Right Steps & Poui Trees


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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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Parliamentarians, A Joint Select Committee & INDECOM

In Parliament last week Tuesday (January 30, 2018), during the discussion about extending the period of Public Emergency in St James, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips both commented on the functioning of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).  Their comments fit into an ongoing narrative that paints INDECOM as not being “balanced” in its approach and acting in a way that demoralizes the members of the security forces it is mandated to investigate.MP Phillips - PBCJ - Parliament 30-1-18

Dr Phillips: I’d like to end by also offering our commendations to the security forces for, not only in this area in St James but generally, the rank and file for the most part and the officers for the most part have conducted themselves with commendable efficiency in very difficult circumstances and they are to be commended. And I think even as they go, not only there but in the other areas of the country, while we urge them to obey the law, I want to urge those who investigate them, including INDECOM, to be mindful of the circumstances in which they operate. If I can be blunt, if INDECOM has a problem with the members of the security forces, I don’t think they should disarm them in public in full view of the citizens. I think that that unnecessarily demoralizes the men and women who are urged to obey the law, but who operate in what is a very dangerous situation on the street. There is literally a war that has been declared on society and in that circumstances you cannot weaken those who serve in the face of those who attack them.

PM Holness - PBCJ - Parliament 30-1-18

In responding to Dr Phillips, PM Holness said:

You mentioned INDECOM. We take the view that there really needs to be balance in how INDECOM operates. I’ve decided not to go any further with my comments on INDECOM. I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions…to ensure that that very important institution operates with balance.

(A video recording of the session in Parliament is available here. Dr Phillips’ comment begins at 1:11:59 & PM Holness’ comment begins at 1:37:00.)

The following day, INDECOM issued two press releases in response to the comments in Parliament. In the first, the Commission refuted Dr Phillips’ assertion:INDECOM press release Jan 31 2018 aINDECOM press release Jan 31 2018 b

In the second, INDECOM shared Commissioner Williams’ letter to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, requesting an opportunity to be informed of the perceived problems and to respond:

INDECOM press release and letter 31-2-18 a

INDECOM letter to Minister of Justice 31-1-18

Dear Minister Chuck,

Re: Remarks in Parliament on INDECOM

Reference is made to the captioned.

On the 30th instant, remarks were made in Parliament that INDECOM needed “balance” in its work and that INDECOM’s investigators were disarming police officers in public spaces.

As a Commission of Parliament, INDECOM is obligated to make reports to Parliament on matters of concern. We do not know what claims advised the assertion that our work lacks balance and would appreciate an opportunity to be so advised and to respond. As misinformation must not be permitted to direct policy.

The remark about disarming of police officers ia an example of misinformation. This was raised by the Police Federation during the Joint Select Committee’s Review of the INDECOM Act. We were able to debunk this claim. The position remains that police officers are disarmed by their colleagues and this is done at the police station. A 2014 JCF Force Order published the agreed protocol between the JCF in this regard.

Given your statutory remit to serve as the liason between INDECOM and Parliament, INDECOM seeks your kind intervention in this matter to permit us to be aware of assertions being made and to answer them.

Yours sincerely,

INDEPENDENT COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATIONS

Terrence F Williams

Commissioner

 

This is not the first occasion on which PM Holness has spoken about INDECOM needing to be more “balanced” in its approach or for the need to review or make changes to the INDECOM Act. It is unfortunate and unhelpful, however, that the Prime Minister hasn’t been more specific in making clear exactly what he means by “balance/balanced” or what aspects of the Act he thinks need further review or need to be changed. His repeated references without specificity encourage speculation, limit INDECOM’s ability to respond and may have the effect of eroding confidence in the workings of the Commission.

Review of the INDECOM Act

Section 37 of the INDECOM Act, which came into effect in 2010, requires periodic reviews of the Act, the first to take place no later than three years after the Act came into effect.

INDECOM Act Section 37

In 2013, a Joint Select Committee (JSC) was established to review the Act; it began its examination on June 27, 2013, held 23 meetings, concluded its report in October 2015 and the report was tabled in Parliament in November 2015. JSC INDECOM Act Review report

A copy of the report is available here: Joint Select Committee Report on INDECOM Act. What has happened to the report since it was submitted to Parliament? Which of the JSC’s recommendations have been accepted or rejected? What amendments to the Act are to be tabled in Parliament? More than two years after the report was submitted, it would be reasonable for the public to have some official word via Parliament.

A September 29, 2016 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) release titled “Cabinet Looking at Report on INDECOM” included the following reference to a statement made by National Security Minister Robert Montague:JIS 29-9-16 Montague re INDECOM report - an excerpt

Last year there was a report in the media that Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck had indicated there had been some movement regarding Cabinet’s consideration of the JSC recommendations, but there has still not been any action in Parliament regarding the report and its recommendations.

And this is part of what makes the comments in Parliament last week by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister so remiss.  Parliament passed a law establishing INDECOM, a Commission of Parliament (2010). That law passed by Parliament required a review of the law not more than three years after passage. Parliament established a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to conduct that review (2013). That Committee of Parliament held meetings over two years and produced a report containing its recommendations. That report was tabled in Parliament (2015). More than two years later, there has been no further action in Parliament regarding that report and its recommendations (2018). Yet the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition found it appropriate to make the comments they did in Parliament.

The Prime Minister did say “I think this House, which created the institution, which still retains the power, at some point…I suspect it would have to be sooner than later…we will have to take some decisions….” Yes, I would suggest that Parliament – that Parliamentarians – take some action, make some decisions. The current situation really makes a mockery of Parliament’s own processes.

 

 

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Births Fall in Jamaica in 2016…Because of #Zika Warning?

RJR birth decline in 2016 report - 4-5-17I heard the tail end of a report on RJR’s 5pm newscast yesterday (May 4, 2017), which said that there had been a significant decline in births in Jamaica last year. This seemed interesting in the context of the warning to delay pregnancy issued by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in January 2016, in advance of the country’s first confirmed case of the zika virus.

 

MOH warning to pregnant women 1-2016

During his Sectoral Debate presentation on May 3, 2017, Minister of Health Christopher Tufton tabled the first edition of Vitals, a new quarterly report published by his Ministry, which contains the following information:MOH reduced births 2016 chart

MOH reduced births 2016 text

(p.12, Vitals: Quarterly Report of the Ministry of Health – April 2017)

 

This 28% decline in the 4th Quarter of 2016 – nine to twelve months after the zika warning was issued – does on the face of it seem related to the warning. It certainly invites further study to understand how women and their partners responded to the warning and what part various factors, such as discussions and planning, increased use of contraceptives, access to abortion, for example, played in the subsequent decrease in births. It would also be interesting to compare this decrease in Jamaica with other countries which issued similar warnings. I also wonder whether there has been another recent year in which Jamaica has seen an annual decrease in births as large as 7.4%. (The RJR report mistakenly stated that the 28% decline was for the entire 2016, rather than only the 4th Quarter.)

Zika Update

The issue of Vitals also gives an update on the situation with zika in Jamaica up to the first week of April 2017:MOH zika update - Vitals 4-2017

It also reported on the cases of pregnant women with zika infections and the babies with suspected or probable cases of Congenital Syndrome Associated with Zika Virus (CSAZ).

There were 827 cases of notified Zika virus infection in pregnant women reported as at 10th April, 2017; 698 have been classified as suspected Zika based on the case definition. Of the 698 suspected cases, seventy-eight (78) have had positive PCR results confirming Zika virus infection. There were 170 notifications received regarding babies suspected as Congenital Syndrome Associated with Zika Virus Infection (CSAZ), 50 were classified as suspected cases of CSAZ (46 Microcephaly – 35 non-severe, 11 severe; 4 other congenital abnormalities). Three infants based on Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization were classified as probable cases of CSAZ.

(p. 17, Vitals: Quarterly Report of the Ministry of Health – April 2017)

There is obviously more to be said about the cases of babies suspected to have been affected by the zika virus, including why the numbers were fewer than initially feared, how the cases of microcephaly compare to previous years in number and severity and how the programmes to support the babies, their mothers and families are proceeding.MOH Vitals 4-2017

Vitals – A New Publication by the Ministry of Health

 

When he introduced the new publication during his Sectoral Debate presentation, Minister Tufton said that he hoped it would be a source of information and a tool for accountability.Tufton sectoral debate presentation 3-5-17 Vitals

I welcome this new quarterly report and think that it can indeed be a useful source of information about a variety of topics that are part of the remit of the Ministry of Health. I hope, however, that it will be easily and widely available. I found the link to it on Minister Tufton’s Twitter account. Up to the time of publishing this blog post, it wasn’t available on the MOH website or via the Jamaica Information Service website. I hope it soon will be.