IT'S MONTEGO BAY'S turn to take the spotlight this week, with a media frenzy over the big news that two local politicians are to face the court on charges of possible involvement in the Lottery Scam, a criminal phenomenon associated almost exclusively with the St James capital and surrounding parishes.
News that the deputy mayor of the St James Parish Council and a fellow councillor, both representing the governing People's National Party, were taken in for questioning on Wednesday, set town and country talking. It is the first time that personalities so high on the totem pole have been called into question for the con game, aka the Scam, which has put us in the international spotlight because of its targetting of the elderly and the vulnerable in the nearby USA.
Over the time that the Scam has been going on, a widespread call has been for the security forces to approach the task with creativity to outmatch the scammers. The popular phrase out West is that security tactics should be to move from net fishing to spear fishing - a marine simile not at all surprising in an area where sport-fishing is part of the tourism product. So now that the "crime fishers" have landed something much bigger than "the fryers", sharks and barracudas are being brought ashore, say those who know the language of fishing better than Gordon House "anglers".
The story is just beginning, of course. There is the journey through the courts ahead to determine guilt or innocence. This isn't stopping the wider community from reaching its own conclusion. How is Montego Bay taking all of this? I asked a long-time media colleague yesterday for his assessment. What is the popular reaction? His response:
"Divided...some are convinced that there is no question of anything but innocence... Others will settle for nothing less than guilty". What about the politics... Is it a PNP-JLP thing? The answer: "No, I don't hear much of that." My friend reminded me that the Scam has always been dismissed by most Montegonians as a Robin Hood thing...Rob the rich to give the poor. Well, you could say, using the metaphor of the Robin Hood story, the Sheriff of Nottingham is now writing his own script and the drama might not end in favour of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, whoever they are.
Politically, this is no picnic for the PNP. To have two of their leadership having to prove their innocence before the courts is already raising credibility issues for the whole organisation. The media is already questioning the integrity of the Party's Integrity Commission. How thorough were its investigations of representatives for national and local elections? How will something as explosive as charges laid against people holding office in the parish council, affect the credibility of the party and its ability to govern? The JLP is not going to take it so, that's for sure.
The battle over Jamaica 50 seems to be subsiding. The celebrations are already fighting for media attention. This new challenge for headlines moves the Jubilee away from the centre at the moment. Meanwhile, everybody outside of Jamaica is set to enjoy the merriment except us right here at home. I asked my MoBay friend: "How is the celebration spirit going over there?" His reply: "Nothing really going on yet. I hear over there in Kingston decorations are beginning to go up. I don't see much getting under way with us yet."
Question: "So, when will things start?"
Response: "Don't know...and with all that's going on now...that's something else again."
In the Bay, I'm also told people are talking about Norman Manley Airport carrying the swing for Kingston with its decorations and welcome-home courtesies. This has Montegonians asking: "Then what about the Donald Sangster Airport? Why haven't we started welcoming the family home too?" The fear is that time is running out, time for somebody to do something.
All is not lost in the Second City, Sumfest goes to the Bay tonight. Perhaps that could goad into action the Friendly City. (Remember when MoBay bore that title given it by tourism activists?) It would be a pity if only the bad stuff held sway. Montego Bay has to save itself.
FIFTY AND GOING STRONG: Cultural institutions do not always have a long shelf life in our territory. The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) took to the stage August 1962 and has made it to the 50th milepost, like the nation. Co-founded by Rex Nettleford, who became our most powerful Man of Arts and the Letters, revered inside and outside of the Caribbean, and Eddy Thomas, a talented choreographer/dancer/designer,
The company has represented Jamaica well in performances in over 20 countries across the globe. The NDTC established the Jamaica School of Dance, educated a new generation of dancers, taught teachers and created a distinctive vocabulary which has sparked enthusiasm in young dancers across the island.
Perhaps Prof's greatest achievement was the team which he welded together, not just for performance but institution-building, as he called it. It is his "heirs and successors" - Barry Moncrieffe, Bridget Spaulding, Bert Rose, Marjorie Whylie and others - who today carry his message and keep together a remarkable ensemble of talented young artistes, giving them a special place in the hearts of Jamaicans at home and abroad.
In this season of Olympics, the NDTC family remembers more than ever the Prof's message: "We're long-distance runners, not sprinters". Last Saturday night the company celebrated at the Little Theatre with a super-sized evening of performance, dining and dancing. "The kids", as Prof called the new generation, to whom he was father and mentor, earned every bit of it. Nuff respect and best wishes for another 50.
MANDELA DAY was celebrated on Wednesday. How many knew about it, participated in it? From Emma Lewis, recently retired, I learnt what she did. Seems like a good event to me. In her words:
"I volunteered for JNBS Foundation, which sponsored a wellness and cultural day for street children and working children at the YMCA all day Wednesday. It went really well. The foundation also partnered with Children First, which had a similar event in the afternoon in Spanish Town. We also recognised the day at the Trench Town Reading Centre (on First Street, near the Cultural Yard). I gave each group in their summer school a short talk on Mr Mandela and shared several books about him, which are in the centre's great book collection.
"Jamaicans for Justice held a special forum at St Margaret's Anglican Church in Liguanea - focusing on children's rights - a Call to Action."
And now - here's another good quote from Mr Mandela: "Rhetoric is not important. Actions are."
From me: You see what happen when a man talk sense?