Right Steps & Poui Trees


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No Written Rules Banning Sleeveless Dresses: An Access to Information Story

I look at the Gleaner this morning and see that the issue of the banning of women wearing sleeveless dresses is again in the news here in Jamaica. The Gleaner’s editorial entitled “Dressing Sleeveless in Jamaica” was sparked by social media commentary pointing out “that women in Jamaica could not dress like Mrs May to enter several government departments and agencies, including hospitals, prisons and schools.” This was a reference to the UK Prime Minister’s sleeveless attire in a formal setting during the official visit of the US President.PM May - Trump visit 7-2018

But we don’t have to go that far afield to show the disparity between what is accepted in a formal setting and what will get a Jamaican woman barred from entry to do business in some government entities. We only need to look at our own Governor General’s wife at the swearing-in ceremony of PM Andrew Holness at King’s House in 2016. She, like a number of women who attended, wore a sleeveless dress, which was perfectly acceptable attire for that very formal occasion. Yet wearing that same or a similar dress, I would risk being barred from entering some government ministries or agencies.

Back in May this year, someone shared the classic story of her elderly mother, a woman of high standing in the field of education in Jamaica, being barred from attending a meeting at the Ministry of Education recently because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Undeterred, she returned to her car, tore a hole for her head in a sheet of The Gleaner newspaper, returned with her arms covered in this way and was allowed to enter!

I have been interested in this issue for a number of years and have written a couple of blog posts about it and decided that I wanted to actually see the regulations that guided this sleeveless ban. So I made a request under the Access to Information Act to seven Ministries for

“any regulation/guideline/protocol/etc documenting the Ministry’s prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business.”

I also made this request to one Executive Agency.

I made my initial requests on May 29 & 30. This week I received the response from the last of the bodies. Not one produced any document prohibiting the wearing of sleeveless dresses or blouses by female members of the public.

The Ministries & Executive Agency and Their Responses

The Ministries and Executive Agency I made ATI requests to were

  • Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport
  • Ministry of Education, Youth & Information
  • Ministry of Finance & the Public Service
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry of Labour & Social Security
  • Registrar General’s Department

I selected some of these Ministries and the Registrar General’s Department because they have featured in sleeveless banning complaints in the past; the other Ministries were included just to extend the range. Their responses are as follows.

Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment & Sport

June  5, 2018 – “In response to your request stated below under the Access to Information Act, I am not aware of any documentation from this Ministry regarding any regulation/protocol or guideline for the prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business.”

Ministry of Education, Youth & Information

June 8, 2018 – “The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI) is pleased to grant you access. Please see attachment Visitors Dress Code.”

MOYC Visitors Dress Code ATI 2018

On June 11, 2018, I made two subsequent ATI requests. It is now more than 30 days since I made these requests and I haven’t received either an acknowledgment of them or any documents in response to them.
“1. I note that this document does not include “sleeveless dresses or blouses” in its list of prohibited wear. Is there any document that does?
2. The document sent seems to be a photograph of a framed notice at the Ministry. It includes the words “Signed Human Resource Management and Administration. Ministry of Education. 2009”. Are there any documents (minutes, memos, letters, reports, etc) relating to the issuance of this notice and the establishment of the dress code for visitors policy on which it is based?
Please regard this as a formal request under the Access to Information Act.”

Ministry of Finance & the Public Service

July 9, 2018 – I am somewhat heartened by the indication that the Ministry of Finance is currently reviewing its “practice of restricting access by females who wear sleeveless blouses or dresses”.

MFPS ATI response 9-7-18 sleeveless dresses

Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade

June 15, 2018 – “I hereby acknowledge receipt of your request dated Wednesday, May 30, 2018. The Ministry however, does not have any documented regulation prohibiting female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses when entering the Ministry to do business.”

Ministry of Health

July 3, 2018 – “Please be advised that we have undertaken the necessary research to respond to your request for any “regulation / guideline /protocol/document which guides the Ministry’s prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business”.

To date no document has been identified or located. It appears that this is an unwritten policy that has been carried on over many years.
In pursuit of a concrete response we have sent the request to the Cabinet Office and continue to await their response.”

Ministry of Justice

June 22, 2018 – “Reference is made to your Access to Information application below, please be informed that no documents were found in support of your application.

Ministry of Labour & Social Security

July 11, 2018 – “Thank you for your application under the Access to Information Act, wherein you requested the Ministry’s Dress Code to enter its offices. Please note that the ministry in keeping with other Government entities established a Dress Code Guideline for its customers. The Dress Code prohibits:

  • Camisoles
  • Tube Tops
  • Merinos
  • Short Shorts
  • Mini Skirts
  • Low Cut Garments exposing the Bosom
  • Tights
  • Sheer (see through) Garments
  • Pants below the waist

It should be noted that persons are not prohibited from entering the building, as long as the clothing is not excessively revealing. Steps are also being taken to review this guide bearing in mind the Ministry’s stakeholders.”

The list included in the Ministry of Labour & Social Security’s response is displayed on printed posters at the guard house at the gate and in the lobby of the Ministry. It is delightfully ironic that the poster in the lobby has a piece of masking tape affixed to it, on which is written the word “sleeveless”!MLSS dress code poster 7-18 - sleeveless

Registrar General’s Department

May 30, 2018 – “The Registrar General’s Department does not have any formal regulation/guideline/protocol documenting the prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses.

We do however follow the general rule of most Ministries and Hospitals, which prohibit the wearing of alter backs, tube tops and spaghetti blouses.”

On May 30, 2018, I replied making a follow-up ATI request:

I’d like to make a request under the Access to Information Act for a copy of any document (memo, correspondence, minutes, report, etc) in the possession of the Registrar General’s Department that sets out “the general rule of most Ministries and Hospitals, which prohibit the wearing of alter tops, tube tops and spaghetti blouses” referred to in your email, which you advise that the RGD follows.

On June 11, 2018, I received the following reply: “The Registrar General’s Department does not have a written document, but there is an unspoken, unwritten dress code which is in force.

Please note with regard to Dress codes each organization sets its own policy, which can be written or unwritten. It differs and is dependent on the organization.

Our unwritten policy encourages our customers to dress in such a way, that shows consideration for other members of the public.”

(I remain somewhat puzzled at how the dress code can be efficiently communicated if it is both unspoken and unwritten!)

Concluding Comments

So there you have it. A small sampling of government entities.

  • 8 entities requested via the ATI Act to provide documents setting out “any regulation/guideline/protocol/etc documenting the Ministry’s prohibition of female members of the public wearing sleeveless dresses or blouses entering the Ministry to do business.”
  • 6 out of 8 indicated that they had no such document.
  • 3 of those 6 gave some background or context for the unwritten sleeveless ban policy/practice.
  • 1 of those 6 made mention of some of the prohibited garments.
  • 1 of those 6 indicated that they had referred the request to the Cabinet Office for a further response.
  • 2 of the 8 entities sent the list of garments prohibited by their dress code. Neither of those dress codes specifically prohibited sleeveless dresses or blouses.
  • 2 of the 8 entities indicated that they were currently undertaking a review of the existing practice.

It is time that this practice – unwritten, unspoken (?), unjustified, whatever its origin – be officially abandoned and those Ministries and other government entities applying it recognise that a woman in a sleeveless dress or blouse entering their precincts will not bring government business to a screeching halt.

P.S.

A note on camisoles, tube tops, halter tops, spaghetti blouses mentioned by those dress codes supplied…they are different from sleeveless dresses and blouses.sleeveless collage

P.P.S.

Donkey seh di worl nuh level. I guess the Ministry of Education hesitated to apply the sleeveless ban to a former government Minister. No Gleaner newspaper needed to cover her bare arms?

Tweet 31-3-16 Flloyd Green & Lisa Hanna at Min of Ed

March 31, 2016 tweet

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More On Barbican Square Roadworks, Following An Access to Information Request

Blog pic for Barbican Square Roadworks 2Two weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety. In it I shared photos and thoughts about the safety risks posed to drivers and pedestrians by the ongoing roadwork being done in and around Barbican Square. I indicated that I had made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the National Works Agency (NWA) and promised to share any information I received in response. So, that’s what I am doing today.

I must say, first of all, that I am very pleased with the timely response by NWA. I wish all government bodies responded so quickly!

  • On Friday, March 9, 2018, I submitted by email my request for:
    1. All written regulations/guidelines/protocols/requirements for the provision of warnings/precautions/etc during road work/construction/repairs. This would include, for example, requirements for barriers, warning lights, reflective tape, cones, flag men, etc.
    2. Any requirements specifically for the construction now taking place in and around the Barbican Square area.
  • On Monday, March 12, 2018, I received an acknowledgement of receipt of my request.
  • On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, I received two documents in response to my request.

All of the responses were well within the time frames required under the Access to Information Act.

The Two Documents Received

  1. National Works Agency Temporary Traffic Control Template

NWA Temporary Traffic Control Template July 2015 versionThe document sent in response to the first of my requests is entitled the National Works Agency Temporary Traffic Control Template ; the cover indicates that it was last revised in July 2015. In six sections, it sets out the information that needs to be included when a temporary traffic plan for a project is submitted to the NWA.

An overview of the project is required…NWA template 1. 0 Project Overview

…and a list of “the responsibilities of key personnel involved in the development of the project” (2.0 TPM Team – Roles and Responsibilities). The Work Zone Impact Assessment (3.0) should include details such as the length of the project, whether road closures and detours will be necessary, whether any temporary structures will be needed to facilitate the movement of traffic and pedestrians, an assurance that there will be access for emergency vehicles, whether any utilities will be affected and what the hours of operation will be.

Section 4.0 refers to the traffic control devices to be used and recommends that planners refer to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices Section 6C. I haven’t yet found reference to a Jamaican document by that name and wonder if the reference is to a US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration document by that name. Section 6C of that document is about Temporary Traffic Control Elements and is certainly relevant. It specifically mentions that the needs of people with disabilities should be taken into consideration, the absence of which was one of my concerns about the situation in the Barbican Square area.NWA template 4.0 highlighted

It is somewhat ironic that the sample template given in the document uses Barbican Road as its fictional project.NWA template 4.0 - sample

Section 5.0 – Project Alterations – requires that if there are any changes to the scope of the project and additional work zones not in the initial Traffic Management Plan are added, the original plan must be resubmitted with all the proposed amendments. Section 6.0 gives a list of relevant terms, and an Appendix is required with all the sign dimensions and diagrams.

2. CHEC Traffic Management Plan for Barbican Road Improvement Project MIDP

The second document I received is entitled Traffic Management Plan for Barbican Road Improvement Project MIDP (Major Infrastructure Development Programme) and is a China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) document dated 28th September, 2017. It is stamped as having been received on September 29, 2017 by NWA Technical Services. CHEC Barbican Traffic Management Plan 28 Sept 2017

It is a six page document (including the cover) divided into three sections: 1. Profile, 2. General idea, 3. Traffic Management Plan. There are four diagrams in the Traffic Management Plan; this is the diagram on page 5.CHEC traffic management plan 28-9-17 p. 5

The details of the diagrams may be easier to understand when you look at the original document, as the images and legend are not very clear in the copy I received. The details of the plan may also be easier to understand if you are familiar with the project as a whole or if you have training and experience relevant to such planning and construction. I, however, come to this issue as a member of the public who had to travel through the area two weeks ago and was appalled by what I saw. And I find it difficult to understand from this document exactly what provisions were being planned to ensure the safety of people who would have to navigate the area by car or on foot.

I can’t easily tell what specific traffic control devices are to be placed where and when. I don’t know what the timeline for the four steps or phases are. I don’t know if the provisions of this plan were in effect or were supposed to be in effect on the two days I went through the area. What I do know is that on the days I drove and walked through, I saw no organised traffic management, one traffic sign in the vicinity of the Square and multiple hazards posing dangerous risks to both pedestrians and drivers.

The traffic management plan makes this statement: “We should set a flag lady on the flag zone to direct the traffic.” On the days I was there, I saw no sign of any flag lady or man directing traffic in any area of the work in the vicinity of the Square.

I don’t know if the NWA thinks that this Traffic Management Plan meets the requirements of the NWA’s Temporary Traffic Control Template. I don’t know if the NWA deems this Traffic Management Plan to be adequate for the scale of work being undertaken in the vicinity of Barbican Square.  I don’t know if it is representative of the plans generally submitted. I don’t know if there is any monitoring done on site to see if provisions laid out in submitted plans are implemented. I don’t know if the NWA has at any point evaluated the safety situation of the work being done for the Barbican Road Improvement Project.

There is a lot that I still don’t know, but there is one thing that I am certain of. The situation I saw on March 8 & 9 was a clear example of Government disregard for people’s safety.

I will be making some more ATI requests and I will share any further documents I receive.


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Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety

Whether or not the construction going on in Barbican Square will bring the promised benefits is not the subject of this blog post. What I want to consider is whether the situation I saw last week Thursday night and Friday afternoon is indicative of government that values the safety and well-being of its citizens.

JIS March 2017 release re Barbican roadworksThe Barbican Road Improvement Project has been going on for many months now. This release from Jamaica Information Service (JIS) in March last year described the scope of the planned work and indicated the timeframe for some of the phases. It included the following advice from Manager for Communication and Customer Services at the National Works Agency (NWA), Stephen Shaw:

Mr. Shaw urges persons to exercise caution as they traverse that area.

“There will be difficulties and challenges while the project is ongoing, but it will be for a greater good; and so, we are asking persons to work with us as we work to complete what we are hoping to be a very successful project,” he says.

In the ensuing months, there has been much comment about the ongoing roadworks in both traditional and social media and I have seen numerous photos posted online by fellow blogger Dennis Jones documenting various problems he has seen.

This image from Google maps shows the area and roads involved. East King’s House Road is marked with an arrow and the numbers indicate some points I will mention as I go along.Google map - Barbican Square with numbers

Barbican Square is not a route that I have to use routinely and with the ongoing construction I have consciously avoided the area. So when I had to use the route last Thursday night to access somewhere via Birdsucker Lane, I did so with a sense of unease. I had seen something about the closure of Birdsucker Lane, but had paid little attention to the timeline for it and wondered if it was still closed. I assumed that if it were, there would be some signs indicating the appropriate detour. I discovered that Birdsucker was open, but the absence of any proper signage or safety precautions was appalling. When I eventually reached home, I tweeted about the experience.Barbican tweet - 8-3-18

I approached the area via the East Kings’s House Road route, joined the usual lines of traffic going past Loshusan plaza, taking the right lane, as I normally would to head for Birdsucker. I saw a police car parked across the road from the exit (at 2 on map) from the plaza, obviously trying to discourage the usual boring that takes place just before the concrete median barriers at that point. There were no signs at the intersection of the roundabout road with Barbican Road (at 3 on map). In fact, I saw no signs directing traffic at any point in the roundabout area that night.Barbican tweet - 8-3-18 - 2Barbican tweet - 8-3-18 - 3The situation I mentioned in tweet #3 was along the stretch labeled 6 on the map.Barbican tweet - 8-3-18 - 4The woman with the small child I mentioned in tweet #4 was approaching the Jack’s Hill intersection, coming from the direction of the Square.Barbican tweet - 8-3-18 - 5

I was really troubled by my experience on Thursday night and wanted to see what the situation looked like during daylight, so I went back on Friday afternoon and spent about an hour walking around the area. What I saw confirmed my impression that there is a disregard for the safety of those who have to traverse the area either by car or on foot.

Along the stretch labeled 6 on the map, there were some barriers in evidence where an excavator and some men were working. However, further along the stretch there was nothing marking the edge of the trench being dug, to highlight the danger for motorists.

There were no signs to direct traffic flow at the intersections of Barbican Road with the roundabout road (3 on the map), with Birdsucker Lane (4 on the map) or East King’s House Road (5 on the map). There seemed to be a reliance on a few barriers and luck.

The only sign I saw directing traffic flow in the area of the Square was on East King’s House Road, near the Losushan traffic lights. And even that wasn’t very clearly placed. And nowhere did I see any flag men or women helping to guide drivers.Barbican Square - Losushan traffic light - 9-3-18 The hazards to pedestrians were many….uneven surfaces, with exposed unfinished construction and holes…

…sidewalks under construction which end abruptly and have uncovered holes, with no attempt to place warnings for pedestrians…

…protruding steel, with no covering and nothing to warn of its presence…

…a drain hole in a sidewalk, with a makeshift and inadequate covering.

The dangers are bad enough during the day, but imagine the additional risks at night and the additional risks to someone who is blind or who has a mobility impairment.

The government has a duty to protect people when construction is taking place on the public thoroughfares. Are there regulations, protocols, guidelines, standards governing such safety measures to protect users of the spaces during such construction? If so, what are those guidelines? Are they being met? Are they included in contracts being issued? What are the monitoring responsibilities of the NWA? Is the NWA satisfied with the safety provisions in Barbican Square roadworks?

These issues have been raised before, quite recently with an accident on Mandela Highway in which lives were lost. New roadworks have begun in Constant Spring and are promised for Hagley Park Road. But clear answers do not seem to be readily forthcoming. On Friday morning I made an Access to Information request to the NWA for “written regulations/guidelines/protocols/requirements for the provision of warnings/ precautions/etc during road work/construction/repairs.” Today I had an acknowledgement of my request. I will share any information I receive.

The JIS report I mentioned earlier stated that “Mr. Shaw urges persons to exercise caution as they traverse that area.” I would hope that Mr Shaw also urges the public officials at the NWA and other responsible government departments to exercise their duty to protect people’s safety as they traverse the area.


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JCF Body-Worn Cameras Policy & Procedures: An Access to Information Request Granted

In September 2017, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request for

“copies of any protocols, procedures, guidelines, etc governing the use of body-worn cameras by members of the JCF. I am interested in copies of any such documents that are currently in force or have been used at any time in the past.”

I initially submitted the request to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) directly and it was subsequently transferred to the Ministry of National Security, which is where I am told it ought to have been submitted in the first place. After much back and forth and delay, and with the assistance of the ATI Unit, today I received a copy of the JCF’s Policy & Procedures on Body-Worn Cameras. The cover of the document indicates that it was developed in November 2017 & disseminated as an Appendix to the JCF Force Orders No. 3675, dated November 9, 2017. (These dates may indicate in part the reason for the delay in response to my ATI request made in September 2017.)JCF Body Cameras Policy & Procedures coverClick here to access a copy of the document: JCF Policy & Procedures on Body-Worn Cameras Nov 2017

I have had a chance to do only a quick read through the document, which does not seem to be  sufficiently detailed and specific on first reading. There also seem to be a number of gaps, with some significant issues left unaddressed. I’ll obviously consider it more closely when I read through it again, but in the meantime, what do you think? I have repeatedly said, “If the public doesn’t know what the protocols and procedures are, how can we know if they are adequate?” So here they are. Are they adequate?

Two other questions:

Related blog posts

INDECOM Reports 8 Fatal Shootings in the Past Week: Any Body Worn Camera-Footage?

Body-Worn Cameras: A Secret Transparency Tool?

No Protocols, No Body-Worn Cameras: INDECOM’s Comments

350 Words or Less: Police Using Body-Cameras, But What Protocol Is Regulating Their Use

 


ChikV in Jamaica: Research & Information Needed – (And ATI Request)

This Gleaner’s online headline yesterday caught my eye; stories about ChikV tend to.

Gleaner ChikV headline 26-11-15

The article was about a study recently published in Neurology Journal, which looked at a particular aspect of “Chikungunya virus (CHIKV)–associated CNS [Central Nervous System] disease during the La Réunion outbreak, and assess[ed] the disease burden and patient outcome after 3 years.”

I would obviously want someone with the appropriate medical/scientific expertise to explain the relevance of this study to us in post-ChikV epidemic Jamaica.

Two statements particularly interested me, one from the Gleaner article & the other from the Neurology Journal abstract:

  • “…the infected persons with encephalitis had persisting disabilities. The disabilities included behavioral changes and problems with thinking and memory skills in infants and post-infectious dementia in previously healthy adults.” (Gleaner)

and

  • “In the context of a large outbreak, CHIKV is a significant cause of CNS disease.” (Neurology Journal)

Like hundreds of thousands of other Jamaicans, I had ChikV last year and know of many relatives, friends and acquaintances who also had the disease, with varying levels of severity. I had had dengue the previous year and was struck by the fact that the effects of ChikV lasted far beyond the acute phase, whereas I recovered from dengue relatively quickly. I also learned, mainly via online sources, of the medium and long term effects that ChikV can have, something which the Ministry of Health (MOH) seemed to downplay at the start.

I wanted to find out whether there was ongoing or planned tracking of medium and long term effects of ChikV  being experienced by people in Jamaica following the 2014 epidemic. So on April 18 this year, I made an Access to Information (ATI) request to the Ministry of Health and on May 14 received 11 documents from the Ministry.

MOH ATI (2)

The related documents ranged from Notes of Research Meeting held on Chikungunya November 20, 2014 at PAHO Building , UWI to notes of Chikungunya Research Working Group Meeting  Held at PAHO Building dated 29 April 2015. All the documents can be accessed here. (MOH ATI all chikv)

It is time, perhaps, for me to do some follow-up ATI requests, to see what has taken place in the intervening 7 months.

But the real request is for the MOH and the various other local and regional bodies to track, to do research and to keep us informed. ChikV is here to stay, we are told, and we need to know as much as possible about its effects and how they can be prevented and treated.


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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