Right Steps & Poui Trees


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350 Words or Less: No Need for Covid Conversations Anymore?

One of the communication tools the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has used during the pandemic to share information with the public is the press conferences dubbed Covid Conversations. For some periods, these Conversations took place routinely on Thursday evenings and included an epidemiological update on the Covid situation in Jamaica, with slides, presented by the Chief Medical Officer or the National Epidemiologist. Aspects of policy and administration would be dealt with and current issues that had recently arisen. Importantly, it was also an opportunity for members of the media to ask questions of MOHW representatives, including the Minister and Permanent Secretary, and have them answered on the record. And the PBCJ recordings of these events have provided a very useful archive for tracking aspects of the pandemic and the MOHW’s approach.

In more recent months, however, these Covid Conversations have been held less frequently, as I and fellow blogger Emma Lewis have commented on on Twitter:

It isn’t that the Minister or the CMO or the Director of Family Health Services are not accessible to the media. They certainly do interviews on various radio programmes. However, these are not archived in the way that the PBCJ recordings are and quickly become inaccessible to the public and they certainly won’t be available via Access to Information requests. And when the Minister speaks in Parliament, members of the media don’t get to ask him questions there.

The last Covid Conversation was held on the morning of Tuesday, October 26, 2021, an unusual day and time, as the Minister himself commented. That’s 4 weeks ago today. There has been no Covid Conversation in November. Why not? Has MOHW decided that these convos are no longer useful? If so, what is the strategy being used to replace them or to provide other means for the sharing of the information they provided and the regular opportunity to have questions asked and answered? Or is it that there’s nothing new to share or to answer questions about? Covid’s over?

Maybe this Thursday we’ll have another Covid Conversation…or maybe not…


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Cases Reported of a Possible Exposure to Covid-19 in Schools?

During his statement in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 16, 2021), while announcing changes to the Covid-19 measures, PM Andrew Holness briefly mentioned cases of children with possible exposure to Covid-19 and how this was dealt with by schools.

Speaking about the country as a whole, he said:

“We are being very cautious in reopening and, just to be clear, we are not going to shut down again.”

He then went on to say:

“So, Madam Speaker, we have reopened our schools. We have seen cases reported of a possible exposure to Covid-19. We haven’t shut them when they have opened. We tell them to sanitise, clean up, isolate the child, keep them at home. But we are not going to close the schools again.”

These cases referred to by the Prime Minister – of possible Covid exposure in children in schools – haven’t been reported in the media nor to general public by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI) or by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW). In his statement, PM Holness gave no other information about these cases…what schools or parishes they occurred in, when they occurred or how many children or schools were affected, for example.

Other questions needing answers include:

  • Has information about these cases been reported to the parents, guardians or families in the schools where these cases occurred?
  • Were the children who were possibly exposed to Covid-19 tested to see if they actually had Covid-19?
  • Were the other children and teachers in their class or in the school also tested?
  • Was any contact tracing done?

And a more general question needs to be asked about what exactly the protocol is when schools have a child in attendance who was possibly exposed to Covid-19, beyond what PM Holness mentioned…”We tell them to sanitize, clean up, isolate the child, keep them at home.”

There is very little specific information in the MOEYI’s Manual for the Reopening of Educational Institutions – Version 3, August 2021 on how suspected/confirmed cases of Covid-19 in students or staff are to be dealt with. And there is no mention of testing. Perhaps it is set out in detail elsewhere. It would be good to know.

PBCJ recording of the sitting of the House of Representatives on November 16, 2021


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Covid Reflections: What has happened to genome sequencing test results?

A few months ago, as the media reported on the surge of Covid cases caused by the Delta variant in first the UK and then the USA, some of us in Jamaica began asking whether the variant was present in Jamaica. There is a great deal of travel to Jamaica from these two countries – residents, members of the diaspora, tourists – and it seemed only a matter of time before we got cases of the Delta variant here. Was testing being done for the variant by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and, if so, what had been found?

Responding to a question at the MOHW Covid-19 press conference on July 1, 2021, Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said the following:

“The Delta variant is something that we really are watchful for. We certainly don’t want to have that in country because we recognise that there is an increased transmissible rate and also that there is an increased chance of admission. And so in our population that is vastly not vaccinated, it does put us at risk. 


In terms of the testing for the variant, we did, we sent off 200 samples to PAHO testing laboratory in Brazil last week. We have another 92 samples that we have sent off to the CDC. I’m not absolutely sure that that went off this week, but that was the plan, to send off another 92 samples to the CDC and another hundred samples to PAHO to be tested in Panama. 


So we have three arrangements in place now. We really have had some problems in terms of getting the genomic sequencing done. And a lot of that delay has been because of transportation, not because we have not had willing partners to do the testing. But the transportation problems have delayed us getting the samples out, even to the extent that transportation routes, because they have to be longwinded, have resulted in damage to the samples that made not all of them at some times suitable for testing. So we believe that we have worked out something now, a more reliable transport method to get these samples out and we have three partners – the PAHO, CDC and CARPHA – to do the testing. So we do expect that at least every two weeks we should be getting out at least a hundred samples for testing.


The turnaround time once they receive the sample for PAHO, we have been told, is two weeks. The samples last batch went out last week. They are in receipt of the samples, so we are hopeful. We know that sometimes we get times and it may not turn out to be exactly that but we are hopeful that in another two weeks we will have that first set of results. And thereafter we should have results coming after.


We also have started to do some in house testing using kits that are donated by PAHO that enable us to choose the samples better for testing. So we have now a method in place where we can pick up whether or not there are mutations. So mutations can be quite varied and can sometimes not be of any significance at all. But we can now pick up if there are any variations from the normal wild type and those are the samples that we have been sending for testing for genomic sequencing to see if those mutations show any variants of interest or variants of concern.”

(Transcribed from PBCJ recording of July 1, 2021 MOHW press briefing)

This left me hopeful that, despite previous problems that had affected testing for variants, there was now a new system in place that would mean faster results that could help to inform government decisions and responses and help the public to better understand what we were facing. The time lag was still not optimal, but seemed better until we had the equipment needed to do genomic sequencing here.

However, there seemed to be a delay in the hoped for two week turnaround time for the results from PAHO and in a presentation on July 20, 2021, at the Joint Select Committee of Parliament dealing with Covid-19 and related matters, National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr included this slide:

It showed that results had been received for samples sent to the CDC, but that no results had at that time been received for the samples sent to PAHO.

(I wrote about that presentation in Parliament in a post I made on July 22, 2021 – On the Verge of a Third Wave? – Jamaica’s Current Covid-19 Situation.)

And to date we have not had any clear update on what has happened regarding those and any other subsequent samples sent to any of the three labs for genomic sequencing. The most we have heard is comments during various media interviews or at press briefings that we are still awaiting results from overseas partners. And that there is no confirmation through testing that the Delta variant is here, but that from other indicators we can assume that it is.

At the press briefing on Monday, August 9, 2021, held to announce the latest changes to the Covid restriction measures, Minister Tufton said, in response to a question from Jamila Maitland about test results and the Delta variant:

“As it relates to the test for the variant strain, I think we are on record of saying that we do believe that it is here based on the movement between countries where it is the dominant strain. We have not yet confirmed its presence based on the test results that we have gotten to date. However, those results up to this point were results that were a little dated because it takes a while to get back the results from where we send them. We are anxiously anticipating the results of tests that would hopefully reflect more what is present in the population. But we continue to advise caution.”

Minister Chris Tufton, at OPM press briefing, August 9, 2021 (transcribed from PBCJ recording)

It is now nearly six weeks since Dr Bisasor-McKenzie outlined the new arrangements for genomic sequencing testing and it is three weeks since the presentation and discussion at the Covid Joint Select Committee in Parliament. We really need a clear update on what has happened with the new arrangements and why it is that we haven’t seen any further results other than the CDC results shown on July 20.

I assume that the MOHW will be holding a press briefing on Thursday and that would be an appropriate opportunity for a full update. Some questions I would hope to hear answered would be:

  • Since the list shared shared on July 20, 2021, have the results of any samples sent for genomic sequencing been received from PAHO, CDC and CARPHA?
  • If so, when were these results received and what did they show?
  • If any results were received, what were the dates on which those samples were collected?
  • What samples have been sent for which results are still outstanding?
  • What has been the cause of the delay in receiving the results for samples sent? What has been or is being done to remedy this?
  • What impact do delays such as this have on the Ministry’s ability to make plans and decisions?
  • Specifically, is it still the case that there is no confirmation by testing that the Delta variant is present in Jamaica?
  • What is the current status of plans to be able to do genomic sequencing here?

Let’s see.

PBCJ Recording of MOHW press conference held on July 1, 2021

PBCJ Recording of OPM press conference held on August 9, 2021


INDECOM’s Special Report on Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre Raises Serious Concerns

The 3rd and 4th Quarterly Reports of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) were tabled in Parliament today. The former contains a Special Report on the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre, one of the four juvenile correctional and remand centres operated by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). This report raises a number of serious concerns about the treatment and well-being of the children in State custody at that facility, as well as the effectiveness of oversight mechanisms that are supposed to protect those children.

I am posting copies of the two reports tonight. I will write more in days ahead.


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New NIDS Bill Tabled in Parliament

Yesterday afternoon (December 15, 2020) the new National Identification System and Registration (NIDS) Bill was tabled in Parliament.

The Bill was read the first and second times and a Select Committee of the House was named; a Select Committee of the Senate is to be named and the two committees will sit jointly to review the new Bill. The MPs named yesterday were:

Delroy Chuck (Chairman), Fayval Williams, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Marsha Smith, Robert Morgan, Dwight Sibblies, Julian Robinson, Hugh Graham and Lothan Cousins.

In his statement about the new Bill to the House, PM Holness didn’t outline a timetable for its passage as he had done in September, but MP Chuck did mention it in his brief comments:

“It is a very important Bill and we certainly would like to use the next two months profitably and hopefully we can debate and have the Bill passed during this fiscal year.”

It is during this short period that the public will have the opportunity to read and analyse the Bill and to give feedback.

Below is the prepared text of the Prime Minister’s statement, which can be checked against the PBCJ recording to hear his additional comments and to hear the comments made by Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding.

The proceedings regarding the new NIDS Bill start at approx 2:44:40 in the PBCJ recording.


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New NIDS Bill to be Tabled in Parliament Shortly…and be Passed by Year End?

At the first session of the new Parliament on September 29, 2020, Prime Minister Holness made a statement about the National Identification System (NIDS) and laid out the timetable in which he hopes to see the new NIDS Bill passed into law. With legislation that will have such far-reaching impact and which has already been the subject of much controversy, it is important that adequate time is allowed for public review of the Bill before it becomes law.  I am concerned that the timetable laid out by the Prime Minister may not allow sufficient time for this much-needed public review.

In his statement in Parliament, PM Holness said that the draft Bill had been completed and was before the Legislative Committee (of Cabinet) and that it would be tabled in Parliament before the end of October. A Joint Select Committee of Parliament would then be established and it was his hope that the Bill would be passed by the end of the year.

In too many instances over the decades, the deadline given by Joint Select Committees for submissions hasn’t allowed adequate time for interested groups and individuals to review and analyse the draft legislation and prepare submissions. In the current situation, if the new NIDS Bill is tabled within the next two weeks, there would be only 7 to 9 weeks for the entire process to take place, if the Bill is to be passed into law before the end of December. That is,

  • for the Joint Select Committee (JSC) to be established to consider the Bill and make a call for submissions;
  • for the public to review the Bill and make submissions and appear before the Committee, if asked;
  • for the Committee to undergo its own deliberations, considering any submissions, and write and table its report to Parliament;
  • for both Houses of Parliament to consider the report and its recommendations and debate the Bill and pass it.

It may be that once the new Bill is tabled, it will have been so carefully drafted and will have addressed the concerns raised in the judgment of the Constitutional Court which struck down the old Act, and will have taken into consideration many of the concerns raised by the public prior to the passage of the old Act, that there will be few new or remaining concerns to be dealt with. But until we see the new Bill we will not know.

We can read the new NIDS policy that was published in April. We can read or listen to the PM’s statement to Parliament in September. But until the Bill is tabled, we will not know what it actually says and, to use the cliché, the devil is always in the details.

So, for example, the new policy and the PM have said that enrolment in the NIDS will now be voluntary, but how is this addressed in the Bill? Could a situation arise in which government or private sector entities could make the presentation of a NIDS card or number mandatory to access service, so that enrolling in NIDS becomes mandatory in fact or practice, if not in law? Need for discussion before passage into law?

Let’s not have a repeat of the previous experience where a self-imposed deadline drives the process by which the legislation goes through the Parliament. And whereas I agree with the PM that the process shouldn’t be boundless, it needs to be realistic in its allowance for genuine consultation and discussion. This allowance for adequate time before passage of the legislation may indeed forestall problems after its passage, as well as simply being in accord with good governance practices.

(Just to note that the PM spoke about a space on the NIDS website that will allow for public comments about the new Bill. This raises the need for other forums for public information and input before the Bill is passed.)

Relevant Documents

PBCJ recording of Sitting of House, September 29, 2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axnFC1Xet48

“…we intend to have the Bill through the Legislative Committee before the end of October. The Bill will come back to this House and out of an abundance of caution, I can state here that it will go to a Joint Select Committee, so that there is no opportunity for unnecessary delays and that if there are issues that arise in the traditional way, we deal with it in the Committee. And the public can have their say. At, you know, I don’t want to determine the Parliamentary process but one would expect that the process is not unlimited. There must be some bound to it. And therefore we would like before the end of the year, this year, that we should be seeking to pass the Bill into law. Madam Speaker, once the Bill is tabled in Parliament, as I said, we will have a Joint Select Committee to navigate it through the Parliament and we hope that the deliberations will proceed apace.” 

PM Holness’ comment re new NIDS Bill timeline – Transcribed from PBCJ recording of Sitting of the House, September 29, 2020


Prime Minister’s Covid-19 Statement in Parliament: October 6, 2020

In Parliament this afternoon (October 6, 2020), Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a statement about the current situation concerning Covid-19 in Jamaica and announced a number of changes to the measures pertaining to the management of the pandemic. These measures will be found in the Disaster Risk Management Order No.14, which is not yet available. Some of the measures went into effect at 6pm this evening; others go into effect tomorrow.

Below is the text of the Prime Minister’s statement and I have also included a link to the recording of today’s sitting of the House.

Two areas will have additional measures imposed because of a spike in the number of cases of Covid-19 that have been reported. They are Whitfield Town in Kingston and Waterford in St Catherine. The boundaries of the communities are given below:

The Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) recording of today’s sitting of the House can be found at this link and allows for the checking of the text of the PM’s statement against delivery.


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Disaster Risk Management Order No. 11 – Dated July 31, 2020

The Gazette of the Disaster Risk Management (Emergency Measures) (No. 11) Order, 2020 is available. It contains measures announced by Prime Minster Holness in Parliament on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Many of the measures will expire on September 30, 2020, unless amended prior to that date.

Disaster Risk Management Order No 11 cover blog pic

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 11) Order, 2020 – July 31, 2020

Order No. 11 is posted on the websites of the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Prime Minister.

House of Representatives Sitting on July 28, 2020.

The Prime Minster’s statement begins at approx 3:42:35 of the recording.

 


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Minister Chuck & the INDECOM Debate

PBCJ Sitting of House July 21 2020 - Minister ChuckIn Parliament on Tuesday (July 21, 2020), Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck opened the debate on his motion to amend the Independent Commission of Investigations Act, 2010. In a presentation lasting less than ten minutes, he laid out the government’s position regarding the proposed amendments and the process to be followed to get there. No-one else spoke in the debate on Tuesday. Minister Chuck ended his statement saying that it was the intention that the debate should be concluded next week:

“Mr Speaker, I now ask for a suspension of the debate and hope that other Parliamentarians will see it appropriate to make their contributions next week when we hope to close the debate.”

I wonder who will speak next week and for how many minutes.

As Minister Chuck has indicated before, the Government is asking the Members of the House to support all the recommendations included in the 2015 report of the Joint Select Committee that reviewed the INDECOM Act, except the recommendation to give INDECOM the power to prosecute. JSC INDECOM Review power to prosecute

When Minister Chuck spoke about this recommendation on Tuesday,  he added “And I dare say, Mr Speaker, I was one of the strongest proponents of that view. ” The view that INDECOM needed the power to prosecute.

Minister Chuck’s change in position seems to be based primarily on the increased number of prosecutors at the Office of the DPP. He spoke generally about the increased numbers, and referred to an existing MOU between the Office of the DPP and INDECOM:

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that a MOU was arrived at in March 2018 between the ODPP and INDECOM whereby, among other things, two prosecutors were assigned specifically to liaise directly with and treat with INDECOM matters.  Indeed, if more prosecutors are needed to deal with INDECOM matters in a timely manner, I am assured by the DPP that one or more prosecutors can be so assigned.

Minister Chuck’s Opening statement, p. 2

What he did not do was to provide any data on how that MOU has functioned. There was no data, for example, on the number of files INDECOM has sent to the ODPP each year; no data on how long it has taken for the ODPP to make decisions on the files sent; no data on the causes of any delays; no data on what decisions have been made (without identifying the individual cases themselves, but whether decisions were made to prosecute, to send to coroner’s court or for disciplinary proceeding or other options).

Beyond the Minister’s assurances, what would Members of Parliament (and members of the public) rely on to assess how the ODPP has managed the INDECOM files to date and will be able to manage them in the future?

Although the Minister didn’t specifically refer to the Joint Select Committee recommendation that INDECOM should clearly have the power to arrest and charge, this is not being supported by the Government either. (See Section 20, p. 10 of the report.) And Minister Chuck didn’t give the reasoning for this in his presentation.

Mr Chuck listed a number of additional amendments to be included and set out the intended process if the motion passes:

These recommendations plus others in the Report will be introduced in a Bill to amend the INDECOM Act and drafting instructions will accordingly be provided to OPC at the close of this debate and after further consideration by Cabinet.  I hope that the proposed amended Bill will be tabled in Parliament during this fiscal year.

Minister Chuck’s Opening statement, p. 4

Next week is scheduled to be the last week before Parliament goes on its summer break. This debate is likely to be completed and the motion passed without much notice. And this will be a blow for police accountabilty measures in Jamaica. There will still be the opportunity to advocate for inclusion of these powers up until a new Bill is actually passed, although Minister Chuck has indicated the Government’s position.

INDECOM, under the leadership of its first Commissioner – Terrence Williams – has had a significant impact in its first ten years. I wonder what the next ten years will bring…

Related Documents

Motion Regarding Amendments to the Independent Commission of Investigations Act, 2010 brought to the House on May 27, 2020, by Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck. (If I find a better copy of the motion, I will post it.)

Motion Regarding Amendments to Independent Commission of Investigations Act, 2020 - Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck May 27 2020

Text of Minister Chuck’s Opening Statement in Debate on INDECOM Act Amendment Motion 

Minister Chuck's Opening Statement in INDECOM Act motion

MINISTER CHUCK’S OPENING PRESENTATION – INDECOM – Amendment to INDECOM Act – dated 17-7-2020 – delivered 22-7-2020

Report of Joint Select Committee Reviewing the INDECOM Act – Tabled in Parliament 2015

JFJ graphic

 

Recent post by Jamaicans for Justice on proposed amendments to the INDECOM Act

JFJ – Safeguard INDECOM’s Independence – Reform the INDECOM Act – 22-6-2020

PBCJ Recording of the Sitting of House of Representatives July 21, 2020 Minister Chuck’s statement begins at approximately 3:43:00 in the recording.

 

 

 

 


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The Death of Noel Chambers: “…a comprehensive audit…has been commissioned”

On January 24, 2020, Mr Noel Chambers died in the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre.

INDECOM 1st Quarterly Report 2020 - Noel Chambers - blog picOn June 2, 2020, the public was made aware of Mr Chambers’ death when the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) released its First Quarterly Report for 2020 at a digital press conference. The details given about Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death were horrifying and outraged the country.

“At the time of his death Mr. Chambers was 81 years old. He was incarcerated on February 4, 1980 and had been in prison for 40 years without being tried. He was being held at the Governor General’s pleasure, deemed unfit to plead to a charge of murder. Therefore he was being held in custody without being convicted for an offence….

At the time of his death he was in a deplorable physical condition. His clothing was filthy and his body showed evidence of chronic emaciation. He was covered with what appeared to be vermin bites, live bedbugs (‘chink’) and he showed signs of having bed sores.”

(p. 5, INDECOM First Quarterly Report 2020)

In the days following news of Mr Chambers’ death, we were told that more details regarding the circumstances surrounding his death and the government’s response would be given when Minister of National Security Horace Chang gave a statement in Parliament. The Department of Correctional Services, which manages the prisons, falls under the Ministry of National Security.

On June 16, 2020, Minister Chang gave a statement in Parliament.  This is the text of the statement…

Minister Chang statement re Noel Chambers blog pic

PARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT on death of Noel Chambers

…and this is a link to the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica’s (PBCJ) recording of the sitting of the House of Representatives that day. Minister Chang’s statement about the death of Mr Chambers begins at approximately 23:30 in the recording.

PBCJ Min Chang Parliament 16-6-2020 Noel Chambers statement pic

I have a number of concerns arising out of this statement, but the one I want to focus on here is the audit announced in Paragraph 4 of Minister Chang’s statement:

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned. This audit is expected to not only reveal the circumstances specific to his death but also to thoroughly examine the procedures involved in the treatment of inmates who are deemed unfit to plead. In the interim, I wish to outline the details of preliminary findings from the special investigation undertaken by the Department of Correctional Services.

“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Chambers has been commissioned.” This is what the Parliament was told and by extension the country as a whole. This is put forward as a major mechanism for uncovering the details surrounding Mr Chambers’ death, for accountability and for recommending changes in the systems that allowed for his incarceration and death.

“…a comprehensive audit into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Chambers has been commissioned.”

  • Who commissioned the audit?
  • Who is carrying out the audit? What body? Which individuals?
  • What are the terms of reference of the audit?
  • What resources and powers have been granted for the carrying out of this audit?
  • What is the timeline for the completion of the audit?
  • To whom will the audit report be sent once it is completed?
  • Will the audit report be tabled in Parliament? Will it be made public?

If the answers to these questions are not made public, it will be difficult – if not impossible – for the public to hold the government accountable for this process and any subsequent action.

One reason why greater transparency is absolutely necessary is that this audit process may be being carried out by entities and/or individuals responsible for the circumstances that led to Mr Chambers’ incarceration and death.

More information is necessary, Minister Chang.

We need to remember that it wasn’t the Ministry of National Security that brought Mr Chambers’ death to public attention. Without INDECOM’s report, we would not have known.