does have a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control tells us: There is no risk of yellow fever in Jamaica. The government of Jamaica requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.” Several Chinese citizens who arrived in Montego Bay recently were detained because they did not have vaccination certificates. China as well as several other countries does have yellow fever.  Here are the Ministry’s FAQs on the topic: http://moh.gov.jm/edu-resources/yellow-fever-faqs/

Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores Maduro descend the stairs on arrival on a flight from Caracas Saturday night - Contributed photo/Gleaner

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores Maduro descend the stairs on arrival on a flight from Caracas Saturday night – Contributed photo/Gleaner

As I write, the President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro and his wife have just checked in at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. He will be here for a “working visit,” it has been hastily announced. He will be meeting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Government officials and holding a joint press conference with the Prime Minister tomorrow (Sunday). He is a brave man to leave his country when it’s in such disarray; hopefully there will still be a place for him on his return. One notes his wife is with him, and also his Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodríguez, and Minister of Petroleum and Mining, Eulogio Del Pino. He may visit Trinidad after he leaves us on Sunday afternoon. This must be something to do with PetroCaribe (which no one seems to talk about, these days). Meanwhile, frantic cleaning up was going on overnight downtown, where President Maduro will visit the Simón Bolívar statue and Cultural Centre.

Sunday morning meeting at Jamaica House with President Maduro. (Photo: Andrew Holness Twitter)

Sunday morning meeting at Jamaica House with President Maduro. Finance Minister Audley Shaw and Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith are in this photo. (Photo: Andrew Holness Twitter)

Finance and Planning Minister Audley Shaw kisses Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller in the House of Representatives. (Photo: Gleaner)

A peck on the cheek: Finance and Planning Minister Audley Shaw kisses Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller in the House of Representatives. (Photo: Gleaner)

We really do care about “The Poor”  – not Jamaicans in general, but The Poor that some politicians love to love. Referring to the recent Budget,  Imani Duncan-Price declared in a Gleaner column that tax reform is a delicate balancing act – and this is not balanced.” Suddenly the People’s National Party (PNP) is giving out prescriptions for how tax reform should be conducted – which begs the question… Well, perhaps you know what the question is! Now, whether the current administration can hold it all together – promises and all – is one thing, and remains to be seen. But as usual, Opposition remarks on the Budget always have a hypocritical ring. I mean, don’t they all mess around with taxes, every year, when they’re in power? In her Budget address Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller called the Government’s plan “taxperity” (a play on the word “prosperity,” which was heavily used during the Jamaica Labour Party’s election campaign). She also mentioned, not for the first time, that her party replaced 300 pit latrines in schools – proof of that love of The Poor, I suppose. I cannot find a copy of her speech online. I think the Jamaica Information Service should post the speech, however. The Opposition is a part of our Government. There is a summary on the PNP’s website (“Welcome, Comrades!”) but it’s rather inadequate.

Meanwhile, the IMF was back in town and gave the thumbs up to the Government’s tax plans. The officials had skipped a visit because of the elections, so this was two reports rolled into one.  You can read it here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/ms/2016/052016.htm

But growth… What about that elusive creature?

The Trench Town Reading Centre is an oasis of hope in the St. Andrew Southern constituency, the "safe seat" that Omar Davies will be relinquishing this summer. (My photo)

The Trench Town Reading Centre is an oasis of hope in the St. Andrew Southern constituency, the “safe seat” that Omar Davies will be relinquishing this summer. (My photo)

Speaking of the Comrades, some of them are apparently jockeying for position, with Portia Simpson Miller facing a possible challenge to the leadership by the end of the year. Instagram Queen Lisa Hanna called a radio talk show host to inform him that she is considering applying for the position of Vice President when the time comes. Gasp! Also, with the ailing former Finance Minister Omar Davies very likely to step down in August, Colin Campbell is hoping to replace him in his prized “safe seat” of St. Andrew Southern, which includes a large number of The Poor. I recall some years ago when Dr. Davies publicly described the young male residents of his constituency as “irredeemable.” Mr. Campbell is anxious to inherit them. 

Why is garbage still an issue in several parts of the island? There are reportedly major pile-ups of uncollected rubbish in St. Ann. St. Catherine is suffering from a major rat problem, and blocked drains. Is there still a shortage of collection trucks? And what about the problem of illegal dumping? If one is observant, one can see this in various rural parishes (as I noted, and photographed in Hector’s River, Portland a few weeks ago) and rundown residential areas like New Haven, which is almost a garbage dump in itself. Sometimes it’s construction waste. It’s a disgrace; but I realize it’s hard to catch the lazy, careless law-breakers. Take it to the dump! At least the Portland Health Department, it is reported, has launched a probe into reports of illegal dumping in some remote areas, near the resort community of San San.

Cabinet has granted a mobile spectrum licence to a local telecommunications company, Symbiote Investments, to provide internet service in Jamaica.

Politics has always been thoroughly mixed up in our education system. And along with the politics comes, almost inevitably – corruption. So it’s hardly a surprise that a UK professor – founder and director of the Institute for Educational Administration and Leadership -Jamaica cited “influence peddling” as rife in the selection of teachers for promotion to principal in schools. This was one of the key findings of a study Professor Paul Miller, reader in education at Brunel University in the United Kingdom, conducted. Why on earth do Members of Parliament select school board chairmen? Why aren’t teachers promoted on merit? No wonder our students are struggling. Mismanagement is commonplace in our schools; and every year there are angry protests at school gates against school principals – by parents and others with vested interests. Over to you, Minister Reid…

One of the original car chases, from the thriller "Bullitt." Some of our policemen seem to think, and behave, as if they are in an action movie. Yet, they expect the Jamaican people to trust them.

One of the original car chases, from the thriller “Bullitt.” Some of our policemen seem to think, and behave, as if they are in an action movie. Yet, they expect the Jamaican people to trust them.

Living in an action movie: I sometimes wonder whether members of our police force have been watching too many films involving machine guns and car chases. It is completely against the law and police regulations to fire at a moving car, and yet… Senior Superintendent Anthony Castelle and District Constable Rohan Mcintosh were charged by INDECOM with unlawful wounding, unlawful discharge of firearm, and misconduct in a public office. They were granted bail of one million dollars each. They allegedly pursued an illegal taxi (with passengers) along several roadways in Montego Bay, firing at the moving vehicle. After the car stopped and the driver ran away, they “discovered” a pregnant woman in the back seat had been injured. I wondered what her condition is, now. It’s lucky no passers-by weren’t hurt. This reminds me of the Khajeel Mais murder case – but that was a private citizen,  not an officer of the State, who fired at the taxi in which he was traveling. I ask again: What has happened to the Mais case? 

And come to that, why have the police not found the notorious “Duppy Flim”? Why have they not arrested anyone for the murders of the two missionaries? And investigators seem to be struggling in the case of the murder of Corporal Judith Williams.

Sounding a little desperate for good news, the Jamaica Constabulary Force tells us that murders are down by 5 per cent compared to January 1 – May 14 last year; and that reported rapes, robbery, assaults and larceny are all down, too. We have had 409 murders this year, compared to 431 for the same period in 2015. A cab driver was shot dead almost on the doorstep of the St. Andrew Parish Church, traumatizing worshippers. I guess this is one of those “pockets of violence” we hear about. In one night, six people were killed in western Jamaica, CVM Television reports. By the way, if you would like to read more on the crime and violence debate, which continues to drag on in social media, please take a look at my latest article for Global Voices here: https://globalvoices.org/2016/05/17/prepare-for-pushback-if-you-call-jamaica-violent-even-though-it-can-be/  My deepest condolences to all the families of these Jamaicans who have died. 

Lloyd Aitken, Hagley Park Road/Half Way Tree, Kingston

Ronaldo Kinghorn, 19, Mona Commons, Kingston

Rodario Hibbert, 27, Rose Hall/Linstead, St. Catherine

Kay Marie Pryce-Binns, 41, Rose Hall/Linstead, St. Catherine

Unidentified woman, Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine

Rory Forbes, 22, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Marcus Dennis, 32, Green Bottom/May Pen, Clarendon

Mavis Davis, 63, Ivory Close/May Pen, Clarendon

Michael Williams, 48, Ivory Close/May Pen, Clarendon

Ryan Ramdial, 30, Rocky Point, Clarendon

Daniel Guthrie, Rocky Point, Clarendon

Balford ‘Fire Bird’ Gordon, 56, Mosquito Cove, Hanover

Aletta Brown-Gordon, 45, Mosquito Cove, Hanover

Unidentified man, Pell River, Hanover

Evan Williams, 35, Morgan’s Bridge/Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Devaro Gardner, 15, Bromley, St. Mary

Marcel Sinclair, 38, Reach District, Portland

 

A memorial service for the two American missionaries who were murdered in Albion Mountain, St. Mary on April 30 was held today at the Boscobel United Church. They were remembered for their kindness. Meanwhile, no one has been arrested yet in connection with the murders.

A memorial service for the two American missionaries who were murdered in Albion Mountain, St. Mary on April 30 was held today at the Boscobel United Church. They were remembered for their kindness. Meanwhile, no one has been arrested yet in connection with the murders.

Jamaica, Sunday, May 15, 2016: One Point Five, Men in Hard Hats, Thumbs Down Queen’s School, #SaveGoatIslands

Great Goat Island (foreground) and Little Goat Island in the Portland Bight Protected Area. ONCE AGAIN we hear about the planned mega-transshipment port to be built by China Harbour Engineering Company - which would destroy this and surrounding areas in the Portland Bight PROTECTED AREA. (Photo: Jeremy Francis/savegoatislands.org)
Great Goat Island (foreground) and Little Goat Island in the Portland Bight Protected Area. ONCE AGAIN we hear about the planned mega-transshipment port to be built by China Harbour Engineering Company - which would destroy this and surrounding areas in the Portland Bight PROTECTED AREA. (Photo: Jeremy Francis/savegoatislands.org)

It has been a very busy and somewhat turbulent week – rather like the weather, which is sunshine in the morning and rain in the afternoon, with a bit of thunder and lightning thrown in. We are remembering that one year (and two years) ago, we were already deep into drought conditions. I for one am not complaining. And it’s looking like a bumper mango season!

Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw. (Photo: Gleaner)

Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw. (Photo: Gleaner)

Budget on our minds: Finance Minister Audley Shaw opened the parliamentary Budget Debate on Thursday, and you can read the whole thing here: http://jis.gov.jm/opening-presentation-20162017-budget-debate/ Minister Shaw’s delivery was generally good-natured, even humorous at times, and there seemed to less bickering and shouting in the House than usual. That is, until the Minister reached the topic of the “One Point Five,” as it has come to be known. One Point Five, you ask? I am referring to the promised tax break for those earning J$1.5 million and under annually, who pay taxes under the PAYE system. The Minister numbered these at 251,000 workers, a little over half of the total on PAYE. He will implement the much-debated election promise – in two phases, he announced (July 1 and April 1, 2017). I think this will impact a lot of civil servants.

The poor, the poor: Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, and those who support her party, have started talking about “the poor” again. “The JLP hates the poor!” one comrade tweeted.  As journalist Dennis Brooks said, what’s wrong with loving the middle class, too? They’re struggling. But as I write, a minor battle is erupting on Twitter, led by the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Julian Robinson and the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Senator Matthew Samuda. Head of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Economics and Co-Chair of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) Dr Damien King has been tweeting a great deal on the topic, including this observation: The $1.5m plan, as financed, is not after all a tax cut. It’s a shift to other taxes of equal value. That’s precisely why it’s good. No debt.”  By the way, many are muttering that, if we are talking about going after tax evaders, perhaps the Minister of Finance could start with some doctors and lawyers (I am not saying all). But there are so many lawyers sitting in Parliament – so maybe that’s a no-go area!

Here's one suggestion for drivers. There are many ways of saving on gas.

Here’s one suggestion for drivers. There are many ways of saving on gas.

A lot of whining is going on about the substantial increase in the gas tax. I would like to suggest, wherever possible, that we might find ways to save and conserve gas? Ease up on the gas guzzler cars, for example; do some car-pooling; plan your trips around town, etc. Perhaps Government officials could set an example in this regard – a highly visible “conservation culture” among politicians and civil servants (not only on gas but in other areas). Just a thought…

The pristine mangroves and dry limestone forest at Great Goat Island. (Photo: Kirsty Swinnerton/savegoatislands.org)

The pristine mangroves and dry limestone forest at Great Goat Island. (Photo: Kirsty Swinnerton/savegoatislands.org)

NOT GOOD! I quivered when I heard Minister Shaw mention “the Goat Island shipping project” as a medium term investment, and something to the effect that it was “on the horizon,” during the budget speech. So once again, the threat not only to Goat Islands but to a major part of the Portland Bight Protected Area has been revived. It all sounds, as usual, rather vague. But we have always been kept in the dark on this proposed destruction of a valuable and important protected area. I am deeply disappointed that it was mentioned. Think again, Minister Shaw. Think again! You will lose much support, including from international donor agencies…

Prime Minister Andrew Holness met with representatives of environmental NGOs on Friday. I notice JET's Diana McCaulay brought gifts (Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica)! (Photo: PM Andrew Holness/Facebook)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness met with representatives of environmental NGOs on Friday. I notice JET’s Diana McCaulay brought gifts (Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica)! (Photo: PM Andrew Holness/Facebook)

But good, I suppose… Meanwhile Prime Minister Andrew Holness posted photos on Facebook of his meeting this week with a group of environmentalists. They all looked very serious, and the PM a trifle nervous, I thought. I would love to have been a fly on the wall. Was this meeting just a social media PR stunt, to show that Mr. Holness is consulting with groups…or will something really meaningful come out of it? Dialogue can never be a bad thing, however – and I like the way the new administration is using social media. But I want to see meaningful action on the environment.

Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Desmond McKenzie (centre), and technical officers from the ministry and representatives of the Royalton Negril Hotel view the collapsed section of the property during a tour on Friday. (Photo: Gleaner)

So many men in hard hats! Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Desmond McKenzie (centre), and technical officers from the ministry and representatives of the Royalton Negril Hotel view the collapsed section of the property during a tour on Friday. (Photo: Gleaner)

A collapse waiting to happen: There fuss and bother over the collapsed Royalton Negril hotel continues. Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie says he will not comment until a proper report is completed on what happened. While they are checking the “integrity of the structure,” there are other issues. How many floors up is the hotel going? Is it the required distance from the shoreline? There have been numerous breaches from Day One with this hotel, as noted in my previous blog posts. And while there is supposed to be a 30-day stop order, nearby residents in Negril are still complaining about jack hammer drilling on the site, 24/7! What madness is this? It’s all about greed and money.

This photo appears on the Royalton Negril Resort & Spa ("Coming Winter 2017") web page. Is that FOUR stories…or is it five?

This photo appears on the Royalton Negril Resort & Spa (“Coming Winter 2017”) web page. Is that FOUR stories…or is it five? Only four are allowed, or so we understood…

Meanwhile, the intrepid Office of the Contractor General (OCG) has recommended two members of the Hanover Parish Council to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), for suspected nepotism in the award of contracts. The OCG says a special investigation conducted by his office has raised questions of misconduct and breaches of government laws and procedures by People’s National Party (PNP) councillors Lloyd Hill (Sandy Bay), and Anthony Walker (Cauldwell). I am sure we all remember the Mayor had to step down from her position for similar reasons: nepotism, conflict of interest and favoritism in the award of contracts, the OCG noted. I am guessing the DPP will not pursue this though – as she did not with the former Mayor, who remains a member of the PNP and Councilor for the Green Island Division (at least until the next local elections, when the PNP has said she will not be allowed to run as a candidate). I am sure we now know also that the collapsed hotel falls under this parish council’s jurisdiction. Now Minister McKenzie has told the Council to employ two engineers to oversee the Royalton and also the Karisma Hotel construction site in Negril. Ugh.

Thumbs DOWN, The Queen’s School: This school, for reasons unknown, decided recently to chop down a large guango tree (near JET’s Kingston office). I mentioned it in my blog post here: https://petchary.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/climate-change-in-the-caribbean-talking-planning-and-what-not-to-be-doing-after-the-paris-agreement/ Well, one immediate casualty was a juvenile Barn Owl (there was a nest in the tree) which fell into one of JET’s recycling bins! Here is a photo, with JET’s comments. 

From JET's Facebook page: "The young barn owl trapped in one of our recycling bins this morning. We surmise that a huge guano tree which was cut down by Queen's High recently was probably its home. When the tree was being cut, two juvenile owls had to be rescued by @nepajm. Without the tree the owls have lost their habitat. This one has now ended up getting itself into trouble. We expressed our strong objection to the removal of the tree at the time it was being cut, but we were unsuccessful in stopping the process."

From JET’s Facebook page: “The young barn owl trapped in one of our recycling bins this morning. We surmise that a huge guango tree which was cut down by Queen’s High recently was probably its home. When the tree was being cut, two juvenile owls had to be rescued by @nepajm. Without the tree the owls have lost their habitat. This one has now ended up getting itself into trouble. We expressed our strong objection to the removal of the tree at the time it was being cut, but we were unsuccessful in stopping the process.”

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica tabled a report in Parliament last week, the details of which I cannot understand from the media reports I have seen. I read about “anomalies” regarding polling division boundaries and parish boundaries – in 153 polling divisions, across 33 constituencies – and a lack of agreement among the two political parties in two constituencies (St Andrew North Eastern and Trelawny Southern). So those two appear unresolved. I need to understand more about this. Is a copy of the report available yet?

Corrupt police: Minister of National Security Robert Montague did not mince his words when he addressed the Police Federation this week. He focused on corruption (which, in my view, is at the heart of many of the problems we are having with our police force). Minister Montague rightly pointed out that corruption is not just about taking a bribe; he went on to list all kinds of practices (many of which I never knew of). He vowed “fulsome, total and unrelenting” pressure on corrupt police. All lovely words, Minister. Let’s see what action follows.

Minister of National Security, Hon. Robert Montague, in discussion with Chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, Sergeant Raymond Wilson, at the Federation's 73rd Annual Joint Central Conferences at the Hilton Rose Hall and Spa, in St. James on May 11. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of National Security Robert Montague (right), with Chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, Sergeant Raymond Wilson, at the Federation’s 73rd Annual Joint Central Conferences  on May 11. (Photo: JIS)

Be careful out there: I read an unnerving report about a woman who jumped from a moving taxi cab in Portmore, St. Catherine, after the driver did not stop where she asked him to drop her. He drove onwards and “looked at me with a strange look,” said the woman. I can imagine the fear she felt. She was injured, took a great risk throwing herself out into the road, but is thankfully recovering. Please be careful, folks..

Kudos and congratulations…

  • My personal “thanks a million” to SSP Millicent Sproul-Thomas of the Half Way Tree Police Station for her assistance and sheer professionalism! It was greatly appreciated!
Managing Director of The LAB Kimala Bennett gave the keynote address at the launch of Hon. Douglas Orane's book on May 12. (My photo)

Managing Director of The LAB Kimala Bennett gave the keynote address at the launch of Hon. Douglas Orane’s book on May 12. (My photo)

  • To Hon. Douglas Orane, former CEO of GraceKennedy and now its somewhat more laid-back chairman, who still has a sharp focus on the future of Jamaica, in particular on youth and education. His book, The Business of Nation Building: Excerpts From the Selected Speeches of Douglas Oranewas launched this week. Although the Governor General and his wife attended, the event was not in the least pompous – but that is Mr. Orane’s style. It also began right on time – most refreshing! The book is in stores now, and half the proceeds will go to GraceKennedy’s Grace & Staff Community Development Foundation. Do go and get yourself a copy – and watch out for my review!
Goalscorer Danielle Carter kissing the Women's FA Cup today. (Photo: Twitter)

Goalscorer Danielle Carter kissing the Women’s FA Cup today. (Photo: Twitter)

  • To the Arsenal Ladies (yes, you know I’m a Gooner, don’t you?) who beat Chelsea to win the Women’s FA Cup today for the fourteenth time! Proud of you!
  • And to Arsenal FC (men) – it’s been a rough season, with many ups and downs, but I am happy that we ended up second and above Tottenham Hotspurs, our arch rivals in North London! I am so proud of you! #GoonerForLife
Olivier Giroud (left) suddenly started scoring after a dry spell, and a hat trick today clinched it! Here he leaps in joy with Nacho Monreal, who assisted him in a goal.

Olivier Giroud (left) suddenly started scoring after a dry spell, and a hat trick today clinched it! Here he leaps in joy with Nacho Monreal, who assisted him in his first goal. (Photo: John Sibley/Reuters)

  • To the EU-LAC Foundation, headed by Paola Amadei, that continues to give support to Jamaica and the region. Its current exhibit and auction of photographs from the JN Foundation (in aid of Eve for Life) is on at Hamburg Town Hall. Read more here: https://eulacfoundation.org/en and follow them on Twitter @eulacfoundation.
  • Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), which held a public forum on plastic waste this week that was standing room only, I understand. I am sorry I was not able to be there but I gather it was a very useful and informative session, with some pointers for the way forward. Kudos to Senator Matthew Samuda, who spoke at the event and who has really put the issue on the map; and to William Mahfood of Wisynco, a firm that has been making tremendous efforts in the area of recycling. Yes, I know improving the system for solid waste management has a long way to go. But let’s stop complaining and get something done! Got to start somewhere, haven’t we!
NEPA trainer Ava Tomlinson with the champion birder for the day, Rihana Holder of Bohemia All Age School, at a special event in Trelawny today. (Photo: Facebook)

NEPA trainer Ava Tomlinson with the champion birder for the day, Rihana Holder of Bohemia All Age School, at the Spring Garden Bird Festival event in Trelawny today. (Photo: Facebook)

  • The wonderful educator and trainer, Ava Tomlinson (Senior Public Education and Community Outreach Officer at the National Environment and Planning Agency – NEPA), who continues to train teachers and students and inspire excitement about Jamaica’s amazing birdlife through the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. Today she was in Spring Garden, Trelawny with the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, celebrating the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival. Did you read my article about a fantastic teachers’ workshop at Seville Great House two weeks ago? You can read it here: http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2016/05/rural-teachers-make-bird-connections-in-seville-jamaica/  Keep up the good work, Ava. I know you really love it!

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  • The Kingston & St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) has started a new plastic recycling project, which sounds very promising indeed!  They are building an eco-friendly park, to be built with 80% recycled materials. You can drop off plastic bottles, with caps, at the St. William Grant Park (8:30 am – 4:30 pm, Mondays to Saturdays) or at Tile City, 114 Constant Spring Road (10:00 am – 6:00 pm, Mondays to Saturdays). For more information, contact: ksacfamilypark@gmail.com; KSAC Family Park on Facebook; KSAC_FamPark on Instagram. 24 Church Street, Kingston. Tel: 922-2587; 922-4320; 922-8647.
Hard hats and shovels! Minister of Energy, Science and Technology, Dr. Andrew Wheatley (2nd left); participates in the breaking of ground for construction of the Caribbean’s first Net Zero Energy Building on the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Mona campus on May 10. Others (from left) are: Professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development at UWI, Professor Anthony Clayton; Senior Programme Manager, Energy, Climate and Technology Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Kenya, Geordie Colville; and Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the UWI, Professor Tara Dasgupta. (Photo: JIS)

Hard hats and shovels! Minister of Energy, Science and Technology, Dr. Andrew Wheatley (2nd left); participates in the breaking of ground for construction of the Caribbean’s first Net Zero Energy Building on the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Mona campus on May 10. Others (from left) are: Professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development at UWI, Professor Anthony Clayton; Senior Programme Manager, Energy, Climate and Technology Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme, Kenya, Geordie Colville; and Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the UWI, Professor Tara Dasgupta. (Photo: JIS)

 

  • The Caribbean’s first Net Zero Energy Building on the UWI Mona campus will be under construction soon! This is one building I am happy about! Kudos to the academics and to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as well as to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for funding. Kudos to all!

I’m really not sure why the Jamaica Constabulary Force still has no suspects or motives for the murders of the two American missionaries in St. Mary. Their colleagues are now expressing concern that Jamaicans may take the law into their own hands, if they find them before the police do. CVM Television had a very thorough interview with the leader of the Pennsylvania-based mission the other night. There was no trace of bitterness or anger. I am glad to see the police have arrested three men in connection with the brutal rape and murder of 21-year-old Dominique Parnell in Clarendon. One of the “men” is only 17.

Kevin Miller, 42, Gibraltar Hall Road, Mona, Kingston 7

Tanya Williams, 33, Linstead, St. Catherine

Devontae Haughton, 12, Tucker, St. James

Yvette Mclean, 49,  Tucker, St James

Davian Brown, 22, Salem, St. James

Fabian Cooper, 38, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

Jeffery Richards, 29, Wakefield, Trelawny (killed by police)

Rushane Murray, 16, Oracabessa, St. Mary

Jermaine Lakeman, 21, Fort George/Annotto Bay, St. Mary

District Constable Lewis Robinson, Lacovia, St. Elizabeth

A Cocaine “Error,” Much Ado About a Power Cut, Mixed Messages and Contradictions: Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Carnage: Deaths in motor accidents rose to 124 as of April 18, 41 of them motorcyclists. Here curious residents look on in Spanish Town yesterday at what was left of the Nissan Tiida, in which a brother and sister lost their lives a few days ago. (Photo: Rasbert Turner/Gleaner)
Carnage: Deaths in motor accidents rose to 124 as of April 18, 41 of them motorcyclists. Here curious residents look on in Spanish Town yesterday at what was left of the Nissan Tiida, in which a brother and sister lost their lives a few days ago. (Photo: Rasbert Turner/Gleaner)

It’s been a funny sort of week. Not particularly humorous, but some positive developments to report.

JPS boss Kelly Tomblin.

JPS boss Kelly Tomblin.

Obsessed with power: There was a power cut on Sunday evening, which lasted perhaps half an hour for some people, longer for others. It took place across the island; but in some areas (like my mother-in-law’s neighborhood) there was no power cut at all. The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) explained what had happened as soon as they had figured it out. Its CEO Kelly Tomblin appeared on early morning television and explained to the best of her ability. What surprised me was that the media seemed practically obsessed, chewing over the story for at least 24 hours. The Office of Utilities Regulation woke from its semi-slumber and demanded a report, which JPS will no doubt provide. End of story…one would think.

An estimated J$1 billion worth of cocaine was seized in Belmont, Westmoreland after a boat chase this week. But there are questions to be answered.

An estimated J$1 billion worth of cocaine was seized in Belmont, Westmoreland after a boat chase this week. But there are questions to be answered.

Proper communication is key: The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) seems to have had issues with communications for quite some time. I recall years back when the Constabulary Communication Network (CCN) came into being – in 1999. It was headed by Senior Superintendent James Forbes. He was a pretty reliable source of information, and also a policeman. There were some slip-ups, but SSP Forbes was a good spokesperson – rather a “smooth talker,” hosting a television slot which gave dramatic replays of murders. In January 2014 the CCN was “rebranded” as the Corporate Communications Unit, headed by a civilian; it has various “sub-units.” In that same year, sadly, SSP Forbes fell from grace. Now, radio journalist Cliff Hughes (and others) are very concerned at the contradictory reports coming from the JCF related to a huge cocaine bust (600 kilograms!) in Westmoreland – in particular in connection with the arrest and subsequent release of four men. The JCF appears to be confused. Too many sub-units?  Was the first report really a “serious error,” Commissioner Williams? If J$1 billion worth of cocaine arrived on our island, did you not jump in a helicopter to see what was going on? And, please fix your communications strategy!

Questions remain, and I think this incident has been damaging. I would love National Security Minister Robert Montague to make a clear statement on this matter.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winston De La Haye.

More mixed messages? Now the Ministry of Health and the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) seem to be saying two different things regarding the Zika Virus and pregnancy. Perhaps Dr. Winston De La Haye (Chief Medical Officer) is erring on the side of caution, but he still suggests that women should delay pregnancy and not have unprotected sex. But hold on! Outgoing chair of the NFPB Dr. Sandra Knight says Jamaican women are not taking warnings seriously, but then goes on to suggest that to tell women not to get pregnant at the moment “wouldn’t be the best advice.” Who is right? We have six confirmed cases of the Zika Virus in Jamaica so far, but since only one in four people who contract it actually have symptoms (and would therefore not get tested) how do we know how many cases there indeed might be? Be that as it may, one is left with the impression that Jamaicans are not taking Zika Virus seriously because they are not seeing/feeling it; and we may just have to wait and see in another nine months whether it is in fact a problem. By which time it will be too late.

Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips' general tone is one of irritation and frustration. (Photo: Irie FM)

Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips’ general tone is one of irritation, these days. (Photo: Irie FM)

Keeping the tax promise will be a “totally unwarranted shock to the country’s finances,” said Opposition Finance Spokesperson Peter Phillips at a press briefing yesterday, with his customary air of frustration. The Jamaica Labour Party administration needs to speak clearly to the country, he said: “Man up and talk!” Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller added that the JLP is simply planning a continuation of her party’s policies – subsequently noting that the JLP has “no clear plan.” I see! Ms. Simpson Miller added that she would like to see less talk and more work on the ground on the part of the government. “The JLP cannot be trusted,” she said, because they have made promises “they have no intention of keeping.” The former Finance Minister also believes the commitments will not be met, and is clearly annoyed at the unrealistic” expectations of the electorate, who were taken in. He forecasts additional taxation.

Confidence soars: Notwithstanding Mr. Phillips’ comments, Pollster Don Anderson says business and consumer confidence is at a 15-year high. What are the factors behind it, I wonder? Simply a change of government? Blind optimism?

More onions: The oft-neglected agriculture sector is reporting success with onions, thanks to an import substitution program initiated last year.

Is “bad gas” here again? Energy Minister Dr. Andrew Wheatley is expecting a final report from the Petroleum Trade Reform committee this week; the interim report didn’t tell us much. There have been hundreds of official complaints from the public, and recently a couple of media reports suggest bad gas is back.

No more public peeing? Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie has reminded new municipal police graduates that urinating in public is an offense. He wants us citizens to “make up our faces” at men who do this. He says women do it too! That I have never seen…but men have stood and peed into the hedge at the side of our house a few times. Ugh.

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I often express concern about the state of Jamaica’s tourism. However, we must be doing something right. TripAdvisor – about the only travel website I seriously follow – has named Jamaica the third best island in the world, according to visitor reviews, after Maui in Hawaii and Santorini in Greece! Last year, Jamaica was not in their Top Ten Islands list at all. Providenciales in Turks and Caicos came fourth, followed by Bali, Majorca, Mauritius, Phuket, Bora Bora and Fernando de Noronha in Brazil. Read more: https://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Islands

The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index places Jamaica at an impressive 10th in the index of 180 countries. This is a slip downwards of one place, but still great compared to the rest of the Caribbean. Costa Rica leapt into 6th place, but generally the Americas fared very poorly – and globally, RSF says “Leaders are paranoid about journalists.” So, we are fortunate. You can find the global rankings here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table

Kudos and thank you…

  • To the World Is Our Neighbourhood, a diaspora organization and to Ms. Marva Haye, a former employee of the Savannah-la-Mar Hospital now living in the United States. The organization donated a large amount of new equipment to the Hospital.
Toni-Ann Williams

Toni-Ann Williams (Photo: Matthias Schrader/AP)

  • Congratulations too to two high-achievers! Firstly, 20-year-old Toni-Ann Williams is the first gymnast representing Jamaica to qualify for the Olympic Games. She is a sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley and is actually U.S.-born of Jamaican parents. I do hope that gymnastics will be developed more at home in Jamaica; perhaps Toni-Ann will be the inspiration. Good luck to her!
Chef Andre Fowles is a seriously focused young man. (Photo: Twitter)

Chef André Fowles is a seriously focused young man. (Photo: Twitter)

  • The second achiever is chef André Fowles, who is the first Jamaican-born and the youngest ever chef to compete in the popular “Chopped” show on Food Network Television. He already won in February, won tonight’s competition and will compete in the finals to be Chopped Champion on April 26. Fingers and toes are crossed!
  • Dadre-Ann Graham, sales representative at GraceKennedy, receives the exhibitor award for the Best Environmentally Friendly Exhibit/Product from Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association, during Expo Jamaica 2016. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

    Dadre-Ann Graham, sales representative at GraceKennedy, receives the award for the Best Environmentally Friendly Exhibit/Product from Metry Seaga, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association, at Expo Jamaica 2016. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

  • GraceKennedy won the award for Most Environmentally Friendly Booth/Product at Jamaica Expo last weekend (which apparently went well). I hope they carry this commitment through all the work they do, on an everyday basis.
Therese Turner-Jones is the new Caribbean Regional Head of the IDB. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Therese Turner-Jones is the new Caribbean Regional Head of the IDB. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

  • Congratulations to Therese Turner-Jones, the Bahamian national who has been serving as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Country Representative for Jamaica. Ms. Turner-Jones became the first Caribbean woman and the second Caribbean person to become General Manager of the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department. She will remain in Jamaica, rather than moving to Washington.

Tragic stories abound again as we look back over the past few days. A much-loved local businessman, Trevor Meikle, was shot dead during that power cut – the electronic gate apparently did not work, and a robbery was in progress at the house. How small circumstances can change one’s life! Last night, a young man reportedly with mental health issues seized an M-16 rifle from a policeman outside Olympic Gardens Police Station, jumped into a minibus and was allegedly shot dead by the police. A pregnant woman was shot dead. A young policeman got into an argument at a party, pulled his firearm and was shot dead by a licensed firearm holder. We cannot and must not ignore these stories, or sweep them under the carpet.  These are Jamaican lives, and the deaths of all these Jamaicans affect so many others. There are ripple effects. My condolences to all the families.

Junior Bartley, 44, Matilda’s Corner, Kingston

Odane Bennett, 23, Olympic Gardens, Kingston (allegedly killed by police)

Tanisha Ford, 26, Portmore, St. Catherine

Shawn Baccas, 37, Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine

Derwin Prince, 58, Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine

Anthony Rose, 37,Old Harbour Road, St. Catherine

Andre Carter, 29, Board Villa/Ebony Park, Clarendon

Kamala “Kayon” Hylton, 29, Long Lane, Hanover (eight months pregnant)

Unidentified man, Kerr Crescent, Montego Bay, St. James

Marion Brissett, 64, Bay Road, Little London, Westmoreland

Constable Shane Francis, 30, White River/Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Kevin Barriffe, Galina, St. Mary

Trevor Meikle, 76,  Ingleside/Mandeville, Manchester

Maurice Campbell, 41, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Media reports suggest that Constable Shane Francis, who was shot dead at a party in Ocho Rios, was implicated in other shooting incidents that resulted in the deaths of a colleague and of a civilian. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Media reports suggest that Constable Shane Francis, who was shot dead at a party in Ocho Rios, was implicated in other shooting incidents that resulted in the deaths of a colleague and of a civilian. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Firefighter Kevin Bariffe was stabbed to death in St. Mary yesterday, allegedly during a dispute over the death of Constable Shane Francis, who was reportedly a friend of his. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Firefighter Kevin Bariffe was stabbed to death in St. Mary yesterday, allegedly during a dispute over the death of Constable Shane Francis, who was reportedly a friend of his. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

A well-known and much loved local businessman, Trevor Meikle, was shot dead during a robbery as he returned from the airport with his wife and daughter. He is reportedly a relative of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A well-known and much loved local businessman, Trevor Meikle, was shot dead during a robbery as he returned from the airport with his wife and daughter. He is reportedly a relative of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

 

Tanesha Ford, 26, was shot and killed in Portmore this week. She was visiting from Queens, New York. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Tanesha Ford, 26, was shot and killed in Portmore this week. She was visiting from Queens, New York. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips.

Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips.

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

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

petro-caribe

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

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

Sweeping away crime and corruption…

Sweeping away crime and corruption…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edmond Russell, 40, Fourth Street, Kingston

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

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

Donovan Lawrence, 32, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, May Pen, Clarendon

Devon Segree, 46, Montego Bay, St. James

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

Gail Anderson, 46, Hope Village/Williamsfield, Manchester

Dennis Bacchas, 54, Grange Hill, Westmoreland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirk Williams, 31, Smoothland Road, St. Elizabeth

Theos Blake, 30, Lyssons, St. Thomas 

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

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

Portia in the Balance 2016: Opinion Piece by Joan French

"In the meantime, Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister, remains loyal to a party whose internal dynamics she has been unable to influence from her position of gender and class isolation, carefully protected from public view." (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
"In the meantime, Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister, remains loyal to a party whose internal dynamics she has been unable to influence from her position of gender and class isolation, carefully protected from public view." (Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

I am a little late sharing this, but for those of you who have not yet read it – it’s a provocative read. Now, since the article was written immediately after the elections, the reference to the results in the first paragraph is now dated, as the seat count remained at 32 – 31. However, this is not simply a response to the election results, but a challenging piece on leadership: in particular women’s political leadership, and in particular that of the now Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller. The article was first published in the Stabroek News of Guyana, and subsequently in the Jamaica Observer. 

The author of this article, Joan French, has long been involved in activism for women’s socio-cultural and political progress. She was a Board member of the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, a founding member of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, Coordinator of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre; 1991-1995, and was involved in discussions leading to the establishment of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies. She has also served as the UNICEF Regional Advisor for Women in the Americas and Caribbean Regional Office, Chief of Gender at UNICEF Headquarters in New York, and UNICEF’s country representative to Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Joan French. (Photo: University of the West Indies)

Joan French. (Photo: University of the West Indies)

March 7, 2016

Portia in the Balance 2016

The Jamaican elections 2016 are now over. The People’s National Party (PNP) is stunned. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has moved quickly to come to terms with its unexpected victory. The present count is JLP 32, PNP 31. Two magisterial recounts requested by the JLP could only increase their margin if the results change.

The sons and daughters who benefitted from the expansion of secondary and university education to all classes under the PNP governments of Norman Manley and Michael Manley cannot identify anything similar in their generation that would cause them to be wedded to that history, which most of them do not know or do not care about. They have used their expanded opportunities to react to the disrespect shown to their enhanced educational levels by the refusal of the Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, to engage in a debate on the issues, and other displays of arrogance by the PNP in the lead-up to the elections. According to media reports most have voted JLP or abstained. The PNP focus on the Opposition Leader’s big house got no traction: in the Jamaica of today who does not want one too?

Most significantly, however, the JLP filled the vacuum created by the lack of attention to the deepening economic distress caused by adherence to an economic austerity program that saw the PNP passing eleven consecutive International Monetary Fund (IMF) tests. Chanting “Prosperity,” the JLP sailed into power with a promise of tax relief for all persons earning less than J$1.5 million and a doubling of the minimum wage, stating that what was most relevant was passing “the people’s test.”

In the meantime Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller, Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister, remains loyal to a party whose internal dynamics she has been unable to influence from her position of gender and class isolation, carefully protected from public view. She has chosen to make the necessary compromises with male and class power in order to hold the party together and keep her titles as party leader and Prime Minister. She is constrained by male power and class within, and she is battered from without for not living up to the expectations of the educated elite – including the new elite who got there via the educational opportunities to which they have had access because of the PNP. Despite my distress at the situation, my sympathy goes out to Portia for all the indignities she has suffered in attempting what no other woman in the country has yet attempted. However the PNP has gone astray, and Portia with it.

The irony of the situation is that Portia has been left holding the blame for the party’s defeat, while the Minister of Finance who has carved and guided the economic directions that made the electorate vulnerable to wooing by a promise of more money in their pockets, is still regarded on all sides, PNP and JLP, as having performed well. This is despite the disastrous consequences of few or very temporary and marginal jobs, the extreme distress of low-income and no-income parents trying to provide food, uniforms, and books to send children to school, the unacceptable levels of absenteeism as the situation deteriorates and prices rise from devaluation and the “free market” to which price control is anathema, and the complete counter-productivity of all this to the ostensible priority to education. There has been scant attention to social security to ensure that the capacity to support that effort is maintained for the population groups challenged by poverty. Peter Phillips is also the one who seemed to most make an issue out of the “big house” being built by the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister, Andrew Holness. This point so highlighted by the Minister of Finance gained the PNP no points, and was generally regarded as an irrelevant distraction – but no-one seems to remember that – they are too busy bashing Portia.

Where women’s rights are concerned, the PNP Manifesto and campaign were silent, despite the fact that this portfolio falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, and that efforts had in fact been made: long-awaited legislation on sexual harassment at the workplace had in fact been tabled in Parliament, although the process was not completed. The JLP did better in their Manifesto, committing on paper to the National Policy for Gender Equality, legislation against sexual harassment and all the legislation pending under the PNP including the ratification of the Decent Work Convention – although the inclusion took some hard internal work, and deep commitment is in question. The point, however, is that it can be used to hold them accountable.

The JLP ended up with seven women in Parliament [House of Representatives], the PNP with four.

In the final analysis, no-one wishing to be relevant in the exercise of political power in this historical period can afford to ignore the fact that IMF “solutions” for economies like ours exacerbate poverty and distress in our local populations while pricing more and more goods and services out of reach. Neither can the generation to which Portia belongs ignore the evolution of youth consciousness in response to both the opportunities and challenges of their lived experience. They engage with issues everyday through the tools of the technologically-advanced and communication-conscious world in which they move and have their being. Portia’s refusal to engage in a national debate on the issues left them cold, rejected, angry at being ignored, detached.

Whatever the outcome of the present political moment, Portia Simpson Miller deserves a balanced assessment. In spite of all the challenges – and they have been greater than those faced by any previous Prime Minister – she has remained steadfast in speaking out in the areas in which her confidence has not been undermined by gender and class factors. She has consistently spoken out against violence and abuse of children, ensuring the establishment and continuation, despite the economic pressures, of agencies such as the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), the Child Development Agency (CDA), the PATH program which provides school lunches and free health care for children, the community mental health program, as well as the services provided by the National Insurance Scheme. Her steadfast support for the National Health Fund, instituted by the PNP, has placed critical medication within the reach of those who need them, regardless of income. She has consistently, even if quietly, taken action when poor governance has been brought to her attention, as happened with the Orange Grove/Outameni issue, which involved the multi-million dollar purchase by the National Housing Trust of lands where the Outameni tourist attraction, owned by a local businessman, was situated. She has actively promoted access to housing and land titles for ordinary Jamaicans. There are other examples – not sufficiently apparent in the campaign communications of the PNP.

Portia has NOT asserted with sufficient vigor that defense of the poor for which she was once known. The class-biased and IMF-favored environment and dynamics of the PNP as it exists today are not favorable. This PNP is NOT the PNP of Michael Manley and Beverley Manley. Democratic socialism has disappeared from the agenda. The PNP seems to be more committed than the IMF to the neo-liberal agenda, over-performing on IMF targets.

Portia has shied away from association with the sexual rights agenda, bowing to pressure from within the party.

Portia has allowed herself to be convinced by those who promoted the message that balancing people’s lives could wait until the macro-economy was fixed: The Minister of Finance again. The price of wanting to be first world in IMF terms without paying attention to the terrible impact on the poor and poorly paid has been the affection and support of the people – at least this time around. Portia has not understood or appreciated the qualitative change in the consciousness and modes of engagement of youth. However Portia has been known to “wheel and come again.”

Portia’s failure to assert her own brand of leadership because of her position of isolation as a woman, and one of humble origins, within a party hierarchy and a government comprised primarily of educated males of the middle classes, shows clearly the constraining impact of male dominance. Parity in female representation in our political parties, parliaments and governments would provide better chances for females to exercise more autonomous leadership. Parity would help create a more positive environment for women like Portia Simpson Miller to exert confident leadership rather than becoming hostage to the lack of confidence in her by the educated elite, mainly male and patriarchal. To be sure all women will not agree on everything, and some women are also patriarchal – but creating a critical, capable and committed mass of women in parties and governments can provide a more secure and enabling base for the successful exercise of female power at the top, as well as the orientation of men of goodwill towards recognizing and respecting the rights of women.

As we evaluate the performance of our female Prime Ministers, there is a need to evaluate the constraints they face from male-dominant power structures and influence within their parties, the level of consciousness they have about it, and the strategies they put in place to counter it – if they are committed to transforming it. It is not impossible to make significant advances in this regard. Michelle Bachelet as President of Chile put in place a government with 50% carefully chosen, competent and qualified female Ministers properly oriented to their tasks within a clear political direction – and left office as one of the most popular and appreciated Presidents in the history of the country.

Environmental Sector Suggests Priority Areas for Incoming Prime Minister

The Martha Brae River in Cockpit Country, Trelawny, after a rainy period. October, 2015. (My photo)
The Martha Brae River in Cockpit Country, Trelawny, after a rainy period. October, 2015. (My photo)

Well. Last night there was an almost audible sigh of relief across our island, when the final count for the last constituency was completed and the Jamaica Labour Party was confirmed as winners of the general elections – with the slimmest possible minority. Many column inches and much airspace is now being used with recommendations, suggestions, advice, hopes and wishes for the new administration, to be headed by Prime Minister designate Andrew Holness. He should be sworn in on Thursday, March 3. Here is a release from Jamaica Environment Trust and other environmental groups, summing up their wishes. Please note the very last paragraph, which is of utmost importance.

For Immediate Release

March 1st, 2016
Kingston, Jamaica

We, the undersigned groups, congratulate the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on their win in Jamaica’s recent national election and offer our support and assistance in achieving the environmental objectives set out in their Manifesto. We would also like to respectfully suggest additional priorities.

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)

Climate Change
Jamaica is already experiencing the effects of climate change – sea level rise, beach erosion, longer droughts, heavier rainfall. Projections are for much reduced fresh water supplies. Our best protection against these impacts is by the defence and restoration of the natural resilience held in forests, including mangrove forests, protection of rivers and underground water resources.

The Cockpit Country is a precious natural resource that needs our protection from the depredations of bauxite mining, at all costs. I took this photo of an American Kestrel surveying his domain, near the Martha Brae River.

The Cockpit Country is a precious natural resource that needs our protection from the depredations of bauxite mining, at all costs. I took this photo of an American Kestrel surveying his domain, near the Martha Brae River in Trelawny.

Cockpit Country
Declaration of Cockpit Country boundaries are long outstanding. All preparatory work, including extensive public consultation, has long been completed. We urge the new administration to declare boundaries without delay and close the area to mining and prospecting under the Mining Act. We further encourage the protection of Cockpit Country and its Forest Reserves under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and Forest Acts to maintain its critical ecosystem services and promote climate resilience.

Planning for Sustainable Development
Currently, many development decisions are made in a planning vacuum, or are in direct violation of planning instruments, such as Development Orders, protected areas zoning plans or Government policy documents. Many policies (beach policy, wetlands policy, seagrass policy, dolphin conservation, cays policy, coastal and ocean zone policy) remain in various stages of drafting after decades. Important pieces of legislation such as the Building Act and supporting Building Code need to be improved and completed. A national spatial plan has been in progress (in fits and starts) since the mid-1990s – this needs to be finished so that development can occur in an integrated planning framework.

The Blue Mountains, recently named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contain magic. (My photo)

The Blue Mountains, recently named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contain magic. (My photo)

Protected Areas
Protected Areas, including National Parks, Forest Reserves and Fish Sanctuaries help ensure conservation of Jamaica’s natural resources, which are the basis for development and contribute to the health and welfare of people. As the Protected Areas System Plan (PASMP) has finally been approved, we would like to see a real commitment to ensuring that our protected areas are properly managed, along with an increase in funding levels provided by the GOJ. The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and Forest Reserve has recently been inscribed on the World Heritage List and Jamaica must abide by the World Heritage Convention to protect the site. We also encourage every effort to protect the areas identified in the National Ecological Gap Assessment Report (NEGAR). We are particular concerned about the Black River morass, Goat Islands and Hellshire (part of the Portland Bight Protected Area) and the Pedro Bank and Cays.

Sanitation and Public Health
Jamaica faces visible and serious public health impacts from very poor sanitation and waste management, including dangers from disease vectors and threats to life and property from blocked drains. The time has come to improve dump management and eliminate the use of gullies as waste receptacles. All waste disposal sites in Jamaica must apply for environmental permits within six months – the current situation where dumps in Jamaica are operating illegally is unacceptable. Better solid waste management must include waste separation, a significant increase in recycling opportunities, electronic waste and hazardous waste treatment and community composting. There is a particular problem with the handling of waste tyres that must be urgently addressed.

A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke, taken four years ago. It's a recurring, horrible public health issue that must never be allowed to happen again. (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

A hilltop view of Riverton dump smoke, taken four years ago. It’s a recurring, horrible public health issue that must never be allowed to happen again. (Photo: Matthew Hall/Gleaner)

Enforcement of environmental laws
Since the advent of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act in 1991, there has been utterly inadequate enforcement of Jamaica’s main environmental law, particularly with regard to government agencies themselves and large investment projects. The GOJ must state its commitment to adherence to environmental laws and ensure that state agencies lead the way in this regard. We are especially concerned about the delegation of the environmental monitoring of the bauxite industry to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, a situation which has persisted since the mid-1990s.

Finally, the JLP manifesto refers to “adversarial positions with and of the environmental lobby” as undesirable. We agree with this statement and we hope our new government will take the lead in changing the way environmental management is framed as being an obstacle to development. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives every Jamaican the right to “enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage to the ecological heritage.” The GOJ must become a vocal and explicit champion of this right and promote the conservation of Jamaica’s priceless natural and cultural heritage.

 

Signatories:
Groups
Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust
Jamaica Environment Trust
Portland Environmental Protection Association
Windsor Research Centre

Individuals
Peter Espeut
John Fletcher
Catherine Levy
Jan Pauel

Contact:
Diana McCaulay, JET 469-1315
Susan Otuokon, JCDT 363-7002

Diana McCaulay
Chief Executive Officer
Jamaica Environment Trust
123 Constant Spring Road
Kingston 8
Jamaica
T| (876) 960-3693
E| jamentrust@cwjamaica.com
W| http://www.jamentrust.org