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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This recurring Riverton nightmare


Riverton Dump: our brave firefighters battle the result of poor planning

By Jean Lowrie-Chin | Observer column for Mon 16 March 2015

Those media sound bites we got on the Riverton City Dump fire that caused illness and dislocation, were mostly from the fire department, and the hastily called press briefing of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) last Friday left us with more questions than answers.
If you put in the search words ‘Riverton City Dump fire’ on the web, you will discover that this has been a recurring 12-year problem which has been the subject of multiple studies and minimal action.  Indeed, an action against the NSWMA brought by four complainants as a result of the 2012 fire, finally has a Court date of December 1, 2015. 
The report from the website of the Office of the Public Defender reads: “On February 6, 2012, a fire started at the Riverton City Disposal Site. The blaze lasted 6 days while the smoke abatement process lasted 17 days. The noxious emission resulted in numerous complaints being received by the Office of the Public Defender (OPD). On February 10, 2012, OPD commenced an investigation into formal complaints by residents of Portmore and the Corporate Area about the ill effects of the noxious fumes…
“This matter is of grave importance as there have been at least 12 reported fires at the Riverton City Disposal Site in the last 10 years. The Disposal Site is operated by the NSWMA which is a statutory body and is governed by the National Solid Waste Management Act 2001. Our investigation has revealed that the NSWMA has repeatedly breached its obligations under the Act and in doing so, the claimants constitutional right as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act 2011 was breached. 
“This Commission's investigation has revealed that adequate steps were not taken to extinguish the fire… The Claimants are seeking a declaration that NSWMA is in breach of its statutory duty which amounts to a breach of their constitutional right. At a directions hearing heard on the 29th July 2014 … Justice Thompson-James made several orders as it was the first hearing for the Fixed Date Claim. The trial has been set for three (3) days commencing on December 1, 2015 in open court.”
On March 15, 2014, almost a year before last week’s disaster, a fire broke out at the said Riverton City Dump. The Jamaica Environment Trust issued a statement (thanks for posting Emma Lewis) which noted: 
“The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has allowed the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to continue to operate Riverton and other dumps in totally unsatisfactory conditions over decades. We know that NEPA issued an enforcement notice with regard to this latest fire, but the smoke continues to compromise the air for thousands of people.”
Now here is a particularly disturbing observation from JET: “We know that millions of dollars have been spent on this latest fire; money that is not going to be available for proper waste management in future. It is an open secret that the fire is often set by people who have access to the unsecured dump and may well be some of the same people who benefit from the funds which then must be spent to extinguish it.”
Last week, as I noted the upsurge of child fatalities, I wondered at the cynical choices being made by some of our leaders in both political parties as they reign over their garrison communities.  How in heavens name, after 12 years of these fires and the identification of poisonous gases emanating from them, have we not put the necessary safeguards in place?  Is it because it is easier to open the gates of the dump to those poverty-stricken residents in the area so they can eke out a living, rather than have a structured plan that could still include them, but prevent the possibility of fire-setting? Clearly the technology exists to assist in such a plan.
This latest fire has hit the overseas media, with a ABC News carrying the headline: “Smoke Blankets Jamaica’s Capital as Dump Fire Burns”.  Reporter David McFadden noted that in a previous occurence: “The cancer-causing chemical benzene was detected at three times the World Health Organization's air standard. After a 2012 fire, Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill acknowledged the situation affected public health. But the dump continues to catch fire and the island's biggest city continues to be covered in smoke when it does.”
As businesses, including our very Port of Kingston, had to close because of the associated health risks, what message are we sending to the investors we were courting so fervently at the Cariforum Conference in Montego Bay last week? 
This recurring Riverton City nightmare is no longer the business of only the Minister of Local Government, the NSWMA or NEPA.  It is the urgent business of the Government of Jamaica which boasts some bright stars in its Cabinet.  Clearly, there is a disconnect between our various ministries when one agency has to be begging the media to help them find heavy equipment to which other ministries must have access. If there is a jolly picnic happening because of the JLP implosion, let our Government know that neither the media nor civil society groups are napping.  There has to be an accounting.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

WHILE ROME BURNS by Sarah Manley

I am posting this because it is a warning and a guide... "The appearance of success is not success."  Please read and ponder..  Thank you Sarah Manley!
.. Jean Anita

19 March 2015 at 14:32 
They say the victors record history. It is they who tell the story from their perspective, as they are often the only survivors to tell the tale. But, a narrative told only one way misses details that in hindsight are important. Small or large tidbits left out present an incomplete picture. Perspective matters.

When I posted the picture juxtaposition of the Diner En Blanc affaire beside the huge plumes of smoke from the Riverton City Dump fire blanketing the city of Kingston I did so with a clear conscience and a profound sense of irony. The elegant aerial of Jamaica's elite decked out in fine style streaming in to our National Emancipation Park, a picture I might add widely circulated in social media, and in traditional media, presented an irresistible visual representation of the haves doing what haves do. Their choice of white clothing formed an almost cloud like film eerily similar to the white smoke billowing over the capital. While Rome Burns, a long venerated metaphor for those with excess living to excess in the midst of poverty and desperation begged to be the caption.

Immediately came the backlash from attendees, many of whom I count among my friends, acquaintances, former school mates and family. I am myself a part of the elite of Jamaica. In fact I hold the dubious distinction by accident of birth, and by far more deliberate upbringing of being counted among the perhaps the most reviled of the elites, the political elite.

A curious response emerged to my post from the attendees of the dinner. They seemed unaware that there was any irony attached at all and were genuinely surprised that I would put the two images together. They said they were unrelated. That the fire did not literally happen while they dined. They said in short that I was comparing apples and oranges. I was actually shocked. I expected some response, perhaps a sheepish, "well mi dear we may as well for Rome is burning anyway". But to not see the irony at all was something that frankly astounded me.

I can go on ad nauseum with examples of how Rome is figuratively burning daily, hourly, minutely in our beloved homeland. Where do I begin? I'll begin with the dump itself which within a few short days and a few short miles away from the charming stylish dinner, began to suspiciously smoke, and as the head of the fire department said, was engulfed in flames over an unprecedented area, an area so large he has to attribute the fire to arson. This is not a new phenomenon as these dump fires happen annually, and in fact it has been suggested are an accepted part of an economic structure so deformed that starting the fire is a common strategy of business development for the truck owners who are paid to haul the huge mounds of dirt needed to put it out. It is in fact business as usual.

I go further. Noted environmentalists have said that strategies to improve garbage disposal in Jamaica have been repeatedly ignored by successive governments because they are either unaffordable or stand in the way of garbage for energy plans that appear to be permanently on the shelf. This is Rome burning literally and figuratively.

I can go on. The Ministry of Health, itself so cash strapped that it is frequently in the news for being short of even the most basic supplies, not to mention broken equipment it cannot repair, hospital beds it cannot supply etc, stated that it was awaiting results of air quality tests sent overseas to labs that we don't have to determine the level of contamination in the smoke. Curiously, they later said that there will be no lasting effects from exposure. Fascinating. Are these Canadian lab results in? And what did they say? Enquiring minds want to know. These are but two of several examples of Rome in flames that are directly related to this particular fiasco.

But the merry revelers need not concern themselves with Rome as it appears -  they are exempt from its rules, its outcomes and its consequences. By example we look at the choice of the location secured for their bashment. The Emancipation Park. This park was opened in 2002 to serve as a monument to the end of the ignoble history on which our nation was built. In deference to it's name and the freedom for which it stands its rules include that it is a public park. One of only a few carefully maintained public spaces in our city designed for all to enjoy. It costs 80 million sweat drenched dollars annually to keep it in it's pristine state, money financed controversially from another venerable Jamaican institution the National Housing Trust.

We forgive this misuse of NHT funds because this Park is for all of us. Or is it? The Diner En Blanc crowd, by virtue of its extensive political and economic connections in society appear to have circumnavigated the express rules of the park and managed to not only have a section, their special section, closed for their soiree, but to bring champagne no less, in a towering pyramid of sumptuous white, to the park which expressly prohibits the use of alcohol. Champagne, the glorious symbol of excess... the wine drunk by kings. Yet there is no irony. Yea right.

So we must ask ourselves this question. Why are these self important, over privileged, over exposed, immaculately dressed folk unable to see themselves as the fiddlers and to see Rome itself in flames around them? Why do they think they are entitled to have their story recounted by them only, from their perspective alone? Have they bought in to their own press? Over the past 20 or so years, a culture has emerged in Jamaica. In it, a society of "important" people have been created by virtue of attending social events and having those events publicized, first in the traditional press, which continues, and now in social media.

It has become a thriving business where products are marketed and those in attendance are photographed and presented to the public as icons of style, fashion, and overall class and good taste. In fact, these page two moments are peddled by calculating culture vultures who hold the other side of the coin, the often vicious gossip column entries as the sword over the heads of any party thrower who dares to exclude them from participating. It's a pretty nasty trick that has exploited the over inflated egos of the wanna bes for financial gain. It has been allowed to flourish unchallenged for over two decades as no one wants to be on the receiving end of the pepper potty mouth. Is it this ridiculous press that has convinced the few that their aspirations, their desires to see themselves in newsprint are actually a form of relevance?

Notably absent from the Blanc proceedings were many brokers of power in our charming little village. Well known politicians were not present, well known bankers, well known businessmen were not photographed frolicking among the champagne glasses and white table settings shamelessly touted in the weeks leading up by businesses owned by other members of the elite. Do they see the irony of flaming Rome surrounding the emancipated blancs? A good question.

I have long espoused a theory I find to be one of a few core root issues we suffer from in Jamaica. I call it form over function. We Jamaicans are spectacularly good at appearances. We are good at creating the appearance of success. We seem however to have confused looking the part with being the part. It is so ingrained in our culture that to many of us we genuinely think that if we show up, in the right attire, at the right address, it doesn't matter if we actually produce nothing, do nothing, alter nothing, because to us, the mere fact of our presence is enough. Blanc is a fine example of this. Surely our haute couture elegance taking over Emancipation Park is evidence of our general success as movers and shakers in society. Surely the fact that we could demonstrate such a sumptuous show of style is evidence of our virtue. To suggest otherwise is, well it's just being a hater.

But, form is not function. The appearance of success is not success.That you could turn up in your finery with your picnic baskets of (What was in those picnic baskets? Good cheese? Pate? Or tin mackerel?) of whatever, is evidence of nothing. Rome is aflame, despite your presence on the Boards of Associations, despite your Jimmy Choos. The desperate in ghettos ten deep to a room are plotting ever plotting to scale your wall, to pick your pocket, to carve themselves out a slice of your pie cooling just beyond their reach on your watchtower.

We have its not my fault itis. Witness our Prime Minister's statement to the people of Jamaica regarding the Head ofthe NSWMA. She races to her defense with a most peculiar logic. She says, that since the head of the agency did not start the fire, she cannot be held accountable. Really? So what is her job then if not to take on the responsibility, and with that the concurrent accountability for happenings on the dump she collects a monthly paycheck to oversee? It's nobody's fault. Blame is not a thing we take easily here on the remnants of the plantation. Perhaps the sting of the cat o nine is so rooted in our ancestral memory avoiding blame is something we must do at all costs, for the whipping is hot, and the scars never fade.

Diner en Blanc is an international phenomenon. Originally it had about it an air of wanton subversion. In the past it was staged in public spaces without the permission of the authorities and the secrecy of the location was not only to surprise and delight the participants, but also to avoid authoritarian reaction. It has evolved into something else. An exclusive gathering of the crème de la crème showing the rest of us what style really looks like. When you hold such an event in a poor third world country, what you end up presenting is perhaps not what you intended, but it's a spectacle that in our case ironically, preceded Rome literally igniting. It is the final layer of irony in an event ablaze with it that some picnickers are unable to see this perspective and it reeks of a denial so deep it is frightening.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Verene Shepherd to address UN General Assembly to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

From IWF News ,  Washington DC.

March 20, 2015 – Professor Verene A. Shepherd of IWF Jamaica addressed the UN General Assembly in New York as a Keynote Speaker for a commemorative plenary meeting to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Shepherd is a member of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. She is University Director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies and Professor of Social History at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies.

The meeting is focused on the state of racial discrimination worldwide, and the theme from this year's event is: "Learning from historical tragedies to combat racial discrimination today." Shepherd's work seeks to identify root causes of societal problems and attempt to fix them.

"The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an opportunity to renew our commitment to building a world of justice and equality where xenophobia and bigotry do not exist. We must learn the lessons of history and acknowledge the profound damage caused by racial discrimination." – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the 21st of March to commemorate a tragedy which occurred in 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa.

Shepherd is a sought-after speaker and advocate worldwide on topics ranging from social justice to gender empowerment.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Grace ISSA Shield...Campion win by 6 wickets

Photos & Report from Tony  Wong via Lloyd Tenn.. 

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS-  https://youtu.be/Lz-03Hv7azM

It was a sad day for the StGC team as we lost to Campion in the Grace ISSA Shield final. Throughout the season, the Light Blues fought gallantly throughout, fighting their way out of a disaster on many occasions. 

I am sure that those who watched the final would agree that Campion played a great game and deserved to win. They batted with great discipline on the last day to give them the victory.

It is my opinion that up to the last hour it could have been anybody's game but alas, it was not the day for St George. It will be remembered as one of StGC's greatest seasons in the Grace/ISSA Cricket competition.

My congratulations to Campion and St Georges College for making this a most exciting and memorable school boy's cricket finals. I am proud and happy to have been there at Melbourne Cricket Club.

Congratulations also to our Coach, Glendon Coke and his staff and supporters for the hard work they put in, making the STGC team a champion quality one, probably the best over the last 20 years.

Tony Wong
St George's Sports Council
AMDG

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lorna Bell: 'We are all entitled'



Lorna Bell accepts flowers from Special Olympian Nigel Davis after being declared Alpha Academy Woman of Excellence for 2006.

After last week's opening of the Special Olympics Court sponsored by the Digicel Foundation, I had to post this column on Lorna Bell, the passionate Executive Director of Special Olympics Jamaica. Lorna has inspired the Foundation and many others to support special needs Jamaicans.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Monday, June 04, 2007 
column in the Jamaica Observer
Lorna Bell speaks with such urgency that you are swept along, instantly sold on her breathless mission to give our Special Olympians their moment in the sun. Lorna is passionate about these athletes, intellectually disabled yet capable of so much if they are only given the right support. Their motto can inspire even the brightest and best: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave."
"We are all entitled," says Lorna. "I have seen these athletes grow in confidence and become great achievers. Our Junior Richards ran 18th out of 486 in the last Reggae Marathon."
When Lorna got the call that she had been voted Alpha Academy's Woman of Excellence, she checked her calendar and explained that it would be impossible to do anything on a day when she was launching the National Special Olympic Games involving 800 participants. She finally capitulated and that same evening, about a week ago, she changed from her sweats into formal wear and enjoyed the unaccustomed limelight as she received the award.
We were blown away when Special Olympian Nigel Davis glided in on skates, twirling elegantly between the tables at the Terra Nova, to the strains of James Blunt's "You're Beautiful", and stopped beside his mentor and coach to present her with flowers. Davis, a silver medallist in skating, certainly has no self-esteem handicap. Lorna Bell and her volunteers absolutely get it: the disabled among us are a special opportunity to surpass our ordinariness with extraordinary empathy, in a mutually enriching experience.
Having taken Ireland by storm four years ago in the World Special Olympics, Lorna and her record-breaking team have their sights set on the China event. "September 26 - October 13, this year," Lorna told us, "fifty-five athletes all with intellectual disabilities will journey to Shanghai, China, for the 2007 World Summer Games, where they will compete on the world stage."
She has been feverishly pounding the pavement to raise the funds for this long-awaited event. This is Lorna's way. "Time is one of the most precious gifts you can give to a person," she told us as she reflected on the kindnesses she enjoyed at her alma mater. "Money cannot buy lasting joy, maybe just a very temporary relief . I encourage all present to reach out and make a difference. If each of us tried, just imagine how changed our country could be."
And how she has tried. Before taking the top post with Special Olympics, Lorna worked with Mustard Seed Communities for over three years, handling two demanding assignments in Haiti, travelling on the tap-tap buses and discovering the warmth and goodness of the Haitian people. "Even the poor who really had next to nothing would offer me food," Lorna recalls. "I had to pretend I wasn't hungry so I wouldn't deprive them. I really lost a lot of weight in Haiti!"
She was a regular visitor to the inmates at Fort Augusta Prison and spearheaded a walkathon, a Kiwanis New Kingston project, to raise awareness and support for children with HIV/AIDS.
My memory of young Lorna Talbot was a figure of perpetual motion on the sportsfield at Alpha. Then I lost track of her, only to discover that she was the grieving wife left behind when local football star and coach Winthorpe "Jackie" Bell perished in a bus crash in 1986 while attending the World Cup in Mexico City.
But the same guts that turned her into such a star on the tennis court brought her through her sorrow and deepened her passion for the handicapped and less fortunate. With her supportive family, she nurtured her two fatherless young daughters, Natasha who now holds a PhD in education, a highly respected maths coach in Florida, and Tamika who is PR manager for the Broward County Transportation system.
Lorna credits her parents, her teachers, family and friends for helping her to achieve her goals. She recalls being accompanied by Principal Sister Mary Bernadette to the airport for her first trip abroad to play tennis for Alpha. "While at the airport seeing us off, she gave me an envelope with US$50 in it," recalls Lorna. "This was my first trip abroad. This simple act of kindness touched me so much. I was once in need and am the living testament of how recipients can blossom from the genuine and simple gift of giving."
Lorna is the first to tell you that her achievements in sports outshone those in academia, but listening to her strong delivery, it made us realise that once you develop your special gifts, the others also escalate. Now Lorna's love for sports is being used to transform lives. Parents of Special Olympians will tell you of the new light that shines in the eyes of their children as they realise that indeed, they can be champions too. This prowess on the field builds their confidence to help them succeed at everyday tasks they had previously thought impossible.
Now, Lorna is turning around and thanking the very athletes she has helped, for discovering in her life the deep joy of seeing a fellow human being survive and thrive. Her bookish schoolmates all rose to their feet to applaud this good woman, whose energy seems to have no bounds, whose hazel eyes still bear a hint of girlish mischief and whose spirit has awakened a new hope in Jamaica's previously forgotten children.
lowriechin@aim.com