Last week, all was to be revealed in the overdue Budget, which was tabled in the Lower House on Thursday. But before we got to that, the week opened with a stunner.
Mr. David Smith is a Jamaican now serving a few years behind bars in the Turks & Caicos Islands, after being found guilty of cheating thousands of Jamaicans, Americans and others of their hard-earned cash (at least US$220 million) through his “unregistered financial scheme,” Olint, which offered fantastically high rates of interest rates. The already-rich and powerful, and others less so, initially benefited; but like all Ponzi schemes, inevitably, Olint collapsed. After a relatively short stint in the Caribbean, Mr. Smith will move for a considerably longer period to a prison in the United States, where he was indicted on 23 charges of wire fraud and money laundering last summer. Meanwhile, he has informed prosecutors that he donated money to both Jamaican political parties as well as some individuals. Confiscation orders have been issued in the Turks & Caicos; these are now regarded as “tainted gifts”. The ruling People’s National Party (US$1.3 million) has prevaricated somewhat, saying it has no record of such a payment, but will look into it. Former People’s National Party Prime Minister PJ Patterson (US$1 million) speedily denied receiving any such thing. The Jamaica Labour Party (US$5 million) conceded that it did receive money from Smith/Olint, but is not sure if it was that much. Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz (US$50,000) said yes, he did receive money but called it a “political contribution to the constituency.” A fellow party member, political candidate Sally Porteous (US$100,000) has also been candid. All this was prior to the 2007 general elections, by the way, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith were welcome guests at top-class cocktail parties across the island, and appeared in the newspapers almost every day in a highly positive light.
How times have changed. And we shall wait and see.
As for the budget itself, which increased by fourteen per cent, debt repayments took the lion’s share as expected. Finance Minister Peter Phillips, who returned from an important trip to Washington, DC recently, had already warned us to make “sacrifices.” Is this the “bitter medicine” of which former Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke just a few months ago? Sounds like it to me. Painfully, justice, education, national security and health all took cuts. What could be more important than these?
Another piece of news, this time from overseas stunned the Jamaican public last week: President Obama’s quiet declaration in an interview that his views on same-sex marriage have evolved to the point that he can now affirm his support for it. The reaction in Jamaica was largely negative, judging from comments on radio talk shows and letters to the Editor; although I think some quietly applauded his courage in breaking new ground. On radio, Ms. Gloudon had to fend off one or two bullying fundamentalists, one of whom accused her of being “sympathetic” to the gay rights cause because she had the absolute nerve to say that we should at least listen to others’ point of view on such matters. For those in religious straitjackets, I would suggest they consider phrases from the New Testament such as “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Or, perhaps, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.” I am more than ever convinced that if Jamaicans were to vote on issues (which of course they don’t) and had to choose between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they would choose the former, despite their declared love for “America’s first black President” as the local media call him. I like the way Canada-based columnist Keeble McFarlane describes President Obama’s declaration: “A declaration of simple humanity.” Or as a Jamaican mother would say, “‘Im is somebody pickney too!”
By the way, I wonder how the Queen’s representative and Governor General felt while reading out the 2012/13 Throne Speech in Parliament on Budget Day? He calmly announced that a priority of the Jamaican Government is to basically abolish him, and to establish Jamaica as a Republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. No more Queenie, whom our Prime Minister has already described as a “wonderful lady,” but… The other priority is to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s final Court of Appeal. One expects these two issues to be up there in flashing neon lights for the remainder of this year, and perhaps beyond, generating much political heat and noise. Will either of these developments, which the politicians appear quite excited about, impact the quality of life for Jamaicans in any way? I can’t answer that question. Let us see.
The third Friday of May – starting next week – will be National Children’s Day. Our Queen’s representative (for now), Governor General Sir Patrick Allen made this proclamation last week. The National Child Month Committee’s Dr. Pauline Mullings would like to see the day treated like Mother’s and Father’s Day. Any day for children is welcome – so balloons, sugar cakes and melting ice-cream treats are in order on May 18.
One hundred and sixty-seven years ago (on May 12, 1845) the first group of East Indian indentured laborers arrived at Old Harbour Bay in St. Catherine. Their descendants, whom you can often meet in rural and sugar-growing areas of the island, celebrated Indian Arrival Day in the pouring rain last Sunday at Chedwin Park. A great deal of roti was consumed and delegations from Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and United Kingdom mingled with the locals. Well done, Dr. Winston Tolan of the National Council for Indian Culture for keeping this important part of Jamaican heritage alive. As he noted, “We are Jamaicans first and foremost.”
Concerns: The third murder trial of Milton “Tony” Welsh, a known People’s National Party activist, was rescheduled last Monday and postponed until November 19 – for another six months! – just because the courtroom where it was scheduled to be held was being used. His $3.5 million bail was extended. His previous two trials ended in a “hung” jury. Charges will be dismissed if this happens again. Welsh is charged with the murder of 21-year-old Damion Hussey following a PNP rally in Golden Spring in January 2006. Will Mr. Welsh or the family of Mr. Hussey ever see justice done? Is this justice?
I don’t understand the people who write newspaper headlines. Why are they so often off the mark? Do they actually read the article itself? A small but irritating example came up in the entertainment pages of Monday’s “Gleaner.” The article, about an American band called The Dubplates, was headlined “Converting California” to their sound system-type music. The article described the band as “California-based,” then proceeded to quote a band member, who spoke at length about the challenges of being a dancehall/reggae band in South Carolina, the city of Charleston, etc. Is this sheer carelessness on the part of the writer, the headline writer, or both? I don’t know why these things annoy me so much. But they just do.
A couple of days after Teachers Day, a female high school student attacked a guidance counselor at Yallahs High School in St. Thomas, because she claimed he “didn’t like her.” Teachers work so hard in difficult conditions, and the children who come through the school gates in the morning bring with them a multitude of unknown grievances, psychological hurt and sadness. I heard Ms. Barbara Gloudon talking to a representative of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Ms. Ena Barclay, a marvelous primary school teacher, on her “Hot Line” program this week. Ms. Barclay reminded us that these deprived and needy children need love – at home and in the society. Many of them are getting precious little of that – why is it in such short supply? Anyway, kudos to the JTA for organizing a professional development seminar – and for Read Across Jamaica Day, an annual event which brings much happiness and pleasure. And talking about teachers…
A huge pat on the back to Ms. Jean Porter, Principal of Denbigh High School, for her sterling work since 2008, when she took over from Ms. Joan Wint who had served there for 23 years. I remember visiting Denbigh High a few years ago, and being very impressed by Ms. Wint’s stern focus on academic achievement, and by the atmosphere of concentration at the school. Ms. Porter credits the school’s success (it is one of the top ten high schools in Jamaica based on Caribbean Examinations Council results) to team work.
Other bouquets to be handed out to…
Jamaica’s lanky female hurdlers, Ms. Melaine Walker and Ms. Brigitte Foster-Hylton on their gold medals; to Mr. Asafa Powell, Ms. Kaliese Spencer and Ms. Veronica Campbell-Brown for their Silver medals; and to Mr. Lerone Clarke and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce for their Bronze medals, at the high-profile Diamond League athletics meet on Friday. I hope I haven’t missed anyone out. Congratulations also to U.S. athletes Justin Gatlin and Alyson Felix. It is only 75 days until the London Olympics begin, and Jamaican athletes are flexing their muscles and feeling the pressure. I wrote about this in my blog earlier this week; they are doing their best, working hard. Let us support them, even if they “lose” some races (by “lose” I mean winning a Silver or Bronze medal).
I loved the Gleaner’s special supplement this week – Trailblazers in Medical Sciences. This included a special feature on the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre, founded by a British doctor of the same name in 1954 to deal with a terrible outbreak of poliomyelitis. It now helps children with cerebral palsy, adults with spinal cord injuries, and others. Brave and unrelenting work.
May I express my simple support for Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count, who has energetically taken up the bat for the education and stimulation of our young children; and for Ms. Maia Chung, mother of an autistic son, who set up the Maia Chung Autism and Disabilities Foundation four years ago to lobby for and support Jamaica’s autistic children. The Foundation is now struggling and Maia has had to curtail outreach activities. She needs help and financial support! I am in awe of these two women – both of them an “army of one.” I wish for them every success in the world.
Another Jamaican, Philip Liu, founded Angels of Love about two and a half years ago. He works with the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston, having adopted one of its wards. Kingstonians, next time you are at the Brick Oven buying cakes, at Cafe Blue indulging in your favorite cuppa, or at Little Tokyo for some sushi…remember to drop some change in their collection box. And they would welcome volunteers, too!
And Mr. Ricardo Williams, one unemployed youth who sought a solution in adversity. He has opened an Internet cafe in the troubled area of March Pen, Spanish Town. Ricardo graduated high school six years ago with one subject – Information Technology. He has one computer, the use of which he rents out for a small fee. Can someone donate some more computers? Read more about Ricardo’s efforts at the link below…
One online comment struck me this week: “Jamaica can be a very “cold” place. If you are young, old or disabled in Jamaica you are in deep trouble. If you are young and also disabled, may the good Lord help you.”
Why bother: If I see one more full-page photo spread of politicians arriving at Parliament for the Throne Speech, dressed up to the nines, I will rip up the newspaper. The men were, according to the newspapers, “dapper,” “spiffy,” and “dashing.” The women were “stunning,” “stylish,” and and so on. The poor Mayor of Kingston, refusing to join the fashion parade, was severely criticized for wearing a perfectly normal outfit, rather than a designer ensemble. I am, quite frankly, much more concerned about the politicians’ work in Parliament – on behalf of the people – than I am in whether Senator so-and-so was wearing Dior, Escada or whatever. Please, no more!
I’m sorry to end on a sad note…. My condolences to the families of…
Senior Superintendent Dayton Henry, who headed the Clarendon Police Division. I met him once, and was struck by his open, candid disposition and his round-eyed, friendly face. SSP Henry died suddenly, and I know his colleagues are still in shock. Not only was he an efficient policeman, who helped to bring down crime levels in the parish – but he was also a kind-hearted man who supported many community projects.
…and of eleven-year-old Ricardo Dove, who was shot dead while sleeping in bed at his home in Bethel Town, Westmoreland. “It would have been better if they had killed me,” said his father Robert, who was home at the time and found his son’s body soon after gunshots rang out. My heart goes out to you Mr. Dove, and to the family. Why?
And so the week comes to an end, as early summer starts to stoke up hot clouds in the sky. Hurricane season is a few weeks away…
Have a great week!
Related articles and websites:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120508/lead/lead1.html: Big Olint handouts
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Political-intentions-and-tainted-money_11433253: Column by Mark Wignal, Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100822/lead/lead2.html: Oh God! Oh no! Olint!
Gold, Silver and Bronze (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Storms (petchary.wordpress.com)
Claim Says Jamaica Crook Funded Political Parties (abcnews.go.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120510/lead/lead7.html: Phillips urges Jamaicans to prepare to make sacrifices
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120512/news/news42.html: Indian Arrival Day observed at Chedwin Park
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120509/lead/lead4.html Bethel Town child murdered in his sleep
Angels of Love http://angelsofloveja.org/
Crayons Count http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount