Ambushed by the prime minister

On Sunday February 7,  I was forced to send a hasty email to colleagues at the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. I had accepted the invitation of Dr Aaron Kamugisha to give the annual Kamau Brathwaite Lecture in Cultural Studies. The agreed date was February 25.

 

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But Prime Minister Simpson Miller had just exercised her constitutional right to call an election any time she chooses. And I had every intention of exercising my own right to vote. Is a good thing I sent the email on Sunday night. Publicity for the lecture was going to be sent out on Monday morning. Luckily, we were able to postpone to March 3.

In the larger scheme of things, my change of plans to accommodate elections is a minor matter. But I’m sure there are far more problematic issues for people doing business in Jamaica. The deliberate uncertainty about the date of elections makes it difficult to plan efficiently.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not blaming the prime minister personally for this state of affairs. The real issue is our foolish system of governance. It gives too much power to the prime minister to arbitrarily determine when elections are called.

AMBUSH IN THE NIGHT

The date of elections should be fixed. No prime minister should be able to ambush the Opposition and the people of Jamaica with elections that come like a thief in night. The prime minister’s announcement last Sunday was clearly a surprise for the Opposition, even though they had been daring her to call elections.

Our Maroon ancestors perfected the art of the ambush. From their vantage point in the mountains, they were able to expertly attack British soldiers. Foolishly dressed in bright red uniforms, the arrogant soldiers were an easy target. The Jamaica Labour Party is certainly not as vulnerable as those British soldiers. Their green uniforms are good for camouflage in the bush.

andrew_holnessAll the same, the suddenness of the prime minister’s announcement of elections seems to have destabilised the Opposition. Andrew Holness is now crying foul. In Jamaica, politics is war. And, as proverbial wisdom cynically asserts, all is fair in love and war.

These days, we are much more sophisticated than we used to be. Instead of brutally attacking opponents with physical violence, we now use old and new media. The blows are still effective but there’s far less blood. This is definitely progress.

“NAH VOTE AGAIN”

When I gleefully told a friend how happy I was that I would be able to vote, the surprising response was, “Does voting mean that much to you?” Of course, it does! I know the history of this country. There was a time when black people could not vote unless we owned substantial property.

The right to vote puts all of us on an equal footing, even if it’s only for one day. As Louise Bennett observes in her poem, Revelation:

Everybody got a vote, an

Every vote gwine swell de score;

Missa Issa, Missa Hanna

An de man wat sweep de store.

hqdefault-1Still for all, I completely understand the position of those non-voters who can’t be bothered to participate in the ritual of elections. For them, it’s a choice between worse and ‘worserer’. The Rastafari DJ Anthony B is the spokesman for a whole heap of Jamaicans who “nah vote again”.

Anthony B gives new meaning to the names of our political parties. PNP becomes “pains, needs an’ poverty”. JLP is “juicing di life of di ghetto pikni”. And NDM is “new destruction for you and me”. Fed up with deceitful politicians who promise what they don’t intend to deliver, many Jamaicans just ‘tek weh’ themselves out of politics.

ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION

Except for diehard Labourites and Comrades, rational Jamaicans do have moments of doubt when we wonder what is the point of voting. It’s the same old, same old: Politicians getting fatter and fatter, living high on the hog. I keep wondering if the men, especially, are not aware of the risk of diabetes that comes with overweight. And diabetes medication often causes erectile dysfunction. It comes down to a choice between sex and food.

b2d31fe6.jpgWhat keeps me voting is the certainty that my voice does matter. I decide which seems to be the lesser of the two evil parties, and I vote against the more evil one. Third parties don’t stand a chance in our either/or system. So that leaves the NDM out. One of these days, I’d like to able to vote for a party rather than against. I just don’t know when.

People who don’t vote like to think they’re superior to those foolish ones of us who still participate in the fraudulent system. There’s a kind of arrogant self-righteousness about not voting that can be very comforting. Me never vote fi dem. So no bodder come tell me nutten bout dem.

But non-voters do vote for ‘dem’ by default. You end up voting for whoever wins because you did not exercise your right to make a choice. If we don’t want to keep on being ambushed by politicians, we must insist on claiming the right to vote for a new system of governance. One that fixes the date of elections and takes absolute power out of the hands of the prime minister.

Dem fi lef Andrew house alone

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

andrewholnessA20150730GTMi shame fi di PNP. Wa mek dem a tek set pon Andrew house? Ascorden to di headline a one Gleaner story weh publish last Monday, ‘Andrew’s mansion talking point on PNP platform’. Mi never know dem wuda stoop to dat. Better dem talk bout weh dem do fi Jamaica people fi di last four year! Tings well bad wid dem if dem ha fi a talk bout Andrew house.

 

Hear wa Peter Phillips im seh last week Sunday eena Portmore bout di PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller: “No one in a fi har party can ask her nuh question how she build nuh house with wall that cost billions and billions and billions of dollars. We have a leader we can trust. We have a leader Jamaica can trust.”

By di way, unu see seh a nuff, nuff Patwa Peter Phillips a chat deh so. Wa mek im no chat laka dat eena Parliament? Fi wi Jamaica language no good enough fi official business? It ongle good fi cuss off political opponent an look vote? A time wi start fi tek wi language serious an gi it proper respect.

LIE AN STORY

Anyhow, back to di house wall. It no cost no ‘billions and billions and billions of dollars’. Dat a lie an story. Peter Phillips well an know seh dat a pure foolishness. A wine im a wine up di crowd. An im mout slip. Wall cyaahn cost so much. No matter how fi wi dollar devalue. Better im did seh million an million an million a dollar.

No get mi wrong. A nuff cut-stone wall all round di house. Di front wall taller than di house. An di house no small. Mi wonder if di architect never draw no picture fi show Andrew an Juliet how di big wall wuda look front a di house an all bout di yard. Mi tink dem mek mistake. But a fi dem business. Still for all, it no right fi Peter Phillips a tell lie pon dem.

peter_phillips_0Next ting. Peter seh wi can trust Sista P. Pon di odder hand, im mek it sound like seh wi cyaahn trust Andrew. Becau it look like seh people inna fi im owna party a aks im question bout how im build house wid wall that cost “billions and billions and billions of dollars”. Serious ting.

It come een like seh Andrew an Juliet cyaahn answer no question bout weh di money come from fi build di plenty-billion house wall. An Peter no even mention di cost a di house. A so-so wall im a talk bout. If im put on di house price pon top a di wall, a nuff more billion. An nuff more question.

SISTA P JUDGEMENT

Then a who tell Peter Phillips seh wi can trust Sister P becau she no build no house wid no big wall? Perhaps wi no trust her fi odder reason. All like how she tek Dr Ferguson outa health ministry an gi im one next big job. Dat no mek wi feel confident fi trust Sista P judgement.

If Dr Ferguson cyaahn manage health ministry, a how im a go deal wid Labour an Social Security? Dat no mek no sense. Sista P shoulda send im go sit down pon back bench. But no! She build high wall round Dr Ferguson fi protect im. An it mighta cost her thousand an thousand an thousand of vote.

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

Mi shiem fi di PNP. Wa mek dem a tek set pan Andrew ous? Azkaadn tu di edlain a wan Gleaner stuori we poblish laas Monde, ‘Andrew’s mansion talking point on PNP platform’. Mi neva nuo dem uda stuuup tu dat. Beta dem taak bout we dem du fi Jamieka piipl fi di laas fuor ier! Tingz wel bad wid dem if dem a fi a taak bout Andrew ous.

portia_in_portmore_0

Ier wa Peter Phillips im se laas wiik Sonde iina Portmore bout di PNP liida Portia Simpson Miller: “No one in a fi har party can ask her nuh question how she build nuh house with wall that cost billions and billions and billions of dollars. We have a leader we can trust. We have a leader Jamaica can trust.”

Bai di wie, unu si se a nof, nof Patwa Peter Phillips a chat de so. Wa mek im no chat laka dat iina Paaliment? Fi wi Jamieka langgwij no gud inof fi ofishal bizniz? It ongl gud fi kos aaf politikal opuonent an luk vuot? A taim wi staat fi tek wi langgwij siiryos an gi it prapa rispek.

LAI AN STUORI

Eniou, bak tu di ous waal. It no kaas no “billions and billions and billions of dollars”. Dat a lai an stuori. Peter Phillips wel an nuo se dat a pyuur fuulishnis. A wain im a wain op di kroud. An im mout slip. Waal kyaahn kaas so moch. No mata ou fi wi dala divalyu. Beta im did se milyan an milyan an milyan a dala.

No get mi rang. A nof kot-stuon waal aal roun di ous. Di front waal taala dan di ous. An di ous no smaal. Mi wanda if di aakitek neva jraa no pikcha fi shuo Andrew an Juliet ou di big waal wuda luk front a di ous an aal bout di yaad. Mi tingk dem mek mistiek. Bot a fi dem bizniz. Stil far aal, it no rait fi Peter Phillips a tel lai pan dem.

julietholness20111114cNeks ting. Peter se wi kyan chros Sista P. Pan di ada an, im mek it soun laik se wi kyaahn chros Andrew. Bikaa it luk laik se piipl iina fi im uona paati a aks im kweschan bout ou im bil ous wid waal dat kaas “billions and billions and billions of dollars”. Siiryos ting.

It kom iin laik se Andrew an Juliet kyaahn ansa no kweschan bout we di moni kom fram fi bil di plenti-bilyan ous waal. An Peter no iiivn menshan di kaas a di ous. A suo-so waal im a taak bout. If im put aan di ous prais pan tap a di waal, a nof muor bilyan. An nof muor kweschan.

SISTA P JOJMENT

Den a uu tel Peter Phillips se wi kyan chros Sista P bikaa shi no bil no ous wid no big waal? Paraps wi no chros ar fi ada riizn. Aal laik ou shi tek Dr Ferguson outa health ministry an gi im wan neks big jab. Dat no mek wi fiil kanfident fi chros Sista P jojment.

If Dr Ferguson kyaahn manij health ministry, a ou im a go diil wid Labour an Social Security? Dat no mek no sens. Sista P shuda sen im go sidong pan bak bench. Bot nuo! Shi bil ai waal roun Dr Ferguson fi protek im. An it maita kaas ar touzn an touzn an touzn a vuot.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

LEAVE ANDREW’S HOUSE ALONE

I’m ashamed of the PNP. Why are are they paying so much attention to Andrew’s house? According to the headline of a Gleaner story published last Monday, ‘Andrew’s mansion talking point on PNP platform’. I didn’t think they would stoop to that. Better they talk about what they’ve done for the Jamaican people over the last four years! They must be very desperate if they have to be focusing on Andrew’s house.

Here’s what Peter Phillips said last Sunday in Portmore about PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller: “No one in a fi har party can ask her nuh question how she build nuh house with wall that cost billions and billions and billions of dollars. [No one in her party can ask her any questions about how she’s building a house with fence walls that cost billions and billions and billions of dollars.]  We have a leader we can trust. We have a leader Jamaica can trust.”

imagescaribhelloBy the way, you see that’s a lot of Patwa Peter Phillips is using there. Why doesn’t he speak that language in Parliament? Our  Jamaican language isn’t good enough for official business? It’s only good for cursing political opponents and getting votes? It’s time we start taking our language seriously and give it proper respect.

PURE FABRICATION

Anyhow, back to those walls. They certainly don’t cost ‘billions and billions and billions of dollars’. That’s pure fabrication. Peter Phillips very well knows that’s nonsense. He was just whipping up the crowd. And his mouth slipped. No wall could cost so much. No matter how  much our dollar has been devalued. Better he’d said millions and millions and millions of dollars.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of cut-stone wall all around the house. The front fence wall is taller than the house. And the house is not small. I wonder if the architect didn’t do any drawings to show Andrew and Juliet how that huge wall would look in front of the house and all around the property. I think they made a mistake. But that’s their business. All the same, it’s not right for Peter Phillips to misrepresent the cost.

Another thing. Peter says we can trust Sister P. On the other hand, he implies that  we can’t trust Andrew. Because it seems as if members of his own party have been questioning him about how he’s managed to build a house with fence walls that cost “billions and billions and billions of dollars”. That’s a very serious charge.

It’s as if  Andrew and Juliet can’t answer that question about the source of the funding for the multiple-billion fence wall. And Peter didn’t even mention the cost of the house. It’s only the walls he highlighted. If he adds the cost of the house to the estimate of the fence walls, that would be lots more billions. And lots more questions.

SISTER P’S JUDGEMENT

images-1Then why is Peter Phillips so sure we can trust Sister P because she hasn’t built a house with huge fence walls? Perhaps we don’t trust her for other reasons. Look at how she’s taken Dr Ferguson out of the ministry of health and given him another big job. That doesn’t inspire any confidence whatsoever in Sister P’s judgement.

If Dr Ferguson can’t manage the health ministry, how is he going to deal with Labour and Social Security? That move makes no sense at all. Sister P should have sent him to go sit on the back bench. But no! She’s built a high wall around Dr Ferguson to protect him. And it might cost her thousands and thousands and thousands of votes.

Dr Ferguson’s premature ejaculation

unnamedI’m no Mark Wignall. But I’m predicting that if the prime minister does not immediately fire her minister of health, the PNP will soon be voted out of office. In his column published last Thursday, Wignall prophesied, “It is more likelihood than possibility that after the next election, the people of this country will still get to call Portia our prime minister.”

It depends on what she does about Dr Fenton Ferguson. The ill-fated dentist is an ominous symbol of all that is wrong with the present PNP government: incompetent, arrogant, stubborn, hard-ears. Why is Fenton Ferguson still minister of health? After all of his errors of judgement and his repeated failure to protect the health of the nation! Why is the prime minister still upholding him?

Last Wednesday, one of my friends asked if I’d heard what Ferguson said about the dead babies. My cynical answer was, “That is not him did kill them?” I cannot forget the prime minister’s ill-considered response to repeated calls for the removal of Jennifer Edwards from her post as executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority.

As the fires raged at the Riverton dump, this is what the prime minister said in a bumbling interview on CVM TV: “I’m sure she wouldn’t set the fire. If she had set the fire, she would be gone! But I’m sure because she wasn’t there; she was nowhere near there until when they heard that the place was on fire. So I don’t know why anyone would be calling for her head to roll.”

TOTAL DENIAL

Wayne-J-Chikungunya-Well, Fenton Ferguson has definitely set several fires and his head has not rolled. The most deadly conflagration was his mishandling of the chik-V epidemic. No notice given to unsuspecting victims about the impending disaster, despite the many warnings issued by the Pan American Health Organization. Total denial of the true scale of the epidemic. And no serious attempt to count all the deaths resulting from the impact of chik-V on chronic illnesses.

Refusing to listen to the clamour of voices demanding the resignation of the minister of health, the prime minister unilaterally declared that Dr Ferguson had done nothing wrong. But what he had done right? Given the widespread trauma caused by the chik-V epidemic, Ferguson himself should have had the decency to resign. But he knew he had the backing of his prime minister.

I wonder if this is how she justified her decision to stand by him: I’m sure my minister of health is not a mosquito. And he did not bite anybody. If he had bitten anybody, he would be gone! But I’m sure because he wasn’t there; he was nowhere near where people were getting bitten. And he even wanted an infected mosquito to bite him, so he could feel the pain of those who had been batter-bruised by chik-V. So I don’t know why anyone would be calling for his head to roll.

ANOTHER FIRESTORM

tiny-hand-of-premature-babyDr Ferguson has now set off another firestorm with his incomprehensible ejaculation that premature babies are “not babies in the real sense”. I use the word ejaculation here to mean something said hastily without any thought. Not the act of discharging semen.

But Dr Ferguson was addressing Parliament. He should not have been ejaculating. He ought to have carefully considered his words. I know that Dr Ferguson is neither an obstetrician nor a gynaecologist. He’s a dentist. He’s an expert on the oral cavity. So he really should be much more cautious about how he opens his mouth. The discharge can be nastily explosive.

The minister’s lunatic claim that premature babies are “not babies in the real sense” is a reckless attempt to evade responsibility for the disgraceful condition of our hospitals. His cowardly line of defence is to blame the innocent victims. It’s the babies who caused their own death. It is true that the compromised immune system of premature babies makes them vulnerable to disease. But this is precisely why they need to be given high-quality medical care.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Dr Ferguson’s apology for his public ejaculation is an insult to the intelligence of the Jamaican people. He simply repeats the fact that premature babies are susceptible to infection. But he admits no responsibility for the failure of the hospital system to protect these babies. It’s business as usual, masquerading as an apology.

And, what is even worse, all that the prime minister expects of Dr Ferguson is this: “I hope that the Ministry of Health and the minister will look at the present system to see what needs to be done to ensure that what happened will never, ever happen again.” Another excuse for failure.

imagesLast Sunday, after witnessing the brilliant trial of Governor Eyre in Morant Bay, I set out for Bath Fountain. On the way, I passed Dr Ferguson’s constituency office. And I had a revelation. The minister of health has survived disaster after disaster because he has access to a regular supply of ‘oil of Portia can’t fire me’.

Fun and joke aside, no oil from St Thomas is more powerful than the collective will of the Jamaican people. In theory, we have the right to choose our leaders. We can vote. But for who? The real tragedy of our times is that our politicians are certainly not public servants in the real sense.

Defending Slackness At All Costs

Prime Minister and Minister of Health at press conference on public health crisis

Prime Minister and Minister of Health at press conference on public health crisis

So the prime minister, who is also the minister of defence, is perfectly satisfied with the performance of her minister of health. She has every confidence in Dr. Fenton Ferguson. It doesn’t seem to matter that the nation is in a perilous state: pop down, mash up, largely due to the incompetence of the minister of health and his technocrats in handling the chik-V crisis.

Yes, I know; this is my fourth column on the virus. And if you substitute chik-V for Ebola, you can also count last week’s column: why there’s no vaccine for chik-V. It’s the same story. Victims of chik-V are poor people in Asia, Africa and now Latin America and the Caribbean. They can’t guarantee huge profits for pharmaceutical companies.

The current estimate is that it takes 10 years and 1 billion dollars to develop a vaccine. Who is going to pay for that? Pharmaceutical companies are committed first and foremost to their shareholders. Don’t be fooled by the nice things they say about wanting to save lives. They are not evangelists. It’s all about the bottom line.

That’s why pharmaceutical companies are now insisting that they should be let off the hook if the new vaccines they are rushing to develop for Ebola turn out to be dangerous. They want to be indemnified. Damn! The word ‘indemnify’ is of Latin origin. ‘In’ means ‘not’ and ‘damnus’ means ‘loss, damage’. So the pharmaceutical companies want to be absolutely sure there’s no loss even if there is damage!

DAMN WITH FAINT PRAISE

30536443-out-of-control-words-over-a-red-3d-arrow-breaking-through-a-maze-wall-as-mismanagement-of-an-issue-pThe prime minister appears to have indemnified Dr. Fenton Ferguson against the spectacular losses the Jamaican economy has suffered over the last several weeks because of the mismanagement of the chik-V crisis. According to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), approximately $6 billion and 13 million man hours have been lost because of the virus. I suppose those ‘man’ hours also include women.

Dr. Ferguson has been given a clean bill of health, it seems. The prime minister claims that he has “done nothing wrong”. Could she be pulling a fast one on us? I’ve always insisted that our prime minister is much more astute than her detractors would like us to believe. If I were Dr. Ferguson, I would be very worried about being commended for doing nothing wrong.  That’s next to nothing. It sounds a lot like being damned with faint praise.

Wikipedia defines that turn of phrase in this way: “Damning with faint praise is an English idiom for words that effectively condemn by seeming to offer praise which is too moderate or marginal to be considered praise at all. In other words, this phrase identifies the act of expressing a compliment so feeble that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even implies a kind of condemnation”.

I can just hear the kissing of teeth: Dat a no wa Sister P mean. She a defend Fenton Ferguson slackness fi true. She nah condemn im. OK. So I’m reading far too much into the prime minister’s words. But whether she intended it or not, her statement that the minister of health has done nothing wrong can quite reasonably be interpreted as condemnation.

In this chik-V epidemic, which might very well have knocked out at least 60 per cent of the Jamaican workforce, it’s simply not good enough that the minister of health has done nothing wrong. What has he actually done right? What kind of leadership has he provided to help us cope with this disaster? Has he not completely failed at his job? And shouldn’t he be forced to resign?

WHO ATTENDED CHIK-V WORKSHOP?

th_alarmed_faceI was alarmed to discover quite recently that in May 2012, a training workshop on chik-V was held right here in Kingston at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. Convened by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the workshop brought together participants from 22 countries across the region.

The workshop focused on “Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas in the context of Dengue”. In 2013, PAHO published a report confirming that “the participants elaborated a draft preparedness, control, and response plan for CHIK outbreaks in the Caribbean sub-region, focused in 3 main components clinical management and epidemiology, laboratory diagnostic and vector control” [sic].

The report carefully documents the agreed plan of action:

  • “PAHO will communicate with Ministries of Health to convey the importance of preparing for the introduction of CHIK.
  • Participants of the training course will promote sensitization of Senior Health Staff at the country level (Minister, CMO, PS).
  • Each country Ministry of Health will review existing plans and develop country-specific programs based on the framework developed at meeting.
  • Each country Ministry of Health will evaluate the capacity of current dengue surveillance and response programs as a background for CHIKV introduction”.

Chikungunya-Poste-IV-413x256I would very much like to know who from our Ministry of Health attended that training course. And did they “promote sensitization” of the minister of health, the chief medical officer and the permanent secretary? Apparently not! With more than two years’ warning, what, if anything, did the minister of health do to prepare the country for chik-V? Not much. Doing nothing wrong is unquestionably not right. It’s slackness, plain and simple. And that’s indefensible.

Too Little, Too Late, Sister P!

article-2649672-1E7EF20800000578-911_634x419Almost a year ago, in December 2013, the World Health Organisation reported that chik-V was in the Caribbean. Mosquitoes on the island of St Martin-St Maarten had been infected with the virus and were spreading it to the human population.

Even before that, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) jointly published in 2011 a vital document, Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas. It warned that “[t]he resulting large outbreaks would likely tax existing health-care systems and the public-health infrastructure, and could potentially cripple some of society’s functioning”.

That’s when the Government of Jamaica should have taken notice and started a public-education programme on the threat of the virus. Before it got here; not now. Why was our minister of health not paying attention then?

The PAHO-CDC document, which is available on the Internet, clearly states its objectives: “the prevention, detection, and timely response to outbreaks of CHIK through surveillance, case detection, investigation, and the launching of public-health actions”.

DIEHARD COMRADES

39871pnp72confn201009219rbThe document highlights the importance of Government sending out information that would “encourage informed decision making, positive behaviour change, and the maintenance of trust in public authorities”. This business of trust is crucial. But how many of us actually trust our public authorities? Even diehard Comrades who have been afflicted with chik-V cannot truthfully say they trust the word of the minister of health.

The Government should have been using both old and new media to spread accurate information on chik-V over the last three years. The PAHO-CDC guidelines acknowledge the fact that an outbreak of the disease can cause “confusion and controversy”. Chik-V has certainly made imaginative Jamaicans chat a lot of nonsense. Like saying it was the plane that crashed off the coast of Port Antonio on September 5 that brought the virus!

I suppose the minister of health will claim that the Government didn’t have the money to launch an expensive media campaign. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been forcing us to cut back on government spending. But in 2011, when those detailed warnings about managing chik-V were issued by PAHO-CDC, we should have told the IMF to ease off. A crippled workforce cannot possibly be productive.

MOSQUITO HOTELS

imagesAdmittedly, the problem of disease control is much bigger than the failure of Government to lead effectively. We can’t leave it all up to untrustworthy Government. Every single citizen must take some responsibility for protecting our neighbourhoods from the threat of disease. Yes, the Government must ensure that gullies are regularly cleaned. But we have to stop throwing rubbish into gullies.

Another environmental issue we have to deal with is abandoned lots that are all-inclusive hotels for mosquitoes, especially when it rains. So here’s my story on that score. There’s an empty lot behind my house and two more in front. On all of them, the grass is at least two metres high. I know only one of the proprietors of these mosquito hotels. I called him a couple of weeks ago about bushing the lot.

I’d heard that he’d recently sold the lot, so I really wanted to be put in touch with the new owner. I couldn’t believe it when he told me that the lot had been sold by a third party and he didn’t know the new owner. So I asked him to let me know who the third party was. He would have to call me back. I heard nothing from him.

STORY COME TO BUMP

Then last week, a woman stopped at my gate to ask if the lots were for sale. I told her I didn’t think any of them was on the market. But I suggested that she talk to the mosquito hotelier I knew. I called him. And story come to bump. His lot was sold, but if he got a better offer, he would consider it!

sin-picture2This is a nice Christian gentleman who must know that it is sinful, if not downright criminal, to be offering for sale property that is supposedly already sold. It seems as if the nice gentleman is pretending he doesn’t own the lot so he won’t have to be responsible for bushing it. Anyhow, he did assure me that he had contacted the owner and it would be bushed by the end of the month. I guess he talked to himself – the first sign of madness.

This is what is so wrong with Jamaica. We are just too selfish. The owner of an open lot doesn’t usually live anywhere near it. So it’s not his or her problem if the lot is an unsightly breeding ground for mosquitoes. Too bad for the people who just have to put up with it; or clean it up at their own expense.

At a press conference called last Thursday, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller appealed to our better nature. She asked us to help the Government cope with our public-health crisis. She should have done that three years ago. Chik-V batter-bruise wi now. It’s much too late to kiss and make up.

Prime Minister and Minister of Health at press conference on public health crisis

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson at press conference on public-health crisis

Raping Virgin Territory

jamaica“Hold down an tek weh.” That’s exactly what it is. Protected lands on Long Mountain that, by law, should remain virgin territory for the benefit of all Jamaicans, for generations to come, have been captured and are about to be deflowered by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ).

The Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) are mandated to protect conservation lands. Instead of carrying out their mission honourably, it would appear that the NRCA and NEPA have ganged up and held down the virgin so that the HAJ can have its way, back and front. It’s an all-too-familiar scenario.

images-1According to a report published in The Gleaner on Thursday, May 23, the HAJ “posted an environmental bond, valued at between $30 million and $40 million, as part of the preconditions” in order to get a permit for further ‘development’ on Long Mountain. Of course, no environmental bond would be needed if there was [sic] no threat of environmental degradation.

I refuse to use the antiquated subjunctive ‘were’ for ‘was’. I am in no mood for grammatical niceties. The environmental problems with ‘development’ on Long Mountain are decidedly not hypothetical. They are very real. All of the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for the area have clearly identified the risks. It’s not a case of ‘if’ there are going to be problems. And it’s definitely not future tense; it’s present.

ARMAGEDDON MUST BE NIGH

images-3Just ask the leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, and his wife Juliet who are building what appears to be a fortress in Beverly Hills. They seem to know something that the rest of us don’t: Armageddon must be nigh. In the recent rains, an avalanche of stones from their property rolled downhill, propelled by the flood waters spewing from the Long Mountain Country Club into Beverly Hills and the Pines of Karachi.

Instead of feeding the aquifer, rainwater from the housing scheme runs off the hill and goes to waste, damaging roads along the way. This specific problem was forecast in the EIA for the country club that was done in 2000. But the unwelcome findings were simply ignored. And now there’s the threat of a new ‘development’ that will only compound existing environmental dangers.

12945495986xm08TThe $30m-$40m bond will, I suspect, prove completely inadequate to fix the environmental damage the new scheme will cause. It’s like those television ads promising cures for all sorts ailments. When you hear the side effects of the miracle drugs, including death, you wonder if you’re not better off with the original disease. In the case of Long Mountain, it’s even worse. The fertile land is healthy. It should be left exactly as it is. There’s no need to manufacture an environmental problem in order to try to solve it.

Furthermore, this new development below the country club is even closer to the Mona Reservoir. The 2000 EIA for both the country club and the additional 30 acres or so that are now up for grabs predicted that “[a]dditional storm water will be discharged into existing drainage channels to increase erosion on the lower slopes facing the reservoir … . From field observations, there are a number of drainage channels on the lower slope that are capable of carrying storm water laden with sediments directly into the reservoir during periods of high rainfall.”

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Mona Reservoir and Long Mountain

The EIA also warned that if a sewage line from the proposed development is broken, gravity will feed the waste directly into the reservoir. Even worse, the lift station for the new development is to be located right across from the reservoir. In the event of an earthquake or even a burst pipe, sewage is likely to flow freely into the reservoir. And sewage from the country club has already been flowing freely into some homes in the Pines of Karachi.

NOT THE WHOLE STORY

images-7The Gleaner story on the HAJ permit reports that “[t]he subdivision, which should initially have seen the development of 54 residential lots on just over 29 acres of land, came under public scrutiny more than two years ago after its upscale neighbours – the Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills – raised concerns over how it would impact them”. That’s not the whole story. And it’s not a class issue: ‘upscale’ versus ‘downscale’. I expect that the potential investors in the new development are quite ‘upscale ‘.

The impact of ‘backlash’ development on existing communities is, indeed, an understandable concern. For example, as far as I can tell, no new access roads are going to be built for the proposed development. This will increase traffic congestion, especially since one of the access roads on the approved plan for the Long Mountain Country Club was never built. How the developer got away with it, I don’t know. In any case, Pines of Karachi and Beverly Hills have been forced to accommodate additional traffic that would have used the missing road.

images-6The much bigger picture is protecting the environment. The most recent EIA, commissioned by the HAJ, admits that “the proposed development site is zoned for public open space in the 1966 Confirmed Kingston Development Order for Kingston while in the emerging Kingston and St Andrew Development Order, 2008, the proposed zoning is public open space/conservation”. But the two-faced assessment observes that “there has been in the past a relaxation of the zoning restriction”. So because there have been breaches in the past, we should just keep on turning conservation areas into housing!

images-8All is not lost. There is still one last wall of defence against the encroaching development: The Cabinet. That’s where the final decision will be taken. I hope Prime Minister Simpson Miller and her Cabinet will find the courage to halt the ravaging of Long Mountain. It all started with another PNP administration. They need to make amends. “Wat gone bad a-morning can come good a-evening.”

Paying For Emancipation

images-7Britain’s Black Debt is the intriguing title of a provocative book launched to much fanfare earlier this month by the University of the West Indies Press. The Nyahbinghi House drummers and chanters set the tone of the occasion. ‘Black Liberation Day’, ‘Open de Gate Mek We Repatriate’, ‘Four Hundred Million Black Man’ and ‘Every Time We Chant Nyahbinghi I an I Waan Trod Home a Yaad’ were some of the ‘heartical’ chants that heralded the launch.

The book’s author is Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, distinguished Barbadian historian and principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. In Britain’s Black Debt, Beckles tackles the contentious issue of reparations for both the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans in the so-called West Indies. Christopher Columbus lost his way to the ‘East Indies’ and our region is now stuck with a name that perpetuates the great discoverer’s error!

viewer-1The cover of the book brilliantly illustrates its theme. The main image is a 1966 photograph of Queen Elizabeth II with her cousin, George Henry Hubert Lascelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood, on his sugar plantation in Barbados. The property was bought by one of the earl’s relatives in 1780, along with 232 slaves. In the background, at a respectful distance, is a large group of well-dressed, carefully choreographed spectators, mostly white, whose body language suggests decorous delight at finding themselves in the presence of royalty.

TAINTED WEALTH

Beneath the photograph, there’s a row of shackled Africans: three children; three women, each with a baby wrapped on her back; and seven men. Two black overseers with guns are keeping them all in line. The enslaved humans are the literal subtext of the main story about colonial masters and their loyal subjects. Beckles compellingly argues that forced labour in the Caribbean is the foundation of much of the wealth of Britain, including that of the Royal Family.

images-2Beckles pays tribute to Eric Williams’ revolutionary book, Capitalism and Slavery, first published in 1944. There, Beckles argues, Williams “constructed the framework for the reparations case”. Beckles does concede that Williams “stopped short of making an explicit call for reparations”. But, he asserts, the book “still represents the most persuasive articulation of evidence” that “Britain’s magnificent, enviable industrial civilisation emerged from the foul waters of colonial slavery”.

The Earl of Harewood died on July 10, 2011 at the age of 88. His obituary in the London Telegraph substantiates Beckles’ case: “The Lascelles family had made their fortune in the West Indies. An 18th-century ancestor, Edwin Lascelles, had built the magnificent Harewood House in the family estates in the West Riding of Yorkshire”.   Harewood House is not a house. It is a palatial monument to capitalist greed.

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Harewood House

And its owners have no shame about the source of their tainted wealth. The Harewood House website states quite matter-of-factly that, “[b]y 1787, the Lascelles family had interests in 47 plantations and owned thousands of slaves in Barbados and across the West Indies. The Lascelles weren’t unique – most merchants of the period were involved in the slave trade”.  And Harewood House is now a tourist attraction. It costs £14 for adults to tour the ‘house’, including staterooms, and £10 to visit just the grounds and below stairs. Class privilege comes at a price.

LUNATIC PROPOSITION

The most startling fact I learnt at the launch of Britain’s Black Debt is that the British government had wanted emancipated slaves to pay reparations to their former masters for the loss of their service. A lunatic proposition! Where was the money supposed to come from? The Haitian people had been forced to borrow money to pay reparations to France for claiming their freedom. In the case of the British, it was they who were claiming freedom from us. True, rebellious slaves across the British colonies had fought for freedom. But, in effect, Emancipation was designed to free the British government of all legal and moral obligations to the formerly enslaved.

Sir Thomas Buxton

Sir Thomas Buxton

The abolitionist, Sir Thomas Buxton, had urged his fellow parliamentarians to pay reparations to emancipated Africans. But, as Beckles notes, “[T]he British Parliament, densely populated with slaveholders and other beneficiaries of slave investments, did not take Buxton’s suggestion seriously”.   Eventually, the British government decided to pay reparations to slave owners on behalf of the enslaved. But no reparations were to be paid to the primary victims of this demonic crime against humanity.

It’s bad enough that some British MPs still don’t take reparations seriously. But why do most of us, the descendants of enslaved Africans, act as if the idea of reparations is a big joke? Is it because we believe the lie that slavery was good for us, taking us from ‘savagery’ to ‘civilisation’? Have we not read Walter Rodney’s brilliant book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa?

AFRICAN RENAISSANCE

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa. A primary mission of the organisation was to end colonial rule on the African continent. On May 26, 2001, the OAU was rebranded as the African Union (AU). May 25 has come to be known as African Liberation Day. It is an occasion to reflect on the protracted struggle of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to reclaim the right to determine our own destiny.

PrintThe theme for the 50th anniversary celebrations is ‘Panfricanism & African Renaissance’. If we are serious about the rebirth of the continent, reparations must be put on the agenda of the AU. And if we are to escape recolonisation by the International Monetary Fund, reparations must be put on the CARICOM agenda.

Reparations is the urgent message Professor Beckles took to Ethiopia last week, where he addressed a conference that was convened ahead of the 21st African Union Summit. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is there. I hope she knows she must speak out on behalf of Rastafari and all those heroic Jamaicans like Paul Bogle and Sam Sharpe who have long been fighting for reparative justice.