EVERY word was like a dagger to the hearts of decent Jamaicans - the evidence from the US Senate Special Committee On Aging 'Hearing: 876-SCAM: Jamaican Phone Fraud Targeting Seniors' held last Wednesday. We heard the accounts of Kim Nichols and Sonia Ellis, daughters of phone scam victims as they related emotionally how their parents had been terrorised by the heartless criminals.
The recordings of voicemails left by scammers told of rough, vulgar thugs who used expletives and threats to intimidate their victims. When some of the elders tried to resist the criminals, they were told that the location of their homes and loved ones were known and lack of cooperation would be lethal. We understood from AARP President Robert G Romasco that they seemed to have carefully selected their victims - mostly women in their late-70s, many of whom had cognitive challenges.
We were mortified at the words of US Senator Susan Collins at the hearing: "For far too long Jamaican authorities turned a blind eye to this fraud, which was illegally bringing an estimated $300 million annually to their economy."
Then there was the Dan Rather report which played recordings of Jamaican pop songs praising scammers, and likening scamming to 'reparation'. What a disgrace. We have seen the current and previous administrations pointing fingers at each other. This scourge of lottery scamming has a nearly 10-year history, so there is a lot of blame to go around. Thank goodness the US authorities insisted on urgent action in this matter.
We are now asking our international friends to apply similar persuasion to the passing of the Anti-Gang Legislation which has got no traction over the past year though we have heard that proceeds from lotto scamming have been fuelling gang growth.
Do our politicians know how important it is to show courageous leadership and break out of the tribalist mode? We hear that pension arrangements for members of Parliament were rushed through and approved, even as public sector workers were being asked to tighten their belts. This kind of insensitivity can create desperation in the population.
In a Jamaica Observer commentary last week, headlined 'Politicians must sacrifice too', Francis J Mafar challenged the administration to send a positive signal to the Jamaican people:
"The extra money spent on Cabinet could buy 28 two-bedroom houses based upon NHT figures.
"The extra money spent on Cabinet could top the recent donation by the World Free Wheel Chair Mission to Jamaica by buying 194 wheelchairs for the disabled in Jamaica.
"The extra money spent on Cabinet is the annual salary for 296 Jamaicans living on minimum wage."
Indeed, as I listened to the music of the hapless Buju Banton last night, these words had stronger currency than our assaulted dollar:
"What is to stop the youths from get out of control
Full up of education yet no own no payroll
The clothes on my back have countless eyehole.
I could go on and on, the full has never been told
Who can afford to run will run
But what about those who can't ... they will have to stay
Opportunity a scarce, scarce commodity."
PNP's 75th anniversary
I had really hoped to attend the launch of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the People's National Party last Thursday. This is a party whose founding father, Norman Washington Manley, was deeply admired in my childhood home. A citation on the JCDC website captures the incredible accomplishments of this fine intellectual, advocate and statesman:
"[He was] one of the main negotiators during the period of labour unrest in 1938. He mediated between the disgruntled workers and their vocal leaders, and the Colonial Governor. This led to the formation of a Conciliation Board and to the release of Alexander Bustamante, and St William Grant, who had been arrested; was the undisputed leader of the Jamaican Bar between 1932 and 1955. We are told that his clients, whether they were rich or poor, could have no more able a defender than NW Manley. He helped to form the Jamaica Banana Producers' Association, saw to the formation of the Bank of Jamaica, saw to the formation of the Central Planning Unit, now the Planning Institute of Jamaica, to coordinate the development planning of the country; saw to the establishment of the Scientific Research Council to promote industrial and scientific development; established the Jamaica Welfare Limited, now the Social Development Commission, which touched on every area of rural life, educating and assisting rural groups with projects which resulted in better housing, economic independence, individual pride and confidence, which were crucial in the development of modern Jamaica.
Manley also saw to the construction of the two international airports, one of which bears his name. He was leader and co-founder of the first political party to survive in modern Jamaica; fought for self-government in a climate largely hostile to the idea; arranged for constitutional reform to lead to self-government; helped to bring about universal adult suffrage in 1944; became Chief Minister of the country in 1955; achieved full internal self-government for Jamaica in 1959; was instrumental in framing Jamaica's Independence Constitution, and is in fact considered to be the architect of the new Jamaica."
May the party founded by this Jamaican National Hero hark back to his enlightened and dynamic approach to governance, and use this 75th anniversary to promote his high ideals.
Welcome, Pope Francis I
My husband, the football-centric Hubie Chin, says that Pope Francis I must be great, because he is from Argentina, the country that produced legends Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. That aside, we are impressed by the obvious humility of this new head of the Catholic Church, who refused to mount the riser on the Vatican balcony when he first appeared to his faithful in St Peter's Square last Wednesday - he wanted to be on the same level as his colleagues. Later, he opted to ride with them on a bus, instead of the papal vehicle, and insisted on paying his own bill at the modest hotel he had chosen to use. What an example - I like this Pope!