Right Steps & Poui Trees


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The Building At 79 – 83 Barry Street: Past, Present, Future

You walk past things without seeing them all the time. Vendors, shop windows, signs for business places. If you are busy and focussed on getting to an appointment, if you are on your phone, your field of vision shrinks to fit your field of attention. You can’t miss the imposing white and pink building at 79 – 83 Barry Street in downtown Kingston, right across the road from the multi-storey  car park beside the Supreme Court. Yet I never really looked at it until last year, although I have walked or driven past the solid edifice repeatedly over many years. Perhaps because when I am downtown, in the vicinity of the Supreme Court, I am hurrying to find a courtroom before a case is called up, or I am hurrying to do business at the Accountant General’s office. I am not there for a leisurely stroll and sightseeing.

Perhaps, too, there are so many derelict or burnt out buildings in parts of downtown that they don’t individually stand out. Now that I have looked at it more carefully, however, it does seem strange how little I knew about this building before.

This is what it looks like on Google maps…Barry Street - Kingston - Google map - highlighted…and when you look up Barry Street…P1080794…and when you are on Barry Street facing it.P1080871 It’s clear that no-one has entered it in a long time, certainly not through what used to be its main entrance…

…nor by its side entrance on Church Street.P1080862Many of the windows are boarded up, or closed, with broken glass.

The ones on the upper floor are open to the elements.P1080966 P1080913And there is no roof.P1080940

The Building’s History

Time Tells Our Story - Donald LindoIn his book “Time Tells Our Story: The History of The Jamaica Mutual Life Assurance Society, 1844 – 1994”, Donald Lindo gives an account of the decision of the Society to construct a new building after its offices on Port Royal Street had been severely damaged in the 1907 earthquake.

 

 

“The office at No. 10 Port Royal Street, was a brick building, and although it had been repaired, the directors made an almost immediate decision to rebuild and at the same time expand the size of the office. A committee was set up and builders were consulted but the directors were undecided as to whether they would build on the same location or elsewhere and some eighteen months elapsed without a decision being made. Eventually, during 1909, they purchased 79, 81 and 83 Barry Street, with a frontage covering the entire block from Church Street to Temple Lane and facing the old cenotaph war memorial. Tenders were invited and Mr. S. S. Wortley was selected to build the new office, under the supervision of the new contractors Messrs. Mais and Sant. The building was completed in 1911 at a total cost of £7,776, including the land, and was constructed of reinforced concrete which was now being used by many builders instead of brick. Research into the Society’s records do not indicate the exact origin of the logo adopted in later years – a sturdy Viking warrior, battle-axe in his right hand, a stout key in his left, his shield fastened to his arm and guarding the heavy closed door to the new building and the inscription written around it is ‘SECURITY, SOLIDITY’. Beneath this model of the warrior was the date 1911.” (pp. 151-2)

Jamaica Mutual Life logo

The logo as seen on the cover of Donald Lindo’s book

P1080920

The logo as currently seen on the Barry Street building. Notice that the battle-axe is missing.

“It was not until March of the following year that the Society moved to its new address and held its first half yearly general meeting there on 17 April 1912. The new building consisted of two floors, a ground and upper floor with a large double staircase on either side of a spacious hallway as one entered from Barry Street. With the exception of an archival vault and a parking area for cars. the Society occupied only the upper floor for its offices. Two sections of the lower floor opening on Barry Street were for many years rented to Mr. J. H. Gaskin Mapp (originally from Barbados) and the Bonitto Bros., both commission agents. The building was an architectural landmark of its day.” (p. 152)

Barry Street head office - Lindos book

This photo on page 154 of Donald Lindo’s book is captioned “Barry Street Head Office, completed in 1911”.

Barry Street building in 1950s

A photo from the 1950s, I think. I don’t know the source of this photo and would welcome any help in identifying it.

Cenotaph War Memorial 1922 - UK National Archive

In the top right hand corner of this 1922 photo of the War Memorial, you can see the top of the Jamaica Mutual Life building, just below the electric wires. (National Archives UK)

“When the office at 79 – 83 Barry Street had been remodelled in 1965 the original intention was to construct a new one on the same site in about fifteen years. Nearly ten years had elapsed and although there had been a number of new developments in the Kingston waterfront area, the heart of Kingston was no longer as popular and the trend was for business places to move up-town to the New Kingston area.” (p. 208)

In 1973, the board of the Society made a decision to move uptown and purchased property to facilitate that move. They also decided:

“…that they should try to find a purchaser for the head office at Barry Street. To their surprise, there was an immediate buyer, the government, who wished to expand the courts offices then located in the government buildings just across the road from The Jamaica Mutual Life. The price was agreed but the government wanted almost immediate occupancy, so without knowing where the staff could be temporarily relocated the directors agreed to give occupancy in November 1973….The annual general meeting of 3 July 1973, was therefore a very historic one as it was the last to be held at 79 – 83 Barry Street after more than sixty years.” (pp. 208 – 211)

The Attorney General’s Chambers were located in the Barry Street building from 1976 – 2001, when they moved to the then Mutual Life Building on Oxford Road.Locations of AGs Chambers - 79 Barry StI am not yet clear on what led to the building falling into its current derelict state and will try to find out. In her 2016 Sectoral Debate presentation, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told Parliament of plans to move the AG’s Chambers back to Barry Street eventually.

AG comment re 79 Barry Street - Sectoral Debate 2016

I made a trip to the National Land Agency to get a copy of the land title and noted a transfer registered on January 31, 2017 to the Commissioner of Lands, “Consideration money Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars”.

79 Barry St land title 201779 Barry St land title 2017 p2

I wonder what the years of exposure to the elements will have done to the soundness of the structure and how much will have to be spent to restore it to a useable condition. Many in the legal profession and in the business sector must have memories of this building in its better days. Hopefully, the future will see it being restored and functional again.P1080845

Postscript: I would like to thank historian Dr Joy Lumsden for her help in guiding me to historical information about the building. And since she is my mother, I would also like to wish her Happy Mother’s Day!


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Crimes Committed by People on Bail: An Access to Information Story

Jamaica’s Access to Information (ATI) Act was passed in 2002 and I believe, despite some of the weaknesses which remain in its provisions, it is an extremely important and potentially powerful tool for members of the public.

The following objectives are stated in the legislation:ati-act-objectives

In addition to some problems with the legislation itself, there can be challenges to getting the requested information. Sometimes use of the Act goes smoothly; sometimes it does not. Here’s a recent and still ongoing experience of mine.

June 17, 2016

minister-montagueI heard a radio news report  about a speech that the Minister of National Security Robert Montague had given at a function the day before, in which he had made comments about people committing crimes while on bail and the need to make changes to the Bail Act because of this.

By email, I made the following request to the Ministry of National Security (MNS) under the provisions of the ATI Act:

I would like to make an ATI request for all data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc regarding people on bail who have allegedly committed further offences while on bail.

I heard Minister Montague on a clip on the news today giving some figures at an event yesterday, which I hope would be included in the information I am requesting.

I received this response from MNS:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your Access to Information Request, which will be processed and dealt with accordingly.

I heard nothing further for two months.

 August 18, 2016

I received an email from MNS:

I am hereby making the request for an extension of time to supply information regarding your requests, the request was dispatched for the attention of the respective party that would probably have such information in their possession. However, the information has not yet been provided to this office. Thank you

September 6, 2016

I sent the following response to MNS:

I note your request for an extension of time in providing the information I requested on June 17. However, given that this request was made 60 days since I made my request, I will be referring this to the Appeal Tribunal. 
I also note that no valid reason has been given for this delay.
That same day, I filed a request for an appeal before the ATI Appeal Tribunal.

September 9, 2016

I received the following from MNS:

This is to inform that your request was forwarded to the appropriate personnel/department to supply information with regards to your request. However, the information that you desire does not rest with this office and as such we do not have direct control for when the information is supplied in most instances. I regret the delay, however the information if available, will be forwarded as soon as it is obtained, thank you.

I replied to MNS:

If the information is not held by the Ministry of National Security, then my request ought to have been transferred to the relevant government ministry/agency and I should have been notified of that transfer. I haven’t been. If the information is held by the Ministry of National Security, in whichever office or section, the requirements of the ATI Act would apply.
I have made a request to the ATI Tribunal for an appeal regarding the Ministry’s failure to provide the information.

October 14, 2016

Following some intervention by the ATI Unit, I received the following email from MNS with a document attached:

Please find attached the information that was requested Re: “Persons on Bail Committing Additional Offences”. Apologies are extended for the delay in the conveying of this response.

jcf-bail-doc-coverA copy of the document (Jamaica Constabulary Force – Assessment – Impact on Serious Crimes by Persons on Bail – June 28, 2016) is availble here: jcf-assessment-on-serious-crimes-by-persons-on-bail-28-06-16

I sent the following response to MNS:

Thank you for your email and the attached document.
I am not satisfied, however, that this fulfills my request made on June 17, 2016 for:
“all data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc regarding people on bail who have allegedly committed further offences while on bail”
to which I added the following identifier:
“I heard Minister Montague on a clip on the news today giving some figures at an event yesterday, which I hope would be included in the information I am requesting.”
 
The single document provided is a JCF report dated June 28, 2016. Since this is subsequent to the date of my request and the date on which the Minister made his public statement, I must assume that further documentation resides with the Ministry of National Security.
If indeed it is the Ministry’s position that it holds no other “data, reports, memos, correspondence, minutes, etc” as per my request, then I would appreciate a definitive statement of this.

October 21, 2016

I have not yet had a response from MNS to my email sent on October 14 and my request before the Appeal Tribunal remains in place.

Restricting Bail Provisions & the Document Provided by MNS

The issue of passing or amending legislation to restrict access to bail beyond existing provisions is not a new one. Among the six anti-crime bills passed in 2010 were two amendments to the Bail Act, which were subsequently challenged in court and in 2011 were ruled unconstitutional and therefore void. (Nation, Adrian v The Director of Public Prosecutions and The Attorney General of Jamaica)

The issue was again raised this year when Prime Minister Andrew Holness stated the Government’s intention to amend the Bail Act during his Budget Debate presentation in Parliament on May 24. ag-mmf-5-7-16Minister Montague made his speech on June 16 (Jamaica Observer, 17/10/16)  and public discussion further intensified following Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte’s Sectoral Debate presentation on July 5, in which she stated

So, Mr Speaker, we are going to touch the Bail Act, again….We are going to make some radical changes. Right now, the sentiment is one of “no bail for murder, unless self defence arises on the Crown’s case and the likelihood of an acquittal is high’.

So four months after I began my ATI quest to get documents from the Ministry of National Security giving information about people on bail who have committed further offences while on bail – documents which might empirically ground the Government’s declared intention to amend the Bail Act – I have received one document, a six-page assessment by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Only 3 of those pages deal with crimes committed by people on bail, and the information given is of a fairly cursory nature.

If this is the only document MNS has which deals with this topic, then it is frightening to think that this is what is being used to support a decision to amend the Bail Act.

If there are other documents held by MNS – or any other Ministry or public authority – then the MNS has failed in its duty to comply with the provisions of the Access to Information Act.

I await further communication from MNS or the hearing of my requested appeal before the ATI Appeal Tribunal to discover which of these two bleak possibilities is the case.

 


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350 Words Or Less: The Attorney General Tweets An Opinion Which Invites Explanation

Yesterday, in the wake of the killings of 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando – a horrendous targeted attack on LGBT people – the US Embassy in Jamaica flew its flag at half mast (as instructed by its President) and flew a rainbow flag also. It tweeted the following:

US Emb tweet of flags 13-6-16

Last night, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s Attorney General (AG), posted this tweet, which has become the subject of much discussion online and off:

AG MMF tweet 13-6-16

I do not understand what the AG’s reasoning is for finding the US Embassy’s action “disrespectful of Jamaica’s laws” and am genuinely interested in finding out. I asked last night:

SG tweet to AG  MMF 13-6-16

By way of a hashtag in her tweet, AG Malahoo Forte indicated that she was giving her personal opinion. However, for a number of reasons, I think that the AG should share the thinking behind her opinion.

Malahoo Forte in her public and professional role as AG is the principal legal adviser to the Government of Jamaica. Although she stated that she was expressing a personal opinion, it is an opinion to do with the laws of Jamaica, something she could be asked to advise the Government on. Her publicly expressed view, therefore, would be of valid interest and concern to the Jamaican public, since she was not commenting on something unconnected to her area of public responsibility.

Additionally, I would have had less interest in her publicly expressed personal opinion if she had held some other post, Minister of Finance, for example, or Minister of Transport and Mining. Those portfolios would not be directly related to the topic of Malahoo Forte’s tweet – her opinion that a foreign embassy disrespected the laws of Jamaica.

So, I think it is entirely valid to ask the AG to explain

  • which of Jamaica’s laws specifically she was referring to, and
  • in what way she thought the action was disrespectful of those laws.

I look forward to hearing the AG’s explanation.

Though with developments today, I suspect we will never publicly hear that explanation.

US Embassy response this morning:

US Emb tweet responding to AG MMF - 14-6-16

PM Andrew Holness’ speech this morning

OPM statement re PM speech 14-6-16

The deletion of Malahoo Forte’s original tweet this morning:

AG MMF tweet deleted on 14-6-16