Right Steps & Poui Trees


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A Night of Moon Gazing – #LunarEclipse2022

There was a total eclipse of the moon last night (Sunday, May 15, 2022), which was visible to us here in Jamaica. I love staring at the night sky and decided to watch the eclipse of this Super Flower Blood Moon. Wonderful name!

The sky was very overcast, which wasn’t promising, but I got this clear picture of the full moon early on.

Clouds kept obscuring the moon…

…at times almost completely blocking it out.

However, every so often, there was a break in the clouds and there was a clear view of the shadow covering more…

…and more of the moon.

Sometimes I could see the shadow encroaching, even though the clouds…

…until there was only a sliver of the moonlight still visible.

And then, total eclipse…

In this photo that I took at about ten minutes before midnight, the shadow was just beginning to lift. Look at that beautiful coppery red colour!

A little less shadow, a little more light.

A lot less shadow, a lot more light.

Until finally, the full moon was back, in all her glory! Beautiful in all her phases, be they monthly cycles or short shadows of an eclipse.

My almost five hours of moon gazing ended after 1:00am. Well-spent hours.


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The Gleaner’s Bank of Jamaica Information Request: A few ATI thoughts

Last Thursday (May 5, 2022) The Gleaner published an article titled “BOJ Mum on Money Price Tag” in which it told about the Bank of Jamaica’s refusal to grant access to information requested under the Access to Information (ATI) Act.

The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) has refused to disclose the cost of financing the controversial upgrade of banknotes scheduled for release later this year.

An Access to Information (ATI) request submitted by The Gleaner for the cost to revamp the notes, first announced in Parliament by Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke, was denied by the central bank.

“The contract relating to the cost of upgrading the banknotes is exempt from disclosure under the Access to Information Act,” the BOJ’s Deputy General Counsel Alvana Johnson said on April 22 in response to the request.

Johnson did not state which provision within the legislation it used to shield the disclosure of the cost.

The cost for the upgrade was determined based on bids submitted, The Gleaner was told, but details of the bids were not disclosed, nor were the names of the bidders.

Additionally, the BOJ, which is charged with the maintenance of the financial system’s stability, would not reveal who was awarded the contract.

Excerpt from Gleaner article, BOJ Mum on Money Price Tag, 5/5/2022

I don’t know the exact wording of the Gleaner’s ATI request but the topic certainly seems to be one that would be of general interest – matters concerning the production and the cost to the country of new bank notes that are to be issued later this year. It doesn’t really matter, however, whether anyone else would be interested in the information an applicant has requested. Just as it doesn’t matter why the information is requested. Section 6(3) of the ATI Act says:

The Gleaner says that BOJ denied its request for information and the ATI Act says – in Section 7(5) – that where that happens, the Govenment entity must give reasons for the denial:

The Gleaner included a quote from the BOJ saying that the relevant contract was exempt under the ATI Act. However the BOJ did not say which Section in the Act it was relying on in order to claim that the contract was exempt.

Part III of the ATI Act deals with exempt documents; it has ten sections with multiple subsections dealing with a number of reasons a document might be considered exempt from disclosure. The reasons are varied and include things such as

  • the disclosure would prejudice the security, defence or international relations of Jamaica
  • it is a Cabinet Decision, or other official record of any deliberation of the Cabinet
  • documents related to law enforcement, the disclosure of which would facilitate the escape of a person from lawful detention
  • the disclosure would reveal trade secrets
  • the disclosure would result in destruction of, damage to, or inteference with, the conservation of endangered species of plants or animals.

There are many more.

When a Government entity doesn’t give the reason for its denial of access, it is problematic, as I pointed out in this tweet:

On Friday (May 6, 2022), BOJ responded to the Gleaner article with a notice posted on its website – Cost of Upgraded Banknote Series:

Bank of Jamaica (the Bank) recently concluded a contract with De La Rue, a UK based company, to redesign and print the upgraded banknotes which will be put into circulation towards the end of this year. The Bank acknowledges the valid concerns regarding the provision of information about the cost of the upgraded banknotes. However, we are not able to disclose such information as the terms and conditions of the contract with De La Rue, which include the cost, are subject to a strict confidentiality agreement. In fact, personnel engaged in the procurement process were required to sign non-disclosure agreements prohibiting them from disclosing the settled payment terms. Disclosure would therefore expose the Bank to legal action for a breach of contract. The Access to Information Act exempts the disclosure of information relating to the terms of the Contract as to do so  would be an actionable breach of confidence.

The selection of De La Rue as the successful printer was the result of a rigorous procurement process conducted by the Bank with the final recommendation being approved by the Minister of Finance and the Public Service as required by the Bank of Jamaica Act.  The procurement process is consistent with the Government’s procurement guidelines. Six reputable banknote printers submitted bids which were assessed by a committee of the Bank’s currency experts. Based on confidentiality of the bidding process, the Bank is unable to divulge information on the other entities.

The cost of printing banknotes over the last three years (2019 – 2021) was approximately USD7.0 million per annum. For the upgraded banknotes, the cost will, initially be higher given (i) the significantly larger quantities to be ordered as the redesigned notes will fully replace the current notes over time, (ii) the new substrate, polymer, that will be used, (iii) enhanced security features to combat counterfeiting and (iv) the new designs for each denomination. However, the polymer substrate used will result in cost savings for the Bank over time as the average useful life of the banknotes will increase by at least 50 percent thereby enabling the Bank to order less banknotes and at a lower frequency in the future.  

Bank of Jamaica will provide relevant information regarding the new series of banknotes as part of a comprehensive public education campaign leading up to their introduction into circulation at the end of this year.

BOJ Notice, 6/5/2022

BOJ gave additional information in this notice, including the name of the company that was awarded the contract. It also said more about its reason for denying the Gleaner’s request, though it still did not specifically state the Section of the ATI Act it was relying on to claim an exemption. From its comment that “Disclosure would therefore expose the Bank to legal action for a breach of contract“, one might assume that one of the subsections of Section 17 is being relied on but an applicant ought not to have to make an assumption.

In a response on Twitter, BOJ did refer to Section 17…

…which says this:

The issue of the new bank notes has been of public interest and the subject of discussion since the Finance Minister’s announcement in Parliament two months ago. The Gleaner’s article and the BOJ’s responses have raised more questions, including ones to do with the application of the ATI Act. It will be interesting to see if the Gleaner is satisfied with the BOJ’s responses or whether they will request internal review of the BOJ’s decision or ultimately go to the Appeal Tribunal.


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Bird & Old Man’s Beard at Sunset

There was a time when once a week I did a blog post consisting of a photograph and a few words. It was in response to an online photo challenge. I really enjoyed the practice but when the photo challenge ended, my weekly photo post ended too. I’ve sometimes thought about reviving it. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But just for today, here’s a photo and a few words…

A bird and a plant called Old Man’s Beard…on wires…at sunset…a view from a window of my house….


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Three Covid Press Releases (April 13 -21, 2022 – One OPM, Two MOHW) & A Bit More

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Press Release – Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It wasn’t a surprise that some of the Covid-19 protocols were allowed to expire; the government had been signaling the intention to further relax the measures required. I don’t think it was a wise move to remove the mask mandate for enclosed spaces that the public has access to. It was also odd that whereas the mask mandate was removed for people in enclosed spaces, it is still required that people sanitize their hands before entering those enclosed spaces…when what we are dealing with is an airborne virus.

It was interesting that the announcement of the decision not to extend the pre-testing and masking requirements under the Public Health Act order was made via a press release from OPM, though the Public Health (Enforcement Measures) (Coronavirus COVID-19) Order, 2022 was issued by the Minister of Health & Wellness.

Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) Press Release – Tuesday, April 19, 2022

With the requirement to wear masks in enclosed spaces coming to an end on April 15, 2022, on April 19, 2022 the MOHW issued a press release informing the public that masks would still be required in all health facilities, as would protocols for hand washing and physical distancing. The Ministry outlined its reasons for this.

Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) Press Release – Thursday, April 21, 2022

On April 21, 2022, the MOHW informed the country that the Omicron BA.2 variant had been identified in 2 of 88 samples tested at the National Influenza Centre at the University Hospital of the West Indies. However, the samples were collected between January 1 – March 4, 2022, making them one and a half to three and a half months old by the time of reporting. So we know Omicron BA.2 is in Jamaica, but these sample results tell us very little about the situation in the country now, in mid-to-late April.

I wonder why the genome sequencing results we are getting from local testing are for such old samples. Is this the length of time the sequencing will normally take? Or has there been some glitch in the process that is causing the delayed results? Are any current samples being tested? If so, when will we get those results? It would be disappointing if we now have the capacity to test locally but are getting results with as long a delay as when we were sending samples to CARPHA, PAHO or CDC for sequencing.

COVID-19 data from MOHW for the past two weeks – April 14 – 27, 2022

The daily Covid-19 reports from MOHW are showing an upward trend, which is obviously cause for concern. Today’s report showed 115 confirmed cases in 24 hours, the first time since February 13, 2022 that the number has been over 100; that day there were 109 confirmed cases. And the positivity rate has now gone into double digits again; the last time it was in double digits was on February 16, 2022, when it was 10.3%. It has been above the recommended 5% for most of the past two weeks.

MOHW Covid-19 press conference today, Thursday, April 28, 2022

Perhaps the upward trend in the Covid-19 data is the reason for the press conference that has been called by the MOHW for this evening. Perhaps the intention is to reassure the country that the hospital system is able to cope with the expected increase in cases and to encourage people to follow the preventative protocols and to get vaccinated. I don’t know what else is on the agenda and if there will be any unexpected announcements or information.

Something I would like to hear more about is what is happening with Long Covid in Jamaica – what follow-up is being done, what data is being collected, what such data is showing, what support is being offered to people with Long Covid. We really need more information to be shared with the public…with individuals dealing with Long Covid, their families, schools, workplaces. Unfortunately, I am not very hopeful that this will be on the agenda.


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But The Samples Tested Are 2-3 Months Old, Ministry of Health & Wellness…

Yesterday (April 11, 2022), the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) sent out a press release titled “Omicron BA1 Remains Dominant Covid-19 Strain in Jamaica”. When you read the release, you see that this statement is based on samples collected 2-3 months ago, between January 5 – February 12, 2022. So whereas the results say something about the situation at that point in time, they don’t say much about the situation now, in the second week in April.

“The Omicron BA1 strain of the COVID-19 virus continues to be the dominant strain observed in the Jamaican population. Samples collected between January 5 and February 12, 2022 and tested recently, showed that 100% of those samples yielded a positive result for Omicron BA1. Jamaicans are reminded that Omicron is spread more easily (twice as fast) than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

At the same time, vaccination remains the best defense against the COVID-19 virus and its variants, guarding against severe illness, hospitalisation, and death.  To receive a COVID-19 vaccine, members of the public may visit the more than 250 access points across the island.

Up to 10 a.m. on Monday, (April 11) over 1.4 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in country. Of that number, 690,649 were first doses; 584,764-second doses; 93,989 single doses; 3,758 immunocompromised doses and booster doses 31,030.

Additionally members of the public should ensure that they remain vigilant in the practice of the other infection prevention and control measures, mask wearing, physical distancing and handwashing.”  

I don’t know if these samples were tested here in Jamaica or if they were sent overseas for testing…to CARPHA, PAHO or CDC. There has always been a time lag between collection of samples and the genome sequencing results, which has reduced the usefulness of the results in assessing our current Covid-19 situation. The hope had been that the time lag would have been reduced once we got the testing equipment and the necessary training for staff. I am not sure what has been happening since the training was being done in January and why the results announced were not from more recent samples. Perhaps we will hear more from the Minister or the Ministry during the week.

In a few days, on April 15, 2022, some of the Covid-19 protocols that were preserved under the Public Health Act will expire. We should hear shortly whether any will be extended. The MOHW data for the past two weeks suggest that they won’t be, but we’ll see.

PS – After I had published this blog post, I saw that MOHW put out the figures for yesterday, April 11, 2022. So I updated my chart and added it below.


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The Public Health (Emergency Measures) (Coronavirus COVID-19) Order, 2022 – dated March 18, 2022

On Thursday, March 17, 2022, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) to implement Covid-19 emergency measures would end the following day. He said that a few of the measures that had been in place would instead be administered under the Public Health Act but that all others would come to an end.

The Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) issued a press release about the revocation of the DRMA Covid-19 Orders and indicated that a copy of new Public Health Enforcement Measures Order was attached to the release.

However, although the press release was posted on the MOHW website, the attached Order doesn’t seem to have been posted there. It was posted on the Office of the Prime Minister’s website.

I have posted a copy of the Order below.

Some of the measures are scheduled to expire in a week’s time, on April 15, 2022 and the PM had indicated that a review is to take place to determine what will happen after that time. If the Covid data from the MOHW continues on the trend of the past few weeks, it is likely that the remaining measures will not be extended. The rising number of cases and hospitalisations in the UK, the USA and Canada is cause for concern, however, as in the past increases in those countries have been followed some weeks later by increases here in Jamaica.


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Office of Public Defender’s Nzinga King Report

The Office of the Public Defender’s report into the case concerning the cutting of Nzinga King’s hair while in the custody of the police was released today. It is available on the Office of the Public Defender’s website and I have posted a copy below.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry retired today, having served seven years in the post.


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The Last of the COVID-19 Disaster Risk Management Orders – January 14 & 28, February 11 & 25 and March 18, 2022

In Parliament last week Thursday – March 17, 2022 – Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the end of the use of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) for the issuing of measures to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in Jamaica, after 2 years of use. This was generally expected and the Prime Minister indicated that while most measures, including the nightly curfews, would be ended outright, some would be kept in place via regulations under the Public Health Act. This includes the requirement to wear masks in certain enclosed indoor areas accessed by the public, which remains until April 15, 2022.

The Order ending the use of the DRMA, effective March 18, 2022, was displayed in Parliament but has not yet been posted online.

“With effect from the 18th day of March, 2022, the Disaster Risk Management (Declaration of Disaster Area) Order, 2020 is revoked.”

For completion, I am posting below the last 4 DRMA Orders, all issued in 2022. They are all posted on the Ministry of Justice website, though not all on the Office of the Prime Minister website.

Click here to view the PBCJ recording of PM Holness’ presentation in Parliament in which he spoke about ending the use of the DRMA to implement Covid-19 measures. The presentation was made during his Budget Debate presentation and begins about 37 minutes into the recording.

The Covid-19 pandemic use of the DRMA has come to an end and there is much worthy of detailed study and comment about it, including whether it was the appropriate method for the issuing of these measures for such an extended period of time; the amount of power it placed in the hands of the Prime Minister; how the issuing of the Orders was actually handled; the way in which the details of the Orders and gazetted copies were disseminated to the public and the scope of the measures contained in the Orders and the impact they had on life in Jamaica. It will be worth looking at what lessons, if any, have been learned for next time…whatever that next time turns out to be…


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A Week Later & for the Prime Minister, the Argument is Still Done

A week ago, on Sunday, January 9, 2022, Prime Minister Andrew Holness held a press conference to announce a Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) in Parade Gardens in Central Kingston because of the levels of violent crime occurring in the area. When the press conference had been called the evening before, many wondered if it was being called because of the increase in Covid-19 cases that was happening as the 4th wave picked up momentum.

During the question and answer period, Gleaner reporter Tenesha Mundle asked PM Holness this question:

“Are we planning to return to lockdowns and, if lockdowns are off the table, what other strategies will be implemented to halt the current Covid-19 wave?”

PM Holness replied:

“I wasn’t planning on turning this into a Covid Conversation. But I know there is great tension in the air. And what it says to me is that people are not listening to what I have said. I’ve been very clear, in Parliament, very clear, absolutely, gone overboard to say we are not going back to lockdowns. So, be calm! And I’ve said what the strategy is. It is now in your hands! Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy. We can’t hold you down and put the needle in your hand. If you get sick, you tek that responsibility. There is an option; we have vaccines all over the place. We have sites all over the place. I don’t hear one person complain that they can’t get the vaccine anywhere. Go and get vaccinated! Argument done!”

Argument done. Go and take the vaccine. That is the strategy.

In the week that followed, the situation has worsened:

  • We have had the highest reported number of new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic (1968 on Jan 15, 2022)
  • We have had the highest positivity rate since the start of the pandemic (68.6% on Jan 13, 2022) and on 5 days of last week , the positivity rate was over 50%.
  • The number of people hospitalised with confirmed cases of Covid-19 moved from 294 at the start of the week to 446 by the end of the week.
  • In Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 11, 2022) in a statement in which he extended existing Covid measures without changes for another 2 weeks, PM Holness noted that although the country’s Covid bed capacity of 700 beds had not yet been reached, hospitalisations were increasing sharply and Covid beds might soon be full. (The slide he shared was a reminder that hospital beds are occupied by both people with confirmed Covid cases and those with suspected cases, who are awaiting test results. The daily reports from the Ministry of Health & Wellness give the number of people hospitalised with confirmed cases only; so the number actually is always higher on the ground.)

During the week, the heads of regional health authorities and some hospitals were in the news detailing some of the challenges that were being experienced in the health system:

In a Jamaica Observer article on Thursday (January 13, 2022), – University hospital under pressure from Covid patients – Chief Executive Officer at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) was quoted commenting about the situation at the hospital:

Chief executive officer of UHWI Kevin Allen told the Jamaica Observer that the operations at the institution were becoming difficult as the fourth wave of the virus shapes up to wreak havoc. He reported that the system is further strained as roughly 90 nurses are at home, sick.

For patients and staff, Allen said the situation is “stressful, frustrating and difficult”. He encouraged staff to “hold it because the worst is yet to come”.

“We are putting systems in place and we are working to see how best we can ensure we hold it. We are not in breakdown days yet, but it is rough,” he said.

“The last report I have seen, we have some 90 nurses out of the system and that is crippling our operations. We have roughly 880 nurses and about 10 per cent have come down with the virus,” Allen added.

“We were already operating short with these skill sets, so to lose so many will impact on the quality of care. All the areas that we operate are full. The field hospitals are full, isolation is full, emergency is full with patients. We had to revert to using tents.”

On Friday (January 14, 2022), UHWI issued a press release notifying the public to expect delays at the hospital.

On Saturday (January 15, 2022), Minister Tufton posted a series of tweets about the situation at a number of hospitals he had visited, including Bustamante Hospital for Children, which was being affected by an increase in Covid-19 cases and reduced staff, due to infection and quarantine.

In an article in Loop News that same day – Covid Surge: Highest number of paediatric cases at Bustamante hospital – Senior Medical Officer, Dr Michelle-Ann Richards-Dawson was quoted as saying:

“We are currently in the fourth wave of the pandemic. We have been through three before but this one is different. The pace at which people are getting infected and symptomatic is alarming and therefore it is important that we vaccinate to protect ourselves and our loved ones”.

The Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association (JMDA) issued a release expressing their concerns about the current situation…

…which was endorsed today by the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ)…

So with this and more having occurred in the last week, many people wondered if Covid-19 would be on the agenda of the Office of the Prime Minister press conference announced last night. However, it wasn’t.

This morning, PM Holness told the country that a ZOSO had been declared for some sections of Westmoreland, which has been plagued by violent crime. At the end of the press conference, the ususal question and answer segment took place. The final question was asked by Ricardo Brooks of Nationwide News Network.

Ricardo Brooks: Good morning, Prime Minister. The country’s positivity rate has topped 60% and hospitalization, the situation there is deteriorating. Do you still hold to the point that “Argument done”?

The Prime Minister answered: You have said it. Thank you!

That was all. And then the press conference ended.

At the point we are at in the 4th wave, this is not an adequate or appropriate response from Jamaica’s Prime Minister. We are told that the peak of the wave is not expected for another two or more weeks. The health care system is already on the verge of being overwhelmed by the increased number of cases and the staff shortages. The strategy that PM Holness offered last week – “Go and take the vaccine! That is the strategy.” – will not slow this current surge. He may feel he has spoken enough; he may feel frustrated; he may have had another appointment to go to. But this was a national press conference he called, to talk about another issue, yes. But he must have expected that he would be questioned about the Covid-19 situation and it would have been good if he had used the opportunity, on a Sunday morning, to have said something more useful.