And the situation is… That two elected political representatives in Montego Bay are being investigated in connection with the horrible “lotto scam,” which has spread like an infection from Jamaica’s second city. On Wednesday, the police conducted early morning raids on the homes of Deputy Mayor Mr. Michael Troupe, Councilor for the Granville Division, and the Councilor for the Salt Spring Division Mr. Sylvan Reid, both representing the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) on the St. James Parish Council. Mr. Troupe and his son Jevaughn are to appear in court on Wednesday on charges of illegal firearm and ammunition possession. Mr. Reid has been charged with illegal possession of property. Large amounts of U.S. Dollars and Jamaican Dollars were found hidden inside Mr. Troupe’s home – painted a lovely shade of orange…
Now the lottery scam, which emerged years ago now, has been the scourge of Jamaica for a long time; it has dragged our good name in the mud and has been a continuous source of shame and embarrassment. U.S. police forces have advised citizens not to accept calls from an 876 number (Jamaica’s area code). But it has been an economic godsend for the city of Montego Bay. Small hotels and entertainment venues, where the scammers reportedly hold lavish parties; local businesses, real estate and luxury car sales have all been booming. It has also been the ostensible of much violent crime and many murders, the police say. In case you didn’t know, these people have long lists of the names and numbers of American citizens (where do they obtain these?) whereby elderly ladies and others are robbed of their life savings by smooth-talking Jamaicans, who tell them they have won a lottery, but must first send money. That is basically it, so far as I know. One hears that even teenagers and school kids are involved. It’s “get rich quick” and everybody loves them because they bring money into the community. Lovely. No questions asked.
But the determined efforts of the Jamaica Constabulary Force – who have been steadily picking up not just the small fry, but increasingly what they call “major players” in the lotto scam – are starting to pay off. I must hereby heartily congratulate the head of the Lottery Scam Task Force Superintendent Leon Clunis and his team for their determined investigations. Whether Mr. Troupe and Mr. Reid are proved guilty or not in a court of law, a message has been sent that no one is above the law – not even duly elected officials.
The People’s National Party itself sent a different kind of message – one which did not sit well with many Jamaicans. Firstly, Prime Minister (and President of the PNP) Portia Simpson Miller‘s off the cuff response on the matter was lacking in coherence and conveyed an anxiety to avoid the issue altogether. A television journalist waylaid her as she was entering Parliament later that day, and our Prime Minister’s hurried, abrupt response was, in essence, that she knew nothing about it and could not comment and in any case she is “so busy” with matters of the State… She appeared flustered. Not a good start. On TVJ this evening, she repeated that she did not want to comment until she is sure that she knows what is happening. When will that be? Party Chairman Robert Pickersgill believes Mr. Troupe has “done the honorable thing.” Opposition Leader Andrew Holness says that “I don’t know” has “become the Prime Minister’s tagline.”
So, we waited. No word on Thursday or Friday from the PNP, although its Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson (the only man who sounded fairly coherent in his remarks) had promised a statement. Something like a statement came out on the Saturday evening television news, almost four days later. It transpired that Mr. Troupe had “voluntarily” (and under no pressure from his party) taken leave of absence from his job – he had not resigned. At a press briefing immediately following the PNP’s regular meeting of the National Executive Council, two of the party leaders looked somewhat sheepish. However, the General Secretary (also ironically the Minister of National Security) took the microphone, asserting that because the two elected officials (sorry to keep stressing this point) are “innocent until proven guilty” they have not been asked to step down, despite the charges against them.
TVJ’s regular viewers’ feedback poll pretty much summed up how most Jamaicans feel about this matter, soon after the arrests. “Should they step down even though they haven’t been charged?” was the question. The viewers’ texted response was loud and clear: eighty per cent said “Yes.” But do the politicians know (or care) what the average Jamaican thinks? (OK, that’s one of my rhetorical questions…) Head of the admirable institution, the National Integrity Action Forum, Professor Trevor Munroe, also said that they must resign. But his voice sounds increasingly lonely, these days – echoing, as if in an empty room.
Did the Prime Minister talk about strengthening the Government’s hand against corruption in her inauguration speech just a few months ago? Just asking. I must revisit that speech.
On this topic, I will end with comments from two people who I think got it right. In a no-holds-barred column in today’s Sunday Observer, Mark Wignall noted caustically that the arrests demonstrate that “too many of our politicians, in this island of crooks, are themselves crooked…Politicians are always hungry for cash and more cash.” Civil rights activist Susan Goffe has noted the key points that I completely agree with: Basically, that it this is not merely a legal issue (of course we are all innocent until proven guilty, that’s a “given”) – so much as it is a moral issue. These are publicly elected officials! We are supposed to respect them, they are our leaders, for heaven’s sake, and we should hold them to a higher standard than your “average Joe.” As Susan Goffe suggests, “If you are charged with a serious criminal offense, declare your innocence, resign from your public office (to preserve the reputation of the office) and deal with the matter of your defence and clearing your name. Too high a standard to ask of those who hold high public office in Jamaica?” Well, it seems so.
As my husband said, supposing before the election a councilor had said to the Jamaican electorate, “Oh well – I might be involved in the lotto scam…and oh, I have an illegal gun.” Would we have voted for him/her? Well, would we? I fear the ruling party has made a grave mistake, and misjudged us all. Just a few months after the optimism (even euphoria) of the general election – and just two weeks before we celebrate our fiftieth year of Independence – it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, like biting into a mango that is not as ripe as you thought it was. Whatever the outcome…
Equally important news… Three Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were – finally – ordered arrested for the murder of accountant Keith Clarke in May 2010. During a botched military operation in search of the fugitive Christopher “Dudus” Coke in a rather wealthy area near Kingston, soldiers allegedly fired at Mr. Clarke’s home and then entered. Mr. Clarke died in a hail of bullets (he apparently received twenty shots). The investigation has been extremely long drawn-out and the bureaucratic procedures related to the military are seemingly rather complex – but it appears that the three will be brought to court as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the question is what has happened in the investigations into the murders of more than seventy residents of Tivoli Gardens during that same period (many of them young men)? The trauma of that period has cut deeply into the consciousness of Jamaicans and the pain of it still lingers – especially in the hearts and minds of the many relatives and friends of those who died under terrifying circumstances.
And in other news… Was there any other news? Well, personally I am feeling very antsy about two major events that are going to take place in the next couple of weeks, and that are dominating the news and social media: the London Olympics and the Jamaica 50 Independence celebrations. On the first, my colleague blogger and journalist par excellence Ms. Dionne Jackson Miller wrote an excellent piece on the excessive, almost hostile attitude of some Jamaicans towards our hard-working athletes – you are expected to win, and to win gold! I agree with Dionne, and have commented elsewhere, that they are all winners. Yet some Jamaicans – supported by some sections of the media – seem to believe that only a gold medal will do. If not, then…Cho! A Gleaner sports report just yesterday noted that an athlete in Monaco was “the only Jamaican winner” at the meet. It was noted that other Jamaican athletes “had to be satisfied with” second and third places in other races. Let us salute and support all our athletes; they work hard, they keep a positive attitude and they have overcome many challenges to reach where they are – the Olympic Games. Congratulations to them all.
P.S. “Time” magazine (yes, the very same Time that presented an award to the Prime Minister apparently for saying that she would tolerate gays in her Cabinet) conducted an online poll on the “best and worst” Olympic athletes kits and what do you know? You’ve guessed it, Jamaica’s came out on top. But the Jamaican jury is, of course, still out. Let’s see how they look at the opening ceremony – that will be the test for Ms. Cedella Marley’s creations, one would like to think.
Usain Bolt and model in Jamaican Olympic gear – Bolt glassy-eyed, the unknown female militant.
And on Jamaica 50… What is happening in Jamaica? I’m sorry, I still don’t know, and I have been asking this question for weeks. I can just imagine Jamaicans from overseas arriving on the island, glowing with patriotic pride, checking into their hotels and eagerly enquiring of their hosts, “OK, what’s happening? Where are the celebrations?” Only to be met with confused silence, or perhaps a kind of mumbling – like a politician trying to avoid a difficult question. The Jamaica 50 Secretariat head and the Culture Minister have gone completely silent. It’s good to know, though, that other cities in the Jamaican diaspora worldwide seem to have taken the opportunity to highlight many positive aspects of Jamaican culture in different ways. In London, there will be a seventeen-day “Festival Jamaica 2012″ in Stratford, close to the Olympic venue, including all kinds of exhibits and performances. Jamaican history and culture, flower displays, kids’ events, you name it… And film. As I noted in a reblog earlier this week from the founder of the Reggae Film Festival (a regular fixture on our cultural calendar) the concept of the film festival appears to have been “pirated.” Please see the link below. In Toronto, Canada there is also an exciting schedule of events. They have a beautiful website (see link below) for their “Jump for Jamaica” program of events (the title is also the title of their theme song). Then there is New York, Atlanta, Miami… Perhaps we should go overseas to celebrate Jamaica 50? At least, the distinct impression one has is that we Jamaicans at home are basically left to our own devices. I suppose… Let’s have a party.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga told the Jamaica Observer last week that Jamaica had made little progress in the last fifty years. The newspaper then wrote a critical editorial – asking questions that perhaps they should have asked when they were actually interviewing him… And there are questions to be answered.
Michael Troupe departs his orange house in handcuffs, an odd half-smile on his face, as a small group of mostly female supporters express anger and support for their benefactor, a “good man”.
The Can’t be Bothered Department: Why so much fuss about the over-rated, has-been Jamaican deejay Shabba Ranks? He made what some might call a “triumphant return” to Jamaica for the much-hyped Reggae Sumfest, an annual show in Montego Bay which took place in the past few days. His on-stage cavorting graced (and I use that word sarcastically) almost the entire front page of today’s Sunday Gleaner. (Our Sunday newspapers have become somewhat schizophrenic, of late – a cross between serious commentary/news and entertainment trivia. Saturday’s Observer consists mainly of look-alike hairstyles, ridiculous makeup and nail treatments, and sports). Anyway, Mr. Ranks engaged in “sexually suggestive byplay” with another singer, before introducing his wife on stage. Give me a break… Meanwhile, R. Kelly – the guest star – reportedly owes millions in taxes back home… Jamaica must have been a nice break for him.
Another new rum on the market? And does the launch event have to include women in tiny shorts and too much makeup (where do they get these women from?) Yawn.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites continues his unending flow of high-minded speeches, for our edification.
What an attractive front page photo… Shabba Ranks on stage at Reggae Sumfest
The Not Impressed Department: The long-suffering, once beautiful “Bamboo Avenue,” the supposed tourist attraction in Holland, St. Elizabeth, was seriously damaged by fire caused apparently by a careless farmer. There was no fire truck available to assist. Once again, the St. Elizabeth Parish Council is going to meet and discuss how to preserve what is left of this beautiful area. The area has lost 750 meters of bamboo over the past few weeks. It is sad.
Thumbs down to Windalco – and again, this is a regular/periodic occurrence – for pouring 62,500 gallons of some kind of caustic chemical into the poor old Rio Cobre, resulting inevitably in the death of many fish. Thumbs up to the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA) for taking action against the bauxite mining company – and let me say also, for taking the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) - another government agency – to court. The latter action is in connection with the appalling fires at the Riverton City dump, which the NSWMA was apparently operating without a license. Do I get the feeling that NEPA is acquiring some teeth, at last? I do hope so. Meanwhile, Windalco – clean up your act! How can these things just happen so?
Bamboo Avenue in Holland, St. Elizabeth, used to be 2 1/2 miles long… Now it is much degraded.
The Three Cheers Department: CVM Television’s Kameal Gayle, who produced a good series of reports from Haiti. The accompanying footage conveyed a good “on the ground” feel for Haiti – not just the usual clichéd images. The reporting was unpretentious and straight forward. Good going.
To “veteran” deejay Capleton, who through his annual concert “A St. Mary Mi Come From” supports several institutions in what is always described as Jamaica’s poorest parish. The show is in its twelfth year and will take place on August 5 in Annotto Bay. I love it when people don’t forget their roots, but go back to water and nourish them…
I am glad that the University of the West Indies and the Montego Bay Marine Park have partnered on a program to reduce the huge numbers of the flamboyant but invasive species, the lion fish, which is gobbling up reef fish in the Caribbean. I hear that the fish actually does taste good…but cut the spines off, first…
And talking of food, a great move that Wisynco has expanded the distribution of its soda drink Bigga to the United States, partnering with the highly successful Jamaican bakery Golden Krust, which will distribute the drink along with its patties etc. to hungry Jamericans (or even others hooked on Jamaican food!)
Big ups too, to Dr. Henry Lowe, who has forged a partnership of a different kind – with a Chinese anti-cancer biotech firm. Dr. Lowe has been conducting some fascinating research, resulting in the launch of seven nutraceutical products that have great potential through his Bio-Tech R&D Institute. I hope the partnership progresses and bears fruit.
To the Good Shepherd Foundation in Montego Bay, which has had to pause in its building of its Hope Health Clinic due to a shortage of funds. If anyone can help or support in any way, please do so. The Foundation has done incredible work with people living with HIV/AIDS and many other residents since 1997. This is a very worthy project.
Board members and supporters of the Good Shepherd Foundation in front of the partially completed health clinic in Montego Bay
To South African High Commissioner to Jamaica Mathu Joyini, U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater (who served as Consul General in South Africa when Mandela was released from prison) and all those organizations who participated in Nelson Mandela International Day on Wednesday, July 18 – which was Mr. Mandela’s 94th birthday. In particular, the JNBS Foundation partnered with the Kingston YMCA and Children First in Spanish Town for a health outreach and cultural day for at-risk youth. More on this in a post to come…
South African High Commissioner to Jamaica Mathu Joyini
And talking of Children First, I was thrilled and delighted at the news that the LIME Foundation, California-based Dilieu Technology and the Mosaic Group provided new computers to their Kingston center, which was robbed of all its equipment recently during a break-in. Dilieu will also help provide security, while LIME will provide free internet connection. You are wonderful!
Last but not least, a huge pat on the back for the Liberty Academy at Priory, a small independent school in Kingston, which is doing marvelous work in special education. It has an inclusive and nurturing philosophy. With more revenue and funds, it could do so much more. Educational institutions like this deserve our support, even if the government can provide very little (or so it seems).
Finally, it is my weekly sad task to send condolences to the families and friends of those murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This week, thankfully, I have no police killings to report. Dr. Phillip Chamberlain’s murder has sent shock-waves through the town of Mandeville. A Howard University alumnus, “Dr. Phil” as he was called lived much of his life in the United States and then returned to help his fellow Jamaicans. I hear he was incredibly kind, would work late at night and was always available at any time to help those in need. Many are grieving his sad loss.
Diners eating Golden Krust patties and drinking Bigga soft drinks in Brooklyn, New York.
Councilor Sylvan Reid
Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay, Councilor Michael Troupe
Dr. Philip Chamberlain, 71, Mandeville, Manchester
Ava-Gaye Ward, 32, Sunrise Crescent, Kingston
Paul Jackson, 49, Grants Pen, Kingston
Karl Johnson, 57, Old Harbour, St. Catherine
Unidentifed man, Montego Bay, St. James
Holden Riggs, 49, Newmarket, St. Elizabeth
The esteemed Dr. Phillip Chamberlain, a kind and intelligent man, was stabbed to death in his office in Mandeville last weekend.