Jamaica Observer column for MON 28 March 2016
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
This Easter Monday, we are called to think very carefully about our own path to “resurrection”, as we note the continuing unrest in certain inner city and rural areas in our country. It is puzzling that a country as small as Jamaica cannot get a handle on crime even with the unstinting support of many international agencies. It will therefore fall to the media, and the National Integrity Alliance to turn up the searchlights.
It is not fair for some so-called leaders to consort with negative elements and then expect the police force to clean up after them. We have heard past stories of policemen being threatened if they do not cooperate – we hope the media will be able to ferret out any such actions before they become dangerous.
Social media posts indicate that some politicians feel that achievements during their term of office belong to party and not to country, despite the oath taken to serve, “so help me God”. This proprietary approach to our national assets by successive administrations breeds bitterness and disunity. They forget that they are paid by hard-working taxpayers and that programmes and projects are implemented by a public service manned by over 100,000 Jamaicans.
As I wrote in this column some years ago, “politicians are no Santa Claus” – they use our money, as well as borrowed funds which become the people’s debt. They campaign hard to win our employment, with our expectation that they will work diligently and honestly to keep our country safe and viable. As we observe our many social, economic and environmental shortcomings, it is clear that neither of the two major political parties have done enough towards these important objectives.
It is our hope that as they contemplate the true message of Easter, they will ‘resurrect’ their higher calling to service, and act accordingly.
Sterling work of EOJ and ECJ
Jamaica is blessed with a dedicated, hardworking Electoral Office (EOJ) and Electoral Commission (ECJ). They put in long days, even nights, towards delivering free and fair elections. Indeed, for over 30 years, representatives of the EOJ and ECJ (formerly EAC) are called upon by countries worldwide to assist in the running of their elections.
We were surprised therefore, to see recent criticisms of the performance of the Electoral Office of Jamaica and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica over the conduct of the recent General Elections. A release alleged that there was not enough pre-election information and that there were delays and ‘high-handed’ utterances. I find this puzzling as, despite the limited time between the announcement and the date of the General Election, there was a steady stream of information on all media, traditional and social regarding voter identification, location of polling stations and voter instruction. The Director of Elections made himself available for myriad interviews and, with the ECJ held press briefings. How do I know this? Our company has had the privilege of working along with both organisations for the past 20 years, and I am willing to share the schedule of the various advertisements and press activities with the critics.
The release also referred to low voter turnout, a concern for every well-thinking Jamaican. Once again, this column is appealing to Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), to step up their activities by creating a website where we can see more objective information on the candidates who offer themselves to serve in public office. This will assist the many disillusioned electors in finding candidates worthy of their attention, and may also encourage more sterling Jamaicans to enter politics.
Food for the Poor Easter Prison Release
Last week, Food for the Poor paid fines for the release of 256 non-violent inmates of prisons in Guyana, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica. In observation of the Year of Mercy, this was the largest number for a single prison release which Food for the Poor organises every Easter and Christmas. Food for the Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood has pointed to the dangerous environment created by overcrowding in many prisons in the region. He noted that the recent fires at the Camp Street Prison in Georgetown Guyana, in which 17 inmates perished, had been set by prisoners protesting the crowded and unsanitary conditions.
"I understand if a person commits a crime they must face the consequences of their actions,” noted Robin Mahfood, “but the majority of these first-time offenders are being locked up with hard-core criminals for weeks, months and even years at a time because they cannot afford to pay the minimal fines for their freedom.”
Cuba opens up
Well do we recall our visit to Cuba about 20 years ago, when we followed our travel agent’s instructions to say to the immigration officer, “Please don’t stamp my passport”. Such a stamp would have been frowned upon by US immigration. Now, the United States has re-opened its embassy in Cuba after fifty years, and President Obama and his family were welcomed by President Raul Castro and his people last week. On Friday, the iconic Rolling Stones rock band performed in a free concert for the Cuban people, in celebration of this new era.
There is no need to be nervous, Jamaica. Instead, let us sharpen up on our Spanish and get ready to create a stronger alliance with a country which has reached out to us, especially in support of our health system. We should also be practising our French to partner with Haiti, offering tourists a multi-lingual Jamaica-Cuba-Haiti trifecta!
PEPA 28 Years Strong
We headed to Portland last Sunday for the celebration of the 28th Anniversary of the Portland Environmental Protection Association (PEPA). The evergreen media maven Marguerite Gauron organised an afternoon of great food and entertainment. We enjoyed the graceful dances – tango, waltz and Charleston with Marguerite doing some daring dips and as well as the lively local band. Artist Phillip Ambokele Henry was the engaging emcee and the silent auction had many takers for his excellent drawing and paintings by his talented wife Marcia.