Drinking the Sand

 

 

I’ve had this title in my drafts for over a month.

Politics in Jamaica is disheartening. And each time I approach these keys to give space to my discontent, I hold back. I ask myself “What’s the point?” every single time.

As I write I observe sentiments shared about a planned protest by the Opposition party, the JLP, against JUTC fare increases. Some support it, others don’t. Still other have no clue that there was a planned protest.

With regard to our social and political ills in general, I’ve seen people comment that they will never vote, or if they have voted before, they never will again. I’ve witnessed complaint after complaint on a myriad of things. Then, after they have run their usual course of nine days, it’s back to regular programming. Nothing to see here. Then, when it comes to taking action, there is always, ALWAYS an excuse.

People have the right to vote or not to vote. People have the right to protest or not to protest. But when it comes to making a change, what WILL we do? WHAT WILL WE DO? Will we continue to excuse incompetence, injustice, disrespect, nepotism, cronyism, and corruption? Why? If not, what ARE we doing to address this chronic disease that plagues Jamaican politics? What exactly are we willing to stand up for (or against)? And WILL we actually do it?

I’ve seen beautifully articulated arguments that pardon clearly ineffective and inept leadership on many of our social issues, and I’m reminded of that scene in “The American President” (I find myself quoting it way too frequently). The dialogue is between (fictional) President Andrew Shepherd and his Assistant on Domestic Policy, Lewis Rothschild:

 Lewis Rothschild: …People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference. 

We’re drinking the sand. There can’t be another explanation for the lethargic way in which we approach the diseased nature of politics that is affecting us. But I must ask: Are we drinking the sand because we’re thirsty? Or are we drinking the sand because we don’t know the difference?

And do we care enough to DO SOMETHING about it?

Will we keep drinking the sand?

THINK, Jamaica.

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica
#THINKJamaica
 

 

Batting for the Environment?

Photo by Max Earle (from The Jamaica Observer)
Photo by Max Earle (from The Jamaica Observer)

On Wednesday, July 23, 2014, The Jamaica Observer carried a story headlined “PM bats for Environment“.

Really?

(Quotes by PM Portia Simpson Miller appear in blue)

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“A healthy seabed is necessary and especially important for island states such as ours in the Caribbean which depend on the quality of the natural environment and derive much of their economic growth from the use of natural resources…”

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“Roger Clarke speaks of “food security” and says, rightly, that we have to produce a larger proportion of the food that we consume instead of importing it, using foreign exchange, which we are not earning. Part of that ‘production’ is our fisheries, which have seen extensive overfishing and precipitous decline of the catch…

“Seagrass beds, mangrove roots, gravel beds and shallow water allow the baby fish, shrimp, etc. to hide and have a moderate chance of avoiding being eaten by adult snappers, jacks, tarpon, grunts, snook, and many others…

“Now, what is to be the extent, and depth, of the proposed dredging of the Portland Bight Protected Area? The Jamaica Environment Trust and the others concerned about it don’t seem to know. Want to bet it would allow Chinamax-class ships with a requirement of about 27.5m (90ft) depth as I would deduce?”

- Howard Chin, “Dredge Elsewhere! Environmental Damage To Portland Bight Outweighs Economic Benefits” (Jamaica Gleaner, September 8, 2013)

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“In this the International Year of Small Island Developing States, and in anticipation of the Third International Conference to be held in Samoa in September, it is critical that the governance of the oceans and environmental protection be strengthened…” 

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“Environmentalists are up in arms over the Government’s decision to defer Jamaica’s application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the Portland Bight Protected Area to be declared a biosphere reserve.

This follows confirmation Friday that the process which had been on track for Jamaica to become only the second country in the English-speaking Caribbean, after St Kitts, to establish a biosphere reserve was derailed by the State, for no good reason according to a number of persons intimately involved with the tedious eight to 10-year application process.

The area takes in land earmarked to be co-opted as part of the port facility if Government goes ahead with plans to use the Goat Islands as part of the proposed logistics hub the Chinese Government is seeking to build in Jamaica…

“‘I am really quite disappointed that after all these years of putting in all of this effort; having all of the stakeholders at different levels agreeing that this was a good idea, that the Government just kind of went behind people’s back,’ the frustrated environmentalist told The Gleaner.”

- “Bight Betrayal – Environmentalists Angered As Gov’t Pulls Back On Biosphere Recognition For Portland Protected Area” (Jamaica Gleaner – January 6, 2014)

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“From aqua to deep azure, the ocean’s blues hold secrets and rich resources fathoms deep. It has fallen to mankind to protect, preserve and regulate this sacred resource. This is a phenomenal responsibility — one we in Jamaica take seriously,” 

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“The much-talked about Portland Bight marked its 15th anniversary as a declared protected area yesterday, observed globally as Earth Day.

But this could be its last year with protected status, given Government’s intention to transform the largely undisturbed Goat Islands into a large industrial site to facilitate trans-shipment. Other areas within Portland Bight are also earmarked for the logistics hub project.

That the country’s largest protected area could cease to exist has not escaped conservationists the world over and several organisations, including the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Iguana Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund, have petitioned the Government to relocate the site.

On the home front, organisations such as Coastal Area Management Foundation and Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) have been at the forefront of the lobby.

In the latest of those moves, JET announced yesterday that it has applied to the Supreme Court for a judicial review of the Certificate of Exemption issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning effectively barring the NGO from accessing requested information on the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Jamaica and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the Chinese contractor which will be building the planned Goat Islands port.”

- “Portland Bight is 15!” (Jamaica Observer – Wednesday, April 23, 2014)

*****

Think, Jamaica.

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

Here Lieth “Transparency”…

 

 

Editor’s note: This post was originally written and published to THINK Jamaica’s Facebook page on February 23, 2012.

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[Sigh] Where do I even begin?  [Takes deep breath] Okay, allow me to roll back the curtain of memories to January 5, 2012.  In her inaugural address, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller stated:

“My administration will not engage in a blame-game. We will present the facts to the Jamaican people, based on rigorous analysis. Our approach must be to right the wrongs and insist on accountability. Let us learn from our past, absorb the lessons and go forward. We only need to look back to confirm where we are coming from, and to correct our errors and weaknesses as we look to the future. That is the way of progress.”

 I highlight this portion of the PM’s speech because there is a matter addressed in today’s Jamaica Observer that I would like to bring to your attention.  The Jamaica Observer’s editorial in today’s paper makes for interesting reading. A number of NGO’s raised concerns about oversight and allegations of sexual abuse at Patricia House – a state-run treatment facility for drug addicts.  Though I do not know the full story behind the editorial, this section in particular raises some concern:

 “Asked for his comment on the matter, 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.”

 As per the Minister’s request, let us have a moment of silence….FOR TRANSPARENCY.

 (In my best Simpson-Miller voice) We will present the facts to the Jamaican people, based on rigorous analysis.”   What…why…HOW could the Minister POSSIBLY think that THAT stance (for silence) is acceptable?  Hmmm?  Anyone?  How?  So does this mean I was correct after all?  There actually IS a rhetoric of silence?

“…the agreement was for media silence.”  What in the world…?!  I fully agree with the Jamaica Observer on this.  I am insisting on accountability.  Mrs. Simpson Miller, in her inaugural address also stated, “The Jamaican people have sent a clear message. They want a more accountable and transparent government which consults them; and, they should expect nothing less”.  We ARE NOT expecting anything less.

 And to make matters worse, this follows a series of new developments that have joined forces in conspiring to kill our friend, “Transparency”.  By way of a Jamaica House briefing, “Jamaica House Live” took a bullet, so citizens will no longer be given the chance to speak one-on-one with the Prime Minister.  By way of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s “Question Time” was given a lethal dose of reality as Madame Prime Minister requires questions to be asked (“wholla”) seven days in advance of a response from her.  That’s right!  Because apparently pressing issues facing our country gives us seven days’ notice before attacking us (like the Riverton Landfill fire, or the spike in murders).

 Brethren and sistren, “Ashes to ashes…”

*****

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

Government by Committees?

 

 

I’ve borrowed the title of this blog post from a Gleaner editorial written on January 31, 2007 (link at the end). The idea to create a list was inspired by tweets by @ArvelLinchpin today. Below is a list of committees formed since this administration came into office. If I’ve omitted any (and I have a feeling I have), feel free to let me know in the comments, or tweet me – @MizDurie.

  1. Diaspora Committee
  2. Sports Tourism Committee
  3. Economic Program Oversight Committee
  4. Committee established to deal with dispute over Pinnacle lands
  5. INDECOM Monitoring Committee 
  6. Committee on Electricity Theft
  7. Climate Change Advisory Committee
  8. Energy Monitoring Committee
  9. Special advisory committee to review UTECH Impasse
  10. Committee to develop measures to manage Pedro Cays
  11. Committee to Review Children’s Homes
  12. Committee to monitor chikungunya virus

As I said, there may be more, but these are the ones I’ve found within the last 45 minutes or so. Please don’t hesitate to alert me to the ones I’ve missed.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but it may be helpful (read: more efficient) to have clear and practical procedures and regulations to guide the activities of existing ministries and Government agencies. Or maybe they need to adhere to current procedures and regulations. If these are ineffective, review them (and no, you don’t need to set up another committee to do that). Additionally, it may also be useful to ensure that skills and competencies of those who outfit these ministries and agencies match the needs and objectives of the ministry/agency.

And, as brawta, here is the throwback Gleaner editorial – “Government by Committee“.

The more things change…

- @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

“Environment v. Development…?” – Take a breath…if you can #JaBlogDay #EnvVDev

Ja Blog Day May 23, 2014

Editor’s note: This personal account (in regular font) took place in December 2013.

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I had gotten over much of the cold. It’s the day I go back home to spend Christmas with my family. Ugh…this flight is gonna be agony, I thought. I only had a slight nasal congestion and a bit of a cough. But I’ll be okay, right? RIGHT?!

I wasn’t.

Here’s the thing: I survived the flight (kinda felt bad for the guy sitting next to me). Lord knows the dry, recycled airplane air did not help the cough. On our way home, somewhere along Highway 2000 we suddenly hit upon a cloud of smoke. Could barely see a few feet in front of us. And in addition to that, I. COULD. NOT. BREATHE.

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In Jamaica, another major source of environmental smoke is open burning of sugarcane fields and other agricultural fields due to slash/burn farming practices, burning garbage and spontaneous combustion of solid waste at dumpsites… According to the National Environment Planning Agency, in addition to open burning, poor air quality in Jamaica is due to emissions of pollutants from industries, motor vehicles resulting from population growth, a high level of energy use, a growing number of motor vehicles and poor domestic industrial practices. The National Environment Planning Agency 2010 report identifies sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter as major pollutants causing major damage to the environment and human health in Jamaica. Although the role of such pollutants in the initiation of asthma has not been ascertained, ambient air pollution is associated with exacerbations of existing asthma and deterioration in lung function. These environmental factors are contributors to the high prevalence of asthma and other respiratory symptoms in susceptible population.

- Asthma and allergies in Jamaican children aged 2-17 years: A cross-sectional prevalence survey

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“You want to drink some of the Ferrol?”

Ferrol? FERROL???!!! Ugh!!!

“It’s okay, I took a couple Buckley’s tablets this morning. Maybe they’ll kick in soon.” I hoped. I really didn’t want to have to submit to my mother’s suggestion about the Ferrol. Sigh. Jesus be a relief!

[Hours later] “Mommy, where’s the Ferrol?”

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The National Environment and Planning Agency has issued an ultimatum to the sugar industry to stop burning sugar cane by 2014, but sugar interests say if they accede it will wind up costing them more to farm cane.

In a letter dated March 14, 2012 to the Sugar Industry Authority, head of NEPA, Peter Knight told the sector it had two years to end the traditional practice of burning cane during reaping.

Knight emphasised that the directive was part of a broader campaign against open burning and that similar correspondence was sent to stakeholders in other industries.

- Jamaica Gleaner, May 11, 2012

*****

Cold compress (check). Vicks vaporub (check). Gargle with warm salt water (check). Ferrol (gag…uh um…check). Kleenex (check).

It had gotten worse.

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Chairman of the All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association Allan Rickards said the two-year timeline is unrealistic.

“That is out of the question. That can’t work,” Rickards said.

Rickards said it suits farmers to burn cane in some areas as reaping “green” canes will leave a trash cover which requires machines to mulch into the soil. He said the equipment is expensive to procure and that “worse” the industry is required to pay GCT on them.

Also, if the mulch is not turned over properly when fertiliser is applied it will attach to the trash, rather than mixing with the soil, he said.

Both Rickards and Keith Scott, the planning and information manager at the Sugar Industry Authority, said that the availability of cane cutters, the terrain and the cost of mechanical reapers are major problems to consider before the industry can move in the direction of reaping “green” canes.

“The breed of people called cane farmers are dying out, ageing and nobody wants to go into the cane cutting business, so we have to consider mechanical harvesters,” Scott said.

“People need work but they are not willing to do cane cutting work. Right now, we have a core of people that we sometimes have to move from one parish to the other.”

NEPA has tried before to end cane burning, citing its nuisance to residents in communities near sugar estates and cane fields.

In 2009, when the agency last tried to make progress on the issue, the alternative of ‘green’ cane harvesting was proposed and discussed, Knight told the Financial Gleaner.

He said since then the industry was placed on notice and his agency was not prepared to allow indefinite use of the burning option.

- Jamaica Gleaner, May 11, 2012

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It’s a new day!!! Still congested but I survived that night. Went outside and smelled smoke. Maybe it’s my imagination, I thought. “A man ovah suh always burn coal ennuh…”, I heard my father say.

Dear God, not again.

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Because energy infrastructure in rural areas of the poorer countries in the hotspot is still poorly developed, communities in these areas rely heavily on fuelwood and charcoal from neighboring forested areas, including mangroves. In Haiti, fuelwood provides the main source of household energy charcoal and fuelwood currently provide 75 percent of Haiti’s energy consumption (Smucker et al. 2007), and 80 percent of wood extracted in Jamaica is ultimately consumed as fuelwood (FAO 2001). A range of approaches have been tried to address this problem. Cuba, for instance, has long suffered from an intermittent energy crisis, but daily 16-hour electricity cuts in 2004 encouraged the government to pursue a policy of energy conservation drives, a review of the electricity grid and increased use of solar and wind power, which is likely to have had a knock-on effect of reducing the demand for fuelwood from native forests.

It is recognized that addressing the lack of energy sources for poorer rural communities can help reduce fuelwood collection and take pressure off the remaining forests and its threatened biodiversity. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, a government policy of subsidizing propane gas and cooking stoves was set in place in the mid-1980s, which helped reduce the consumption of wood for charcoal used for cooking by most of the population, from 1,596,000 sacks in 1982 to 26,465 sacks in 2000 (Gomez 2001). More recently, there have been efforts to promote energy efficient wood-burning stoves in the Dominican Republic. 

- Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund “Threats: Caribbean Islands” 

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Another trip into Kingston. More smoke along Highway 2000. All that time I kept thinking, “How do the nearby residents put up with this?”

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Scott acknowledges that the burning can be a nuisance to the residents but rationalised that cane is not burned every day. At most, it is done once per month in some areas during the reaping season, he said.

Cane reaping season usually lasts from late December to June. This year, farmers and estates are trying to finalise reaping in May to stay ahead of the rains.

Scott said some of complaints about smoke nuisance are beneficiaries of land grant from the SIA in areas such as Bernard Lodge and Innswood.

He said the stakeholders in the industry are to meet to discuss the letter and then forward individual reports to the SIA, which the regulator will collate into an industry position to respond to NEPA.

The SIA official said he would not comment on the two-year ultimatum.

“It may be that going green is inevitable, but it is going to take some time,” Scott said.

- Jamaica Gleaner, May 11, 2012

*****

Throat is on fire. I manage to say a few words in between coughing spells. Ferrol for breakfast. Buckleys syrup (the strong stuff!) for dinner.

Here’s to a lovely vacation.

#TeamNoSleep

- @MizDurie, @ThinkJamaica