Jamaica still counting our blessings

Jamaica still counting our blessings

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, March 23, 2020

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So here we are on lockdown; working remotely and watching the unrelenting spread of this global pandemic. Some are describing this as Mother Nature's revenge. In the wake of warnings about climate change and global warming they say that skies are clearer. But this is little comfort to those mourning the loss of their relatives and friends.

When we have natural disasters we appeal to developed countries for help and they are generous in their response. Now we pray fervently for them as they grapple with unbelievable challenges to their health services.

We in Jamaica are still counting our blessings. We are heartened by the hands-on approach taken by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Health & Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan, and other member of the combined Government. Our health care workers are heroic as they work long hours to keep us well. Our security forces are not only on state of emergency duty, but are also on quarantine duties.

Corporate Jamaica has stepped in to provide well-needed support to the less fortunate. Food For the Poor has been assisting with food distribution to the communities in Bull Bay under quarantine. Banks are extending due dates for mortgages and loans, and National Water Commission has assured that they will not be disconnecting water supply for unpaid bills.

The reports of careless behaviour on the part of an entertainer are troubling, and so we are happy that, as of Saturday night, Jamaica's airports and ports will no longer receive passengers — though folks are free to fly out. I am concerned that an airport worker noted a lot of hugging taking place on the last few flights in from New York on Saturday. People, we have to understand that this is a highly contagious virus. We each have to take responsibility for our behaviour and practise social distancing. Let us have a heart for our health personnel who are working night and day.

As we avoid unnecessary commuting we are happy that there is a website where one can visit local doctors digitally — www.themdlink.com. Kudos to Dr Mike Banbury and his colleagues for creating this site which we understand has daily visits increasing tenfold.

It is important that our at-risk elderly citizens are receiving special attention. The National Health Fund is extending prescription quotas so they can stock up on their medication. Sagicor, who underwrites the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) Health Plan for seniors, has assured that they will cover illnesses associated with this pandemic.

Our local media have left no stone unturned in keeping the public well-informed. Of course, we are riveted by the international reports of this global crisis, but please ensure that you check in with local newscasts to know what is happening closer to home, and to offer any assistance you can, even if it is a phone call to a lonely elder.

Outstanding Budget presentations

We applaud Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke for their outstanding contributions to the Budget Debate. It was gracious of Holness to acknowledge the work of Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips in our struggle for economic well-being. He also gave us encouraging news on the merger of the HEART Trust/NTA and the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning, now HEART Trust/NSTA (National Training Service Agency), which will see over 150,000 enrolled this year. Their National Vocational Qualification Jamaica (NVQJ) programme offers courses up to graduate and postgraduate levels, an affordable way to get quality education.

Holness noted the significant investment of Michael Lee-Chin and Gassan Azan in agriculture, which include timely initiatives to shore up our food security. Still, we must salute our diligent small farmers and fisherfolk who have produced consistently despite the hardships they face. We appreciate the timely lowering of asset taxes and the reduction of General Consumption Tax announced by Dr Clarke.

Thank goodness for the leadership of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) co-chaired by Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) President Keith Duncan and Bank of Jamaica Governor Richard Byles. Their deliberations and reports have helped to keep the various players on their toes and now, even in the face of this crisis, the credit rating agency Moody's is optimistic about Jamaica.

The Jamaica Observer noted, “[T]he agency said, compared with other Caribbean islands, Jamaica's vulnerability to tourism is moderate.” The Moody's release stated: “While we expect growth to slow from declining tourist arrivals, the effect on Jamaica's external accounts will be partially offset by the high import content of tourism earnings, which will reduce the country's import bill. Moreover, lower oil prices will also have a positive effect on Jamaica's current account… We believe that the country has sufficient fiscal and external buffers to cope with a shock in the tourism industry, limiting the immediate credit negative effect.”

We can be proud of the stewardship of our leaders as well as the support of our private sector and non-governmental organisations. Together, we shall overcome.

Can we do this for crime?

I am seeing calls on social media that we need to use this same emergency approach to our crime problem. We must. There is speculation that some politicians still have alliances with so-called dons hamstringing our national security efforts. Well, now that we see all hands on deck for the pandemic, let us see which hands will not come on deck for crime.

The police remain everyone's favourite beating stick because it distracts us from those who are under the radar stoking criminal behaviour. Why don't we have closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in our crime-ridden communities? Is it because there are some who do not want their comings and goings recorded?

The police youth club movement is the biggest youth organisation in Jamaica. After their long, dangerous hours of fighting crime, our police still make time for the youth in their communities. If our 63 Members of Parliament and caretakers, and our over 200 parish councillors, decide to support this initiative and strengthen their alliance with the police, we could witness a sea change in security.

Let us use the same will for Jamaica's wellness to create the long-awaited peace for our people.

Phenomenal Rev Dr Carmen Stewart

We have fond memories of Rev Dr Carmen Stewart's wisdom when she served on the National Prayer Breakfast Committee. The more we learned about her achievements the more we realised what a trailblazer she was as a pastor and national leader. Dr Stewart was the first woman custos of St Andrew and first woman deputy governor general. She was pastor for over 50 years at the Pentecostal Gospel Temple at Windward Road, and founder of the Wilbert Stewart Basic School in memory of her late husband. Rev Dr Stewart served on several national committees and was an honorary tutor at The University of the West Indies. She received countless awards including one of the highest national honours, the Order of Jamaica.

We extend condolence to her family and close friends. Rest in peace, phenomenal Rev Dr Carmen Stewart.



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