TODAY, September 12, 2013, is the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert. Prior to that, Jamaica had not felt the full effects of a hurricane for 37 years, the previous one being Hurricane Charlie that hit on August 17, 1951. In the aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert there was the zinc scandal, where zinc sent for roofing from overseas was stolen and perhaps sold.
After Hurricane Charlie in 1951, there were rumours about legislators not distributing hurricane relief. A defamation court case would follow and two members of the House of Representatives were unseated.
One of them was the late Mrs Rose Leon (then a member of the JLP, later a member of the PNP) and the other was George Perrier. Then came by-elections -- one in Clarendon and another in St Andrew. One resulted in the 'resurrection' of Donald Sangster, who had lost his seat in St Elizabeth in the general election of January 1955.
Sangster's by-election victory meant that he returned to the House representing a Clarendon constituency and was subsequently re-elected until he died. In 1962, when the JLP won power, he became deputy prime minister and minister of finance. In 1967 Sangster became the second prime minister of Jamaica, but served for only 48 days. Sangster is still the shortest reigning prime minister. Andrew Holness served as prime minister for 74 days.
Since the passage of Hurricane Gilbert, Jamaica has felt the effects of several hurricanes, the most notable being Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The passage of Hurricane Dean in 2007 came at a time when Jamaica was in the middle of the nomination-day-to-general-election period. The elections were postponed from August 27 to September 3 (the same election that brought the Jamaica Labour Party to power and Bruce Golding as prime minister).
The passage of Tropical Storm Gustav in 2008 put an end to our banana industry as Martin Henry pointed out in his column in the Sunday Gleaner of September 8 (which incidentally was the 44th anniversary of the Jamaica's conversion to dollars and cents, which most people seemed to have forgotten).
Our banana industry is an integral part of our history. Norman Manley was the lawyer for the Banana Producers' Co-operative out of which came Jamaica Welfare (now Social Development Commission). And it was as a result of his involvement in this cooperative that Norman Manley, (the first president of the People's National Party) became interested in politics. As Martin Henry pointed out: "The PNP and the country has some debt to bananas."
Environmental abuse is the main reason being given by many for the preponderance of hurricanes in recent decades. The cutting down of trees is one reason, and the emission of poisonous gases into the atmosphere is the specific reasons given. There has been a positive response to environmental abuse all over the world and locally environmental groups have sprung up especially since the 1990s.
Today, there is a ministry of the environment and climate change. Perhaps the most significant change, in terms of legislation, that has come in recent times with respect to the environment is the law that bans tobacco smoking in public places. And even then, the legislation was introduced by the minister of health (as indeed it should be). But there should be legislation that speaks to the emission of gases and the widespread cutting of trees.
More importantly there should be education in schools about this practice. And one would expect that this would come form the ministry of environment and climate change. The controversy about the proposal to erect a hub on Goat Islands is something that makes a mockery of having a ministry of environment and climate change, a point I made in my column last week.
Every time I hear about Goat Islands, I recall the orientation day for the Community Economic Organisation in 1979. This was a concept of having community employment projects and each were to be registered as co-operatives. When the government changed in 1980, unfortunately the projects had not been registered as co-operatives, so everything was dismantled with the public sector company as the new government had different policy directives.
But at the orientation day in 1979, we visited a furniture project in Trench Town and a fishing project in Old Harbour Bay. We also went for a boat ride around Goat Islands. Many people have asked me where the Goat Islands are so now you know. They are visible from Old Harbour Bay and one of them is about a mile from the shoreline. I believe that most of the fish that are caught between Hellshire and Rocky Point in Clarendon are spawned in the reefs and caves around the Goat Islands.
Around that time the Government of Jamaica was attempting to achieve some Japanese yen to buy Toyotas, I believe, by selling lobsters. And apparently the Japanese were of the opinion that Jamaica could not produce the amount of lobsters they required because our fishermen did not know how to catch lobsters. So they sent their experts to Jamaica and to Old Harbour Bay.
One of their experts tried to teach the fishermen how to make a lobster trap. It was Harold Bent, I understand, who said "A nuh suh you catch lobster". So there was a demonstration. Both the Japanese expert and Harold Bent put up their catches. I understand that only two small lobsters were caught in the Japanese expert's trap while Harold Bent's trap was filled to overflowing with lobsters. From that day onward Harold bent had the nickname "Lobster".
If the proposal about making the Goat Island the hub is carried out, any existing or future plan to export lobster could be kissed "goodbye". It is not only parrotfish that would be affected. And we say we have a ministry of environment and climate change!