Teething Pains At UTech’s College of Oral Sciences

UnknownLast Wednesday, I telephoned Dr. Irving McKenzie, dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. I wanted to ask a single, straightforward question: Why was UTech bypassing accreditation of its degree programme in dentistry?

I was relieved by Dr McKenzie’s unexpected answer. UTech is not actually avoiding review by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). A consultant has been hired to manage the long and expensive process. The first stage is self-assessment, which has already started.

So why didn’t Dr. McKenzie say this in his article, “Jamaica Produces World-Class Dentists”, published last Monday? He didn’t even acknowledge CAAM-HP, much less the need for accreditation. Instead, he announced that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision to ensure that graduates of the College of Oral Health Sciences are qualified according to world-class standards”.

Dr. McKenzie seemed to be proposing that the examination administered by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), based in the US, was insurance enough. Mere accreditation of the academic programme by the unmentionable CAAM-HP didn’t appear to count. But should it be either or?

Making his case for world-class standards, Dr. McKenzie echoed the words of Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology. In an article headlined, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI Cartel”, published on April 28, Professor Gyles reported that “The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment”.

The inflammatory headline of Professor Gyles’ article is the work of a devilish Gleaner editor. The original was much more innocent: “Protecting our nation’s investment in university education”. The provocative headline sent a subliminal message. It was a reminder that I’d invited Vybz Kartel to speak at UWI. But, perhaps, as a teacher of literature, I’m reading too much into it.


SMILEEE-resized-600.jpgUTech’s last-minute decision to start the accreditation process is the real “world-class” deal. For example, the website of the American Dental Association (ADA) makes it quite clear that “Though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements; an education requirement, a written examination requirement and a clinical examination requirement”.

The website confirms that “The educational requirement in nearly all states is a DDS or DMD degree from a university-based dental education program accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA CODA). References to accreditation in states’ licensure provisions relate to the CODA and no other agency”.

Dr. McKenzie boastfully announces that “The people of Jamaica can be justly proud that the graduating dentists, having successfully passed this most objective method of assessment, are competent dental professionals that are eligible for licensure by the Dental Council of Jamaica and the licensing bodies of many States in the USA, countries in the region and elsewhere in the world”.

This declaration is not entirely accurate. Passing the CDCA examination is not enough. In order to be licensed in the majority of states within the US, dentists must have graduated from a university with an accredited dental education programme.

Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the CDCA exam only tests clinical competence. It does not meet the written test requirement, as outlined by the American Dental Association. Are we in the Caribbean willing to settle for lower standards than those of the ADA?


imagesDr McKenzie is a busy, busy, busy man. He wears several hats. He’s the chief dental officer in the ministry of health. In that capacity, he’s a long-standing member of the regulatory Dental Council of Jamaica; and, on top of that, he’s dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. It is rumoured that he also has a private practice in dentistry. But that cannot possibly be true. Those patients would really have to be very patient to see him.

Until quite recently, it seems, UTech appeared unwilling to begin the demanding process of accreditation by CAAM-HP. I wonder if the dean of the College of Oral Sciences inveigled the chief dental officer to approach the Dental Council of Jamaica to cut a deal with the CDCA as a way around the obstacle of accreditation! Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Furthermore, Dr. McKenzie seems to have forgotten which hat he was wearing when he asserted that “the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision” to ensure that its students could take the CDCA examination. As I understand it, the CDCA does not enter into contractual arrangements with teaching institutions, only with licensing bodies. So the CDCA recognises the Dental Council, not UTech.

Color VersionIn addition, both UTech and UWI dental students are eligible to take the CDCA exam. But, to date, the Dental Council has not officially informed UWI of this development. In effect, UTech got a head start. Their students have already taken a mock exam and are about to do the real-real exam later this month.

What I simply don’t understand is why the minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has not acted decisively to rein in Dr. McKenzie. But based on his mishandling of the chik-V disaster and, more recently, the Riverton plague, I suppose it’s too much to expect the minister to rise from his state of terminal impotence.

UTech Deputy President Beating His Gums

If he’s not careful, Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology (UTech), will soon need the services of a graduate of an accredited dental degree programme. He’s just beating his gums in response to my column published last Sunday, “University fi stone dog in the UK?”

There, I state the truth: “UTech hasn’t even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world”. In his evasive column, “Carolyn Cooper and the UWI cartel”, published last Tuesday, Professor Gyles takes almost 800 words to avoid addressing the issue of accreditation.

redherringInstead, he puts some rather smelly red herrings on the table, hoping, I suppose, to distract readers from the meat of the matter. Professor Gyles says he’s a graduate of the University of the West Indies. That’s irrelevant. Then he makes a nonsensical claim: “It should be evident that any criticism of UTech’s capacity to deliver quality education is a criticism of the institutions from which those experts got their training”.

Perhaps it should be evident. But it is not. Accreditation of a university’s academic programmes – the primary issue here – is not solely dependent on the qualifications of those who are offering training. And, in any case, I was not criticising UTech’s capacity. The quality of actual delivery may be quite different from capacity.


What Dr. Gyles fails to admit is that the University of Technology is not accredited by The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). As stated on its website, CAAM-HP “is the legally constituted body established in 2003 under the aegis of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), empowered to determine and prescribe standards and to accredit programmes of medical, dental, veterinary and other health professions education on behalf of the contracting parties in CARICOM”.

Furthermore, the website states that “CAAM-HP will serve as the means of providing the assurance of quality that generates confidence in the principal stakeholders, students and the public”. When I checked with the local office of CAAM-HP two Fridays ago, I was informed that several attempts have been made to get the University of Technology to begin the accreditation process. With no success.

Apparently resisting local/regional review, UTech has turned to the US-based Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA) to legitimise its academic programme. In his response to my column, Prof. Gyles states, “UTech’s dental programme is recognised by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), which assesses and approves dentists to practise in the United States and Canada. The CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment.

“It is of note that UTech’s College of Oral Health Sciences became the first institution outside of North America to be approved by the CDCA. The current final-year cohort of students from UTech’s dentistry programme will be sitting the CDCA examinations in less than a month”.


headerCDCAWhat, exactly, does CDCA recognition and approval mean? Nothing much, it would appear. Last Tuesday, I spoke to Dr. Ellis Hall, Director of Examinations at the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment. He immediately confirmed that the Commission is not an accrediting body. It administers exams. That’s it.

Professor Gyles argues that because UTech dental students are about to take the CDCA exams, “It therefore gives a completely false impression of the quality of the cohort of students who will shortly graduate from the programme as fully trained and qualified dentists for them to be described as ‘about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world’”.

The UTech graduates may very well be “fully trained and qualified dentists”. But this is another red herring. How many of us would suspect that the UTech dental degree programme is not accredited? Try as he might, Professor Gyles cannot deny the fact that UTech is pressing along with its dental programme, with no regard for the CARICOM accreditation requirements.

As for the platitude that “We cannot become so fiercely competitive that we tear each other apart and undermine the collective strength that we could muster in order to bolster our own collective survival and competitiveness in the wider world”. Professor Gyles clearly didn’t see my statement that we need more than one university in Kingston. The issue is not competition; it’s competitive advantage.


Surprisingly, Professor Gyles doesn’t seem to appreciate the value of polytechnic education. He dismissively states, “The impression being given that UTech is some kind of polytechnic that simply tries to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities such as UWI is not true”. The College of Arts, Science and Technology was a polytechnic that did an excellent job of providing professional education. CAST graduates easily found jobs for which their UWI counterparts were unqualified.

imagesAnd it is true that some foolish administrators at UWI turned up their noses at academic programmes they considered beneath them. Like sports. Now, the University is desperately trying to catch up in some of these fields. But the solution to the problem of shortsightedness is not duplication of effort.

The administrators of both UTech and UWI need to sit down and talk about how the limited resources of both the nation and the region can be used to full advantage. Ensuring that all academic programmes are accredited is the first step.

University Fi Stone Dog in the UK?

Believe it or not, influential academics are insisting that there are far too many universities in the UK. Of course, they’re not using our colourful language – university fi stone dog! But it amounts to the same thing. Universities are in such plentiful supply that the issue of wasted resources is now on the national agenda.

imagesLast year, Sir Roderick Floud, former president of Universities UK, made an alarming public statement: half of UK universities should be closed. His remarks were carried by the Telegraph on June 19: “I believe we have too many universities, that they are trying to do too many different things, and that the way we fund their research is fundamentally flawed”.

Practically all universities in the UK are financed by government. So cynics might argue that Floud’s belief is just the backward opinion of an elitist, conservative administrator wanting to curtail public spending on higher education. There may be some truth to that. But Floud does have a point. In the 1990s, British polytechnics were magically transformed into universities with the wave of a wand, it would seem.

Instead of specialising in professional vocational education, polytechnics began to duplicate the offerings of traditional universities. I suppose it’s similar to what the University of Technology has been doing in recent years: replicating practically all the professional programmes offered by the University of the West Indies. Incidentally, UTECH hasn’t even applied for accreditation of its dental programme! And the first graduates are about to be let loose on an unsuspecting world.

This is how Floud sums up the problem: “We don’t need two or more universities in each of our major cities, glowering at each other and competing to attract the attentions of businesses and local authorities.

“Why does Leeds or Sheffield or Oxford, for example, need two vice-chancellors, registrars or groups of governors?

“In London, the situation is even more bizarre, with some 40 universities within the M25 [the motorway that circles the city] and more arriving by the day. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has remained supine in the face of evidence that all this is unnecessary and inefficient.”


hydel_univOf course, our situation is different. We do need more than one university in Kingston. There’s a huge market for tertiary education. But the twin problem of oversupply and doubtful quality can’t be conveniently forgotten. Last week, I was reminded of this issue in a conversation with Dr. Henley Morgan, who was appointed Chancellor of the former Hydel University College in December.

Yes, Hydel does have a Chancellor. As Dr. Morgan explains, “not a ceremonial role as is the custom throughout the Commonwealth university system, but rather the executive role of Instructional Leader, as it is used in the American community college system”. And he made an amusing admission: “It’s funny but 7 out of 10 persons I tell of my latest calling ask if I’ve read your articles on the subject of unregistered institutions and unaccredited courses”.

Dr. Morgan has not only read the articles; he’s taken immediate action. He’s prioritised and expedited the necessary process for Hydel’s registration as a tertiary education institution and hosted the University Council of Jamaica on a site visit. Dr. Morgan brought to my attention the fact that the sign proclaiming Hydel as a university was removed even before his appointment.

Perhaps my sceptical columns persuaded the founder/president, Mrs. Hyacinth Bennett, to set more realistic goals. In any case, I’m glad commonsense has prevailed. And I wish Chancellor Morgan well as he attempts to transform Hydel College into a viable tertiary institution.


Then there’s another side to the business of oversupply of British universities that we can’t afford to ignore. Many institutions have resorted to exporting their programmes. We, in the Caribbean, are a targeted market. But we have to be careful that we’re not settling for wat-lef. And we do have our own academic programmes that we can export.

UnknownEarlier this month, the 3rd CARIFORUM-EU business forum took place in MoBay. Its purpose was to review economic partnership agreements and, hopefully, increase trade with Europe in three areas of our competitive advantage: agro-processing, music and higher education. I was invited to speak at a roundtable on higher education.

Focusing on the potential of creative industries programmes to transform academic institutions, I drew attention to the accomplishments of the Reggae Studies Unit at the University of the West Indies. Over the last two decades, scores of undergraduate and graduate students have come to the Mona campus from across the world to do research on Jamaican popular music and related cultural forms.

I also highlighted the innovative undergraduate degree programme in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management that was introduced by the Reggae Studies Unit in 2007. And I talked about the proposal I recently developed, in consultation with several colleagues, to establish a multi-disciplinary, cross-faculty Centre for the Creative Industries and Cultural Enterprise at UWI.

We must acknowledge the relationship between culture, creativity and economic development and use our talents to our own advantage. Or we will remain trapped in debt, constantly dependent on our former colonial masters to feed us with scraps from the table.

Obama Done Know Wa A Gwaan

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 phonetic 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.


JAMAICA-US-DIPLOMACY-OBAMA-TOWN HALLSo Obama go a youth forum an im greet di massive inna fi wi language. An im big up UWI. An im aks, “Wa a gwaan, Jamaica”? An it sweet nuff a wi. Yeah, man! Obama talk up di ting.   But unu see seh im never talk dat deh talk wen im go a Jamaica House an wen im go meet di govament head dem. Im know wa a gwaan. Fi wi heart language no good enough fi dem deh high-up meeting.

Then chruu mi difend fi wi language, people a run joke wid mi, a aks mi if a mi did teach Obama fi talk Jamaican. Mi? Poor mi, poor gyal! Mi never get fi meet Obama, much less fi a gi im extra lesson. An mi never young enough fi go a di youth forum. By di way, mi wuda love fi know a who pick some a dem deh ‘youth’. Wen mi a watch di forum pon TV, mi see some hard-back, old, old smaddy a try pass fi youth. Mi seh to miself, “Dem must have big links fi get bogus age-paper”! Anyhow, a Jamaica dis. A bandooloo run tings.

Still for all, mi no know how dem deh unconscionable old smaddy no shame fi a tek weh young people seat. Fi dem shame-tree dead, dead, dead. An mi know seh di down-grow ‘youth’ dem a go seh a nutten but bad-mind an grudgeful mek mi a bad-talk dem, chruu mi never have no contact. Mi have conscience. Mi go outa road go watch motorcade pass wen Obama lef UWI fi go a Heroes Circle. Wat a piece a excitement! Fi wi outrider dem inna dem boasy uniform; an di whole heap a secret service guardy dem; an di two Beast dem!


mothers-tongue_0One a di ting Obama well know a dis: wen yu talk tu people inna fi dem heart language, yu get nuff forward. Mi fren, Prof. Hubert Devonish, send mi dis ya email: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit.”

Prof. Devonish a one linguist an im a di head a di Jamaica Language Unit a UWI. So im know weh im a talk bout.   Pon di video, President Obama dida gi one speech inna 2012. Im dida talk inna Washington, DC to di Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.   Same time Obama seh im born a Hawai’i, some a di Hawai’an people dem bawl out, “Chee huu”! Im stop braps. An im start laugh. Cau im know weh dem a seh. Dem well glad fi know seh im an dem come from di same place. Dem talk di same language. So hear Obama im, “These Hawaiians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Then music a one next language weh reach people, all wen dem no ketch di lyrics. Look how reggae music gone all over di world! An mi glad fi see seh Obama did go a Bob Marley Museum. Mi ongle sorry seh wen im did go a Heroes Circle im never dis go down a Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. An mi know seh some people a seh dem no want Merica pardon Garvey becau im never do nutten wrong. Mi no gree wid dem. Merika fi stop tell lie pon Garvey seh im a jinnal an gi wi national hero di honour an rispek im deserve. Dat’s wa up wi dat.


OBAMA_6So Obama go a yuut fuorom an im griit di masiv ina fi wi langgwij. An im big op UWI. An im aks, “Wa a gwaan, Jamieka”? An it swiit nof a wi. Ye, man! Obama taak op di ting.   Bot unu si se im neva taak dat de taak wen im go a Jamaica House an wen im go miit di govament ed dem. Im nuo wa a gwaan. Fi wi aat langgwij no gud inof fi dem de ai-op miitn.

Den chruu mi difen fi wi langgwij, piipl a ron juok wid mi, a aks mi if a mi did tiich Obama fi taak Jamiekan. Mi? Puor mi, puor gyal! Mi neva get fi miit Obama, moch les fi a gi im ekstra lesn. An mi neva yong inof fi go a di yuut fuorom. Bai di wie, mi wuda lov fi nuo a uu pik som a dem de ‘yuut’. Wen mi a wach di fuorom pan TV, mi si som aad-bak, uol, uol smadi a chrai paas fi yuut. Mi se tu miself, “Dem mos av big lingks fi get buogos iej-piepa”! Eniou, a Jamieka dis. A banduulu ron tingz.

Stil far aal, mi no nuo ou dem de ankanshanebl uol smadi no shiem fi a tek we yong piipl siit. Fi dem shiem-chrii ded, ded, ded. An mi nuo se di dong-gruo ‘yuut’ dem a go se a notn bot bad-main an grojful mek mi a bad-taak dem, chruu mi neva av no kantak. Mi av kanshens. Mi go outa ruod go wach muotakied a paas wen Obama lef UWI fi go a Heroes Circle. Wat a piis a eksaitment! Fi wi outraida dem ina dem buosi yuunifaam; an di uol iip a siikrit sorvis gyaadi dem; an di tuu Biis dem!


Wan a di ting Obama wel nuo a dis: wen yu taak tu piipl ina fi dem aat langgwij, yu get nof faawad. Mi fren, Prof. Hubert Devonish, sen mi dis ya iimiel: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit”.

Prof. Devonish a wan linggwis an im a di ed a di Jamieka Langgwij Yuunit a UWI. So im nuo we im a taak bout.   Pan di vidiyo, President Obama dida gi wan spiich ina 2012. Im dida taak ina Washington, DC tu di Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.   Siem taim Obama se im baan a Hawai’i, som a di Hawai’an piipl dem baal out, “Chee huu”! Im stap braps. An im staat laaf. Kaa im nuo we dem a se. Dem wel glad fi nuo se im an dem kom fram di siem plies. Dem taak di siem langwij. So ier Obama im, “These Hawaiians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Den myuuzik a wan neks langgwij we riich piipl, aal wen dem no kech di liriks. Luk ou rege myuuzik gaan aal uova di worl! An mi glad fi si se Obama did go a Bob Marley Museum. Mi ongl sari se wen im did go a Heroes Circle im neva dis go dong a Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. An mi nuo se som piipl a se dem no waahn Merika paadn Garvey bikaa im neva du notn rang. Mi no grii wid dem. Merika fi tap tel lai pan Garvey se im a jinal an gi wi nashinal iiro di ana an rispek im disorv. Dat’s wa op wi dat.


Barack Obama,So Obama went to the youth forum and greeted the massive in our language. And he said, “Big up, UWI”! And he asked, “What’s up, Jamaica”? And lots of us were tickled. Yeah, man! Obama got the language right. But you must have noticed that he didn’t use that language when he went to Jamaica House nor when he went to meet the heads of government. He knows what’s up. Our heart language isn’t good enough for those official meetings.

Then because I defend our language, some people had a little fun at my expense, asking if it was me who taught Obama to talk Jamaican. Me? Hardly likely! I didn’t get to meet Obama, much less to give him a tutorial. And I wasn’t young enough to go to the youth forum. By the way, I would love to know who selected some of those ‘youth’. When I watched the forum on TV, I saw  some rather tough-looking old people trying to pass themselves off as youth. I said to myself, “They must be very well connected to get fake birth certificates”! Anyhow, this is Jamaica. Trickery is the name of the game.

All the same, I don’t know how those unconscionable old people didn’t feel any shame at taking the place of young people. Their conscience is dead, dead, dead. And I know that these over-age ‘youth’ are going to say I’m criticising them out of malice.  It’s just because I didn’t have any contacts.  I have a conscience. I went on the road to watch the motorcade pass when Obama left UWI to go to Heroes Circle. What an excitement! Our outriders in their stylish uniforms; and all of the secret service security guards; and the two Beasts!


images-1One of the things Obama knows all too well is this: when you talk to people in their heart language, you get lots of positive vibes. My friend, Prof Hubert Devonish, sent me this email: “In the whole Obama Jamaica language hoopla, the thing never mentioned is that he is himself a native or near native speaker of Hawaiian Creole (HC)! Check this video in which his ‘deviation’ into HC bears some interesting comparisons with his ‘Wa a gwaan, Jamieka?’ bit.”

Prof Devonish is a  linguist and he’s the head of the Jamaican Language Unit at UWI. So he knows what he’s talking about. The video shows President Obama giving a speech in 2012 in Washington, DC to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. As soon as Obama said he was born in Hawai’i, some of the Hawai’ians shouted out, “Chee huu”! He stopped in his tracks.  And he started to laugh. Because he knew what they were saying. They were excited because they were all from the same place. They spoke the same language. And here’s how Obama responded, “These Hawai’ians here! Waz op wi dat”?

Then music is another language that touches people, even when they don’t catch the lyrics. Just think about how reggae music has gone all over the world! And I’m glad Obama visited the Bob Marley Museum. I’m just sorry that when he went to Heroes Circle he didn’t go down to Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. And I know that some people are saying they don’t want the US to pardon Garvey because he committed no crime. I don’t agree with them. The US needs to stop perpetuating the lie that Garvey was a con artist and give our national hero the honour and respect he deserve. That’s what’s  up with that.

Jamaicans Abroad Too Poor To Come Home?

On a visit to the US some time ago, I got into quite an argument with a Jamaican who wants to come back home to live one of these days. This is a man who truly loves his homeland. One of the clearest signs of his passion for Jamaica is this truly spectacular garden sculpture on his front lawn.

bustamante-children-hospital-kingston-jamaicaIt’s a map of the island, at least 10 metres long, with rivers and hills and valleys and signposts. The works! It’s a remarkable tribute to yard. I wonder what his neighbours think about this arrogant display of insular pride. Not that their opinion would matter to him. After all, it’s his yard. And his Jamaica!

So hear how the argument started. The gentleman of the house announces that he’s getting ready to send a gift of money to the Bustamante Hospital for Children. He’d solicited contributions from Jamaicans living in the US. Then he begins to ‘mouth’ one of his friends for not making a donation.


He next turns to me and solicits my gift for the cause. I jokingly say that I live in Jamaica and that is contribution enough. Well, as the Trinidadian comedian Paul Keens-Douglas would ask rhetorically, “Who tell me say dat?” My man is not amused. He pours out his soul. Living in Jamaica is no sacrifice. He’s a college professor and most of his peers in Jamaica are living far better than him.

Then he says, “Just look at the size of the houses for lecturers on the campus of the University of the West Indies!” He obviously hasn’t been inside many of them. Most are quite run down. The university can barely afford the upkeep of its housing stock. I beg my upset host to please not start on UWI lecturers. Many of them are living in institutional housing because they can’t do better.

And, in any case, those ‘big’ houses were not built for the natives. They were designed to attract (white) expatriates in the early days of the university. It’s only the grace of God that has blackened the campus. And as the campus got blacker, the houses got smaller. The racial politics of housing is quite visible. The natives needed to learn to ‘small up’ themselves.


So my host launches a new line of attack. Guess why house prices are so high in Jamaica? It’s because Jamaicans are trying to dig out the eye of returning residents. They have no conscience and are mercilessly exploiting ‘foreigners’. I should have just agreed with him. But I don’t. I argue that the exorbitant cost of housing has little to do with returning residents.

esttaxI suggest that it’s much more basic than that. Everybody is trying to gouge out everybody else’s eye. And that includes the Government, acting under the watchful eye of the International Monetary Fund. We are being taxed to death at every turn. Then I pointed out the fact that it’s only a few people who are really living big in Jamaica.

Not many people have legal incomes that can cover the cost of the palatial residences that are as huge as the egos of their occupants. People in the know can buy their houses cash. But most of us don’t want to know what those people know. So we continue to live as best as we can. In fact, it’s only poor people who still believe in mortgages.


All the same, my frustrated professor does have a point. Most middle-class Jamaicans living abroad cannot hope to reproduce their lifestyle in Jamaica. This might seem absurd to those of us here who can barely make ends meet. But housing is, in fact, a major problem for some returning residents.

Owning a house in the US is no guarantee that you’ll be able to afford a replacement in Jamaica. Suppose your house in the US is worth $300,000.00. You foolishly sell it and come home. Can you find a comparable house for $35,000,000.00? You’ll be lucky to get a modest town house for that price in a ‘safe’ neighbourhood.

And just think of a basic commodity like a car. This is not a luxury in the US. If, as a returning resident, you decide to bring your car home, you suddenly discover that you are not wealthy enough to import it. Its value has increased by 54 per cent, the rate of duty. True, this is much better now than in the dreadful days of 100 per cent duty on cars under 3,000cc and 260 per cent duty on cars over. But still!

ackee3As a wannabe returning resident, you do the maths and you realise that you are not wealthy enough to ever live in Jamaica again. So you settle for the occasional visit. And you smile every time you remember that ackee trees are flourishing in Florida. Home is where you can afford to live.

And, to be honest, it sometimes grieves you to think that Jamaicans still expect you to keep on sending remittances that you can hardly afford. It is they who should be sending you money so you can save up to return home. But, at core, you are a true yardie in exile. So, no matter what, you will continue to do all you can for Jamaica. From a distance!

‘Man To Man Is So Unjust’

I recently heard an alarming interpretation of the first line of Bob Marley’s song Who the Cap Fit.

The proverbial statement, ‘man to man is so unjust’, is now being decoded as a condemnation of male homosexuals. Or, to use the politically correct term, men who have sex with men (MSM). Incidentally, the ‘homo’ in ‘homosexual’ does not mean ‘man’. It’s not Latin; it’s Greek. And it means ‘same’.

So, technically, ‘homosexual’ refers to both men and women; and, more recently, to all other genders who have sex with each other. These days, sexuality is not a straight-forward business at all. Queer sex is not always a simple case of ‘same’ sex. Some sexual combinations cross multiple lines. And new sexual positions require sophisticated acrobatic skills – both literally and psychologically.

Bob Marley knew his words could be distorted. In an interview published in Everybody’s Magazine in 1981, this is what he said about the Kaya album: “You have to play it and get your own inspiration. For every song have a different meaning to a man. Sometimes I sing a song, and when people explain it to me, I am astonished by their interpretation.”

deceptionSome inspired interpretations make absolutely no sense. There’s no evidence in Who the Cap Fit to support the ‘same-sex’ interpretation of that opening line. The song is not about sexuality. It focuses on trust, hypocrisy and deception. Admittedly, these issues do come up in sexual relationships across the board. But the song is not about condemning men who have sex with men.


Jamaica is back in the news for our irrational homophobia, as evidenced in that astonishing misinterpretation of Marley’s song. UK Channel 4 has done an exposé on outcast youths who are living underground. Here’s an excerpt from the promo for the documentary which aired last Friday:

“Jamaica has a reputation for intolerance of homosexuality. Male gay sex is punishable by 10 years’ hard labour and violent hostility is entrenched in the island’s culture. Unreported World meets one group of gay and transgender people who are now living in a gully, which is usually designed to carry flood water and rubbish from the city.

“It’s hot, crowded, infested and filthy. But it’s the only place these 25 people are able to call home. There are no facilities: cooking and washing-up are done in the gutter. Water comes from a broken pipe under a road bridge. And it’s not in a poor part of town, but in the middle of New Kingston, the capital’s business district.”

outerdarknessThis is a complete disgrace. Not on the homeless who have taken refuge in the gully; but on all us who live somewhere! We cannot self-righteously keep on singing the same old Sankey from the Book of Leviticus. We have to move past the rhetoric of abomination and change our inhumane attitudes to queer people. We cannot continue to cast them into outer darkness.


We also have to challenge unjust gay-rights activists when they misuse their collective power and victimise others. The recent termination of the contract of Professor Brendan Bain, director of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) initiative, is a complicated case of competing rights.

The press release issued by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies states: “The issue in question arose about two years ago in a high-profile case in Belize in which Caleb Orozco, a gay man in Belize, challenged the constitutionality of an 1861 law that criminalises men having sex with men (MSM).

“Professor Brendan Bain provided a statement on behalf of a group of churches seeking to retain the 1861 law. Many authorities familiar with the brief presented believe that Professor Bain’s testimony supported arguments for retention of the law, thereby contributing to the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation of MSM. This opinion is shared by the lesbian, gay and other groups who are served by CHART.”

I speculate that many of Professor Bain’s detractors have not read his now-infamous statement. There, he clearly affirms that he was “given no instructions by any party”. He makes no reference to the contested law. Professor Bain gives well-documented scientific evidence on public-health issues relating specifically to men who have sex with men.

53108bainprotestj20140521ng_300The UWI press release comes to a disturbing conclusion: ” … It has become increasingly evident that Professor Bain has lost the confidence and support of a significant sector of the community which the CHART programme is expected to reach, including the loss of his leadership status in PANCAP [Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV& AIDS], thereby undermining the ability of this programme to effectively deliver on its mandate.” That’s not a good reason for firing Professor Bain.

I do support repeal of the Belize law that criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal”. But I am appalled by the decision of the UWI administration to bow to belligerent gay-rights activists, bringing down disgrace on a distinguished academic who has done so much to protect the health of MSM. Man to man is so unjust. Who di cap fit, mek dem wear it.

Extortion At Papine Market

Market20130704NGIT’S SO much easier these days to get in and out of Papine Market. Traffic congestion has been significantly reduced. Taxi drivers have been forced to line up instead of sprawling all across the road waiting for passengers. I’ve taken it upon myself to reason with those few delinquent drivers who refuse to play by the rules and stay in line. 

I got an unexpected response when I asked one of them why he was “mashing up” the programme. He said he was a victim of extortion and was protesting. Yeah, right.  But, as it turns out, Mr Outa Order does have a point. The new orderly system is designed to encourage passengers to simply take the first taxi in the line. This innovation has made loaders redundant. Refusing to accept the fact that things have changed for the better (or worse), loaders are still demanding money from drivers to fill taxis. They insist on business as usual. After all, loaders make a living out of chaos.

extortionIt is only in societies like ours that ‘loader’ is a proper job. In fragile economies, disadvantaged people have to come up with creative solutions to the depressing problem of regular unemployment. “We know how fi tek wi hand turn fashion”. We learn how to make do and make work. With grand, sweeping gestures and lots of sound effects, skilled loaders entice hesitant passengers into taxis. I suppose loading is a lot like the ancient art of herding sheep.

One loader stubbornly told me, ‘A long time now mi a do dis ya work right ya so a Papine an mi don’t plan fi stop now’. This redundant ‘public sector’ loader belongs to no union. He cannot go to Mama P to ask for severance pay. Having invested years in perfecting his craft, he is not prepared to retool. Robbed of the work he knows best, he may be tempted to take up a deadly tool. Unemployment often does lead to crime, as we know all too well.


timeoffWhen I told the loader I was going to write about the issue, he asked me not to. He didn’t want any trouble. I promised him I wouldn’t reveal his identity and I would give him a preview of the article so he could approve what I said about him. Unfortunately, when I went to Papine last Tuesday afternoon to look for him, he wasn’t at work. Loaders need time off too. And since they’re self-employed, they can regulate their hours. They’re not stuck with unconscionable employers.

Incidentally, since writing the column, ‘Email from a hellish resort’, published on July 7, I’ve got more complaints from frustrated hotel workers. One man used this headline for his letter: ‘Local hotel industry turning dreams into nightmares’. He was terminated, with immediate effect, from his job in management, after two and a half years, without even an exit interview or a proper explanation for why he was fired.

all_workers_should_have_the_right_to_unionize_sticker-r7092a29536e14df783035e10c01900f9_v9wf3_8byvr_324For the last 16 months, he and his industrial relations consultant have been trying to set up a meeting with his former employer through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. As he put it, “all we have been getting appears to be a run around from the MOL”. When I suggested to another aggrieved man that hotel workers need to unionise, he asked a serious question: who is going to take the initiative to set up unions?

Workers are fearful about losing their jobs and trade union leaders seem to be fearful about confronting hoteliers. One woman who escaped the industry described it as “modern-day slavery”. If this is so, it is the employees who will have to emancipate themselves. “Backra massa” isn’t going to willingly allow trade unions to come into hotels unless workers fearlessly stand up for their rights.


VoiceMailBack to Papine. I asked if anyone knew where the loader was and explained why I wanted to talk to him. A helpful woman telephoned him but got voicemail. A man who introduced himself as Chief Loader took the draft of the article. He was most offended when I asked if he could read: “Not because we a loader mek we can’t read”. I apologised profusely. “Mi shame like a dog”.

Chief Loader began to read the draft out loud to prove his point. But, to be honest, “im buck”. So I finished reading it for him. He said what I wrote was alright. I warned him: “No bodder tell me seh it alright an when it come out inna Gleaner unu blood me”. He reassured me that it was OK.

All the same, I took the number of the loader I had the agreement with and tried to call him. I got voicemail and left a message. I did get a call-back. But it was a woman saying rather suspiciously, “Is a uman answer”. I thought it prudent not to speak. “Next ting, my man ha fi go gi explanation bout why uman a call im. An is den im inna trouble”.


Andre Hylton, member of parliament for Eastern St. Andrew, has a big vision to turn Papine into a university town. And expansion and rehabilitation of the market are part of the plan. How will the proposed development affect existing businesses? And who will benefit from the transformation of Papine? Presumably, things will get better for everybody who does business in Papine.

But, as the case of the redundant loaders proves, some players lose when development takes place. The challenge is to ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to take part in the ‘development’ process. But politicians rarely consult the people who will be most affected by the grand schemes they come up with.

logoAugust Town is a genuine university town. Many residents are employed by the University of the West Indies.   And the University has invested in the community, as in the recent Greater August Town film festival. Papine is a thoroughfare. If Andre Hylton does it right, Papine can become a first-class destination.