Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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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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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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.


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.


Long Covid in Jamaica: A very brief ATI story

I have been concerned for some time now about the absence of information coming from the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) about Long Covid in Jamaica. The topic has rarely come up at MOHW Covid Conversation press conferences, which is disappointing given that Jamaicans are experiencing Long Covid and I think it is really important that people are made aware of the possible effects of this condition. Individuals, parents and families, school communities and workplaces are in need of information to guide responses to dealing with Long Covid.

April 29, 2022

I wanted to know what information the MOHW had on Long Covid and so on April 29, 2022, I submitted the following Access to Information to Ministry:

May 2, 2022

The MOHW responded promptly on May 2, 2022, acknowledging receipt of my requests, but there was a little bit of a hiccup because the email went to my spam file. They were very helpful when I made contact some days later to confirm that my request had been received. (It was one of three I had made on the same day.)

May 31, 2022

On May 31, 2022, I emailed again asking for an update:

June 7, 2022

On June 7, 2022, I received a letter dated June 3, 2022, via email, giving an update on the status of my request and asking for a 30-day extension in time to complete the response to my request:

So no information about Long Covid from the MOHW so far. Sometimes, however, explanations about why you haven’t received the requested information provide information in and of themselves.

I now know, for example, that our National Surveillance Unit has not been routinely collecting data on Long Covid. This means that Jamaica is very much in the dark about the extent of the public health challenge that we face in dealing with this post-viral condition. How do we prepare for it if we don’t know the extent of what we are facing so far?

This is not good enough. People are facing this challenge in their lives already, whether as individuals, as friends and family, as those responsible for schools and workplaces, as colleagues.

I wait to see what other information I may receive.


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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350 Words or Less: No Need for Covid Conversations Anymore?

One of the communication tools the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has used during the pandemic to share information with the public is the press conferences dubbed Covid Conversations. For some periods, these Conversations took place routinely on Thursday evenings and included an epidemiological update on the Covid situation in Jamaica, with slides, presented by the Chief Medical Officer or the National Epidemiologist. Aspects of policy and administration would be dealt with and current issues that had recently arisen. Importantly, it was also an opportunity for members of the media to ask questions of MOHW representatives, including the Minister and Permanent Secretary, and have them answered on the record. And the PBCJ recordings of these events have provided a very useful archive for tracking aspects of the pandemic and the MOHW’s approach.

In more recent months, however, these Covid Conversations have been held less frequently, as I and fellow blogger Emma Lewis have commented on on Twitter:

It isn’t that the Minister or the CMO or the Director of Family Health Services are not accessible to the media. They certainly do interviews on various radio programmes. However, these are not archived in the way that the PBCJ recordings are and quickly become inaccessible to the public and they certainly won’t be available via Access to Information requests. And when the Minister speaks in Parliament, members of the media don’t get to ask him questions there.

The last Covid Conversation was held on the morning of Tuesday, October 26, 2021, an unusual day and time, as the Minister himself commented. That’s 4 weeks ago today. There has been no Covid Conversation in November. Why not? Has MOHW decided that these convos are no longer useful? If so, what is the strategy being used to replace them or to provide other means for the sharing of the information they provided and the regular opportunity to have questions asked and answered? Or is it that there’s nothing new to share or to answer questions about? Covid’s over?

Maybe this Thursday we’ll have another Covid Conversation…or maybe not…


Documents Regarding Covid-19 and Public Holiday Curfews: A Short Access to Information Story

On September 15, 2020, I sent the following Access to information request to both the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) and the Office of the Cabinet (CO):

“I would like to make a request for the following information under the Access to Information Act:

1) Documents containing information regarding the use of curfews as a measure to reduce risk of Covid-19 transmission during Easter public holidays April 2020

2) Documents containing information regarding use of curfews as a measure to reduce risk of Covid-19 transmission during Labour Day public holidays May  2020

3) Documents containing information regarding use of curfews as a measure to reduce risk of Covid-19 transmission during Emancipation and Independence public holidays August 2020
These documents could be dated prior to or after the relevant public holidays.”

I received an acknowledgement from the MOHW on September 17, 2020…

“This acknowledges receipt of your Access to Information requesting documents as detailed in bullets 1-3 below.  

Please be advised that we have started the necessay research and will revert to you as soon as possible within the timelines of the Access to Information Act 2002.”  

…and a subsequent phone call to clarify the information that I was seeking.

On September 21, 2020, I received the following acknowledgement of my request from CO:

On October 7, 2020, I received this response from MOHW, indicating that no documents relevant to my request were found:

Today, October 9, 2020, I received this response from CO indicated that no documents related to my request were located:

I just want to note that this response does not indicate that there are documents containing this information, but that they are exempt because of being Cabinet documents as set out in Section 15 of the Access to Information Act.

So, there are no documents in the possession of either the Ministry of Health & Wellness or the Office of the Cabinet that contain information about the use of curfews as a measure to reduce the risk of the transmission of Covid-19 during the Easter, Labour Day or Emancipation and Independence public holidays this year. Documents dated either before or after these public holidays.

Increased curfew hours have been announced for the upcoming Heroes’ Day public holiday. I wonder if any documents containing information about this exist at the Ministry or the Cabinet Office?


Electricity Disconnected at Walker’s Place of Safety Months Before the Fire

On March 22, 2019, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate for the following:

All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018, the death of the two girls as a result of that fire and any subsequent investigation into the fire or the resulting deaths.

After one extension of time, I received a number of documents last week Friday, May 17, 2019:

1) You will be granted access to copies of the following:
✓Letter from the Jamaica Public Service, regarding the account at 17 Lyndhurst Crescent, dated July 10, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Jamaica Fire Brigade Report dated April 5, 2018;
✓Letter from the Child Protection and Family Services Agency with attached report from the Electricity Division of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology dated March 15, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Emanuel Barosa, President and CEO of Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information dated July 4, 2018;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Ms. Jennifer Williams, Customer Service Manager at the Jamaica Public Service where he requested certain information on the status of electricity on the premises prior to fire dated July 13, June 25 and March 14 2018 ;
✓Letters from Mr. Downer to Mr. Solomon Burchell, Director of Electricity at the Ministry of Science Energy and Technology dated July 18 and July 5, 2018;
✓ Letters from Mr. Downer to Inspector M. Anderson of the Half Way Tree Police Station regarding the police investigation, July 12, July 10 and July 6 2018;
✓Letter from Mr. Downer to Major General Antony Anderson, Commissioner of Police dated July 18, 2018;
✓ Letter from Mr. Downer to Mrs. Rosa-le Gage-Grey Chief Executive Officer, Child Protection and Family Services Agency regarding outstanding JPS bill balance and for the agency to clear that amount dated July 16, 2018;
✓Letter from Mrs. Diahann Gordon Harrison to Mr. Raymond Spencer, Commissioner. Jamaica Fire Brigade requesting a copy of the report dated February 1, 2018..

I was also told that all other documents had been denied:

2) You have been denied access to all other documents due to the nature of these documents and as they are exempt in accordance with Sections 17 and 22 of the ATI Act (2003) and Sections 44 and 45 of the CCPA (2004).

This morning I posted a thread on Twitter, sharing some of the questions and concerns raised by information in these additional documents:

Walker's Thread 20-5-19 1
Walker's Thread 20-5-19 2Walker's Thread 20-5-19 3walker's thread 20-5-19 4Walker's Thread 20-5-19 5Walker's thread 20-5-19 6Walker's thread 20-5-19 7Walker's thread 20-5-19 8Walker's thread 20-5-19 9Walker's thread 20-5-19 10Walker's thread 20-5-19 11Walker's thread 20-5-19 12Walker's thread 20-5-19 13Walker's thread 20-5-19 14Walker's thread 20-5-19 15Walker's thread 20-5-19 16Walker's thread 20-5-19 17Walker's thread 20-5-19 18Walker's thread 20-5-19 19Walker's thread 20-5-19 20There is obviously so much more to be learned about this tragic incident. I continue to use Access to Information requests to obtain more documents and I continue to hope that somewhere within the state’s agencies the full account is being compiled.

 

 

 

 

 


Police Have Sent File on Walker’s Place of Safety Fire to the DPP

When news came of the fire that destroyed the Walker’s Place of Safety on January 16, 2018, resulting in the death of two girls, there was an outpouring of grief and concern from officials and members of the public. Offers of help were extended, commitments were made regarding care for the surviving children and donations were given for immediate needs and towards the rebuilding of the facility.

 

At the time, I could not help thinking of the fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Facility on the night of May 22, 2009, which caused the death of seven girls and injury and trauma to numerous others. The subsequent Commission of Enquiry revealed specific information about the circumstances – horrifying and preventable – that led to the death of those children.

Assuming (hoping?) that lessons had been learned from that tragic event and loss of life, I expected that there would be the kind of thorough and detailed investigation and reporting that would indicate the specific circumstances that led to the death of the two children at Walker’s Place of Safety. I expected that there would be a full public accounting, so that we would know why these children’s lives had been lost, although the lives of so many others had been saved.

I did not hear in the public statements by officials the kind of details that would be needed and perhaps I didn’t expect it. I did, however, expect that in written format somewhere in the government agencies that level of investigation, reporting and accounting would exist. Reference was made in the media to a report by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA, formerly the CDA – Child Development Agency) and the fire report by the Jamaica Fire Brigade. I made Access to Information (ATI) requests for these documents, in the hopes that they would provide more of the type of information I was expecting to see. They didn’t.

(I wrote two blog posts about these reports – one on May 17, 2018 –

Walker’s Place of Safety Fire Brigade Report via Access to Information Request

and the other on September 29, 2018 –

Fire at Walker’s Place of Safety: More Information Needed

In the second post, I pointed out how little information is given about the circumstances leading to the death of the two children and the need for much more.)

The first anniversary of the fire came and went and on January 24, 2019, I made ATI requests to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) and to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) via the Ministry of National Security (MNS). There is a reason for having gone that route with my request to the JCF, but that’s for another time. The requests I made were as follows:

1. All documents giving an account of the specific circumstances surrounding the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018.
2. All documents regarding any investigation or inquiry into the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of the fire on January 16, 2018, including any instructions for such investigation or inquiry to be carried out.
3. All documents related to any aspect of the death of the two girls at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
4. All documents related to any aspect of the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety on the night of January 16, 2018.
MNS acknowledged receipt of my requests that same day, but then I heard nothing further. I emailed again on February 27, 2019, pointing this out and the following day received this response from MNS:

“This is to inform that your request below was directed to the J.C.F. However, in initial communication with them they had maintained that the matter was being investigated and would in this instance could not be disclosed, this was communicated verbally. I did not want to pass on this information until documented information/confirmation was forwarded about same.

Notwithstanding the J.C.F has formally confirmed that an investigation was conducted on the matter and the file was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for ruling which is being awaited.

Consequently, based on the status of the matter the documents are exempted vide section 16 (b) of the Access to Information Act. Please be guided accordingly, thank you.”

Section 16(b) deals with one of the provisions for exemption of documents relating to law enforcement and reads as follows:ATI Act 16(b) exempt docs

I replied on the same day asking if I could get some document from the JCF indicating that the file had been referred to the DPP – a memo or cover letter for example, which mightn’t be exempt under the ATI Act.

On March 7, 2019, I received the following acknowledgement from MNS…

“I have requested the document/s that would indicate a referral of this matter to the DPP, I will be awaiting same. It will be forwarded when received. Thank you.”

…and on March 25, 2019, I received the following response:

“Please find attached correspondence substantiating that the matter of the Walker’s Place of Safety fire (case file) was referred to the Director of Public Prosecution by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Thank you.”

The documents attached were a handwritten certified copy of an entry in the Registry Correspondence Books and a typed copy of the same. An edited image of the typed copy, which is more legible, is shared here. ATI JCF Walker's POS case file correspondence 3-19 - cropped

A list of the names of the people whose statements were sent and a list of the pieces of evidence sent were included under the heading “File Contents”. I decided, however, not to include those in my post, which is why the image is edited. And I note that the document doesn’t actually indicate who the file was sent to. I also note that the file seems to have been sent on February 7, 2019, three weeks after the first anniversary of the fire and two weeks after I made my ATI request to the JCF.

I do not know what decision the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) has made regarding the file…whether or not a decision has been made to prosecute anyone for a crime in regard to the fire or the death of the girls. I wait to hear.

The Armadale Commission of Enquiry and its subsequent report demonstrated the level of enquiry and reporting that should take place if a child dies in a fire in state care, the level of reporting owed to the child, to the family, to the nation. But does it require that a Commission of Enquiry be held to get that detailed accounting? What protocols were set in place after Armadale for the proper investigation of such tragic incidents? And who has the responsibility for such an investigation and reporting?

No-one could be satisfied with the CPFSA report or the Fire Brigade report.

I have been told by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information that they have no information in response to my request about the fire at the Walker’s Place of Safety and the death of the two children, that all such information would be at CPFSA. I have made a request to the Office of the Children’s Advocate, which has asked for an extension of time to consider the request and have been told I will have a response by May 19.

Some weeks ago I went with a couple of others to the site of the Walker’s Place of Safety. There was nothing at the site that would clearly indicate to someone who didn’t know that that was where the facility had been located. The remains of the building have been removed and the site cleared. The type of bush that covers open lots has grown up quickly. There are remains of a play area to the front of the cleared lot and if you walk across the lot and look closely at the ground, you can see small pieces of charred wood sparsely scattered in the dirt. To one side of the lot, there is a tree that still shows signs of being badly burnt.

(Video credit: D. A. Bullock)

The events of that night may be indelibly seared in the memories of those who experienced it directly, of the survivors, of the families of those who died, of the people who helped to rescue children, of the officials who oversaw arrangements immediately afterwards. But just as evidence of what happened at that site is fading, the memory of what happened will fade too – from public consciousness and from the official record – if there is not written accounting to be relied on.

Imagine what would be publicly known or recorded about the tragedy at Armadale if there had been no Commission of Enquiry.

What happened that night at the Walker’s Place of Safety? What led to the death of the two children? Were their deaths preventable? Where is the accounting that would let us know?