Right Steps & Poui Trees


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350 Words Or Less: Local Government Elections Tomorrow – Are You Voting?

A part of what I do to engage in our democracy is to vote. Tomorrow’s local government election presents a problem for me, however. Prior to this, I have usually had a clear idea of what I would be doing when I went to the polling booth…which candidate I would be voting for or if I would be intentionally spoiling my ballot. The polls open in a few hours and I still haven’t made a decision.

Up until quite recently, I didn’t know who the candidates were in my division. There weren’t any cards or flyers dropped in my letter box. I couldn’t find the names on the various party online sites. Eventually it was a newspaper article online that I found that briefed me on who the two candidates were. And now I have seen a few posters up in the area. Both are new candidates and I still really know very little about either and since I have always voted across party lines, the candidates’ party affiliation isn’t enough to claim my vote.

So I am not sure what I will be doing tomorrow.

Are you voting?

Local government elections usually get a lower turnout than general elections. In the last four local government elections, the turnout was: 34.73% (2012); 37.94% (2007); 40.09% (2003) and 34.96% (1998). I doubt that it will be much different tomorrow.

Electoral Commission of Jamaica: Parish Council Election Results

 

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350 Words or Less: President-Elect Trump

Five and a half weeks ago, I wrote this in a blog post:

When Trump declared his candidacy for the Republican primaries last year, I hardly paid attention. I was certainly one of many who thought he didn’t stand a chance and was in it for the publicity. Yet here it is, a few weeks before the US election and not only is he the Republican candidate but there is a possibility that he could win.

I have no vote, but I follow the election, not only out of a general interest but also because I have relatives who live in the US and because what happens in the US impacts the rest of the world.

Last night, Donald Trump was elected President of the USA. Surreal, but real. As well as gaining the Presidency, the Republicans held onto the House and the Senate.

At about 2:30 this morning, Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede and at 9:30am she will make her public concession speech in New York.

I chose a 350 Words or Less format for this blog post because, like so many people in America and around the world, I am still processing the Trump win and what it means for the world. One of the areas of most concern is what it means for the efforts to deal with the crucial issue of climate change.

As always, there’s work to be done….

 


350 Words or Less: So I Watched The Debate on Monday…

So, I watched the first US Presidential debate on Monday night and I think there is little doubt that Hillary Clinton won. She was well-prepared, knowledgeable and was calm and steady throughout. Donald Trump, whose campaign seemed to be making his lack of preparation into a virtue, was unprepared, didn’t have enough of a foundation of knowledge about many of the issues to wing it and rambled and misstepped a number of times.

The split screen of the two candidates, which was shown for most of the debate, offered a good opportunity for viewers to make an ongoing comparison for an extended period of time, both when the candidates were speaking and listening.

The link below takes you to the full debate, with the candidates coming on stage at 4:22.

Lester Holt of NBC was the moderator and the three areas scheduled for focus were “achieving prosperity, America’s direction and securing America”. A couple of notable moments were:

Clinton & Trump on aspects of race in America ( video 43:18 – 58:43)

Clinton & Trump on nuclear capabilities & defense (video 1:25:25 – 1:31:30)

npr-debate-transcript-26-9-16NPR’s annotated transcript from Monday night is another useful resource for reviewing the debate.

I agree with Clyde Williams that Clinton outscored Trump in all aspects of debate performance.williams-tweet-re-debate-26-9-16williams-tweet-re-debate-26-9-16-bYet I obviously can’t say that this performance guarantees that Clinton will win the election. Nobody realistically can. Not in what is an extremely strange election on so many counts. Many commentators after the debate said that they had never seen anything like it in their 20, 30, 40 years of watching US presidential debates. The most I would do is to agree with one commentator I heard, who said that Clinton’s debate performance may stop or at least slow the previous momentum towards Trump that was being seen in the polls. By next week, the polls should be showing whether or not this is so.

 

There are two more debates and 6 weeks to go till the election, which is a lot of time in politics.

 


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350 Words or Less: You Following the US Election Too?

Most days now, I check Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site. I could say I’m there to read the articles. There are often very good articles and sometimes I read them. But the truth is I’m there for the pictures. Specifically the three forecasting model pictures which answer the question:

ns-rwb

Here are the three pictures today:

 

The first gives the Polls-plus forecast, the second the Polls-only forecast & the third the Now-cast, which are explained below:

538-three-models-for-forecast

I can also have a look at the trend graph, which gives an indication of whether the gap between Clinton and Trump is widening or narrowing according to an overall assessment of polls.ns-polls-plus-graph-24-9-16-pm

When Trump declared his candidacy for the Republican primaries last year, I hardly paid attention. I was certainly one of many who thought he didn’t stand a chance and was in it for the publicity. Yet here it is, a few weeks before the US election and not only is he the Republican candidate but there is a possibility that he could win.

I have no vote, but I follow the election, not only out of a general interest but also because I have relatives who live in the US and because what happens in the US impacts the rest of the world.

On Monday coming, there will be the first of the three debates between Clinton and Trump. I will be watching. It will also be a lively topic for discussion with family in many countries via our dedicated e-mail thread and Whats App group. You can see the Trump campaign spin emerging in this recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, beginning at minute 1:05.

 

Fallon: …You say you don’t traditionally prepare for the debate…

Trump: …I was in eleven debates in the primary system…I never debated professionally or from a political stand point before…they’re trying to game the system…they’re trying to make it so that Lester’s going to come out and be really tough on me…

Nate Silver also had some thoughts on this:ns-trump-tweet-23-9-16-ans-trump-tweet-23-9-16-bns-trump-tweet-23-9-16-cClinton, based on knowledge and experience, should win this debate. But hey…

 


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You Voted/You Didn’t Vote. New Government & New Parliament in Place. Work Continues.

So whether you voted or not, whether the party you wanted to win actually won or not, the new government has been formed. The new Prime Minister was sworn in on March 3 at King’s House.

holness sworn in 3-3-16

Andrew Holness sworn in at ceremony at King’s House, presided over by Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen

The new Cabinet members were sworn in on March 7 and the list (18 Ministers in 14 Ministries) can be seen here. Cabinet Ministers Jamaica – March 2016Cabinet 3-2016

And today Parliament re-opened, with the first sittings of both the new Senate and House of Representatives. All 21 Senators (Senators March 10, 2016)  and 61 of 63 Members of Parliament  were sworn in. (Dr Omar Davies was not present, due to illness & Mr Derrick Kellier is at the continuing magisterial recount being conducted for his constituency of Southern St James.) The new President of the Senate and the new Speaker of the House were both elected by their fellow members, as were their Deputies.

 

Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller made brief remarks, in which each included an appeal to the newly sworn Members of Parliament to behave in a suitably respectful manner during the sittings of the House.

A number of people commented on Twitter during the ceremony that this was a learning opportunity  for many, including students; one teacher actually tweeted that he and his students were watching at the time. Going forward this will be a learning experience for the Parliamentarians also, particularly those who are in Parliament for the first time. The Handbook for Parliamentarians, which gives a briefing about the workings of Parliament, is a useful short guide for the public as well.

 

So the election excitement (or irritation) is behind us; the pre- & post- election analysis, discussion and debate has subsided or moved to another phase. Now what? Well, the country continues on.

Some people hold the view that  your role as a citizen in this process is pretty much over. They would say you can now pack it in until the next election (which may be less than 5 years from now, given the narrow margin in Parliament). I obviously disagree. I believe that it is important for citizens in a democracy to stay engaged, in the differing ways possible.

By the way, the Gleaner’s diGJamaica has provided a list of social media contacts for MPs, Ministers and Senators, and has promised to update it as necessary. One way to engage!

diG tweet re social media contacts 10-3-16

The unprecedented one-seat majority in the House is going to provided a new experience for the MPs, for the political parties and for the country as a whole. It will be fascinating to watch from a purely academic perspective, but the impact for us as a country takes it way beyond the academic. It provides opportunities and tests for the maturity of our democracy, our political leaders and MPs and the society generally. Hopefully we will pass the test creditably.

 

 

 


They Say a Week is a Long Time in Politics…Jamaica, February 25 – March 3, 2016

Thursday, February 25 – Election Day

Polls opened at 7:00am. Party leaders Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness were among the more than 870,000 voters who went to polling stations to cast their ballots on Election Day.

Observer photo - Portia votes - 25-2-16holness votes 25-2-16                                     (Photo credits: Jamaica Observer & Reuters/Gilbert Bellamy)

I was one of many who posted photos of their inked fingers online.

election tweet inked finger 25-2-16

After the polls closed at 5:00pm, the counting began, as did the monitoring and discussions on radio, television and social media. And later that night, the Preliminary Count by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) showed that the JLP had  won the election with 33 seats, to the PNP’s 30.

ECJ 10-26

Mr Holness gave his victory speech & PM Simpson Miller gave her concession speech.

 

election holness psm 3election - psm concession speech 25-2-16

Among those celebrating at JLP Headquarters on Belmont Road was former PM & JLP leader Edward Seaga.

election 2016 Seaga party HQ 25-2-16

Friday, February 26

Final counting for all constituencies across the island commenced, with counting taking place in the designated counting centres in each constituency except for five – St Andrew Eastern, St Ann South Western, St Mary South Eastern and St Catherine North Eastern which were being counted at the Head Office at Duke Street Kingston; and St James Southern which was being counted at the Regional Office in Montego Bay.

 

ecj prelim chart with turnout 26-2-16

Figures released based on the Preliminary Count indicated that the % voter turnout was the lowest for a General Election in Jamaica’s electoral history. (Except for 1983, when the PNP didn’t contest the election.)

Saturday, February 27

Following the Final Count for the St Mary South Eastern constituency, the PNP’s Winston Green was declared the winner, instead of the JLP’s Norman Dunn, who had been declared the winner on the night of the election. This meant that the result of the election stood at JLP: 32 and PNP: 31. Tensions heightened as, with the Final Count still going on in many constituencies, another seat changing from the JLP to the PNP would change the overall result of the election.

gleaner green wins by 9 votes 27-2-16

 

Sunday, February 28

Rumours and speculation increased. At one point in the day, a rumour spread that the JLP had lost another seat during the recount, but this was not so. PM Simpson Miller and Dr Horace Chang both issued statements amid the increasing tension.

Gleaner PSM urges calm - 28-2-16Gleaner Chang urges calm 28-2-16

Director of Elections, Orrette Fisher made the decision to move another constituency recount to the Head Office in Kingston, and this was done with the security forces escorting the ballot boxes from St Thomas to Kingston.

gleaner tweet election st thomas western 28-2-16

Monday, February 29

ecj 29-2-16 2

Dorothy Pine-McLarty, ECJ Chairman (right); Orrette Fisher, Director of Elections (2nd right)

The Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) held a press conference to give an update on the Final Count of votes. They informed the country that the Final Count of votes had been completed in 62 of the 63 constituencies. The Final Count for the constituency of St. Thomas Western was being continued at their office at Duke Street and was subsequently completed later that day. Press conference statement

Tuesday, March 1

The ECJ confirmed the Final Count and the outcome of the election, and indicated that the results would be sent to the Governor General. The results represented the narrowest majority in seat count for a General Election in Jamaica.

eoj FB final count march 1 2016

Wednesday, March 2

The official announcement came that the swearing-in of Andrew Holness as Prime Minister would take place the following day.

opm swearing in announcement 2-3-16

Thursday, March 3

The Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen , presided over the ceremony held at King’s House, at which Andrew Holness took the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office and became  Prime Minister of Jamaica. PM Holness then delivered his inaugural address.

holness takes oath 3-3-16 2

The ceremony was attended by outgoing Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and the three other living former Prime Ministers – Bruce Golding, P.J. Patterson & Edward Seaga.

There were a number of musical items during the ceremony, but perhaps the highlight was the performance by Nesbeth, who sang his song My Dream, which had been used by the JLP during the campaign. The new PM joined him in singing.nesbeth holness tweet 3-3-16

As they say, a week is a long time in politics….

 

 

 

 


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A Bruised Access to Information Act?

I am glad that Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, changed his mind and is now going to release to the public the long-withheld health facilities audit report. It is the right decision and should have been his position from the start.

But I have some concerns.

I am concerned that the Minister initially felt it was acceptable to withhold the full report from the public, as this doesn’t fit within the access to information paradigm which is supposed to operate in Jamaica.

I am concerned that the individuals and organizations (including media houses) who made applications for the audit report using the provisions of the Access to Information (ATI) Act hadn’t received the report as of Monday (Nov 2). Applicants have said they were beyond the original 30 day period and were at or approaching the end of the 30 day extension that can be requested under the Act. The reason the Ministry of Health (MOH) gave for the delay was that it had asked the Attorney General (AG) for legal advice regarding releasing the report.

A number of the individuals and organizations said that the MOH wrote to them on Monday saying that it was still awaiting the AG’s response, and so wouldn’t be releasing the document at that time. The MOH also advised applicants that they could appeal the decision, using Part 5 of the Act.

So basically, as of Monday the MOH was not prepared to release the report to those who had applied for it using the designated law for this purpose.

And then on Tuesday morning (Nov 3), the Minister reversed his decision and said that he would be releasing the audit report after all.

MOH ATI release of audit tweet Nov 3 2015

What changed the Minister’s mind? Consultations, said the Minister at a public function on Tuesday. Consultations with whom and of what nature?

Was the Minister’s decision to release the audit report based on the principles and provisions of the law, the ATI Act? Or was it the public pressure? The mounting political pressure? The intervention of the private sector organizations? The continued media scrutiny? The likelihood that the full report had already been leaked & the details were beginning to make their way into the public sphere?

So where does this leave the ATI Act? What happens when there is no public, political, private sector or media interest and pressure? When it is just you the citizen, a Ministry of Government and the Access to Information Act? We don’t know how long the appeal process would have taken or what the outcome would have been. But we do know it would have been a lot longer than 24 hours and would have fit the delay-and-frustrate model far better than the public outcry did.

I am concerned that more than 10 years after the ATI Act came into being, Ministers and Ministries do not respond as quickly as they ought to, given the objects and provisions of the Act.

ATI Act objects