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
The day before, Jamaica learned that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had reinstated Mr. Richard Azan – junior minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing. This, after a report by the Office of the Contractor General concluded that Mr. Azan acted in a “politically corrupt” manner with regard to the construction of shops in the Spalding market. I commented on the OCG’s findings in this blog post.
Later that day (November 15), in a totally unrelated matter, news broke that resignation letters by Mr. Arthur Williams and Mr. Christopher Tufton were submitted to the Governor General without their knowledge/consent.
Editorial note: This post was inspired by a tweet I saw earlier today by @jcankash (immediately below). There are a number of ways to get involved in our democracy. I’ve highlighted a few below, but this is by no means exhaustive. If you have other methods and ideas of how people can get involved, send me a tweet (@MizDurie), or post it in the comments. Most importantly, in addition to sharing this post online, please discuss these ideas with your friends, colleagues, co-workers, family members who may not have online access to this post. We need everyone to get involved in some way. Thank you.
So I’ll keep shouting #onhere… And in person. Every chance I get. Tired of being spoken down to and will no longer be ignored.
Jamaican Twitter was set ablaze last night after it was given the label of “articulate minority” by Cabinet member, Robert Pickersgill.
“Pickersgill made the statement immediately following an Opposition walk-out of Parliament yesterday, after Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller failed to answer questions tabled by Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness, on the ongoing Outameni controversy… ‘No ordinary Jamaican not speaking about it…Twitter? Twitter is ordinary Jamaican? Ordinary Jamaicans know anything about Twitter?’ Pickersgill said, adding that Jamaicans on Twitter are an ‘articulate minority’ and the outcry was ‘politically motivated'”. – Jamaica Observer, November 26, 2014
This sentiment isn’t new, though. Delano Franklin once referred to critics as “the chattering class”
In 2002, as a general election loomed, the matter of the numerous scandals which unfolded during the (then) 13-year reign of the PNP came up. How on earth would they expect to win with all that baggage?! The response?
“In terms of the electorate, the average person does not even know about these things…” – Maxine Henry Wilson (February 19, 2002)
It should disgust you that they think this way about you.
It should disgust you EVEN MORE that they’re actually right.
They know that the Jamaicans who vote (and vote them into power consistently) don’t necessarily pay attention to, or critically analyze current affairs issues. Where the “chattocracy” will engage in reasonable dialogue online and on verandas, and measure the pros and cons (and con artists), there are those who don’t. And MANY of those who don’t, vote. And the politicians know this. We can talk ’til the heavens open up, the bottom line is…the real truth of the matter is that your value boils down to nothing but your vote.
Yes, we can be all idealistic and say “But I am a citizen! My voice is as important as any other person’s!” True, but don’t bother. Learn this: anything that threatens/destabilizes their power (or propels/maintains it) is what they will pay attention to. It hot, but hush. Yes, you do have the right to not get involved. But that is exactly what oppression needs to “grow and flourish”. They don’t care, because they think that YOU don’t care enough to do something about it. Talking and complaining can only go so far.
I am a big advocate for voting. The more you vote, the more you shape the democracy you want to see. You send a message of the type of governance you want to see. I don’t care for whom you vote, as long as you make an informed choice based on your and your community’s needs. Start by getting enumerated. It’s easy, and it’s free. The EOJ explains the process here. Discourse is an essential part of our democracy, and helps shape the issues as they unfold. But our talk has to be supported by consistent action, and ultimately a willingness to learn the one language that politicians pay attention to – a language defined by one symbol: X
In the meantime, there are other things you can do…
Pay attention. Read local and international newspapers and blogs. Examine opposing viewpoints. Listen to news commentary and talk radio. Equally important: DO NOT SHY AWAY FROM ASKING QUESTIONS. If something doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t sit well with you, demand answers.
Pay attention to what takes place in Parliament. It is streamed live every Tuesday at 2:30pm on JIS’ website, and highlights usually take place during the evening news. Familiarize yourself with Parliamentary processes and procedures. Parliament’s website is a good place to start.
Peruse Ministry websitesfor information such as statements, policies, news and updates. You may find links to Ministries’ websites here.
Pay close attention to what various interest groups and causes are articulating as their concerns – unions, civil society, environmentalists, religious groups, business and commercial interests, etc. This is important in helping to shape your own convictions around particular issues, and what you should be lobbying your MP for.
Now for the work. Do you know who your MP is? Find out. Familiarize yourself with their track record before they’ve entered politics, and since. Familiarize yourself with their input in the House of Representatives – do their views (and votes) there align with yours? Are they truly representing your interests? This is important because whatever position they take in parliament suggests that they are representing YOUR views. How comfortable are you with this?
Is your MP accessible? Pleased with how a portfolio Minister handled a particular matter? No? Write, call, or march on your MP’s/Minister’s office. If there’s no response (or even an attempt), take it to the media. Write the papers and call the talk show programs.
If you find that your concerns are shared by others in your community, organize around those issues. Have poster/placard-making parties, brainstorming sessions, plan talking points for town hall meetings, etc. There is strength in numbers. Among those types of interest groups I’ve listed above (and others) find a cause – an organization or lobby group – that is aligned with your concerns so that your voice is strengthened. In that is the advantage of an already organized group with which you can be active on the ground and let your voice be heard.
No success there? Form your own interest group. Get your friends, community members, colleagues together and get organized. Develop a plan of action. What that action plan looks like will depend on the skills of those involved, availability, urgency of the matter etc. Use whatever skills you have to help effect change. Are you good with making YouTube videos? What about those exceptional writing skills? Have a loud booming voice good for chanting during a road march? EVERYTHING COUNTS. And EVERYONE can do SOMETHING. Bottom line is that organization is key for any plan to be effective.
STAND UP FOR SOMETHING.
Take it further – journalists are now more accessible via social media. Bring your concern to their attention. Is there a blogger that posts on issues of that nature regularly? Collaborate with them in articulating your concerns. You can also donate to organizations or causes that you believe will advance ideas that are in the best interest of the country.
Don’t forget third parties and independent candidates. It may very well be that some of these people have good ideas and platforms worth paying attention to. Also, remember you are not beholden to any one party. You are not born under the name of a political party; this is NOT PNP or JLP country.
Finally, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU REMAIN SILENT. Those who assume that we are only good for talking think that our voices go nowhere. PROVE THEM WRONG. Not only use these social media tools to shape opinions and put forward ideas for progress, but also use them to push for change and organize for action. Twitter, Facebook, Instgram, and all those meme creators can go so far to get the message out about meeting times, places and activities.
Now, if you are still willing to sit back and do nothing, you are willing to accept that which is dished out to you.
Demand better. Demand accountability. Demand humility. Demand integrity. Do not put up with disrespect by those elected to serve.
And ultimately, hit them where it hurts. Let them know you WILL NOT be ignored. Force them to pay attention – get out there, get enumerated, and vote.
(A news report on the economic effects of ChikV can be found here).
At the same time, the Jamaican Government is grappling with the rapid decline of trust in its competence to address matters of public health. You see, as more and more citizens fall victim to the debilitating effects of ChikV, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is not a virus for which the Government adequately prepared the nation. Despite Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson’s attempts to convince us otherwise, we just weren’t ready. Hardly any public awareness adverts. No major emphasis on cleanup and prevention. Instead, we were caught off guard, and all our efforts seemed to have been reactive. In his own address to the nation on September 28, 2014, despite boasting about telling us that the Government has been preparing for the introduction of ChikV for two years (according to this Jamaica Observer report), the first meeting with all the major stakeholders together didn’t take place until shortly before his address, on September 25, 2014.
Public sentiment called for the Minister to be held accountable for his obvious mishandling of the matter. Prime Minister Simpson Miller disagreed. According to her, there is no reason for him to be fired…yet. Here’s why:
“I personally believe that Dr. Ferguson tried his very best, and…he’s one of the hardest working Ministers as well in a number of areas. If you’re having a cleanup he’s present. If you’re having something and it has to do with something like ChikV, he would pop in and he would speak to it to you.” – PM Simpson Miller, October 10, 2014 (Listen to the clip here)
Pardon? So his qualifications to develop policies, measures and strategies to address the outbreak of this awful virus is centered around his ability to push a broom?
Well…let’s talk Ebola, then!
So now there is talk of Ebola preparedness. The Government -through Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconder – in its attempt to allay fears and minimize the panic and hysteria that is usually associated with news of the disease, says this:
“This is new to us. Dr. Harvey is not the biggest expert. He’s probably the best one we have here, but he has never been immersed in preparation or dealing with Ebola before. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not perfect. What we don’t need is that when we make a little misstep, that it becomes the only story. And the importance of preparing our people for Ebola if it does come here gets lost in the hype and the sensationalism.” – Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer, October 30, 2014 (Listen to the clip here)
Nope. No reason to panic…AT ALL. I mean, it’s just a little Ebola, we’ll make mistakes. Just try not to let that be the story. Minister Falconer told the nation that in their handling of this, they will (so definitive, too!) make mistakes. Perhaps she doesn’t realize that mistakes, depending on how grave, could be a matter of life and death. How on earth can she expect the nation to entrust its public health to an administration which, instead of reassuring its citizens that it is vigorously researching and pursuing best practices, gives a disclaimer to deflect blame if…no, make that WHEN (she did say “are going to make mistakes”) anything does go wrong?
The messaging is already horribly wrong. Minister Falconer needs to understand that a disclaimer saying “We are going to make mistakes” has NO PLACE in the Ebola response strategy!
But don’t panic. Dr. Ferguson is still Minister of Health, and “Dr. Harvey is not the biggest expert.”