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

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

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

ECJ-NIA Town Hall Flyer

“RESPECT YOUR VOTE: YOUR RIGHT, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY”

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

MAY 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a bunch of kudos to hand out…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romero Earrier, Luke Lane, Kingston

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

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

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

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

Kirk Porter, 28, Spalding, Clarendon

Unidentified man, Discovery Bay, St. Ann

Richard Jones, 46, Spring Village, St. Mary

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

odpem_logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ransford Lewis, 38, Collie Smith Drive, Kingston

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

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

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

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

Unidentified woman, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Marlett Briscoe, 29, Steer Town, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Steer Town, St. Ann

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

Unidentified woman, Pondside/Yallahs, St. Thomas

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

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

 

A Contract Ended, An Embarrassing Interview and A Presidential Visit: Wednesday, March 18, 2015

As I opened the door just now, the aroma of chemical-laden smoke wafted in. I quickly shut it again, and am now sealed in the house. Yes, as of this afternoon (and a week after it started) the fire at the Riverton City dump is still very much alight. I just posted the statement and recommendations from a very large grouping of private sector and civil society organizations following their press briefing yesterday.

The New Kingston business center in a polluted haze a few days ago. Downtown Kingston is still smothered in smoke today.  (Photo: Gleaner)

The New Kingston business center in a polluted haze a few days ago. Downtown Kingston is still smothered in smoke today. (Photo: Gleaner)

Well, this is what has happened since the weekend…

  • The board of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), the government agency responsible for solid waste disposal – and the dump – has just decided that it will not renew the contract of its CEO Jennifer Edwards, which expired last month. She had been asked to stay on until March 26, when she will now step down. See Do we laugh or cry? below.
  • Eight more schools closed in the areas nearest to the fire just today, after students and teachers suffered the effects of the pollution. All schools in the Portmore area remain closed; smoke levels remain very high downtown this evening – Seaview Gardens, Marcus Garvey Drive and other areas.
  • The crucial national GSAT examinations, scheduled for this week, will now be held on March 26-27;
  • The date for the Kingston City Run, which was postponed last weekend, has been set for Sunday, March 22. Will the air be clear enough by then?
  • The Ministry of Health did two air quality results and sent tests for volatile organic compounds to Canada. The results of the latter are due back today or tomorrow. Meanwhile Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Marion Bullock Ducasse has reassured us that there will be “no long term effects” from the fire. Really?
  • Government agencies have retreated into damage control/information management/denial mode. CEO of the Jamaica Customs Agency Major Richard Reese has denied reports that Kingston’s sea port was closed for three days. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), having roused itself, now tells us to continue staying indoors – but there is “steady progress” in the outing of the fire. No specifics.
  • The Jamaica Fire Brigade deserves a huge medal. The firefighters must be utterly exhausted.
  • We have learned that the NSWMA has failed to table audited financial statements and annual reports for the past ten years, extending back through the four-year administration of the Jamaica Labour Party. This is not a failure of the current political set-up; it’s a failure of successive administrations over the years.
  • We have also learned, via environmentalist Diana McCaulay, that the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA)’s report on the 2012 Riverton fire noted ambient air quality within 1km of the site “very high risk” and within 2km “high risk.” High levels of benzene (a carcinogen) were also found. And this time?
  • Sixty per cent of the dump is organic waste, Ms. McCaulay notes. She recommends identifying several sites in Kingston to take organic waste; to find a place to store waste tyres – all that is needed is a fence and a roof. No tyres at Riverton (and can’t they be recycled?); and finally to step up plastic recycling.
  • I recently met @cucumberjuice, a long-time Twitter friend and fellow-blogger, for the first time. Here is her take on it all: https://cucumberjuice.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/riverton-smoke-signals-a-distress-call/ As she points out, this disaster has affected close to half of the population of Jamaica. Portmore alone (which was severely affected) has a population of close to 300,000.
Jennifer Edwards will step down as head of the NSWMA on March 26.

Jennifer Edwards, who heads the People’s National Party Women’s Movement, will step down as head of the NSWMA on March 26, 2015. (Photo: Gleaner)

  • The Gleaner believed both the CEO and the Chairman of the NSWMA (Ms. Edwards and Mr. Steve Ashley) should step down. So did the civil society/private sector group. What did the Prime Minister of Jamaica think? See below (“Do we laugh or cry?”). What did the Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew think? She has been busy, touring a ganja farm in the United States. What did the Minister of Local Government, responsible for the NSWMA think? Ironically, he has been attending the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. It ends today, so we might see or hear from him by the weekend. Perhaps?
A view from the hills of Riverton City, March 2014. And see my blog posts on the subject.

A view from the hills of Riverton City, March 2014. And see my past blog posts on the subject.

Do we laugh or cry?  Interviewed on CVM Television last night, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made our collective jaws drop (yet again). She seems more comfortable nowadays talking to our intrepid television reporters, who wait for her outside Parliament; she used to back away on seeing a TV camera. She told the reporter,  – leaning confidently on her open car door – she saw no reason for Ms. Edwards to be fired. Now, if Ms. Edwards had set the fire herself, if she was there at the time…“She would be gone!” declared our PM, with certainty. She repeatedly observed, “This is not the first time” (which we are well aware of) and no one was fired on previous occasions. So why now, she asks? Indeed. Why break the tradition of unaccountability?

One of the many great photos of the 44th U.S. President.

One of the many great photos of the 44th U.S. President. What’s not to love?

The OTHER big news: The Prime Minister announced in Parliament yesterday that President Barack Obama will be visiting Jamaica on April 9, en route to the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Panama. The President will meet with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in Kingston (a meeting headed by current CARICOM Chairman Perry Christie of the Bahamas), and apparently will also host a Town Hall Meeting with Jamaican youth, which is a really great idea. It is only the second time since Independence that a U.S. president has visited Jamaica; do you know who the first visiting President was?

Audley Shaw, Opposition Finance Spokesman, railed against "rapacious" commercial banks and urged the Government to hurry up with developments such as the logistics hub. He also suggested the organized export of Jamaican labor overseas - not really a new idea. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Audley Shaw, Opposition Finance Spokesman, railed against “rapacious” commercial banks and urged the Government to hurry up with developments such as the logistics hub. He also suggested the organized export of Jamaican labor overseas – not really a new idea. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Budget debate and Opposition response: Meanwhile, Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw worked himself up in a froth of emotion in Parliament in his response on the budget debate. It seemed to be more politicking than new ideas. Meanwhile, when the aforementioned TV reporter asked our Prime Minister how she responded to Mr. Shaw’s anger over increased taxes, she promptly told the reporter to ask the Finance Minister; she could not answer. Why not?

A worrying report: A continual worry is the way in which our mentally ill citizens are treated. The Bellevue Hospital in downtown Kingston struggles along with few resources. The staff do the best they can but are unbelievably overstretched – with a staggering ratio of one staff member to up to fifty patients! “Unfortunately we have an uncaring society,” says one Bellevue worker. “Most of the patients have been abandoned by their families.” So it has almost become a homeless shelter.

A pair of shoes seized among many, many others in a raid on a wholesale store in Orange Street, Kingston this week - conducted by theCounter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A pair of shoes seized among many, many others in a raid on a wholesale store in Orange Street, Kingston this week – conducted by the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

On a lighter note… There is such a thing as triple-name-brand footwear: There was a major raid downtown a few days ago, in which huge quantities of fake brand-name shoes were seized. Two Chinese nationals were arrested. Of course, this is a serious organized crime issue – but when the policeman said that some shoes had three name brands, I laughed out loud!

Many kudos to…

The Jamaica Youth Theatre performed at the Anti-Corruption Summit at the University of Technology on Monday evening. (My photo)

The Jamaica Youth Theatre performed at the National Integrity Action (NIA) Anti-Corruption Summit at the University of Technology on Monday evening. (My photo)

  • National Integrity Action (NIA, which inducted 54 new members last weekend – and I am one!) and the University of Technology for an excellent Anti-Corruption Summit on Monday evening. Well attended by a largely young audience, and most inspiring. Chair of Transparency International (TI) José Ugaz was guest speaker, and the interesting and balanced panel moderated by Cliff Hughes. The discussion was lively and productive. I wrote about it in my weekly Gleaner post here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2564 Enormous thanks to for the funding support of USAID and DIFID. Congratulations also to NIA, which is now the official Jamaican chapter of TI. I am very proud to be involved in this effort.

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  • Ms. Davianne Tucker, who was elected the new President of the Guild of Students at the University of the West Indies Mona campus today! This is an important leadership position, sometimes leading to a career in politics. With women being in the majority on campus, and the ongoing concern about gender-based violence there, it is heartening to see a bright young woman like Davianne at the top. Since 1951, there have only been seven female presidents out of a total of 64. Lavern King and Shanice Allen were elected vice presidents and Shanique Austin, treasurer, very much a female-dominated executive. Also many congrats to my young tweep @Germaine_Bryan, the 2015-2016 Commuting Students Representative – who also campaigned energetically for the position on social media, as you can see from these flyers.
Senator Imani Duncan made a passionate speech (also without referring to any notes) on progress made in legislative efforts for women at the recent International Women's Day celebrations. (My photo)

New Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum Senator Imani Duncan made a passionate speech (without referring to any notes) on progress made in legislative efforts for women at the recent International Women’s Day celebrations. (My photo)

  • Congratulations also to the energetic, forward-looking Senator Imani Duncan-Price, who is the only representative for the Caribbean in the latest group of 187 Young Global Leaders selected by the World Economic Forum. This is marvelous stuff!
  • In the past I have blogged about the great community efforts in Jacques Road in Kingston, supported by the Canadian High Commission. I visited there with then CUSO volunteer Kate Chappell, and was impressed by the team effort on the ground. Now solar photo voltaic panels have been commissioned to power the new community computer centre there. Congratulations to all involved in the great efforts to uplift, educate and empower the residents. I hope they will take great care of the new facility and believe it will benefit them enormously.
The installation of solar PV panels on the roof of the Jacques Road Computer Centre. On the right is Julian Robinson, the Member of Parliament for the area. (Photo: Twitter)

The installation of solar PV panels on the roof of the Jacques Road Computer Centre. On the right is Julian Robinson, the Member of Parliament for the area. (Photo: Twitter)

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Once again, just in the past three days, several young people have been murdered – young Jamaicans under the age of eighteen, that is. At least two of the four “men” killed while standing on the street in Newhaven/Duhaney Park in Kingston last night turned out to be teenagers. In rural Clarendon, a young mother stabbed her baby to death after losing custody of the little boy, her only child, to her husband. And in troubled August Town, a 14-year-old student of Kingston High School, was shot dead by the police, allegedly during a shootout with gunmen. The grief of Joel’s father on television last night was almost unbearable. My deepest sympathies to all the families and loved ones who mourn. And by the way – this list is far too long. It covers just THREE days.

Cleveland Gayle, 18, Newhaven/Duhaney Park, Kingston

Kyle Poyser, 16, Newhaven/Duhaney Park, Kingston

Two unidentified men, Newhaven/Duhaney Park, Kingston

Gawayne Lincoln, Denham Town, Kingston

Joel Lovelace, 14, Bedward Gardens/August Town, St. Andrew (killed by police)

Jay Nelson, 18 months, Lesterfield, Clarendon

Damain Johnson, 24, Bull Bay, St. Thomas

Rayon Chambers, Norwood, St. James

Trevor Clarke, 27, Tucker, St. James

Denlyn Dunkley, 36, Appleton Estate, Siloah, St. Elizabeth

Josephine Cope, 49, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland

Bertram Lewis, 38, White River, St. Ann

Anthony Wallace, 24, Buff Bay, Portland

Robert Fyffe, 59, Zion Hill, Portland (American citizen)

Donovan Davis, Content District, Manchester

The father of Joel Lovelace, 14, who was shot dead during a police shootout in Bedward Gardens, August Town, grieves for his son. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The father of Joel Lovelace, 14, who was shot dead during a police shootout in Bedward Gardens, August Town, grieves for his son, who was doing his homework in his house when he was shot apparently by a stray police bullet. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Our environmental rights!

Our environmental rights!

 

Murdered Children, The Recurring Riverton Nightmare, and the Elite Picnic in White : Saturday, March 14, 2015

The past couple of weeks have been intense. My apologies for the unanticipated hiatus. We had a fairly major break-in at our yard, which was unnerving, and the repercussions have been painful. We are, however, pulling ourselves back on our feet again and refocusing. As for poor old Jamaica… We are in great pain, I believe. Great pain.

Kayalicia Simpson was murdered in rural St. Thomas. She was over four months pregnant. No one in her family or community was aware of her terrible situation.

Kayalicia Simpson was murdered in rural St. Thomas. She was over four months pregnant. No one in her family or community was aware of her terrible situation, apparently.

I have left it too long to talk to you about the killing of our children. Last month, I told you about fourteen-year-old, pregnant Santoya Campbell. Since then, four more children have been killed in terrible circumstances – all involving sexual abuse. Fourteen-year-old Kayalicia Simpson was chopped to death early one morning as she prepared for school at her home in St. Thomas. An autopsy revealed that she was pregnant. In Kingston, three children died in a house fire, which was set by their mentally-challenged uncle (who had attempted to molest nine-year-old Abigail Reid and then became angry when she raised an alarm). Abby and her brother Leonardo were regular students at the Trench Town Reading Centre; their friends at the Centre are traumatized and weeping. So much grief lies in the wake of these tragedies; who picks up the pieces? Can the pieces be picked up, or are lives just left broken so?

The three siblings who perished in a fire in Arnett Gardens. A relative has been charged with their murders. Neighbors heard nine-year-old Abigail's cries for help, but the fire was already too fierce.

The three siblings who perished in a fire in Arnett Gardens. A relative has been charged with three counts of murders and arson. Neighbors heard nine-year-old Abigail’s cries for help, but the fire was already too fierce.

And our communities are silent: I wrote about this in my Gleaner blog: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2554  This is the story of Jamaica. Nuff said.

William Mahfood's aerial photograph of the Riverton City dump fire on Thursday. (Twitter)

William Mahfood’s aerial photograph of the Riverton City dump fire on Thursday. The black smoke on the right is where tires are burning. Yes, they were burning last year, too. (Twitter)

On fire…again: Here is our recurring nightmare: The Riverton City dump (it is not/not a landfill) is on fire again, blanketing the city in murky, toxic smoke. This is Day Four. Schools in Kingston and Portmore closed, and several businesses (even the port) closed too. Businessman William Mahfood posted an aerial photograph showing the shocking extent of the fire (which covers approx. half of the 120 acre site). A Gleaner video showed an area of very black smoke, indicating that tires were on fire. We do not live near the fire, but were coughing and sneezing. Jamaicans, mostly children and including many asthmatics, who were badly affected by the fire, overwhelmed hospitals and clinics. The National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) has served notice on the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) re: non-compliance with their environmental permit. Has an alternative site been found for the dump? Has anything at all been turn in terms of prevention after last year’s (and previous years’) terrible experiences, which I documented in my blog? Meanwhile, productivity slowed right down on Friday. This happens year after year. What action is being taken?

A parent rushes his child who was overcome by smoke to a medical facility. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

“We Can’t Breathe”: A parent rushes his child who was overcome by smoke to a medical facility on Friday. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Off the island: While this crisis was rapidly unfolding, Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott and most of the staff of the Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) were on the other side of the world – Japan, in fact, at the UN Third Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Of course, no one has actually used the words “public health emergency” and our Health Minister doesn’t seem to find them applicable. What does it take, I wonder? ODPEM has been largely invisible for the past year or so, anyway, so they might as well be in the Far East…

Oh, the irony! That our Minister of Water, Land, Environment & Climate Change just made speeches about carbon emissions, climate change, deforestation etc. while the dump fire poured poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere and while plans continue to destroy the dry limestone and thick mangrove forest that makes up Goat Islands. Yep. Jamaica is really doing its bit for global warming, folks. (Don’t our Ministers realize actions speak louder than words?)

Carnival-crazy at the University of the West Indies: revelers doused in water… (Twitter photos)

Carnival-crazy at the University of the West Indies: revelers doused in water… (Twitter photos)

Fête upon fête: Meanwhile, nothing is going to stop the revelers at the University of the West Indies’ Carnival today…

Budget on fire: Meanwhile, Finance Minister Peter Phillips opened the Budget Debate in the Lower House. We learned there is going to be an increased gas tax and tax on phone bills; and cigarettes will be taxed, in order to help plug the revenue gap. The corporate and individual tax evaders apparently cannot be tracked down and made to cough up the money they owe; so the “small man” must be taxed by having to pay more for gas and phone calls – something he/she can hardly avoid. Very sensible, said one leading academic. Well, that’s a rather cold way of looking at it! Why not go after the corrupt ones? By the way, Jamaica has missed its tax revenue targets for the past seven years. Higher gas prices will likely affect many economic activities and push prices up generally, although Minister Phillips went into a discourse on “hedging” when asked about it. Doesn’t he know hedging is a pretty risky business? The Minister mentioned the “g” word several times, predicting a growth rate of 1.6 per cent for the upcoming fiscal year, and noting money would be spent on large infrastructural projects to spur growth. These will be “catalysts.” What lovely words these are.

Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell (left), is in discussion with Principal, Calabar High School, Albert Corcho, during a career exposition on March 10 at the school. (Photo: JIS)

Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell (left), is in discussion with Principal, Calabar High School, Albert Corcho, during a career exposition on March 10 at the school. (Photo: JIS)

e-Questions: How is Minister Phillip Paulwell’s much-touted one-year e-learning pilot project going? Are the children using the tablets distributed properly and taking care of them? Moreover (and importantly) what about the books to be uploaded on the tablets? Are the students using them? Minister Paulwell told us recently his ministry has distributed over 20,000 tablets to 38 schools, which all now have wi-fi installed. Fine. But how many students are reading the books? We are six months into the project now, so a half-time evaluation might be a good idea.

This week, Jamaica’s élite swanned around in Emancipation Park, robed in white. It was a special event called “Diner en Blanc” (things sound so much more classy when they are in French, don’t they?) Now the park remained open to the public, so the less well-heeled could watch the upper classes dining from the sidelines. To me, the affair smacked of classism and colonial-era snobbery. However, I was told that rich people can spend their money how they want to. Indeed, they can and they do. But it would have been nice if it had been a fund-raiser for a worthy cause, instead of in aid of the champagne and caviar producers. But I was also told that local firms, and the people who served the citizens in white benefited from the occasion; and that this event improved the “brand image” of Jamaica. How lovely.

In honor of this, and the subsequent conflagration, fellow blogger Durie Dee posted a fascinating chronology: #RivertonSmokeEnBlanc, a wonderful hashtag a Twitter friend created: http://www.thinkja.com/rivertonsmokeenblanc/ @MizDurie went back to 2004, concluding: “So, whaddaya say…next year again – same time, same place? See you then!” Ugh.

Minister Anthony Hylton at the Jamaica Investment Forum 2015 this week. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Minister Anthony Hylton at the Jamaica Investment Forum 2015 in Montego Bay this week. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Remember the logistics hub? Our Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton made a big announcement this week at the Jamaica Investment Forum, where a lot of hot air circulated (no, the air conditioning was working perfectly). Minister Hylton said a mystery investor (which the Prime Minister let slip was an Austrian firm) was planning to put US$5 billion into the…yes, you’ve guessed it…logistics hub! A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed. The Minister hopes Jamaica will be transformed into the “logistics hub of the Americas.” Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made a feel-good welcome speech, concluding with a line from the much-overquoted Bob Marley quote:“Let’s get together and feel alright!”  

Jamaican workers at the Moon Palace in Ocho Rios protested last week over outstanding wages, and are disgruntled at the number of Mexican workers employed there. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Jamaican workers at the Moon Palace in Ocho Rios protested over outstanding wages. They are also disgruntled that Mexican workers are employed there. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

410 Mexicans received permits to work on the refurbishing of the Jamaica Grande Hotel (to be renamed the Moon Palace) in Ocho Rios. So says the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union. The Ministry of Labor says only about half that number received permits as “specialist finishers.” The completion date for the hotel is now scheduled for next month. Jamaican workers have been extremely unhappy and downed tools. Contractor General Dirk Harrison says his office will review the issuance of work permits for foreigners.

The two “D”s: The Jamaica Labour Party saga has taken a back seat for a little while in light of other dramas. The main protagonists now are Delroy (Chuck) and Daryl (Vaz). Mr. Chuck is especially  miffed at their leader Andrew Holness. I think I am tired.

A video has circulated of a Jamaican man who apparently resisted arrest for smoking a “spliff” and was allegedly shot dead by the police. The video, if authenticated, is disturbing on many levels. But hold on! The Amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act have not yet been signed into law, I understand, by the Governor General, nor regulations produced. Despite that, haven’t the police got the message that they are not really supposed to harass or arrest citizens for the possession of small quantities of ganja? As RJR reporter Dionne Jackson Miller mentioned in a recent commentary, there is an urgent need for a public education program on the ganja law. I am afraid there may be more cases of confusion and misunderstanding, otherwise. By the way, the police killed 16 Jamaican citizens in the first two months of 2015 – only two in February, which is considered remarkable. There were twelve non-fatal shooting incidents, according to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

I have not posted a brief since February 27, so this list is longer than usual, obviously. The trail of grief and suffering left by the untimely deaths of Jamaican men, women (seven) and children (six aged 18 years and under) must go all round the island and back again. These are the names. Let us not forget.

Abigail Reid, 9, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston

Leonardo Morris, 15, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston

Bebeto Harris, 17, Hopeful Village/Arnett Gardens, Kingston 

Rosemarie Ballentine, 45, Hundred Lane/Red Hills Road, Kingston

Donna Daley, 44, Hundred Lane/Red Hills Road, Kingston

Jas Wellington, 30, Constant Spring Road, Kingston

Sanjay Crook, 36, Lorna Avenue, Meadowbrook, Kingston

André Ferrier, Farewell Drive, Kingston

“Duke,” Denham Town, Kingston

Hubert Richards, 42, Elm Crescent, Kingston

Shane Duncan, 29,Elm Crescent, Kingston

Dacianne Calder, 22, Cashew Ridge/Jacks Hill, St. Andrew

Garfield Coburn, 44, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew (killed by police)

Robert Pryce, 46, Fairview Housing Scheme/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Constable Colin Raynor, Hartlands, St. Catherine

Ainsley Campbell, 48, Central Village, St. Catherine

Natalee Gayle, 35, Kilsyth Primary and Infant School, Frankfield, Clarendon

Solomon Sill, 48, Bucknor, Clarendon

Devon Nelson, 18, Stewart Town, St. Mary

Valerina Whyte, 71, Cornwall Barracks, Portland

Nicole Luton, 37, Arcadia Bottom/Spring Mount, St. James

Saskia Mullings, 2, Arcadia Bottom/Spring Mount, St. James

Two unidentified men, Seven Rivers/Montpelier, St. James

Irving Williams, 47, Louden Doe District/Airy Castle, St. Thomas

Anika Rose, 20, Danvers Pen, St. Thomas

Kayalicia Simpson, 14, Newlands, St. Thomas

Wayne Walker, 47, Lancaster/Newport, Manchester

Two unidentified men, Chester Castle, Hanover

Unidentified man, Lances Bay, Hanover

Jermaine Dixon, 28, Ramble, Trelawny

Jermaine Redd, 29, Ramble, Trelawny

The community of Hundred Lane off Red Hills Road in Kingston was in shock after the shooting deaths of two women in separate incidents. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The community of Hundred Lane off Red Hills Road in Kingston was in shock after the shooting deaths of two women in separate incidents. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Constable Colin Raynor of the Linstead Police Station was shot dead today while fishing with his brother in Hartlands, St. Catherine. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Constable Colin Raynor of the Linstead Police Station was shot dead today while fishing with his brother in Hartlands, St. Catherine. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Kingston wharves blanketed in smoke. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn)

Kingston wharves blanketed in smoke. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn)

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

We are into the Lenten season now (for those who are of religious persuasion) and the pre-Carnival season (for the hedonists among us), with weekly soca sessions in . It’s an odd combination, isn’t it? The timing of Jamaica’s Carnival, a foreign import that started in the late 1980s, is from a religious point of view illogical. But no worries! Fun is fun, any time of the year!

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

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

Hi recession, we’re back! As some Jamaicans prepare for another round of jollification, the economy is faltering. We are back in recession after two consecutive quarters of negative growth (a contraction of 0.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2014). There were high remittance flows (yes, it was Christmas) and good tourism inflows (yes, peak tourism season). There still seems to be a lack of growth strategy. I am not seeing or hearing about it. Are you?

…AND we passed our seventh IMF test: Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave us another pat on the back, noting: “The Government of Jamaica’s resolute implementation of its economic program, centered on strengthening the foundation for growth and employment, is starting to yield tangible dividends. There is significant improvement in business and consumer confidence, which reached a two-year peak in September-December 2014.” The IMF added that Jamaica’s fiscal discipline is “impressive by international standards.” You can read their press release here, which gives an overview: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr1574.htm Tax revenue targets were missed, and tax reform is firmly on the agenda. No mention of public sector wages, etc. That remains to be seen.

What’s happening with agriculture? Since the sad passing of Roger Clarke, we only have half an agriculture minister. The sector declined by eleven per cent compared to the last quarter of 2013. Is anybody worried? Is this because of the drought, or what other factors?

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

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

Political suicide? And I repeat: I believe Opposition Leader Andrew Holness’ credibility is now so low, he might as well resign. I am even more convinced of this, now. I am sorry. I had great hopes for him (he was the youngest Member of Parliament in 1997 and youngest Prime Minister in 2012, and is still only 42 years old). Holness’ secretive plan to have Senators sign undated resignation letters was his first huge unforced error. What terribly poor judgment on his part (and Senator Arthur Williams’ – he helped craft the letters). Now Holness has taken another step down the road of what some think could be political suicide. Immediately fter humbly apologizing in church over the weekend, he astounded us all by announcing he was going to appeal the recent ruling of the Constitutional Court that his actions were  “inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful, and accordingly null and void.”  The Opposition Leader appeared on television, telling us all: “I am assembling my legal team..” Well done, Mr. Holness. You have now shot yourself in both feet. You have reduced your ambitions of becoming prime minister again down to almost zero; but worse, you have let us all down. Badly.

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

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

So, while the legal team prepare to earn more money… Are he and his Opposition Spokespersons focusing on the many pressing concerns affecting our island? In his efforts to prove that he is “right” (which remains to be seen) the affairs of the State are being neglected. Now I hear his Jamaica Labour Party colleagues have been instructed not to talk to the press on the matter. This is one of those “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” situations.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting.  (Photo: Gleaner)

National Security Minister Peter Bunting. (Photo: Gleaner)

Much applause: Parliament finally passed the Bill to amend The Dangerous Drugs Act, which was amended in The Senate earlier this month. The Bill decriminalizes small quantities (up to two ounces) of marijuana for personal use and will permit the use of hemp for manufacturing purposes. It also allows for the use of marijuana for religious, therapeutic and medical purposes. National Security Minister Peter Bunting warned those dreaming of waving fields of ganja plants and valuable exports of large quantities of the weed that they must think again. Opposition Justice Spokesman Delroy Chuck (who seems to have lost the plot) wants kiosks selling marijuana in our tourist resorts, and the renegotiation of international treaties. Sigh.

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

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

The pain that won’t go away: I recently had the flu. For the last couple of days I started to feel joint pains. My toes, my knee, my knuckles. What was this? Why, it was chik v (the chikungunya virus) just reminding me that it is still there, in my system, nearly five months after I first contracted it. This week the Caribbean Public Health Agency is meeting to discuss chik v and its implications. Discussing a “communications strategy” (albeit after the fact) seems like a good idea. We were bewildered – infuriated – by the nonsensical under-reporting and lack of accurate information from the Ministry of Health, while suffering real pain; many Jamaicans were fearful, especially our seniors and those with small children. We all know of severe reactions to the virus among friends, acquaintances – and family. It now transpires that some twenty Jamaicans with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and other chronic ailments may have died as a direct result of contracting chik v, which worsened their condition. And the number of cases in Jamaica is greatly under-reported by the Pan American Health Organization – which has reported zero deaths on the island. Will you ever come clean, Minister Ferguson? I guess this is our “transparent” government at work, again.

An item in the Sunday Observer, which I found instructive this week (and less sensational than their usual fare): The National Housing Trust (NHT) is apparently stalling on providing the minutes of its board meetings for the past three years. The newspaper requested this on November 24, 2014 under the Access to Information Act – but nothing, yet. Isn’t this a straight-forward request? On the subject of the NHT, what is the latest on the status of the Outameni transaction?

MP Raymond Pryce

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

Government transparency remains a huge issue. Needless to say we are still in the dark over the planned megaport that will destroy a protected area. Now, ironically, a parliamentary committee is to consider regulating non-governmental organizations and civil society groups; submissions from the public have already closed (did anyone know about that?) but it’s not clear when the committee will start reviewing the matter raised in a Private Members Motion filed in 2013 by government member Raymond Pryce. The motion called on Parliament to consider legislation “to protect democracy” from any damage by these sinister groups, “as could be caused by unknown or tainted sources of funds or hidden agendas.”  Hmm. How about political parties disclosing their sources of funds – let alone hidden agendas? Can we have access to the parties’ certified and audited financial statements, please?

This administration seems worried about the growing influence of civil society, especially in light of the weak Opposition. Let me remind you, Mr. and Ms. Politician: Civil society consists of Jamaican people – the Jamaican people who elected you to serve them.

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

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

The awesomeness of wind: Years ago, when the state-owned Wigton Windfarm was just getting off the ground, I visited that hilltop and was awestruck by the huge, powerful turbines turning in the strong breeze. Now the installation has grown and is actually making money! The ground-breaking for Wigton III took place last week. It is eighty per cent funded by PetroCaribe and due for completion in the next year. Then the total output of the Windfarm will be 62.7 megawatts, increasing Jamaica’s renewable energy input to the national grid by more than two per cent. And the Windfarm has made J$500 million profit in the first nine months of the financial year. This is good news, indeed.

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

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

A milestone for me! I have just written my 1,000th blog post! I can hardly believe it. I guess I just kept going; it has become a habit, and a joy for me (and hopefully for my readers). Working towards the 2,000th now…

Are you on Twitter? (If not, you should be). The National Road Safety Council has started tweeting very useful and helpful messages to raise awareness on the issue. For example, they posted these road safety tips. Last week was horrendous in terms of road fatalities; please, please be aware. And slow down!

National Road Safety Council - tips.

National Road Safety Council – tips.

Maximum kudos to… 

The winners of the U.S. Embassy’s Martin Luther King Essay Competition, Deneve Sweeney (first prize) and Sujae Boswell, the Popular Vote winner.

The United Nations Environment Programme, Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change and all involved in the Caribbean Green Economy Conference 2015, which took place this week, attended by specialists from across the Caribbean. Two days packed with information!

Environmental researchers from the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who presented the results of their survey of coral reefs in the Portland Bight Protected Area (including around Goat Islands) this week. The research was funded by the Waitt Foundation with support from the Jamaica Environment Trust. Important work.

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

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

I am very sad to hear of the deaths of these Jamaican citizens, who have been murdered in the past few days. My heart goes out to the families:

Oneil Thorpe, 35, Riverton City, Kingston (killed by police)

Richard Hutchinson, 37, Delacree Park, Kingston (killed by police)

“Manny,” Maverley, Kingston (the alleged “don”)

Two unidentified men, Diamond Avenue, Kingston 11

Lincoln Crossdale, 21, Old Harbour, St. Catherine

Ombretta Jackson, 18, Negril, Westmoreland

Dwight Graham, 44, Brumalia Road, Mandeville, Manchester

Mario Kenyan, 30, Montego Bay, St. James

Unidentified man, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Jamar Robinson, Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Phillip Green, 34, Trelawny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

Women and soldiers in Tivoli Gardens, May 2010

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

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

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

Mayor George Lee of Portmore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya Chutkan.

Tanya Chutkan.

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

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

Jamaican-born Dr. Chad Ritch.

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

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

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

Mark Smellie, 37, Deanery Road, Kingston

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

Junior Bailey, 48, Wagonwheel District, St. James

Unidentified man, Greenvale, Trelawny

Jermaine Bartley, 29, Wakefield, Trelawny

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

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

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