Right Steps & Poui Trees


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

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

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

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

PM Holness replied:

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

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

In the week that followed, the situation has worsened:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was all. And then the press conference ended.

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


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Kingston: A green city or a concrete jungle?

Architect Ann Hodges has a letter in today’s Gleaner, a letter which focuses on the developments taking place on the street on which she lives – Lady Musgrave Road. In it, she expresses concerns that many people have, myself included, about the nature of some of the building that is taking place across the city. I have printed the letter in full below.

Letter of the Day – Highway or avenue?

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Why do we put so much money and effort into making roads better for cars and practically no money into making roads and sidewalks better for people?

It has become clear that we need a radically different approach to urban roads and transport. A transport system that relies on motor cars to move people through the city (good though it may be for revenue collection on import duty and fuel tax) is not sustainable.

The city is heating up due to trees making way for asphalt and concrete. Jamaicans need to consider how we can contribute to the fight against global warming and climate change, and providing shade and good public transport in our cities would be a good start.

I recently took a walk from one end of Lady Musgrave Road in St Andrew to the other. In some places the sidewalk is blocked by branches and rubbish, and sometimes the sidewalk disappears altogether and pedestrians are forced into the carriageway to cross over a gully or drain.

For a few sections, there are street trees, the last remaining survivors of the trees planted in middle of the last century. For these short shady sections, it was a pleasant walk. Vendors and other pedestrians were friendly and curious to know what a white woman like me was doing walking rather than driving.

WIDEN TO WHAT END?

Lady Musgrave Road, like many in cities throughout the world, is a street lined with a mix of commercial and residential uses and could, therefore, potentially be much more than a highway across town.

If we were to develop the sidewalks, with an even surface, plant trees to cool and remove the obstacles and heaps of trash, Lady Musgrave Road could be a beautiful pedestrian and vehicular boulevard, leading from Old Hope Road to the gates of King’s House, with views of Vale Royal on the way.

The Government has announced that Lady Musgrave Road is to be widened to two lanes in each direction. This will leave even fewer sidewalks and no trees. We have to ask, to what end?

Traffic on Lady Musgrave is currently moderate except at peak hours. At peak hours, as a Jamaican traffic engineer currently practicing in DC has explained, the capacity of Lady Musgrave to move traffic is dependent on how many vehicles can leave the road at its ends. We can stack vehicles two abreast along Lady Musgrave, but it will not help if they cannot then get through the lights at Hope Road.

Also, as we have seen elsewhere, a four-lane highway becomes a racetrack off peak, which leads our engineering team wanting to put up concrete barriers to avoid head-on collisions! This is a vicious cycle and not a viable solution.

LACK OF JOINED-UP PLANNING

Jamaica and Kingston are suffering from a lack of joined-up planning. We are seeing a race to high-density development without any plans in place for the parks or walkable streets that would allow residents to access services.

Why does the National Works Agency plan for vehicles without planning for pedestrians? What is our transport policy? Why are we not planning for a public urban transport system that even an MP or CEO would be comfortable using?

I speak of the street where I live but the principle and situation are the same throughout the city.

Kingston has a choice between being a green city or a concrete jungle. At present, the Government and developers, with the acquiescence of the planners, seem to have chosen concrete.

ANN HODGES

Lady Musgrave Road


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Chief Medical Officer’s Covid-19 Update for Oct 7, 2021

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) had established a practice of weekly Covid-19 press conferences, usually held on Thursday evenings. For the past few months, however, this weekly practice has been less reliable, with gaps of a week or more occurring between press conferences. This was particularly problematic during the height of the current wave of the pandemic; fueled by the Delta variant, it has been the worst of the three waves Jamaica has experienced.

Yesterday was Thursday and I tweeted the MOHW a question about whether there would be a Covid Conversation (what the press conferences have been called for some time) and they responded saying no. This actually wasn’t much of a surprise, given that there had been a press conference last week and that the Ministry had been facing a lot of pressure and criticism from the public and in Parliament this week.

What was a surprise was to learn last night, via a Twitter thread by Gleaner journalist Jovan Johnson, that CMO Dr Bisasor-Mckenzie had given a recorded Covid-19 update, which was sent to the media by MOHW. This is not a common practice.

I am glad that this update was given. It is not a true substitute for a live press conference, but it does give the public some additional important information. Neither the text nor the video recording of the update has yet been posted online on the MOHW website. It was said that the video recording would be released by the Jamaica Information Service(JIS), but I have not seen a link on the JIS website. This all shows immediately the difference in access by the public compared to when MOHW press conferences are carried live by Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) and immediately posted on their YouTube channel. PBCJ has actually used some of the CMO’s recording in their news roundup today and in a special report.

I have posted here a copy of the text of the CMO’s update:

To illustrate the way in which these updates add to the information given in the daily MOHW Clinical Management Summaries, I will refer to this chart I compiled using some of the figures given in these summaries.

The hospitalization numbers in the daily reports show a strong downward trend but in her update yesterday, CMO Bisasor-McKenzie noted that daily hospital admissions have been increasing in the past week.

And she made the added comment, “This means that despite the trending down of hospitalizations, if the trend for admissions going up continues, our bed occupancy will increase.” This changes the perspective of our current situation somewhat.

Also of particular note in yesterday’s update are the comments about the delay in the availability of the 2nd dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

With so many ongoing issues, questions and concerns, it would be useful for MOHW to return to regular, weekly press conferences.

For convenience, I have included the statement below as well.


Covid Reflections: Time for one of Dr Bisasor-McKenzie or Dr Webster-Kerr’s Covid-19 Updates

I’ve seen or heard pieces of information in the media about where we now are in the 3rd wave. For example, last week in an interview on Nationwide News Network, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr spoke about the expectation that the peak of this wave would occur in 2 weeks’ time and she gave projections for deaths in the coming weeks. During a discussion on Nationwide on Wednesday, Prof Winston Davidson mentioned that the reproductive number was now at 1.1. (For full disclosure, I was one of the other participants in the discussion.) In today’s Gleaner there is an article that refers to information said to have been obtained from Dr Webster-Kerr and the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW):

“A hair-raising 250 COVID-19 deaths occurred in August, with another 60 fatalities still under investigation, said Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, national epidemiologist. Scores of other deaths reported in August occurred months earlier.

August 26 was the deadliest day for the month, with 20 persons succumbing to the COVID-19.

However, the 296 COVID-19-related deaths for March outstripped August’s.

Data from the Ministry of Health and Wellness obtained by The Gleaner showed that another 20 deaths in March are under investigation.

With the country recording a total of 69,054 COVID-19 cases as at September 2 and a total of 1,568 deaths as a result of the disease, the ministry is reporting that the overall (2020 to 2021) COVID-19 case death rate is 2.3 per cent.

The death rate in August (1.6 per cent) plunged only because infections soared almost fivefold, month-on-month, to more than 15,300.”

At the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) press briefing on Wednesday (1-9-21), Prime Minister Holness included 3 of the slides that are normally included in the MOHW PowerPoint updates and he commented on them, something which he has done before, though moreso in Parliament. Although both the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie and Dr Webster-Kerr were present at the press briefing, neither spoke from the podium or gave the ususal update.

(Perhaps this was in keeping with the brief nature of the press briefing…only 3 slides, and only two questions allowed in the Q&A.)

The last of these MOHW Covid-19 updates that I can find is the one given at the OPM press briefing on August 19, 2021, by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie.

That is now more than two weeks ago, two weeks in which we have moved towards the peak of the 3rd wave. In that time there have been dramatic increases in the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths. But we are being told that with the reproductive rate reducing and the positivity rate down from the high of 54%, there may be glimmerings of hope. This is exactly the time at which we need a full update from the CMO or the National Epidemiologist. To place us now in the context of indicators that the MOHW has used for so long.

Why haven’t we had one of these updates, at one of the times when we perhaps need it most, since the start of the pandemic?

We have been getting these periodically. They have been a useful way of tracking changes. Whatever problems some may have with aspects of the data, this is a way of following what the MOHW says the position is, what they are using to base decisions on, what the government is basing decisions on.

There was no MOHW Covid Conversation yesterday; Thursday is the ususal day for them if they are being held. No presentation at the OPM press briefing on Wednesday. No presentation at Parliament’s Joint Select Committee dealing with Covid-related matters on Tuesday; Parliament is on summer break. These are the three places that the public usually gains access to these updates. A presentation with commentary by Dr Bisasor-McKenzie or Dr Webster-Kerr would be best. But if that’s not going to happen, post the PowerPoint online on the MOHW website. In fact, press briefing or no press briefing, Covid Conversation or no Covid Conversation, Joint Select Committee or no Joint Select Committee, post it at regular intervals on the MOHW website.

During a crisis such as this pandemic, information to the public is crucial. With this Delta-variant-fueled 3rd wave, with our public hospitals not offering anything but emergency services, with bed capacity overwhelmed, with dangerous oxygen shortages, we are in a crisis within the crisis. We need more information, not less.


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“Stupidly Suicidal”: Esther Figueroa on bauxite mining in Cockpit Country

I read Esther Figueroa’ s column “Cockpit Country Still Under Threat From Bauxite Mining” in today’s Gleaner (Sunday, July 28, 2019) and decided to post it on my blog. So many voices pointing out where we are heading in this era of climate crisis and in so many ways we continue to ignore the warnings. We are rapidly entering a time when water…unpolluted water especially…will be far more valuable than the bauxite and other substances we mine, destroying the environment as we do so.

This is the final paragraph of Figueroa’s column, which you might want to read in full:

“When I was in Ulster Spring on May 27 for the Noranda EIA public meeting for SML 173, I looked out at the most perfect of Cockpit Country mountains, the unique conical shape completely covered in trees, and when I imagined that mountain butchered by bauxite mining my heart fell into the depths of despair. Strip mining is never good for the environment and it is never sustainable development. In a time of climate crisis with record high temperatures, unpredictable weather with long droughts and catastrophic storms, it is stupidly suicidal to be cutting down our trees and polluting and depleting our soil and water. All of Cockpit Country must be protected not just the Designated Cockpit Country Protected Area. We must not allow Special Mining Lease 173 to be granted.”

When bauxite mining began in Jamaica about 70 years ago, we may not have been aware of the full extent of the negative impacts. We have no such excuse now.

Links to Films

“Esther Figueroa, Ph.D. is an activist independent filmmaker who has been an integral part of the movement to protect Cockpit Country. Her films include Cockpit Country – Voices from Jamaica’s Heart and Cockpit Country Is Our Home. Her most recent feature documentary Fly Me To The Moon (to be released later this year) is about aluminum, modernity, the political economy of our material culture and consumption, and is a call for us to stop destroying the natural world that we all depend upon.” – Gleaner, 28/7/2019

Cockpit Country – Voices from Jamaica’s Heart

Cockpit Country - Voices from Jamaicas Heart - title - Esther Figueroa film

Cockpit Country Is Our Home

Cockpit Country Is Our Home - title - Esther Figueroa film

 

 


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?

 


Morning Radio, Jamaica: February 28, 2002

Listening to morning radio is a ritual for me and has been for decades. Last week I came across a tape I had made of a segment of the Breakfast Club broadcast on Thursday, February 28, 2002. I popped it into my cassette recorder (yes, I still have one!) to hear what I had recorded that day.  It was a discussion about the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry of 2002, which had ended the day before.

The Breakfast Club, with hosts Tony Abrahams and Beverley Anderson-Manley (now Beverley Anderson-Duncan) was a very popular current affairs talk radio programme. I was sometimes an in-studio guest and the on-air discussions would sometimes continue off-air, which was really fascinating.

Listen to this short piece my son Alexis and I did based on this recording. I am trying out a new medium. Any feedback would be welcome! I am contemplating a podcast series based on the hundreds of tapes I have recorded over the years.

(I am trying to locate an electronic copy of the Commission of Enquiry’s report and will post it here once I find one.)

 


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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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No, Seriously…That’s Why the Police Aren’t Using Their Body-Worn Cameras?

COP AndersonAbout two weeks ago there was an article in the Gleaner with the headline Police Not Making Full Use of Body Cameras – Commissioner, in which the new Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson seems to have given us a somewhat clearer idea of why to date no member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been wearing a body-camera in any incident requiring investigation by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). No fatal shooting, no shooting resulting in injury, no altercation, nothing. No incident occurring on any planned operation, not on any unplanned operation, not on any planned stationary vehicle check point, nothing. And this after these body-cameras were introduced with much hype and fanfare, having been donated by the US Embassy in August 2016. (See blog post Jamaica’s Body-Worn Cameras: A Comfort to a Fool?)

As one of the “different sectors of the society asking for an update on the cameras and why there was no footage from any operations that featured body cameras”, I was intrigued to see the Commissioner being quoted as follows regarding the lack of use  of the body cameras:

“One, you don’t have enough, and, two, our uniforms don’t have the technology to actually properly wear them. We are looking at some other models that we have seen recently. We have met some representatives up to last week that, perhaps, will suit what we do better”. (Gleaner, May 9, 2018)

An inadequate number of body cameras does not explain why the available cameras have not been deployed on planned operations where confrontations are most likely to occur. A logical approach would see these operations as priority for deployment. The other reason given is beyond belief…that police uniforms don’t have the “technology” for attaching the body cameras properly! When was this deficiency first discovered? Was there no consultation between the JCF and the US Embassy before the particular body cameras were obtained and donated? At what point was it planned to inform the public of this ridiculous problem preventing use of the body cameras? Does this mean that the existing body cameras are to be discarded?

The article also quotes Commissioner Anderson as saying:

“When you introduce new things and new capabilities, it’s a process. You don’t just buy something to stick them on. There’s a training component, there’s an equipment back-up component, a logistics component, a command and control component to it. There’s a whole thing that you used to deliver capabilities, but we haven’t been that good at it”. (Gleaner, May 9, 2018)

So the announcement of the donation of the body cameras in August 2016 and the announcement of the deployment of the cameras in February 2017 and the failure to give any official update to the public regarding the use of the body cameras or any official evaluation of the project has all resulted in the declared use of body cameras  by the JCF being an elaborate comfort to a fool.

I am glad that the Commissioner of Police has answered some questions from a reporter, but perhaps it is time for a full and official update by the Minister of National Security in Parliament.

(I have now done 5 or 6 blog posts about the body-worn cameras and the JCF, if you wish more information about the issue.)