Saturday, March 25, 2017

Portia Simpson Miller’s historic journey

Most Hon Portia Simpson Miller 
Observer column published 20 March 2017 
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Portia Simpson Miller’s budget presentation last week was in fact a fond farewell. What a journey she has had – serving for over 40 years as Member of Parliament of South West St. Andrew, a constituency of serious challenges, the type that women politicians tend to inherit. It took courage for young Councillor Portia Simpson to step up and campaign to become a parliamentarian, and even more to seek the presidency of the People’s National Party. This column has commented on her exciting career and so today we share excerpts.
From ‘The People Said Portia’ – January 2012
Hearty congratulations to that seasoned campaigner Portia Simpson Miller, president of the People's National Party (PNP) …When G2K copied media an urgent letter protesting a delay by a television station in carrying an anti-Portia ad, I wrote back, "Enough is enough"… Malcolm Gladwell, that gifted writer with Jamaican roots, said that to excel at anything you need to do it 10,000 times. That is why our most memorable mentors are the seniors in our lives. That is why one should never underestimate the political clout of that grassroots veteran Portia Simpson Miller.

… And so, as Portia Simpson Miller ascended the stage at PNP headquarters last Thursday night, flashing her famous smile, and hugging her candidates one after the other, we saw a woman practiced in the way of politics, hitting all the right notes and ensuring that there was "no piece of paper" in her hand.

She started with a well-known Bible verse. Then the DJ played Tony Rebel's song, "Mind what yu say to yu sister, she could be the next prime minister" … She thanked among many, "Comrade PJ Patterson", her helper Marva and Andrew Holness who had called to congratulate her, saying that "he was very gracious". She referred to the welcome sight we saw more of in this than any other previous election, "PNP supporters in orange and JLP supporters in their green hugging in friendly rivalry".

 From ‘Dream realised’  -  5 September 2016
Portia Simpson Miller is not simply the Leader of the Opposition, or the President of the People’s National Party.  She is the fulfilled dream of thousands of Jamaican women, who saw this humble girl from Woodhall, St. Catherine, rise through the political ranks to become the first female Prime Minister of Jamaica. She is the young girl who grew up to have a fairy-tale wedding, her wedding dress floating royally on the lawns of the University Chapel as she married one of Jamaica’s most respected business executives Errald Miller. 
Now that she has entered this challenging phase of her political career, let us tread softly as we tread not only on her extraordinary career, but also on the dreams of thousands of humble Jamaican women.  Their utterances of support over the past week are not simply blind political ‘followership’; they are a call for respect for a woman who rose through the patriarchal ranks of politics. 
As we have heard women leaders here and abroad reflect on their challenges, we realise how difficult it is for those of us who ‘hold up half the sky’ to ascend to these high seats of office.  I am not excusing any of the shortcomings of our leaders.  However, it is interesting the level of scrutiny to which women leaders are subject compared to their male counterparts.  Think on these things.
From “What is Mrs Simpson Miller’s next move?” - 5 December 2016
We have watched her rise from humble KSAC Councillor to Prime Minister of Jamaica.  Portia Simpson Miller has cut an impressive figure in line-ups of regional and global leaders, and has scored a double-page in Time Magazine as one of their personalities of the year.  Her visceral political campaigning has made her a hero to her followers and the fear of her opponents.
… As Hillary Clinton will attest, and nearer to home, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, the road for women in politics is that much narrower and rougher.  In this male-dominated field of endeavour, women must not only match up to those qualities expected of men in power, but they must also become the pious mother as well as the fashion plate imposed by the glamour media on women.  Owning campaign platforms with her strong voice, becoming ‘Mama P’ to her constituents and striding out in impeccable suits, Portia Simpson Miller was able to accomplish more than any other Jamaican woman politician.  She ascended to the presidency of the PNP, retaining the position despite several challenges, and served as Prime Minister twice.
Women who choose politics as a career are very brave indeed, and clearly Portia Simpson Miller is one of our bravest. Still, this year marks her 40th Anniversary as a Member of Parliament, and her tenth as PNP President. Before the applause stops and the harsh criticisms escalate, we believe that it would be a good time for Mrs Simpson Miller to resign from the PNP presidency, and representational politics.  She will quickly be forgiven for those lapses of temper, and her many other accomplishments will position her as a stateswoman and an icon of feminist determination.

… May she take this decision to prayer, and know that her place in history as Jamaica’s first woman Prime Minister is a very special and lasting one.

And today … Salute!

We salute Portia Simpson Miller.  Her Budget presentation was indeed presidential, and the standing ovation from both sides of the House, affirmed her undisputed stature. May she have a long and happy retirement, in the knowledge that she has made her mark, not only on the political landscape of Jamaica, but on our national consciousness.  Her life’s work is a message to all Jamaican women and girls: “Yes, you can”. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

MAJ comments on Health Insurance Tax

March 16, 2017
Image result for dr myrton smith jamaica
Dr Myrton Smith
President, Medical Association of Jamaica

Universal Health Care is a concept that forms an important part of any nation's push towards prosperity. The removal of any impediment to the average citizen's access to health care is vital. It is a goal that is endorsed by the World Health Organization. Jamaica recognized this and in 2008, user fees were completely removed in all public health facilities (except the University Hospital of the West Indies). 
While we endorse the concept, we recognize our limitations in terms of our ability as a nation to afford 'free health care" for everyone. With less than 4% of GDP spent annually on the health sector, the financing of healthcare in Jamaica remains suboptimal. 
One strategy utilized by many countries is to have national health insurance schemes that force persons to contribute to a health insurance policy when they are well, so that when they are ill, they can be taken care of. Jamaica currently has no such national health insurance scheme. It was an important part of the manifesto of the current government that such a plan would be launched. Not much has been heard recently about the status of the plans for this scheme.
Private health insurance, either through group or individual policies, represents an important​ means of allowing persons to have access to quality health care. It is estimated that currently only around 25 – 30% of Jamaicans have private health insurance. We are concerned that the government's move to apply GCT to health insurance premiums will drive up the cost of insurance, with the risk that many persons will be unable to afford it. Alternatively, persons may have to review and revise their coverage options and become underinsured. 
We anticipate that more persons will flock to the already overburdened public healthcare facilities. The thought that employers will volunteer to bear the costs related to the payment of GCT is at best erroneous and at worst disingenuous. The government as a major employer and a large purchaser of group health insurance has a track record of passing on increases in premiums on to the employees. This is what they have done over the years to the medical doctors. Why then would we expect that the government will behave differently with this new tax or that other employers would be any more willing to absorb the cost.
We are particularly concerned about the impact that this will have on the management of major killers such as non-communicable diseases like cancer. Cancer treatment in the public sector is woefully suboptimal with recurrent shortages in chemotherapy drugs and long waiting times for access to outmoded radiotherapy. It is often private health insurance that allows many persons to access chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the private sector. What will happen to those who are forced to opt out of health insurance? 
We still await the promised introduction of the linear accelerators at St. Josephs' Hospital and the troubled Cornwall Regional Hospital, both of which should have been operational by February of 2017. 
With the introduction of additional financial burdens on Jamaicans in need of health care, it is a good time for the government to unveil how they plan to improve the delivery of health care to all Jamaicans. There is the need to fast track changes that will make a positive impact.
Dr. Myrton Smith
Medical Association of Jamaica

Sister Mary Paschal – what a life!

Jamaica Observer column published 6 March 2017 
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Sister Mary Paschal Figueroa, addressing the Congregation at the celebration of her 80th Anniversary as a Sister of Mercy last August.
In this week celebrating International Women’s Day, we visit the legendary Sr. Mary Paschal Figueroa, a Religious Sister of Mercy, whose life started with the end of World War I in 1918.  When we arrive at the Claver Home for retired nuns at Mount Mercy, in the cool hills of Widcombe, St. Andrew, she pushes her wheeled walker to meet me and says with a twinkle, “Do you like my BMW?” 
Archbishop Kenneth Richards
 - photo from Loop Jamaica 
Yes, the 98-year-old Sister Paschal’s wit and memory are quite intact, as she recounts her early life in Panama, and her zigzag throughout Jamaica as teacher, principal and hospital administrator.  The intrepid nun was St. Catherine High principal from 1972 to 1990, responsible for its growth into one of the largest high schools in the Caribbean, with an enrolment of over 3,000 students.
It is remarkable that out of her resolve to make the once all-girls school co-educational, despite many protests, two of the outstanding male graduates that emerged are Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston Most Rev. Kenneth Richards.
Sister Paschal chuckles as she relates that one day, a teacher sent four boys to her office to be disciplined but when she saw that one of them was the well-behaved Kenneth Richards, she said to him, “You are a good boy, you can go back to the classroom,” and then lectured the other three. The beloved educator is grateful that it was at St. Catherine High that Prime Minister Holness and his wife, Member of Parliament Mrs. Juliet Holness met, and said that he had called her recently.
Last year as Sr. Paschal planned her 80th Anniversary Mass, she requested that Archbishop Richards be the chief celebrant.  When the Archbishop explained that he had to attend a Conference in Martinique, Sr. Paschal would have none of it.  So the Archbishop respectfully acquiesced, travelling for an entire day to return on time. She speaks glowingly of Archbishop Ken and his wonderful family whom she regards as her good friends.

Statue of Christopher Columbus in
Colon, Panama
Born Maria Elise Figueroa, Sister Paschal had lived in Panama with her Jamaican parents, as her father had been appointed as a Manager of the United Fruit Company in Panama.  She recalls living in a building opposite to the statue of Christopher Columbus which still stands, with her five brothers. She enjoyed school: she said her teacher praised and rewarded her with the princely sum of 50 cents who had her stand on the desk to recite her timetables to motivate her classmates.  All of her primary education was therefore in Spanish.

When Elise, as she was called, was 13, her mother, a Convent of Mercy ‘Alpha’ Academy graduate, decided that her daughter should attend this excellent school in Jamaica also. After a tearful embrace with her mother in 1931, she became a boarder at the Academy and was inspired by the dedicated Sisters of Mercy who taught and cared for their students.

Elise Figueroa enjoyed those Alpha days, and activities with St. George’s College students. The lovely, witty Elise attracted the attention of several young men, one in particular was very good at sports and would give her all his prizes.  He was quite disappointed when she told him of her life-changing decision.

After sitting the Senior Cambridge examinations in 1935, Elise felt drawn to the convent.  She was encouraged in her vocation by Sr. Marie Therese Watson of the famous Watson family.  (Sister Marie Therese’s nephew is Merrick Needham) and Jesuit priest Fr. Fred Berrigan. She wrote her parents in Panama to say that she would have something very important to tell them when she returned home at Christmas.

When she told them, her father said “If God wants my one girl, I am happy to give her to God,” and her mother was in full agreement.

St Peter Claver
She took a ship back to Jamaica stopping in Cartagena where she visited the place where St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest who reached out slaves, had lived and worked. She said this priest would attend to the sad and hurt Africans as they came off the slave ships in Cartagena, comforting and washing their wounds. It was that Saint’s name which was taken by the founder of Alpha, Jessie Ripoll, when she became a Sister of Mercy.

When Mrs. Figueroa handed over 18-year-old daughter to Mother Superior Vianney of the Sisters of Mercy, the nun did not encourage a long farewell.  “It is time to say goodbye,” she said after a few short minutes. The mother and daughter held each other and cried. 

“I knew that I would not be able to see my family for a very long time  because we were not even allowed early visits although we were allowed to write to each other so it was very sad,” said Sr. Paschal.  “I had an aunt who lived at Emerald Road who I was able to visit from time to time in the company of another nun. When I went to visit my brother in California, again accompanied by a Sister of Mercy, I was instructed that I could eat there but not at the same table as the family.” 

A few years ago, her St Catherine High Alumni hosted her and Sister Mimi on a trip to the US where they honoured her for the life-changing improvements she made at the school, including a machine shop for metal work, an agricultural programme, and the formation of football, basketball, cricket and netball teams. 

Sister harked back to her earlier days as an educator, first at her alma mater, and then at a school in Seaforth Town in St. Elizabeth, where a very strict priest, Fr. Kemple controlled the electric lights.  When she arrived there for the first time, he switched off the lights before she could ascend the convent steps. Luckily the resident nun emerged to guide her by candlelight.

She said that her trip to St. Elizabeth was eventful.  Father Louis Genier had given her a lift, and on the way, their two suitcases fell out of the car. By the time they were alerted, only Fr. Grenier’s suitcase was found.  To this day, she wonders what the thieves did with her two long black gowns and veils.

She said that her next assignment was at Mt. St. Joseph Academy in Mandeville where they had boarders from Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti.  However they was only one radio so they had a strict time-table so that each set of boarders could listen to the news from their respective countries.  She said that the parents of the girls considered their graduation very significant and brought beautiful gowns.

It was between assignments that Sr. Paschal attended Our Lady of Cincinnati College where she gained an Education Degree majoring in Science and Spanish. 

Retirement from education was no time for rest, as then Archbishop Lawrence Burke had noted Sister Paschal’s administrative skills, and assigned her to run the deteriorating St. Joseph’s Hospital.  In that first year 1988, hurricane Gilbert hit.  She remembers seeing the rooftop fly from the Consie Walters Hospice and settle on the Operating Theatre.  She arranged a quick rescue of the patients.   

To her surprise, she saw coming up the hospital driveway a grocer, Al Brady, pushing a deep freeze.  He said he had bought a lot of fresh meat recently, had no electricity and was begging her to allow him to use her generator to save.  She allowed him to keep his products there for two weeks and says “to this day, he has never forgotten.  Every Christmas he brings me a valuable gift.”  Sister believes in preserving relationships and when I was with her, her cell phone rang several times with friends checking on her.

Because of her failing eyesight, one of her long time Alpha students has sent her a ‘talking watch’ and she showed me how you press a button to hear the time and another for the date.  Sr. Paschal is up there with technology. “I am going for the hundred you know my dear,” she says and we believe she is well on her way there. 

I asked this inspiring 98-year-old what advice could she give us to face life’s many challenges. Her response: “For me, I saw every change and every request as God’s will.  Don’t ever be afraid because God is always believing in you, encouraging you and supporting you.”

Jamaica getting well-tuned

Excerpt from Observer column published 20 FEB 2017
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Garfene Grandison posted a query in social media about the heavy traffic in the Corporate Area since the beginning of the year.  My response was that I was hearing and seeing growing interest in Jamaica.  The latest Don Anderson Business Confidence Survey indicates a positive outlook from businesses and high expectations from consumers.  

Bank of Jamaica Governor Brian Wynter
We are able to track the facts and figures on national development via regular reports from The Economic Growth Council, The Economic Programme Oversight Committee and The Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee. Only last week, Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Governor Brian Wynter announced that Jamaica is one of the first countries in the world, and the first in the Caribbean which will have an IMF-approved National Summary Data Page (NSDP).

A Business Observer report quoted the BOJ Governor: “This display of greater transparency and accountability, this structured effort, is itself of great interest to international rating agencies and others, and will contribute to better credit ratings for the country.”

The Jamaican stock market has been on a bull run since the start of the year, and the BPO sector is expanding rapidly.  Let us never forget those matriarchs and patriarchs who have set us on this dynamic trajectory, including such legends as Chris Blackwell, Hyacinth Chen, Glen Christian, Oliver Clarke, Karl Hendrickson, Audrey Hinchcliffe, Dennis Lalor, Lorna Myers, Peter McConnell, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, the late greats Carlton Alexander, Gladstone Chang, Joan Duncan, Maurice Facey, Rose Leon, Fred Kennedy, Paco Kennedy and Saleem Mahfood.  If we start calling the names of their younger family members and the new stars of enterprise, this column would run out of space. Suffice it to say that an energetic generation of entrepreneurs is making its mark.

Let us study these successful journeys to plan our own path to prosperity.  Stay tuned to business news and read those financial supplements carefully. The Jamaica Stock Exchange website has links to all the listed companies. Never has information been so accessible.  

Now that we are opening this new path of data-powered strategy and transparency, the risk of being damaged by corrupt practices has been minimized.  It is an excellent time to venture out, using your education and talents to create opportunities for yourself and others.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Income Tax Filing Deadline Extended

The following was shared with me by Allison Peart of Ernst & Young.

Tax Administration Jamaica wishes to advise that the deadline to file Final Income Tax Returns for year of assessment 2016 and Estimated Returns for year of assessment 2017 has been extended until Saturday March 25, 2017. Business Owners, Self-Employed persons, Partnerships, Companies and Employed Individuals with other sources of income or multiple employment,  will now have until then to file their returns before the interest and penalties are applied.

Taxpayers will be able to file on or before the extended deadline to avoid the $5,000 monthly penalty charged for late returns. With tax season drawing to a close persons are strongly advised to file and pay before the extended due date to avoid the expected higher than normal last minute rush.

Free tax support will be available at select Tax Offices this and every Saturday up until the end of April at the following locations:

  • Constant Spring
  • Montego Bay
  • Spanish Town
  • May Pen
  • Mandeville
  • Savanna-la-mar
  • St. Ann's Bay

 The Portmore Tax Office will continue its regular Saturday opening.

A schedule of these and all remaining Special Taxpayer Assistance Programme (STAP) sessions is available at  Here, TAJ representatives will assist persons with the preparation of their tax returns, to include providing guidance on completing the revised Income Tax forms.

Taxpayers who wish to make the most of the free service are being asked to take with them all business related documents, including their Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN), bank statements, purchase invoices, receipts, sales records, utility bills, wage records and any other records that can be used to verify income and expenses.

For further information call the Tax Administration Customer Care Centre at 1-888-Tax-Help (1-888-829-4357) or visit the  



Leighton St. A. Beckles l Communications Officer
Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) l Communications Unit

Head Office l 4th Floor PCJ Building l 36 Trafalgar Road l Kingston 10
Landline: (876) 922-8750 l Mobile: (876) 838-3953 l Fax: (876) 754-9593


Customer Care Centre: 1-888-TAX-HELP (829-4357)

Website: l Twitter:@jamaicatax l

TAJ - Changing The Way We Do Business

Monday, March 6, 2017

The inclusive Chinese Cultural Association

CCA President
Nobel Laureate
Hon Prof Anthony Chen
Dr Kai Meng Lui
The Chinese Cultural Association (CCA), of which Jamaica’s Nobel Laureate Hon. Prof Anthony Chen is President, is open to all Jamaicans.  Our rainbow group gathers monthly to enjoy presentations organised by cultural director Dr Kai Meng Lui.  

These have included the fascinating accounts by Prof Chen on Climate Change, Dr Victor Chang of an anti-Chinese uprising in colonial Jamaica, Prof Mervyn Morris on his writings and experiences. 
A rapt audience

At a recent meeting Dr Liu gave us interesting facts on Chinese writing.  Those graceful strokes are filled with meaning!

Blessed support for my book 'Souldance' from
Most Rev Archbishop Emeritus Donald Reece 
You can understand how humbling it was therefore, to have been invited to give a lecture on my life experiences.  

As I prepared for it, I realised how blessed I had been in my parents, other family members, teachers, friends and mentors at every stage of my career.  The more successful we are, the more grateful we should be because that confidence, that courage are the result of the example and affirmation of our circle.  Their faith is that ‘wind beneath our wings’.  And so, the presentation was titled ‘On Their Shoulders’.  Thank you for such an honour, fellow CCA members.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Jamaica's beautiful mountains

Excerpt from Observer column published 27 Feb 2017

Monica Schroeter stands in
front of the wooden cottage
built by Irish Town workmen.
Associates of the Sisters of Mercy had our annual retreat at the Schroeter’s home in Irish Town.  They have renovated a lovely older house, and built a lovely wooden cottage.  As we admired the workmanship, Monica Schroeter explained that it was all done by residents of Irish Town.  A neighbourhood chef had prepared some of the best gungo pea soup we had ever had. People know a lot about Jamaica’s beaches, but with more promotion, they would fall equally in love with our mountains. 

How could I have forgotten to mention
Velia Espeut's amazing plantain porridge in my column!
It was fantastic!
We heard last week that the Hendricksons had bought the Bustamantes’ former home in Irish Town, Bellencita, and it brought back memories of visits with my husband’s parents who were close to the Bustamantes. I recall hearing that they had bought the peaceful homestead from the Kennedy family, of GraceKennedy fame. 

Classic Gungo Soup
As we drove past the Blue Mountain Inn, the ladies in our group harked back to romantic evenings by the river, the elegant cuisine and the old world atmosphere, hoping that it would be returned to its former splendor.
Environmentalist Eleanor Jones has a beautiful spot, Heritage Gardens at Cold Spring, located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, just below the Newcastle Jamaica Defence Force Training Camp. You have never seen more lush foliage, and they also offer accommodation in a quaint cottage.

The friends we have living in Irish Town and Newcastle agree that the roads can sometimes be terrible, but they wouldn’t change it for anywhere else.  Taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the ultra-fresh air, we can understand why. 

Delicious Jamaica!

Excerpt from Observer column published 27 FEB 2017
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Coconut Drops from Coconut Industry Board website
My sister and brother-in-law who visited recently told me they had to make a stop as they had booked some drops.  You would think they were stopping at a pharmacy, right?  Not at all – they had booked some coconut drops from the little shop at the Coconut Industry Board, because the day before when they checked, it was sold out.  That evening, they were triumphant with their stash of ‘drops’; those clusters of coconut covered with gingery sugar were sweet nostalgia.

St Thomas East Indians are amazing - photo from Pinterest
Then our neighbour brought goodies from St. Thomas: Young Sang’s Bakery duck bread, freshly picked mangoes and naseberries. My delighted sibling held each one as if they were sacraments. 
Sometimes it takes family from abroad to remind us of the amazing gifts of Jamaica.  At a shaded Fort Clarence picnic table, we enjoyed Hellshire fish and festival, and later they got their mandatory Devon House ice cream.  Blue Mountain coffee was a must with such Jamaican breakfast delights as run-down, ackee and saltfish, johnny-cakes, roast breadfruit. 

My sister related a ‘Chippies’ adventure in a West Indian store in Maryland.  She was in the line when she overheard a man mention her daughter’s favourite snack.  “Did you say Chippies?” she asked the man.  “Yes – see them over there in a box.  Take them now if you want them because the box soon empty!”  The price hurt, but she had to do good by her daughter – US$3 per little pack of Chippies banana chips!  So now we know why Chippies is so scarce in Jamaica, why friends tweet packs to tip us off when they get lucky at a gas station.  If Chippies ever lists on the stock market, we should get us some shares.

Mango trees are blossoming profusely and I hope someone will make a Chippies-like success out of them. Dried mango strips are popular in health food stores. Please my friends, if you have those heavily bearing trees, find ways of giving away the mangoes instead of leaving them to rot on the ground.  A box of mangoes left on a gate column with a ‘help yourself’ sign goes empty in no time.  I am still enjoying frozen mango juice in my smoothies from last year’s harvest.  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Remembering Mark Clarke, STGC Track Star

Tribute to Mark Clarke, Class '73… Sprint Star of the Early 1970's 

by Dr Lloyd Tenn

It is with great sadness that we learnt lately of the passing of Mark Clarke, STGC's sprint star of the early 1970's.

In an era where Kingston College and Camperdown High dominated the Track and Field High School Championships, Mark was a stand out as an outsider not coming from these two dominant track schools. With his 'speed' partner Peter Gooden also from the Class of 1973, they dominated the Class II hurdles, 200m and 400m races. In the 1973 Champs, Mark won the 110 m Hurdles in record time, 2nd in the 200m while Peter won the 200m and 400m. STGC placed 6th in the Championship that year.

Mark was tall, slim but strong and was unusual in that he was one of the few good caucasian sprinters in Jamaican high school. A charmer, he was very friendly and well-liked by his peers.

He won a track scholarship to Howard University which did not work out and returned to Jamaica to pursue a science degree at UWI. Eventually, he migrated to the USA, settling in Huston, Texas.

He apparently developed heart issues a few years ago and returned to Jamaica in 2016. He sought medical treatment in Cuba and he underwent cardiac surgery there. He returned to Jamaica but died of complications from the surgery early in 2016.

So, we have lost another great Georgian.

We pray for his family.

May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed rest-in-peace.

 Dr Lloyd Tenn

STGC Photography


Friday, February 17, 2017

A case of life and death – literally

Excerpt - Observer column published 13 FEB 2017
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Women and men from all walks of life gathered with purpose last Tuesday evening to plan and act with urgency as we grieved the tragic loss of an alarming number of women and children. There is a term “collective grief” which is said to permeate a community or country after repeated incidents of tragedy and trauma. Jamaica is in that state.  This ‘collective grief’ has the potential to immobilise us, even as we strive for the objectives of the Economic Growth Council, five percent growth in four years. 

Therese Turner-Jones, Caribbean representative for the IDB has emphasised continuously the serious effect that crime has been having on Jamaica’s economy.  The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) recently released a four-year study (2010-2014) of 17 countries titled, The Costs of Crime and Violence: New Evidence and Insights in Latin America and the Caribbean”. 

Ana Maria Rodriguez-Ortiz, the IDB's manager institutions for development, noted that Jamaica has the fourth highest impact, losing 3.99 percent of GDP due to crime.  However, crime expert Professor Anthony Clayton says that the indirect cost of crime nearly doubles that percentage.

In a recent report, he notes, "The indirect costs included investments that might have come to this country but didn't because of concerns about crime and corruption. Then there's the loss of human capital - we lose a lot of our skilled people migrating to other jurisdictions. It (crime) has an effect on people's propensity to save and invest in Jamaica. People are less likely to invest if they think that they're going to become the victims of extortion… When you take into account these other costs, then I believe from work that we've done, that you're looking at somewhere just over seven per cent of GDP."

Even as we applaud the work of the Economic Growth Council and the encouraging statistics from Chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Keith Duncan, we will not be able to make the projected strides without serious funding of programmes to end violence against women and children.  It was disheartening to hear a woman from the Jamaica Association of Transport Owners and Operators (JATOO) defending the heavy tint on taxis, which may be hiding a multitude of sins. Her argument:  the heat as taxi drivers wait for passengers.  Please lady, what is a little heat compared to the brutal murder and rape of your people?
Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ message on his Facebook page on Friday makes it clear: “By Monday February 13th, Public Passenger Vehicles in particular Registered Taxis must remove their window tints. It is already the law!  #SaferJamaica  #ProtectOurWomen  #ProtectOurChildren
The Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), a branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, has identified some of the top abusers as pastors, teachers and police officers.  There are also allegations on social media that this group may include politicians. This is a sad commentary on those to whom our country should look for leadership, protection and ethical behaviour.  This column is calling on the decent members of these groups to create stricter screening and disciplinary actions against those who are sullying their good name. They should be warned that with the growth of social media, evil deeds are going to be exposed sooner or later.
It is alleged that some of the young women who have been abducted and killed may have been used as couriers for scammers whose identities had become known, and that they may have been forced to play this role because of threats to their families. 

Recommendations from 51 Percent Coalition
A release on last week’s meeting from the 51 Percent Coalition stated these pointed recommendations:
-  allocation of funds for a shelter for abused women in every parish by the end of 2017;
-  influencing the Prime Minister, as head of the Social Partnership, to “step up and lead” on the issue;
 - strengthened restorative justice and psychological support for victims;
 - working with youth (counselling and mentoring);
 - strengthened community policing and special training for police;
 - “targeted activism” in schools, communities and the workplace;
 -  and using critical “touch points” such as health services for speedier interventions.”

The statement continued: “Moderated by Indi McLymont Lafayette, the meeting began with a minute’s silence for the victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Head of the Association of Women’s Organizations (AWOJA) Dr. Hermione McKenzie spoke on the dangers of trafficking in women and girls and Maria Carla Gullotta of Stand Up for Jamaica emphasized that sexual abuse is a key factor in so-called “uncontrollable” girls who find themselves in conflict with the law. Glenroy Murray of WE-Change spoke on the Sexual Offences Act, currently under review by a Parliamentary Committee. Patricia Donald Phillips brought a strong statement from women Church leaders.”

We understand that there is a great deal of fear on the part of witnesses, so we need to study the best practices of countries who have successfully tackled these problems so that our Witness Protection System gives confidence to those who want to step forward.  We urge our leaders in every sphere of life to put in the checks and balances that are required for us as a nation to earn the respect of the international community. 

The buck stops at Jamaica House.  It stops there because these are the individuals who campaigned to lead our country and who must now lead the change to transform Jamaica into the safe and secure place that it can be. Members of the Partnership for Transformation Committee are well positioned; there can be no napping because this is literally a case of life and death.

Aloun Assamba gives 2017 Cobb Lecture

Excerpt from Jamaica Observer column published 6th Feb 2017
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Ambassador Aloun Assamba

This year’s Lecture in the Cobb series during the UWI Research Days held earlier this month, was presented by Ambassador Aloun Assamba, attorney-at-law, CEO of COK-Sodality Credit Union, former High Commissioner, former government Minister and former Member of Parliament.  

The enlightening lecture series was created and sponsored by Ambassadors Sue and Charles Cobb, for in-depth exploration of issues that affect Jamaica’s development. US Ambassador Luis Moreno disclosed at the event, that Ambassador Sue Cobb is so highly respected by the US State Department that an award was created in her name to recognize outstanding US Ambassadors worldwide. During her tour of duty here in Jamaica, Ambassador Cobb founded Jamaica’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and with her family, sponsors the scholarship for rural students.

Ambassador Assamba’s topic was “Education and Healthcare: The Equitable Imperative for Jamaica”.  She contrasted the challenges faced by Jamaica’s lower income earners to those who could afford private medical assistance. For example, a poor person may have to wait all day, just to secure an appointment to see a specialist. In education, she noted that the removal of auxiliary fees had negatively affected the running of schools in which under-privileged children have unequal access to some areas of learning. She said children in deep rural areas have the additional challenge of transportation, resulting in poor attendance. 

Similarly, in the health system she said that the abolition of user fees is hobbling our medical services.  She referred to an incident where an expatriate stayed in the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital for six weeks and on being discharged, asked for his bill. He was told that the hospital had no facility to produce one. 

Ambassador Assamba declared that she was not speaking from any political platform. “Politicians like to talk about free things,” she said, “but I have been there and done that and I have moved on.”  She says that the reinstatement of realistic user fees will level the playing field and called for the data to be gathered via surveys and focus groups to bring a change in the planning for health and education.

Research to find cure for national ills

Excerpt from Observer column published  6 FEB 2017
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

The UWI Research days last week gave us myriad examples of the power of research to improve our lives.  In the areas of medicine, agricultural science, social and environmental research, we can see its impact, and the benefits it would offer to Jamaica’s public sector transformation process. 

At a ‘Policy Research Impact Forum’, Rickert Allen, Senior General Manager at NCB said that his company underwent radical transformation since 2001, turning to research to develop a strategy that would take the once-failing bank to its number one position in Jamaica today. 

“There is a lot of research taking place, but no one is reading it,” said Mona Business lecturer Dr. Kadawame Knife. Interestingly, he noted that although there was not a strong research culture in Jamaica, the Jamaica Constabulary Force was one of the organizations that uses this resource to inform their strategy. I recall a group of young men on Orange Street in downtown Kingston making Clarke’s shoes knock-offs being rounded up, luckily by officers who had been trained in community policing. Instead of locking them up, the policemen recognised their talent and took them to the Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC) for guidance.  With the help of JBDC and the Digicel Foundation, they are on their way to becoming young entrepreneurs, and Dr Knife who has been their mentor, can show you the excellent shoes they made for him.

In a spirited contribution, Prof. Dale Webber said that it was the in depth environmental research of the Kingston Harbour done by himself, his wife, Prof. Mona Webber and 25 graduate students that resulted in its rehabilitation.  Their study showed that the bacterial content of the harbour’s water was 250% above the accepted level, resulting in a stop to careless sewage disposal and the construction of the Soapberry facility. Dr. Webber said that his team’s research on the Kingston Harbour was so significant, that an entire bulletin of the Marine Science publication was dedicated to their findings.
Chairman of the UWI Research Days Committee, Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer harks back to a ‘policy wall’ her Mona Wellness Centre created years ago. It was out of this that the life-saving Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Programme (JADEP) was developed.

We should therefore support the call of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) to co-operate with their personnel who will be interviewing over 4000 families to establish their level of spend, and other key social and financial indicators.  It is only by gathering and analysing this data that planning for Poverty Alleviation Through Health and Education (PATH), low income housing, health and education can produce the results we so dearly want.

We must be clear that this rash of murders and crime cannot end with the treatment of symptoms, but with the use of strategic, energetic social reform to cure this horrible national condition.