Right Steps & Poui Trees


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Egrets: A Quick Look

Although they are called cattle egrets, you often see them in areas where there are no cattle. In a car park on the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus, for example, which is where I saw these egrets. Not a cow in sight.

Egrets are one of the most easily identifiable birds in Jamaica, with their white plumage, long legs and necks, bright yellow beaks and their distinctive walk and head movements. A pretty common sight in many parts of Jamaica.

Yet they haven’t always been here. I found this report interesting, of an early sighting by Dr T. P. Lecky of egrets among the cattle at Bodles on November 21, 1956…nearly sixty-seven years ago…

I am so used to seeing egrets around that I hadn’t really thought about their origin and that they haven’t always been in Jamaica or been a common sight here. They are a fairly recent invasive species and a very successful one.

This article by Wayne J. Arendt – “Range Expansion of the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) in the Greater Caribbean Basin” – gives more information about the advent of egrets in the Caribbean:

Abstract

The Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) was first reported in the Greater Caribbean Basin from Old Providence Island in 1933. It was not reported again from the region until 1944, when an individual was sighted in Aruba, Southern Netherlands Antilles. Within 4 years, the species was reported in Puerto Rico and Jamaica more than 800 km north of Aruba in the Greater Antilles. By 1957, Cattle Egrets were successfully nesting in nearby Cuba and St. Croix. Today, the species is known from more than 50 major islands throughout the Caribbean Basin. Cattle Egrets show strong dispersal tendencies and migratory behavior. The first Cattle Egrets to reach the Caribbean islands were probably migratory individuals. Rapid range expansion in the Caribbean and throughout the neotropics was concomitant with increased animal husbandry and intense agricultural practices, including irrigation and burning regimes. The success of the Cattle Egret in the Caribbean region is also attributed to its high reproductive rate, exponential population growth, extended breeding seasons, and few vertebrate predators, owing to the region’s insularity.

And it’s not only in the Caribbean that egrets have been successful. In this article – How Egrets Took Over the World – Justine E. Hausheer discusses the fact that “In the past 150 years, cattle egrets have self-populated nearly every continent on earth” but says “Just how, and why, remains somewhat of a mystery.”

Hausheer says “These birds are so closely associated with their mammalian foraging friends that one birder I know refers to cows as ‘cattle egret attractant devices.’ And while most birders will see cattle egrets with cattle, they’re quite happy to follow any large, herding mammal, whether it be cows, wildebeest, or elephants.” 

Cattle egrets originated in tropical Africa but can now be seen in almost everywhere in the world. “And while it may seem like they have nowhere else to go, vagrants are still turning up in Alaska and offshore Antarctic Islands.”

So back to Jamaica and the UWI (Mona) campus, where I photographed these egrets…

…that weren’t following a large herding animal, but rather a ride on lawn mower. It was stirring up the insects in the grass just as well as hooves.

Gaulin…Bubulcus ibis…cattle egret…

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Some Covid Numbers for October 1-22, 2022: A Brief Access to Information Story

On October 27, 2022, I made the following Access to Information (ATI) request to the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) for information about Covid-19 during the period October 1 – 22, 2022:

Today (November 3, 2022), seven days later, I got the requested information:

And here it is in a chart for the first 3 weeks of October…

That’s all, folks.

Except to say, if MOHW can provide me with this sort of information within a week, it should be able to provide the public with a weekly report of the previous week’s Covid-19 numbers, in the same way that it currently does for monkeypox.

Added on November 4, 2022

I realised that I had left the positivity rate out of the chart I made above. So I am adding a revised chart below…


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No New Covid-19 Numbers From Ministry of Health in Nearly 4 Weeks, Despite “Weekly” Bulletins

When asked about the absence of new Covid-19 numbers since October 1, 2022, when the daily updates ended, the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) keeps saying that the information is being posted weekly on their website.

It isn’t.

The only two copies of the Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin posted on the MOHW website since the daily updates ended are the bulletins for the Week ending September 24, 2022 (posted on October 7) and for the Week ending October 1, 2022 (posted today, Oct 27).

This is not posting weekly and it means that for nearly 4 weeks – October 2 – 27, 2022, the MOHW has published no new Covid-19 numbers. We have no data on what has been happening with Covid-19 in Jamaica for the month of October. Not the number of confirmed cases, not the number of tests administered, not the positivity rate, not the number of people hospitalized, not the number of deaths reported. Nothing. We don’t know if the numbers are showing an upward trend, a downward trend or have remained pretty much the same.

And even if the MOHW posts the next Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin a week from today (November 3, 2022), it will presumably be the bulletin for the week ending October 8, 2022. Which means the information will already be nearly a month old by the time it is published. Not much use to anyone hoping to use such information to help assess the current risk, in order to adjust the precautions they take to protect themselves.

The government tells us to take personal responsibility, while reducing the information it shares that helps us to do just that.

Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin EW39 – for Week Ending October 1, 2022

And now a few comments about Bulletin EW39 itself.

  • For Bulletin EW 38 & EW 39, the MOHW has changed the format in which it now posts the Weekly Bulletin. It used to be possible to download a copy easily, with one click. That is no longer possible. Now you would have to save each of the 8 or 9 pages separately. Less easy access is not progress.
  • I am glad to see that the Bulletin now includes a full page dedicated to Covid-19 (p. 6). This is in addition to the cumulative number given on the page dealing with Class One Notifiable Events (p. 5).
  • The Covid Surveillance Update includes the number of confirmed cases for the week, as well as the totals to date. It indicates the sex and age range for these cases.
  • A chart indicating the occurence of cases over the course of the pandemic is included.
  • The list of outcomes includes the number of deaths for the Epidemiological Week (EW 39). However, it is not clear if that death actually occured during that week or if it was reported during that week but may have occured at an earlier date.
  • A chart is included showing the vaccination status of the people who have died – whether they were fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. This chart relates to deaths occuring since the vaccination programme began in March 2021.
  • The parish distribution of confirmed cases is given for the Epidemiological Week, as well as the total for each parish since the start of the pandemic.
  • The number of tests administered, which used to be given in the daily updates, is no longer being given. This is a gap in public information, as it doesn’t allow for tracking the adequacy of testing in the country. It also means that you have no idea what percentage of the tests administered has returned a positive result.
  • And, despite all the problems with it as an accurate indicator, no positivity rate is given.
  • Another number that is no longer being given is the number of people hospitalized. This is a significant gap in the public information, as over time it has proven to be one of the most reliable figures for tracking the ups and downs in the pandemic. It is also that number that has warned us when the hospital system is being overwhelmed.
  • It is interesting to note that the research paper referred to on p. 9 is related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have created a copy of Bulletin EW 39 2022, if you wish to download it with one click. I hope that MOHW will change the format on their website to allow for this once again.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over. It is ongoing. The MOHW is now giving us Covid data that is already a month old by the time it is published. This is not good enough. While it may suffice for recording purposes, it is not good enough during an ongoing pandemic. The MOHW publishes a weekly update giving the data for the previous week for monkeypox. It should do the same for Covid-19.


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Cost of the Negril Sign: A Simple ATI Story

In early September 2022, news came that a new and “iconic” sign had been built in Negril.

There was much public discussion about the sign – its design and construction, whether it was a needed or appropriate addition to Negril, whether it would be the tourist attraction it was being promoted as.

The Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, spoke of the sign’s “creative and aesthetic appeal”, saying it was “artistically and carefully designed”.

Opposition Senator Damion Crawford said it looked like an “old time saving pan”.

A significant issue raised was its cost and whether it was value for money, at J$12 million.

Questions were asked about what contributed to that cost and I reminded that it was possible to get additional information under the Access to Information Act.

On September 12, 2022, I went ahead and made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Ministry of Tourism and received an acknowledgment of my request from the Director of Documentation, Information and Access Services on the same day.

(The initial email I sent to the Ministry bounced back, so I called and got the correct current contact information and resent the request.)

Today (October 10, 2022) I received a follow up email granting access, with two documents attached:

  • Breakdown of Cost for the Negril Welcome Sign

  • Tender Report – Negril Sign

This was a very straightforward process, which isn’t always the case with ATI requests. I would encourage you to use the ATI Act for getting information, if you haven’t done so before. If you do, I hope your ATI story is as simple as this one.


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The Bail Act, 2022 Tabled in Parliament Today

A copy of the new Bail Act was tabled in the Parliament today by Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte.

A copy of the Act, which is to go before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, is posted below.


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Ministry of Health & Wellness Ends Daily Covid-19 Updates: A Few Comments & Concerns

Last week Wednesday (September 28, 2022), the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) announced that it would be discontinuing its daily Covid-19 updates:

The release was a brief one and didn’t give any reasons for the discontinuation, simply saying that it would take effect on Saturday, October 1, 2022, and that “[t]he updated numbers will instead be published in the Ministry’s Surveillance Bulletin, published weekly on the Ministry’s website at moh.gov.jm.”

Although the MOHW website hasn’t posted any more of the daily updates since the announcement on Wednesday, the Ministry’s Twitter account did post one on Saturday, which is presumably the last of the long series of daily updates.

I do want to comment more at another time about the fact that for most of the past two and a half years, the MOHW has been providing daily Covid-19 updates in one format or another and the value that this has had, despite gaps in or problems with the updates. Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, public holidays, weekends…the update was posted daily, almost without fail. Someone or some team needs to be acknowledged for that. And I also want to say more about other aspects of the updates themselves.

But in this post I want to raise some concerns that I have about the discontinuation of the daily updates or Clinical Management Summaries, as they are officially called, and the proposed method for sharing the Covid-19 numbers in the future.

The MOHW release said that the Covid numbers will be published in the MOHW Surveillance Bulletin, which is published weekly on the MOHW website, at the bottom right hand corner.

The Weekly Epidemiology Bulletin is published by the National Epidemiology Unit of the MOHW and is a useful record of information for each epidemiological week of the year. It provides information about Class One Notifiable Events (e.g. accidental poisonings, maternal deaths, cases of tuberculosis, tetanus & zika), gives an influenza report and has a report on dengue, among other things.

One concern that I have is regarding how much of the information that is currently provided in the daily Covid-19 updates will be provided in the weekly bulletin. The bulletin already provides a year-to-date total of confirmed cases, which is given for both the current year and the previous year, as seen on the page below:

Epidemiological Bulletin for Week ending Sept 10, 2022, p. 5

But will more information than that be provided, as with the page dedicated to dengue in the Bulletin?

Epidemiological Bulletin for Week ending Sept 10, 2022 p. 7

The current daily Covid summaries provide quite detailed breakdowns – confirmed cases, female and male numbers, age range, number and types of tests, positivity rate, parish distribution, hospitalization data, information about deaths and recoveries. How much of that will be included in the weekly bulletins?

The answer to all of that will be seen when the first of the weekly bulletins containing the Covid update is published.

Another concern I have is about the timeliness of the reporting in the future. The MOHW press release says the Surveillance Bulletin is posted on the MOHW website weekly, which may give the impression that each week the Bulletin for the previous week is published. This isn’t so. The Bulletin is produced for each Epidemiological Week of the year but it takes a while for the Bulletin to be produced and posted on the MOHW website.

So, for example, the most recent Bulletin currently posted on the website is for Epidemiological Week 36, which is the week ending September 10, 2022. It was posted on the website on September 26, 2022, sixteen days after the ending of that week.

And this is the pattern, as the chart below shows. There is a time lag of about 2 to 3 weeks between the ending of the Epidemiological Week and the date on which the Bulletin for that week is published on the MOHW website.

You can see it here again for an earlier period in the year:

If this continues to be the pattern, it means that by the time the Covid-19 updates are published on the MOHW website, the information in them will already be 2 to 3 weeks old. And whereas this isn’t a problem from a record-keeping perspective, it is a problem for anyone who is trying to assess what the current trends are in the pandemic…which has not yet ended, despite what many would want to believe.

We are in a period when we have been told it is our personal responsibility to assess our individual risk and to follow the protective protocols based on our assessments…as individuals, families, institutions, businesses. Whether we wear a mask at all or in particular spaces. Whether we avoid crowded spaces indoors or outdoors or at all. Whether having a meal at a restaurant is a reasonable risk to take. Or going to a particular government office or waiting room at a business place. Or whether it is advisable to attend an in-person event/meeting or to select a virtual option, if one is provided, or not to attend, if a virtual option isn’t available. Etc. Risks which may be reasonable when there are low numbers may not be as reasonable when there is an upward trend in numbers.

To have less information or information which is already 2 or 3 weeks old by the time you see it reduces your ability to make real time assessments of the risks. The situation would already be 2 or 3 weeks further on, by the time an increase in cases or an increase in hospitalizations or an increase in deaths is seen in the published bulletin.

I was not surprised by the MOHW’s announced decision to end daily Covid reports. It is in keeping with the trend in many countries. In our region, Barbados also announced on Wednesday that it would be ending its daily Covid updates, as of September 30, 2022. In fact, I wonder if this issue came up for discussion at the recently held Annual General Meeting of the Regional Health Communication Network.

It would be good to hear from the Ministry its reasons for this decision and what it sees as the purpose of the Covid-19 updates going forward. I would also be interested in hearing if a weekly update along the lines of the current weekly monkeypox updates isn’t a viable option.

When dealing with public health issues, as a general principle, greater access to information is better than less access. When dealing with most public issues, in fact.


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350 Words or Less: A Picture Worth Some Number of Words…

While on Twitter today, I saw a photo attached to a Ministry of Health & Wellness tweet…

…that I thought was worth some number of words, if not a thousand. Here it is…

L to R : Minister Chris Tufton, Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan, Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, Professor Peter Figueroa, Dr Joy St. John

It was taken on September 15, 2022, at the opening ceremony of the recently held 66th Health Research Conference of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which took place in Jamaica.

Note who in the front row are wearing masks and who are not.

Wearing masks: National Epidemiologist, Professor of Public Health, Epidemiology & HIV/AIDS at the University of the West Indies, Executive Director of Caribbean Public Health Agency

Not wearing masks: Minister of Health & Wellness, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health & Wellness

Interesting.


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That Tree at UTech…

There are many beautiful trees on the University of Technology (UTech) campus and one of the most beautiful is the iconic elephant ear tree in front of the Faculty of the Built Environment (FOBE)…

It is clear that the tree was taken into consideration when the building was designed…

Picture taken from FOBE website, 2022-2023 Orientation video

…which was very appropriate for a building that would house the Caribbean School of Architecture and the School of Building and Land Management.

The tree and the building are in close contact…

…on the upper floors.

It is a wonderful, spreading tree…

…with an impressive trunk…
…solid branches…

…and masses of such delicate leaves….

The pods under the tree show why these trees are called elephant ear trees (Enterolobium cyclocarpum). The oldest tree at Hope Gardens is an elephant ear tree that is more than 200 years old. I wonder how old this tree is.

A beautiful sight/site, whether you look in towards it…

…or out from under it….
That venerable tree at UTech must have been witness to so much change over time. May it stand for many more years!


GOJ Release Regarding Cost of Commonwealth Secretary General Campaign: An ATI Perspective

On Sunday, August 7, 2022, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) issued a press release entitled “Jamaica’s Commonwealth Secretary General Campaign Clean, Transparent, Principled” in which it gave information about the cost of the campaign for Commonwealth Secretary General undertaken by Minister Kamina Johnson Smith.

The release is not posted on the OPM website and wasn’t tweeted by the OPM Twitter account. I have posted below a copy of the text:

Often when I read statements released by government entities, I think of Access to Information (ATI) requests that could be made to get more information about the topic being dealt with. Here are some of the requests that could be made based on this release:

Paragraph 2

  • Documents containing the “already established travel plans and engagements” in place for Minister Johnson Smith prior to the announcement of her candidature (As at January 1, 2022? March 1, 2022?)
  • Documents containing the budgeted costs for these planned trips and engagements
  • Documents containing the actual costs for these planned trips and engagements

Paragraph 3

  • Documents indicating specifically when and where the Minister’s candidature was launched in London in April 2022
  • Documents indicating the cost of the launch
  • Documents detailing the “corporate Jamaica” entities that gave assistance for the launch & the nature and value of that assistance

Paragraph 4

  • Documents indicating the specific dates of each of the 4 engagements mentioned in this paragraph & the dates when they were first added to the Minister’s schedule.
  • Documents containing the budgeted cost of each of the 4 listed engagements
  • Documents containing the actual cost of each of the 4 listed engagements

Paragraph 6

  • Documents setting out the travel schedule undertaken by the Minister covering 7 countries/8 governments in Africa
  • Documents indicating the cost of (each of) these trips/meetings

Paragraph 7

  • Documents giving a detailed breakdown of the $18, 267, 575.07 expended on the campaign. (Many of the categories for the breakdown are already suggested in the press release itself. However, actual documents/vouchers/etc from the various ministries & govt agencies can actually be requested under the ATI Act. A consolidated account/report compiled in response to this request isn’t the only way to go, if an applicant wants more detail.)

Paragraph 8

  • Documents providing details of the expenditure for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Rwanda of (i) $12, 827,897 by the OPM, (ii) $7,715,585.37 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and (iii) $5,131,386 by the Ministry of Tourism.
  • Documents providing details of the expenditure by the government for the previous Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, in the UK in 2018

Paragraph 9

  • Documents referring to any aspect of the FINN Partners contract with Minister Johnson Smith and/or the services provided by FINN Partners. (This would include any internal memos, emails or any other form of communication.)
  • Documents providing information about the individuals or entities from “corporate Jamaica” who were party to the arrangement with FINN Partners.

Paragraph 11

  • Any documents evaluating the ways in which the campaign “served to strengthen bilateral relations and further enhance Jamaica’s reputation on the international stage.”

No one applicant might want to submit all of these possible ATI requests, and there are other requests that are not on this list that another applicant might be interested in submitting. This, however, illustrates that there is a lot of information that this release does not provide and that the ATI Act provides a mechanism by which further, more detailed information can be accessed.

I want to make clear that I am not here questioning Minister Johnson Smith’s qualifications, experience or suitability for the post of Secretary General. I have a lot of respect for her and her abilities.

What I am seeking to do is to point out that even where the government or one of its agencies says that it has been transparent in some regard, there are often many other pieces of information that can be requested for full transparency. To ask for further details is legitimate and the ATI Act provides the means for doing so, if someone wants to request that further information. And that does happen quite naturally in the course of seeking information about a matter…a document that is provided or released may lead to requests for further documents or information.

In a paradigm of open government, which recognises that people have a right to access all the information held by the government, with a few, specific, limited exceptions, it would be troubling for requests for information to be seen as somehow unpatriotic or to be discouraged. If the people are entitled to the information, go ahead and give it. Give as much of it proactively as is possible. Government bodies don’t have to wait on ATI requests to release information that is being asked for publicly. And follow-up questions and requests for additional information should be expected.

I have always liked Section 6(3) of the ATI Act, which says that an applicant for access does not need to give any reason for requesting access. It is an important protection for citizens, as they do not have to justify to the State the reason that they want access to any particular document or piece of information. The State should grant access or deny access in accordance with the Act. The information belongs to the people. It is held in trust by the State for them. They have a right to access it. The State has a duty to provide access.

Flawed as it is, in need of strengthening as it is, the ATI Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation to be passed in Jamaica in the past quarter century, as I repeatedly maintain. And we need to pay close attention to the pending review of the Act to ensure that any amendments to it strengthen, rather than weaken, its provisions.


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Once Upon a Sunset…

Leave me alone, please! Yes, yes, sunset photos are a dime a dozen. But watching the sun set is one of the things I love to do. Taking photos of the sunset sky is another thing I love to do. And sharing sunset photos is something else that I love to do. So…

Once upon a sunset, a woman noticed the evening light against a cluster of palms….

She grabbed her camera and climbed the stairs to the roof of her house. From that vantage point, she saw the sunset sky…

She smiled…and looked closer…click…

She played with the zoom on her camera and looked at the trees, the hills, the clouds, the light…

From speakers somewhere nearby, oldies but goodies were playing. John Holt was singing: “I love you, darling, and that’s no lie, oh-oh, Stick by me and I’ll stick by you…”

Once upon a sunset, on a roof in Kingston, Jamaica, life felt really good….