Right Steps & Poui Trees


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350 Words or Less: Two Election Results

I didn’t think that the results of both of these elections would be announced on the same day, but they were. The delays in the counting of some votes in some states in the US election meant that the announcement of Joe Biden as the President-elect didn’t take place until today. Thank goodness that there won’t be a second Trump term.

Biden made a victory speech tonight and it was Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who introduced him, giving a victory speech herself. I must note that Harris, the first woman to be elected as US Vice President, is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants.

Also announced today was the win for Mark Golding in the PNP presidential election. He garnered 1740 votes, while Lisa Hanna got 1444 votes, with 96% of the delegates voting. Golding, who is now the 6th President of the PNP, will become the Leader of the Opposition. He gave an acceptance speech at PNP headquarters shortly after the result was announced this afternoon.

Mark Golding delivering his speech today. At the table beside him in this photo are his wife Sandra and one of his daughters.

I had no vote in either election, but I think the better candidate won in both cases. How well they meet the challenges ahead of them remains to be seen.


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350 Words or Less: Two Elections & No Vote

This week there will be two important elections taking place that I am watching with interest, though I have no vote in either of them.

Tuesday, November 3. The US elections. Donald Trump for another term or Joe Biden as President?

A few weeks before the 2016 election I wrote this in a blog post :

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

The same is true today, a few days before the 2020 election. Trump’s presidency has been diasatrous in many ways and the impact of a second term is difficult to contemplate. His mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US certainly sits squarely in the front row of issues for consideration. There is the possibility that the result of the election may not be known on Tuesday night and the question arises of what actions Trump may take if he loses but doesn’t want to accept that result.

I’ll be up that night and watching.

And then on Saturday, November 7, the internal election for the new President of the PNP will take place. Golding or Hanna? Not an election that has widespread global attention. But the outcome will matter in Jamaica, because the winner will not only be the President of the party but will also be the Leader of the Opposition. The people who vote in this election are the delegates in the PNP, a few thousand people.

I think that Mark Golding would be the better choice for Opposition Leader at this point but, as with the US election, I have no vote.

Two elections. No vote. Just waiting to see.


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$75 Million Allocated To Retrofit Police Lock-Ups For Children: So What Happened?

Parliament - gordon-house-2In 2013, the Jamaican Parliament was told that $75 million was to be spent retrofitting five police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas for the detention of children. In 2017, a Parliamentary Committee has now been told that the retrofitting of four lock-ups was completed in 2015 and that the areas were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). The Committee was also told, however, that the retrofitting was so poorly done that the “child friendly” lock-ups have never been used and that it will take an additional $32 million for recommended repairs to be done, $17 million of which has already been allocated in the 2017 – 18 budget.

At its last two meetings, Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee has discussed this much-touted government programme for retrofitting police lock-ups with “child friendly” areas. The information shared in those meetings raises serious questions about the implementation of the programme and the money spent on what some, myself included, thought to be an ill-conceived idea when it was originally proposed.

On September 19, 2017, the Committee  had a meeting, which Opposition MP Peter Bunting chaired, and discussed a Ministry of National Security (MNS) report titled Status of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Island Wide – June 30 2017. Committee members expressed dissatisfaction with the report and raised concerns about some of its contents. They decided to ask MNS representatives to attend the Committee’s next meeting to provide further information and to answer questions that had arisen.

Fitz Jackson MP

MP Fitz Jackson

 

On Tuesday, October 10, 2017, the Committee met again, this time with Opposition MP Fitz Jackson as Chair; having recently been appointed Opposition Shadow Minister of National Security, he has taken over from MP Bunting as Committee Chairman. The delegation from the MNS and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JFC) that appeared before the Committee was led by Mrs Mitsy Beaumont-Daley, Acting Chief Technical Director at the MNS, and Commissioner of Police George Quallo. The MNS submitted an updated report titled Report – Physical Condition of Retrofitted Children’s Detention Facilities Islandwide – October 5 2017 to the Committee. This was accompanied by a report of inspections made of the four relevant police lock-ups on September 26 & 27, 2017 and a collection of photographs showing the physical condition of the facilities.

Background to Decision to Retrofit Lock-Ups

The October 5, 2017 MNS report gives the background to the decision to retrofit these four police lock-ups:

“An Inter-Ministerial Working Group was established in September 2012 by the then Ministry of Youth and Culture. The primary purpose of the Working Group was to examine the issues and challenges that affect children within the care of the State.

A significant focus of the Committee was to provide a solution for the separation of juveniles who come in conflict with the law from adults in police lock-ups. In this regard a programme was developed to establish self-contained child friendly holding units to accommodate such children. Thirteen (13) units were to be established in strategic locations across the fourteen parishes with Kingston and St. Andrew operating as one facility. The Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) was identified as the source of funding and the facilities were constructed by the National Works Agency (NWA).

The plan was to retrofit/construct the units in phases. Four (4) were to be completed in the first phase namely Bridgeport in St. Catherine, Barrett Town in St. James, Moneague in St. Ann and Nain in St. Elizabeth. By 2015 all facilities were handed over to the Jamaica Constabulary Force, except for Nain.” p. 1

Indeed, then Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna reported on the retrofitting programme in her Sectoral Debate presentation in 2013:Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 28Hanna Sectoral presentation 2013 29

And again in 2014:

Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p12Hanna Sectoral presentation 2014 p13

The October 5, 2017 MNS report points out that the programme completely failed to deliver what had been promised:

“Following the handing over of the facilities, a walk through was conducted which revealed that the buildings were not as safe and secure as they appeared. Several defects were observed that were described as “potential” safety hazards as well as unfinished works.

Discussions were held with the contractors (NWA and JEEP) who gave assurance that the matters would be addressed in short order. However, as at September 27, 2017, only one station (Bridgeport) toilet facility was reconfigured, the others have not been addressed and the newly constructed structures were left to deteriorate.”

One has to ask, as did some of the members of the Committee, what level of consultation took place regarding the design of these facilities? What monitoring took place while the work was being done? And what accountability has there been regarding the poor quality of the completed work, at and since the point of handover?

Identified Problems at Retrofitted Lock-Ups

The MNS October 2017 report outlines the problems that they identified with the rerofitted facilities:MNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws aMNS lock-up retrofitting report Oct 2017 - flaws b

Looking at just one of the issues of concern, items (iii) and (iv) deal with the basic and important issue of proper ventilation. In the MNS June 30, 2017 report, three of the four facilities are identified as having a problem with ventilation and some very stark language is used to describe the problem.

Barrett Town: “9. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation.”

Moneague: “5. The ventilation for the cells is very poor and could lead to suffocation if the windy climate at Moneague should cease.”

Nain: “The facility is not suitable for habitation due to very poor ventilation.”

The September 2017 MNS inspection report uses less dramatic language in describing the ventilation problem and the associated recommendations, but the problem remains as a concern:MNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report aMNS Oct 2017 - lock up inspection report b

The provided photographs give a visual indication of the situation being described:MNS police lock ups photos - Oct 2017 report The MNS October 2017report speaks of the facilities being “constructed from a prototype plan”. What did this plan require regarding ventilation? Who was consulted in designing this plan? What standards were used as a guideline for developing this plan?

And if it is said that the prototype plan was adequate, is it that the work done varied from the plan? If so, wasn’t this noticed while the work was being done? And again, why has there been no accountability for the poor work done? Why is it that the facilities remained unused and deteriorating, after so much money was spent?

What Next?

At the end of the Committee meeting on October 10, MP Jackson said that the scope of the investigation into the use of public funds for this retrofitting went beyond the mandate of the Internal and External Affairs Committee. He said that the Committee would complete its report to Parliament on the matter and that further investigation would need to be done by the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) and/or the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

This is a matter that demands explanation and accountability, at the stages of planning, implementation and sign off. With all that is needed for children who come into conflict with the law, with the often heard excuse of lack of resources, we owe it to them to demand that the Parliament does its part in achieving full accountability.

In this post, I have focussed on the expenditure and the facilities, but there remains the substantive problem of children being held in police lock-ups. The situation has changed somewhat in the past few years, but there is still a need for the government to present a more careful analysis of data to identify the causes of the problem and whether this is the best solution.

If $75 million has already been spent and an additional $32 million is to be spent, is the end result after spending $107 million really going to be the best solution for the children involved?

The Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament

Many of us may not be familiar with the mandate of Parliament’s Internal and External Affairs Committee and may wonder why this matter came before it. The Standing Orders of Parliament gives a description of the Committee’s role, which makes this clearer:Internal and External Committee

(From Standing Orders of the House of Representatives of Jamaica 1964 )

The current members of this Committee are:

Members of Parliament: Mr Fitz Jackson (Chair), Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, Mr Dave Brown, Mr Leslie Campbell, Mr Heroy Clarke, Mr Horace Dalley, Mr Colin Fagan, Mr Floyd Green, Mr Alando Terrelong and Mr Franklin Witter.

(As a member and representative of human rights organization Jamaicans for Justice, I worked on this issue when it first arose. I remain a member of the organization. My blog posts are all done in my personal capacity, however.)


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Zika Virus News Events in Jamaica & Elsewhere

The past few days have been significant ones for news about the Zika virus.

who zika press conference 1-2-16

WHO Press briefing re Zika virus Feb 1, 2016

WHO Declares Public Health Emergency of International Concern

On Monday (Feb 1, 2016), the World Health Organization (WHO)  declared “that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” (WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan’s statement) This decision was taken after the first meeting of the Emergency Committee which had been convened by the Director-General to look at these clusters in some areas now experiencing outbreaks of Zika virus. (WHO statement on 1st meeting of International Health Regulations Committee on Zika virus)

A Case of Sexually Transmitted Zika in Texas

zika - Dallas release 2-2-16 with highlightingThen yesterday came the headline-catching news from Dallas that the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) had confirmed a case of Zika virus infection which had been sexually transmitted. The Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) sent out a press release about the case. DCHHS Press Release re Sexually Transmitted Case of Zika Virus. A case of sexually transmitted Zika virus was recorded in 2008, but no cases during the current epidemic. (Listen to a 2011 CDC podcast about the 2008 case in Colorado.) Though the main mode of infection remains via the Aedes aegypti mosquito, this new case in Dallas does add another dimension to the current epidemic.

Two Briefings in the Wake of Jamaica’s First Confirmed Case of Zika Virus

Yesterday (Feb2, 2016) in Jamaica the Ministry of Health (MOH) held a press briefing, to update the country about the first confirmed case of Zika virus, which it had informed the public of last Saturday. Five Government Ministers addressed the briefing on aspects of the Government’s actions and plans regarding the Zika outbreak. Also in attendance were some Members of Parliament and Mayors, the MOH Permanent Secretary, the new Chief Medical Officer and a number of other government personnel.

Zika - GOJ press briefing 5 ministers - 2-2-16The Ministers (from left to right) were: Minister of Local Government & Community Development, Noel Arscott; Minister of Youth & Culture, Lisa Hanna; Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer; Minister of Health, Horace Dalley and Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites.

The video of the press conference is posted online, with the Minister of Health’s comments about the first confirmed case and subsequent actions taken by his Ministry running from 10:37 – 16:46 of the video.

Among the things that Minister Dalley mentioned were that:

  • the child who was the 1st confirmed case of Zika has recovered & no other member of the family is showing symptoms of the disease
  • there is increased fever/rash surveillance in Portmore and the entire island
  • that 1894 households in the particular area have been checked & interviews done with 1355 people
  • that 15 blood samples were taken as a result of the interviews & were sent to the CARPHA lab in Trinidad for Zika testing

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session with journalists.

Last night, zika - PM Simpson Miller 2-2-16Prime Minister Simpson Miller made a national broadcast regarding the preparations to reduce the impact of the Zika virus (video).

Text of National Broadcast re Zika Virus by PM Simpson Miller

At 5:30 that evening, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Faculty of Medical Sciences in collaboration with PAHO/WHO and the MOH held a Public Symposium entitled “Zika Virus Update”. It is a pity that this symposium wasn’t broadcast or recorded, as it was an excellent session, with very informative presentations and a robust question and answer session.UWI Faculty of Med Zika Update 2-2-16 poster with border

The focus of this symposium was obviously different from that of the MOH press briefing in the morning and a great deal of medical and scientific information was given and issues explored. It was particularly useful to have information given about the Jamaican context for the Zika outbreak and the issues arising out of that context. I found Professor Christie’s presentation of particular interest, raising as it did issues about the seriousness of the situation being faced regarding our ability to deal with an increase in cases of children born with possibly severe microcephaly.

A few other issues that came up during the symposium:

  • the impact of the advice for women to postpone pregnancies, given the fact that 50-60% of pregnancies in Jamaica are unplanned
  • whether in Jamaica women will have the option of an abortion in cases of Zika infection
  • the complexities surrounding testing for Zika virus & Jamaica’s current and planned capability for doing such testing
  • whether the current levels of fever/rash surveillance are adequate or should be greatly increased during the early stages of the outbreak

Repeatedly the point was made regarding how much is not yet known about the Zika virus and the possible complications associated with this generally mild to moderate disease. The need for further and ongoing research was stressed, but as Professor Figueroa said, in public health, you need to take the best of what you know and act on it; you can’t tell patients to wait on the results of a study.

There is a need for more opportunities for professionals to share information of this kind regarding Zika, and to be able to answer questions and engage in discussions with members of the public. These opportunities mustn’t be scripted and limited, but must allow for the open exchange of information and for frank discussion. A wide range of options exists for sharing such information and they must be used.

 


OCA’s Investigative Report on CDA’s Removal of Children From Child Care Facility

In Parliament yesterday, the Office of the Children’s Advocate’s (OCA) “Report on Investigations into the Conduct of the Child Development Agency Concerning Wards of the State: Sunshine Child Care Facility” was tabled by Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna.

The report (see link below) details the OCA’s investigations, findings and recommendations regarding the Child Development Agency’s (CDA) removal of 34 children from a privately operated Place of Safety in February 2015. The children had all “been placed there at the instance of the Child Development Agency.”(p 3)

The investigation included a Hearing which resulted from the Children’s Advocate’s exercise of “her powers as a  Judge of the Supreme Court…pursuant to the provisions of the First Schedule to the Child Care and Protection Act.” (p 2) The issues to be determined were:

OCA report issues to be determined.PNG

The details given in the report describe a complete mishandling of the matter by the CDA, a disturbing disregard for the well-being and rights of Gordon Harrison RJR 1449626552NN_GORDON_HARRISONthe children and problematic responses on the part of some CDA personnel to the enquiries by the Children’s Advocate, Diahann Gordon Harrison.

One of the things that I found really troubling reading the report is that so many of the actions and attitudes described are not new. The specifics relate to a particular case, and having all occurred during this one case certainly merited focused investigation by the OCA and action regarding accountability and provisions for the affected children. But these types of actions and approaches by the CDA have been seen before, including:

  • failure to prepare children and child care facilities adequately for the removal/transfer of children from one facility/situation to another
  • transfer of children with no files or incomplete files
  • failure to advise child care facilities of medical/health conditions of incoming children, resulting in improper medical care, sometimes for serious/life-threatening conditions
  • transfer of children from one facility/situation to another resulting in disruption of their education
  • failure to provide/continue needed counselling for children being transferred from one facility/situation to another

The incidents involving the 34 children at one child care facility may serve to highlight general problems with approaches and practices within the CDA. However, one has to ask whether or not it is the first time that oversight mechanisms – within the CDA, at the level of the Ministry, at the level of the OCA – have picked up on such problems.

There is far more that needs to be questioned about the matters raised within the OCA’s report and about the functioning of the CDA, an agency that has experienced many problems since its inception. I will be interested to see what comes of the task force that has been announced by Minister Hanna and is due to report on certain aspects of the child care and protection systems in February next year.

(The report is on Parliament’s website or is available here: OCA Report re CDA Conduct – Sunshine Child Care Facility Nov 2015.)

OCA download on Parliament websiteOCA CDA report cover 12-15