On February 25, 2016 the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led by Andrew Michael Holness, won the general elections.
There have been multiple post-election analyses across various media as to what led to the JLP’s win. Many pegged it to the People’s National Party’s (PNP’s) arrogance, especially during the election campaign. And taking a broader look at the roughly 48% voter turn-out, it is clear that the electorate are…well… “over it”. Regardless of how you dissect it, though, the JLP now forms the government.
When the PNP won in 2011, the same post-election sentiments were dominant – the ousted government was too arrogant. So it wasn’t unreasonable to actually imagine that the incoming government at the time would “tek sleep mark death” and tread carefully, despite its majority status. But it became (almost immediately) apparent, that the voice of the people held value only at the polls. Despite criticizing the size of the Cabinet of the administration before, (now) former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller appointed an even larger executive, and reinstating a salary increase that the Bruce Golding administration denied themselves. New SUV’s were purchased for government ministers at a cost of roughly $60M. Legislation were changed with amazing speed to facilitate the government servicing debt using the National Housing Trust. Accountability was a foreign concept (think Spalding Market, Krauk & Anchor, 360MW bid, Chik-V, Outameni, Klebsiella deaths, etc…). No matter how many times and how loudly the Jamaican people spoke against these significant matters of basic governance, it was as if the government was selectively deaf. Those who dared to speak up were branded as “enemy of the state”, “the chattering class” or the “articulate minority”.
So, on February 25, 2016, the chattocracy spoke where they knew they would be heard – at the polls. And oh how they articulated! They (including those who opted to not participate in the process) gave the JLP a chance at government. The JLP managed to wrest 11 seats from the PNP in an election that had many people (literally) betting against them.
JLP leader and newly appointed Prime Minister Andrew Holness appears (at this stage) to understand the nuances of this victory. His party, under his leadership, worked hard to connect with the people across Jamaica – so much so that 11 seats changed hands. But based on his victory speech on the night of the election, he seems to “get it”:
“It is not the end of a journey; it is the beginning of changing Jamaica… We don’t take it that we have won a prize. We have been given stewardship of the country, and we stand to be held to account for our stewardship. We know that the cost of victory is accountability. The cost of victory is the responsiveness of the government that we will form. The cost of victory is to keep the commitments that we have made.” – Andrew Holness, February 25, 2016
This is a most sober statement. It is easy for a party and its leader to become lost in the euphoria of victory, and perhaps even to become drunk with power during governance. This sentiment shared by Mr. Holness is a flicker of hope that Jamaica will actually have a government that does not take the people whom it serves for granted.
The Most Honourable Prime Minister, in his inaugural speech on March 3, 2016 recalled an elderly voter telling him “Andrew, do the right thing!” He reiterated the burden of victory, and subsequently governance, in this memorable line:
“There is no majority for arrogance. There is no space for selfishness. There is no place for pettiness. There is no room for complacency, and there is no margin for error.”
(I pause to note how this statement plays on statistical terms – statistics which the JLP appeared to have defied in the 2016 elections.)
Deep within I hope against hope that this profound statement was not made only in light of the thin majority that the governing party has. I sincerely hope that it comes from a place of true conviction and belief that there truly is no place for arrogance, selfishness, pettiness, complacency and error in governance. That this administration WILL listen to the people of Jamaica, not take us for granted, and be “straight up” in its dealings and communications.
In a post election interview with Kevin O’Brien Chang on NCU FM on February 28, Mr. Holness said:
“…people try and misquote and misrepresent what I have said and therefore I keep a very detailed record. In fact, I record everything that I say.”
So do I, Prime Minister Holness. The manifesto is on stand-by.
Thus began MP Everald Warmington’s formal statement on his behaviour in Parliament.
Sir, if you had to say it…
(And did anyone else say [out loud] that he is?)
This is not the first, nor the worst of this kind of behaviour from the Member from South West St. Catherine. We have seen him spout cringe-worthy, despicable comments before. On live TV, to boot. This pattern of unrestrained tactless behaviour seems to have no end.
It is intolerable. Sadly, though, we fall into a trap of being selective of what we condemn and sanction. Equally tragic is our appetite for the sensational – insatiable yet fleeting. This combination will undoubtedly lead to similar or worse behaviour, and not only from this member.
It is difficult to understand the JLP’s restraint on this (recurring) issue. For each time the party remains silent, or coy in its response to queries on how it is addressing Warmington’s innumerable uncouth public outbursts, it gives the impression that it lacks control (at least), or endorses the behaviour (which would be frightening).
This is an urgent matter so let’s cut to the chase: Jamaica doesn’t have leadership…in the real sense.
We have the appearance of governance and leadership. The hype and fluff of a duly elected government with MPs and ministers, and senators and such.
Yes, we may have one leaders leader.
But not leadership.
See, if Jamaica had LEADERSHIP, there is a chance we would have been spared the constant cascade of catastrophe that is our health system. And with a health system on life support, the lack of leadership has become a matter of life and death.
And death has reached our babies.
The flashing amber warning lights went off when I first read this article in February 2012. I found the following…curious, to say the least:
“…the health minister expressed surprise that the issue had been made public since he had met with the parties and the agreement was for media silence…”
Yes, they were referring to Dr. Fenton Ferguson, Minister of Health. Well, to be honest, the jury is still out on whether he can be considered a Minister of Health in the real sense.
Fast forward to 2014 when the Chikungunya Virus (Chik-V) brought the nation to its knees – literally. Jamaica was sorely ill-prepared. But, what made the pain of that entire episode even harder to bear is the fact that the Minister – yes THE SAME “Minister of Health” Minister of Health, Fenton Ferguson – was aware of a possible outbreak TWO YEARS PRIOR (as suggested at the end of this news report). And this – at a Caribbean sub-regional meeting in Kingston in 2012:
When, at the time, Jamaicans were sounding off on the fact that the Minister (*sigh*) did not have a grip on his portfolio, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s interpretation of accountability was to have the Minister assist with clean-up activities in her constituency.
Minister (if we can call him that in the real sense) Fenton Ferguson was saved by a broom.
On October 16, 2015, the nation learned (by way of Nationwide Radio journalist Abka Fitz-Henley), that there was an outbreak of some sort at the Cornwall Regional and UHWI Hospitals; an outbreak resulting in the death of newborns.
As if this bit of news isn’t disheartening on its own, try contextualizing it by the fact that Minister Ferguson is sitting on an audit he commissioned highlighting the sorry state of our health facilities.
The health audit came as a result of the revelation (in May 2015) of Dr. Alfred Dawes, former head of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, that doctors were working in unhygienic conditions with limited medical supplies.
In September 2015, Dr. Ferguson disclosed a summary of the findings. No details, because, according to him, “it would prejudice the facilities.” (Jamaica Observer, September 3, 2015)
That was September. Newborns were already dying as a result of a Klebsiella infection outbreak that their parents (and the public) were yet to find out about.
The writing was on the wall when, in every interview with the press, it was emphasized that the babies who died were premature. I understand the increased susceptibility to infections in premature babies. What I cannot understand, and WILL NOT accept, is an insinuation and an attitude that suggests that these babies did not have a fighting chance at life at all. Because, you see, they didn’t die because they were premature. They died because of an outbreak of an infection that is associated with other Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs).
The Centre for Disease Control details how Klebsiella can be spread:
In healthcare settings, Klebsiella bacteria can be spread through person-to-person contact (for example, from patient to patient via the contaminated hands of healthcare personnel, or other persons) or, less commonly, by contamination of the environment. The bacteria are not spread through the air.
Patients in healthcare settings also may be exposed to Klebsiella when they are on ventilators (breathing machines), or have intravenous (vein) catheters or wounds (caused by injury or surgery). Unfortunately, these medical tools and conditions may allow Klebsiella to enter the body and cause infection. – CDC
“When babies are born under seven months, their organs are not well developed … . Their immune systems are significantly compromised, so I don’t want anyone to give any impression that these are babies in the real sense…” (from The Jamaica Gleaner, October 28, 2015).
The Prime Minister’s response in all of this?
“I want to extend sympathies to members of the families, and 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.”
The Chik-V outbreak was in 2014. A broom saved Dr. Ferguson then.
And here we are today.
It is not enough for him to say he wasn’t informed. And how would he know? On October 27, when asked if the health audit made reference to newborn deaths as a result of poor sanitization, the Minister responded, “I’ll have to check.”
Wait. Did he not at least read the audit? The public audit HE commissioned and is now treating as his personal diary?
We cannot accept less than a resignation from this man. He accepts responsibility for nothing. His leadership of the Ministry of Health is weak at best – catastrophic if we’re talking in the real sense. Real change in the system must start with a change at the top. We cannot entrust the task of change with someone who refuses to even acknowledge his own responsibility as a starting point for change. A new system cannot be entrusted to someone who has overseen multiple (life-threatening) episodes of a breakdown.
He gotta go.
Nineteen families are now grieving for their babies for whom they had every hope and dream.
It is a grief unimaginable. And it is real.
– @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica
(You may also view this blog post on THINK Jamaica’s Facebook page here.)
On the morning of August 1, Mr. Greg Christie, former Contractor General of Jamaica, shared his views on the matter via Twitter. His comments take a critical view of this move to implement additional oversight to anti-corruption bodies which are already accountable to Parliament. With his permission, I’ve collated them here for you:
1. The JA INDECOM is currently headed by a single independent Commissioner. So is the OCG, which is headed by an independent Contractor Gen.
#RivertonSmokeEnBlanc is an annual event during which Kingston and St. Andrew is blanketed by thick clouds of smoke resulting from fires at the Riverton City dump landfill.
Yes, it is an annual event. This blog post is a walk down memory lane to previous “stagings” of this event. It boggles the mind that, although this is something that occurs EVERY SINGLE YEAR, there doesn’t appear to be a plan in existence to even begin to mitigate against its recurrence.
“THE NATIONAL Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) advised the public yesterday that scheduled collection services have been disrupted and will continue to be affected as a result of a fire and continued protests at the Riverton disposal site.
At a press conference at the NSWMA’s Half-Way Tree Road office, Alston Stewart, executive chairman of the Authority, said the protests were hampering the work of the NSWMA.
“Access to the site has been hampered by the Riverton Mea-dows Trucking and Disposal Co-operative Society. In addition, on Wednesday, a section of the landfill was set ablaze by unknown persons, also severely affecting operations at the site,” Mr. Stewart said.
When The Gleaner visited the site, the protesters from the Co-operative were adamant that no trucks would be allowed to enter the landfill as they wanted a meeting with the Prime Minister or Portia Simpson Miller, Minister of Local Government.” – Jamaica Gleaner, August 27, 2004
“Thursday’s fire was not the first to burn during a dispute. In September 2003 thousands of tyres were set on fire at the landfill.” – Jamaica Gleaner, August 31, 2004
“FOR DAYS now the Riverton City dump has been burning. The smoke has become more than a nuisance and is now affecting the health of residents around the area, in Portmore, Plantation Heights, Queen and Forest hills.
While we understand that the dump is often lit by vandals, we are left wondering how and why nothing more permanent has been done to curtail this situation? Or why the response of the Solid Waste Management Authority has been so slow and lackadaisical.
Citizens are becoming ill. They will have to pay repeatedly for doctor bills and medications to get past this latest burning, which by far is the worst. There are schools in the area. There are businesses in the area. What is to be done about the Riverton dump? Too many are affected for this situation to be left untended.
What is happening with our attorneys? Why has none of them offered to take up the case of the residents who are being sickened by the gray smoke and who, adding insult to injury, have to stand the cost for themselves? Will none of our attorneys look to represent and collect off settlement? Who else can we turn to? Who is to take up this case of wanton disregard and abuse on the citizen’s health? What about the Ministry of Health? The environmental agencies? What about the costs to the public health bill over the long term? Isn’t this something of concern to a government strapped for cash?” Jamaica Gleaner Letter of the Day, April 25, 2005
(Ten years ago, people. TEN. YEARS. AGO. The conversation has not changed).
Based on the caption under the photo in this Jamaica Gleaner report, there was a fire on January 5, 2006. I could not find any other news reports for 2006. However, there is this forum post.
(Note the photo in the forum thread. Recurring decimal.)
…and the effects of that December 2006 fire spilled over into 2007 with this:
“Environmentalist Diana McCaulay says residents affected by the smoke from the Riverton Landfill could make a case for infringement of their constitutional rights and therefore should approach the Public Defender, Earl Witter, to determine whether they could get legal redress from the agency with responsibility for the landfill.
Ms. McCaulay, noting that the Riverton smoke situation was a human rights issue, said the affected communities should make an effort to get legal remedy.
According to the environmentalist, the National Environment and Planning Agency and the Ministry of Health have a duty to do whatever is necessary to safeguard Jamaicans against pollutants and other environmental hazards arising from the inability of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to effectively monitor and prevent fires at the landfill.
However, she said public agencies do not act against each other, hence the smoke problem at the Riverton Landfill would continue to be a serious health hazard…
“A medical practitioner at the Alma Jones Medical Complex on Hagley Park Road toldThe Gleaner that a number of persons with respiratory problems visited his office yesterday for examination as a result of the heavy smoke, which covered their communities. Stressing that it was a serious health hazard, the medical practitioner urged the authorities to address the problem as a matter of urgency.” – Jamaica Gleaner, January 3, 2007
“THE National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) yesterday closed the Riverton landfill after a massive fire, believed to have been caused by the seeping of methane gas from rotting garbage, broke out at a section of the dump.
At least nine fire trucks were called in to smother the raging flames which began early Monday morning and were fanned by strong winds in the area.
“During these hotter periods, methane gas coming from underneath the garbage will ignite in sections of the dump that are not covered with dirt and sand,” explained manager of the Riverton landfill, Winston Wilson.
“We have also had some tremendous wind so that has added to the spread of the fire,” he added.
Yesterday, worried Riverton City residents said fires at the landfill had become an all too regular incident. They, however, said they had little options to deal with the problem.
“What we must do? We can’t do anything about it. Is long time this going on for and all we have to do is just watch it and do the necessary things that it don’t affect we,” said a female resident, clutching her three-month-old baby as a thick cloud of smoke from the dump hovered in the distance behind her.” – Jamaica Observer, July 9, 2008
“Valuable production time was lost yesterday as some top-end businesses along Spanish Town Road in south St Andrew were forced to send employees home as thick smoke continued to rise from the Riverton City landfill.
Sections of the landfill remained under fire up to yesterday afternoon, despite efforts by the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) and the fire brigade to put out the blaze that left several sections of the Kingston Metropolitan Area blanketed in smoke.
Berger Paints, which has its main offices on Spanish Town Road, closed its offices early yesterday afternoon due the pungent fumes coming from the landfill, while other establishments were forced to send home employees due to respiratory problems triggered by the smoke from the dump.
“On my complex they had to shut down for the morning and three quarters of the staff had to be sent home due to respiratory problems. There is no operation going on,” one employee of J Wray & Nephew Ltd, which also has its main offices on Spanish Town Road, told The Gleaner.” – Jamaica Gleaner, July 10, 2008
“The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) spent much of yesterday trying to control a fire at the Riverton Ciy dump. According to head of the NSWMA, Joan Gordon-Webley, the fire started shortly after midday. It engulfed sections of the rear of the dump and was still raging late into yesterday evening. Some residents of the nearby Riverton Meadows community were worried about the health risks posed by the thick smoke, while the entire area stretching back to Patrick Gardens experienced heavy smoke and soot-related inconveniences.
Gordon-Webley was unable to say definitively how the fire started, but hinted that the blaze was “very suspicious”.
“The fire started towards the back end which gave it time to burn before we could get to it,” she said. “It is also quite suspicious because we have a huge landfill and for it to start over an edge, so to speak, it is just a little bit worrying.”” – Jamaica Observer, February 3, 2009
“Executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority, Joan Gordon-Webley, yesterday told The Gleaner/Power 106 newsroom that the fire and smoke nuisance at the Riverton landfill in Kingston should be under control before the city wakes up to start its workweek today.
The fire, which started last Friday, clouded neighbourhoods close by and major thoroughfares.
“The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has reported that the fire at the Riverton landfill along Spanish Town Road in Kingston has been contained.
The fire started yesterday afternoon.
Joan Gordon-Webley, executive director of the NSWMA, said a team is now working to get the smoke under control as quickly as possible.” – Jamaica Gleaner, October 4, 2011
(I could actually just copy and paste these reports for each year.)
“SECTIONS OF the city and communities in Kingston 20 were yesterday covered with thick smog as noxious fumes emanated from a large fire at the Riverton landfill.
Irked by the recurring problem of fires at the landfill and the health risks and nuisance posed to residents in surrounding communities, Public Defender Earl Witter has cautioned that the matter was not only a “civil wrong”, but could attract criminal sanctions.
“Public nuisances are criminal offences at common law. If the police were to prosecute them from time to time, maybe that might get their attention and they would do better,” Witter told The Gleaner.
The public defender is advising members of the public who are affected by the noxious fumes, particularly those who have respiratory illnesses, that his office is always ready to receive complaints about the problem.” – Jamaica Gleaner, February 9, 2012
“Two units from the York Park fire station in Kingston are at this moment attempting to put out a massive fire in Riverton City, St Andrew.
Several residents gathered at the scene say several homes have been engulfed in thick black smoke as a mound of scrap near the homes along the bank of the Sandy Gully in the area was set ablaze.
So far one two-bedroom board house has been damaged by the fire. The owner, Peter Davis, claims the fire which came within about 10 feet of the house, scorched his residence and destroyed its contents.
He says a section of the structure had to be torn down to retrieve some of the household items, however, he says all the items were destroyed.” – Jamaica Gleaner, October 27, 2013
“The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) yesterday activated its National Emergency Protocol in response to a fire at the Riverton City Solid Waste Dump.
The blaze, which began early yesterday morning and is believed to have been started by arsonists, prompted a response from the Jamaica Fire Brigade, the Jamaica Defence Force and other agencies.
In an attempt to bring the blaze under control, the Jamaica Fire Brigade dispatched seven water engines with aerial ladders, foam, and tractors that were compacting dirt, while on-the-ground personnel monitored the situation.” – Jamaica Gleaner, March 17, 2014
“The fire that started some six days ago at the Riverton City dump in Kingston is expected to be extinguished “very, very soon” a representative of the National Solid Waste and Emergency Management Authority (NSWMA) said Thursday afternoon.
When OBSERVER ONLINE visited Riverton several trucks were seen moving earth to the site with other heavy duty machinery shovelling and spreading the material to have the remnants of the fire fully extinguished.
“The fire and the smoke nuisance has subsided, but not fully, Director of Operations at the NSWMA Percival Stewart told OBSERVER ONLINE Thursday. “We hope to get it fully [extinguished] very, very soon.”
On Monday the NSWMA had given an undertaking to have the fire which started over the weekend extinguished by the end of the week.” – Jamaica Observer, April 24, 2014