Navigating Jamaica through stormy seasMonday, March 22, 2021
In his budget presentation last Thursday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, while acknowledging the crises of crime and COVID-19, signalled that his Government would be going fast forward into infrastructure investment and crime fighting. Commenting on the global shortage of vaccines, he noted, “This means that we still have a few more months ahead of us for the strict maintenance of protocols.” He warned that, with an over 30 per cent positivity rate, and hospitals at capacity, he would be announcing “a new set of stronger measures designed to protect our health care system and save lives in the short term, which eventually protects and preserves our economy and livelihoods in the long term”.
He noted that police officers will shortly receive body-worn cameras: “This will have a positive impact on the speed at which incidents are investigated and disposed of.” He said that, in addition to Denham Town, West Kingston, Mount Salem (St James), Greenwich Town, and August Town, his Government will be adding two additional communities as zones of special operations (ZOSO). The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) will have the urgent task of managing social transformation in these communities.
We welcome the prime minister's announcement of a National Commission on Violence Prevention and hope that there will be close collaboration with the private/public sector Crime Monitoring and Oversight Committee (CMOC).
The impact of COVID-19 has been hardest on the poor, and the financial safety net created by the Ministry of Finance will bring some relief, but their suffering continues. We cannot fault Opposition Leader Mark Golding for bringing attention to this perennial problem. However, it is up to our leaders, regardless of political party, to partner with JSIF for the social transformation of their constituencies.
Whenever I mention that Jamaica has 63 Members of Parliament and over 200 parish councillors for a population of over 2.7 million, some people are genuinely shocked. It is amazing that, with this huge cohort of political leaders, gang violence could have become so deadly and the conditions of the poor so pathetic. Better policing and anti-corruption measures should help us turn this corner. Those politicians who may have consorted with gangs should pray for forgiveness and do better. If they do not, they should be named, shamed, and made to pay the price. There has been talk of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as was set up in post-apartheid South Africa, but we will not hold our breath.
Plans to repair roadways and expand our highway system will boost our economy, create thousands of jobs, and grant faster access to our towns and cities. Criticism is rife over plans for the new parliament building, but again that will bring employment to some of the neediest inner-city residents.
I do hope the Government will adopt Senator Don Wehby's approach. When GraceKennedy was planning the construction of its new building he insisted on the hiring of inexperienced, young people by the contractors. They got on-the-job training, which resulted in many of them achieving certification for future employment in the construction industry. This is the kind of fresh thinking that will fight poverty.
Last Thursday, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton issued a notice that individuals age 75 years and older will be vaccinated next week. These are the steps they should take:
1) Book directly online via the Ministry of Health and Wellness' website at https://www.moh.gov.jm;
2) Call the Vaccination Call Centre Hotline at 888-ONE-LOVE (888-663-5683);
3) Call or visit their parish health department or local health centre; or
4) Call or visit their private doctor.
To make the appointment, people will need to provide their full name, telephone number, age, and home address.
We have submitted all this for over 2,000 Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) members and remain hopeful that we will hear something positive soon from the ministry. In the meantime, we have urged the members and all other people in the 75-plus age group to register as instructed. Let us make every effort to get the vaccine to protect ourselves and others.
There have been over 300 murders since the beginning of the year. Every single one is tragic, but one of the most senseless has left Jamaica's film community reeling. We understand that videographer and photographer Courtney Sutherland was shot dead in an act of road rage after he was involved in a motor vehicle crash on Washington Boulevard. A Crime Stop notice has been issued. We hope the murderer will be brought to justice.
Courtney's brother Dean posted this on Instagram with emojis of hearts and weeping: “This is my brother Courtney Sutherland, this is hard for me to text what I am feeling. This is my brother. This is my brother. They have a saying... 'you never know what you've had until you have lost it'... Trust me I know what I had with my brother, and I know what we all have lost. RIP my brother... I will always and forever love you. This is so hard to process right now.”
My friend film-maker Natalie Thompson wrote: “I have not been able to speak openly on fb about the senseless killing of Courtney. It hurts. It tested whatever faith I had, and it threatened to break my spirit. I cry for the family especially his wife and daughters (Kaylin, I know you were always with him) his brothers especially my precious Squid and his wife Anna and his sister and their families. This cannot be easy. Praying for you all and for Jamaica.”
Between murders, COVID-19, and road deaths, the bereaved are many. Because of the pandemic we cannot visit, but we can call, so please reach out however you can and give comfort.
Our new poet laureate
Olive Senior was on Wednesday appointed the poet laureate of Jamaica at a ceremony of investiture conducted by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen. Senior grew up in rural Jamaica and attended Montego Bay High School. She studied print journalism at Carlton College in Canada, returned to Jamaica to work in media, and later furthered her studies in England.
She has won several awards for her poetry and short stories, including the Institute of Jamaica Centenary Medal for Creative Writing, the Commonwealth Prize for Literature, the Norman Washington Manley Award for Excellence in the field of Preservation of our Cultural Heritage, and the Musgrave Gold Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for her contribution to the field of literature.
The thoughtful Olive Senior will put the practical into poetry by promoting “eco-poetics” to encourage her fellow Jamaicans to celebrate and protect their environment.
Corporates to the rescue
Reports that some The University of the West Indies students who were recently in quarantine at a campus residence were short on food got a quick response from corporate donors. Their good spirits were soon restored thanks to the generosity of Caribbean Broilers, GraceKennedy, Island Grill, Jamaica Broilers, National Baking Company, Wisynco, Rainforest, and Tastee. Gratitude to Minna Israel, special advisor to the vice chancellor for her nimble coordination.
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