Before It’s All Gone: Preserving Jamaica’s Architectural Heritage

Originally posted on Perspectives: Cast iron building on Orange Street – photo: Paul Hamilton This post was first published as a two-part article in …

Before It’s All Gone: Preserving Jamaica’s Architectural Heritage

Holness points to light at end of #COVID19Life tunnel by major easing of curfews-June 23, 2021

PM Holness announced yesterday some major relaxation of Jamaica’s COVID restrictions, notably easing curfew hours to 11pm to 5am for Mondays to Saturdays and 6pm to 5am on Sundays.

The measure will run from July 1 to August 11.

The Opposition were quick to point out that our situation is still highly vulnerable despite improving trends but with a woefully low level of vaccination.

In summary, the other changes from July 1 are:

Churches and Cinemas

* Places of worship – current limit of 50 to move to a capacity-based system. This is where churches can use a measurement of one person for every 40 square feet or 70% of their capacity to conduct services.

* Indoor theatres and Cinemas – These places of amusements are to be allowed to open. They can use the measurement of one person for every 40 square feet or 70% of seated capacity, whichever is lower.

* For drive-in – vehicles should carry no more than the number it is registered to carry.

Controlled Re-entry

* COVID-19 testing – Persons must continue to present a negative test three days before arriving in Jamaica.

* 14-day quarantine remains in place.

* Fully vaccinated persons – eight-day quarantine remains in place.

* Effective July 1, 2021, persons who are fully vaccinated and return a negative PCR test after arriving in Jamaica will be released from quarantine.

Travel restriction

* Travel ban on South American countries as well as the restriction on Trinidad and Tobago and India extended to August 10.

Stay-at-home

* Persons 60 and over must remain at home until August 10. Individuals who are fully vaccinated are exempted.

Funerals and burials

* Services will now be allowed with a maximum of 30 mourners.

* Burials will now be permitted with a maximum of 30 people up from 15.

* Burials may now take place from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mondays to Fridays only.

Markets

* To operate from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sundays.

Beaches, Rivers, Zoos and Water attractions

* To operate from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

* 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Parks, Gyms and Bars

* Must close one hour before the start of the curfew.

Amusement arcades

* These entities are allowed to reopen effective July 1.

Events and entertainment

* Organisers of small outdoor events such as parties, concerts, round robins, festivals, corporate mixers will be allowed to apply for permits to host no more than 100 people (50 for public sector)

* For indoor events, no more than 60 per cent of the capacity of the venue.

* Organisers of large events like stage shows, church conventions, festivals, general and special meetings will need to satisfy an approval process through the Ministry of Culture and the Office of the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.

* Gov’t will waive rental fees for its venues for large events. Other charges will apply.

COVID update, Jamaica-June 18, 2021

Minister Tufton’s ‘COVID Conversations’ on June 17 updated on the latest vaccination blitz, which has seen about 11,000 people get their 2nd doses, and just under 1,000 getting first doses. Blitz operations will continue during June 19-20. About 220,000 have had at least first doses (only 6% of total population), with 52,000 having had 2nd doses and 168,000 only had their first doses of AztraZeneca vaccines.

The Minister noted, however, that supply issues may meant curbing the vaccination drive for 2nd doses, limiting them to the most vulnerable:

This warning sits oddly, coming just days after Howard Mitchell, chair of the National Health Fund was saying we should prepare for a large influx of vaccinces imminently:

COVID trends continue to improve, with fewer cases and sharply lower positivity rates, now with a 7-day average under 10 percent:

Brief thoughts on a small island being a big nation-June 14, 2021

A brief exchange with a friend yesterday sparked a few thoughts I’ve had for a long time: they concern Jamaica’s diaspora.

My basic view is that Jamaica’s governments have not really known what to do with the mass of Jamaican migrants and their offspring, since the major outflow of the late-1940s onwards.

Here’s the picture I see. Jamaica has an island population of about 3 million. Around the world, mainly in the UK, USA and Canada, there are people born in Jamaica and their generations of offspring, some also born in Jamaica but many more born overseas, which total about the same number. Statistics on that disapora group are a bit fuzzy as they include those born in Jamaica and identifying as Jamaican in some way. (I’m not sure if the data also nuance those born in Jamaica who no longer identify with the country, for a variety of reasons.) But, let’s leave with the idea that ‘Jamaicans’ number some 6 million, worldwide. We know people happily talk about Jam-Brits, Jamaican-Americans etc.

That global total includes a spectrum of people who wish they could have nothing more to do with Jamaica-sadly, some of those actually live in Jamaica, and do much to make life miserable for those who happily live on the island. The other end of the spectrum has people who are not in Jamaica but wish to have as close a link as possible with the island. That leaves a lot of space for indifferent views and views that bounce between the ends of the spectrum.

Simply put, some of those who have left Jamaica only see their future abroad, and Jamaica receding in the rear view mirror doesn’t bother them. They may have no ill-will toward the island, but don’t see active links with it as part of their future. Nothing wrong with that. Make the most of where you are is not a bad principle: feed your energies fully into building the best life you can where you are.

Others who have left, try to keep alive the links they have; this includes supporting relatives, friends and organizations left behind in Jamaica. Alumni groups are a fertile area for support. For some, it means keeping an active physical connection by visiting the island, periodically, alone or with family. Some harness that connection by making claims on the land, through investment in real estate, and by investment in private and public financial assets (especially if they believe recent stock market trends as true reflections of future directions).

So, we can see a significant flow of real and financial assets coming to Jamaica from its diaspora. Much of that we can measure through remittances. But, much cannot be measured so clearly, eg when people visit as tourists and spend substantial sums connected with such travel. That became a bit clearer during the pandemic as we’ve seen ‘remittance’ flows surge and part of that is ‘deferred tourism’ spending as travel restrictions stopped journeys to the island but financial transfers could be made. Ironically, we now have more such flows feeding into measured systems, such as returns from money transfer institutions that previously bypassed such systems. (Economists know that the balance of payments data contain miscellaneous or unidentified flows, whose origins aren’t easily traced, much of which represents goods, services and financial capital that slip through measurement systems, legally or illegally, but account for movements in international reserves, almost as residual items.)

Those flows from overseas can be assessed in other ways to see if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Why bad? Some of that flow is related to criminal activities and I’ll take the view of that being bad as it cuts into a wholesome national fibre that I’d prefer see as less favourable to criminals. Others can disagree on that, not least for simple reasons such as crime creates income of jobs for some who would otherwise have neither. But, my view is not supportive of flows that support imports of guns, drugs and other things that support violent crime, the negative impact of which have generally been to make us poorer. We can debate this aspect for ages.

However, my essential concern is that the diaspora holds substantial assets the ‘origin’ country can exploit. A big part of that asset pool is also human capital.

For the most part, that exploitation hasn’t happened in many systematic ways. I’ve been to diaspora conferences and heard yearning for investments and proposals made and time passed and little to show for the bright ideas. We’ve lost years and money and human talent, in bundles. We’ve not learned much from the successful exploitation of diasporal links shown by the likes of Israel, India, Ireland, Ghana, Nigeria, or countries dotted around the world.

Often, belatedly, Jamaica realises it has a pool of untapped assets in the form of those abroad who were born in Jamaica or have generational links to Jamaica. That’s most evident in sport, where the pool of talent developed and developing in industrial countries makes for a potent addition to national resources. So, we’ve seen attempts to tap that for football, where great talent exists, though much of the best sports people tried to see if they could make it higher as members of national teams in their host countries. Ironically, we see that some of the best talent on show in those countries have clear Jamaican links. But, representing Jamaica has not often been their first choice. Alongside that, is the suspicion or fear that their sense of commitment to Jamaica will not be as strong as those born and raised here. Across a range of sports and countries, I’ve rarely seen low commitment at representational level from so-called ‘imports’. Other problems may exist, including lingustic or cultural differences, or financial considerations, that may only become obvious once people of mixed origins get together.

On the sporting plane, by contrast, Jamaica’s riches from those who have not left the island have been clearest in track and field. In other sports, the untapped diaspora talent is being tapped more and giving positive results. Our men’s and women’s football teams are good examples. But, it’s also evident in less common sports, where Jamaica could excel, anyway, if committed to them nationally, eg rugby or lacrosse.

But, we ought to be looking beyond sport. We also need to be looking in more structured ways. We’ve lost many potential investors by not having a clear policy or instrument to put in front of those now living abroad.

Diaspora bonds are issued by a country to its expatriates. These bonds allow developing countries in need of financing to look to expats (mainly in wealthy countries) for support. Diaspora bonds offer migrants (and offsprings) discounts on government debt from their home countries. India and Israel have successfully issued diaspora bonds:

  • Diaspora bonds are often used for infrastructure projects or crisis relief in developing countries, where more resources above humanitarian aid are necessary.
  • Diaspora bonds have typically been successful with countries such as Israel and India, where expats have strong patriotism and knowledge of their home economy’s prospects.
  • However, these bonds typically carry low yields because of the strong patriotic duties felt by expats to their home countries.
  • Migrants typically receive a discount on the debt from their home countries.
  • Issuance can prove to be challenging at times, especially as migrants have fled oppressive governments in the past.

Many issues need to be resolved when engaging diasporal interests, some of them need time-consuming and individual negotiations, which may make the gains less clear relative to the costs that have to be incurred. Simple case. When, say, a star performer with generational links is sought as an investor that may involve high-level discussion because of their new wealth, status, and other interests that may not sit well with Jamaican interests. With the best will in the world, Jamaica’s negative image abroad can be a deterrent to diaspora interest irrespecitive of any strong patriotism.

We may also need to understand that quid pro quo may quickly rear its head: it’s business and the bottom line won’t be far from the thoughts of bigger investors. We can throw scorn at how they appear lacking in charity, but that’s too bad.

One of the ironies that many see, including me, is when, where and how countries like Jamaica seek to ‘claim’ their diaspora. As I noted with my friend yesterday, with Raheem Sterling, he got ‘national’ recognition (most recently, gaining an MBE in the latest Queen’s birthday honours) from his adopted country well before any such recognition came from the land of his birth. We can discuss why or if we care about such things, but it’s still a fact. Do people feel slighted by such things? Maybe, even if not personally, there’s always the sense of resentment that can come from the entourage.

I don’t see reasons to believe that Jamaica’s engagement with its diaspora will change any time soon. I suspect many have drawn that conclusion over the years and done what they feel fits them best. We can’t prescribe patriotism and how its manifested.

When my parents migrated to England in the 1960s they never thought they would become English. I’m not sure what they thought their son would become, as he grew up in England, whether he would identify more with the new host or the land of birth. This is a common dilemma that swings many ways. I never thought of myself as British (notwithstanding the odd designation of that as a relic of colonialism). No amount of years in England changed that. However, my affinities span support for Britain and/or Jamaica in some situations. If you think code switching is interesting in how people speak, try wrapping your head aroumd having no issue supporting fervently two countries, maybe in the same sport, maybe over different sports, say. When I was growing up in England, I was on track to represent Great Britain (GB) in athletics and England in football. Did anyone in/from Jamaica think they should tap me to be part of its national set up? Let’s say the messages ‘got lost in the mail’. It didn’t matter to me. I looked around my peers who had parents from the Caribbean or were born there and then set on tracks (literally) to excel and represent the new host country. None of my generation got called up for Jamaica, but many went on to represent and win big for GB, England, etc. and are now ‘national’ heroes there. Then, someone would add or note that they were ‘Jamaican born’ or had ‘Jamaican parents’, etc. No slight was meant, and I think few, if any took, umbrage. Britain was where life was being made. Add to that how migrants stop sounding like the countries of their birth and you’ll understand easily that this is a fuzzy area. I still giggle when I hear Wes Morgan (born in Nottingham, England) speaking in his clear English Midlands accent as captain of Jamaica’s football team. He’s described as a ‘Jamaican’ footballer because of his national playing affiliation. By contrast, Raheem Sterling, born in St Andrew, Jamaica, is described as an ‘English’ footballer, for similar reasons.

Some of this mix-up and blend-up gets bizarre, especially when people dig far back to find the connections they want to exploit. I don’t have any issues with people tracing back generations to find what they want. I understand, however, that it’s also part of processeses that then raised issues of nationality and patriotism that are not easy to overcome, personally or in the minds of others.

I’m not proposing any solutions to an area that I think is complex, individually and collectively. But, I’d like to see and hear more thought given to how and when and where we want to embrace our ‘nation’, broadly defined.

What’re you saying? Jamaicans and their mysterious English-June 8, 2021

A good and well-educated Jamaican friend shared his state of distress that many of our compatriots don’t know the difference between “fewer” and “less”. The basic difference is described by Merriam-Webster: There’s a commonly repeated rule about fewer and less. It goes like this: fewer is used to refer to number among things that are counted, as in “fewer choices” and “fewer problems”; less is used to refer to quantity or amount among things that are measured, as in “less time” and “less effort.”

I suggested that he save his angst for those who actually were taught this rule and others in English grammar; many were not. It’s like know that you’re supposed to use the possessive with a gerund. 🙂 [A gerund is the –ing form of a verb that functions the same as a noun. For example, “Running is fun.” In this sentence, “running” is the gerund. It acts just like a noun.] (Sorry, if you weren’t taught that early in English lessons (if you had them). The rule is that we often put a noun or pronoun in front of a gerund to show who or what is doing the action in the gerund. In formal writing, the subject of the gerund should be in the possessive form: Your leaving early was a wise decision. We celebrated Gord’s winning the contest. I use it in both speech and writing.)

Jamaicans do a number on many aspects of what is called standard English. I don’t bother getting anxious about it, simply because most Jamaicans don’t know or speak standard English as their first language, despite all the official guff about being an ‘English-speaking country’. If ever a lie had taken on a life that of its own, then this must be up there.

Now, there was a time when education was such that some Jamaicans could proudly boast that they had mastered English, fluently, even though they spoke Patois first and probably as fluently. It’s one reason why migrating to England was less of a struggle, at first; most could at least understand what English people were saying, even if they could not match accents and tone.

My parents could write excellent English, having gone through high school and passed many exams. When they went to England, they had little problems with written English, but took a while to master how Londoners spoke. I became their conduit, absorbing the local lingo faster, as a child mixing at school. So, their mastery of English was never a brake on their progress.

Back in my childhood in Jamaica, even people who had little formal schooling were focused on ‘speaking properly’ in certain situations, ie like English people. The downside of that was to sneer at the use of Patois in formal public settings. That attitude still pervades a lot of Jamaican thinking, as some bridle when they hear its use in presentations. I’m not going onto a defence of Patois in any setting a person feels more comfortable using it.

I speak a few languages and can better accept that what works in the moment is what works best. Case in point. A French lady called me yesterday and as soon as I saw her caller-ID I answered in French, even though she soon reverted to English. That’s how it should be. I flip between languages easily, and my youngest daughter and I often have conversations that are a fluid mixture of languages, even swapping mid-sentence.

Modern-day Jamaica can’t boast many people with many basic English skills. It’s often painful to go to a formal event and hear a high-ranking official trying to speak proper English and falling over (h)every word as ‘e ‘andles his prepared remarks. It’s grating.

Jamaicans have a bit of a love affair with the pomp(ous) aspect of their association with Britain. So can’t understand this fawning to former colonial masters, but life’s like that in lots of former colonies. The French spoken in west Africa is often impeccable. The ‘servants’ had to show the ‘masters’ that they could master their ways of communicating, amongst other things.

Such skills were the key to success, once upon a time, along with lighter shades of skin. But, as things change, and people’s approach to language rules slips, some still don’t want to let go of what they took time to learn and be proud of. I don’t have a problem with that. Much as I don’t have a problem with knowing how the apostrophe works, and many having a clue of it’s its or its’. English is difficult, so ease up and move on, if you can. 🙂

Now, if my friend had wanted to mount a crusade against the use of ‘persons’ instead of ‘people’, I’d have been at the front of the recruits. 🙂

Admittedly, this one is a bit harder. Again, citing Merriam-Webster: People should always be used when a collective noun referring to the entirety of a group or nation (i.e., “the French People”) is called for. For references to groups of a specific or general number, either people or persons may be used, but modern style guides tend to prefer people where earlier guides preferred persons, especially for countable groups.

So, using ‘persons’ is archaic/old-fashioned, and therein lies some of the issues with English in Jamaica, and the Caribbean; it’s stuck in time…in part, because, it’s not the living language of most people, and that what tends to happen with second languages. 🙂

Another Jamaican COVID-19 “blitz” to get second doses done-June 4, 2021

Just when the USA has allocated at least 80 million doses to the rest of the world, Jamaicans can anticipate another boost to COVID vaccination. The USA will share 75% of doses with COVAX, about 19 million can go to areas worst hit by supply constraints.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness did incredibly well with a so-called “blitz” of vaccinations back in April, when they managed to get 75,000 doses…

Another Jamaican COVID-19 “blitz” to get second doses done

In quarantine-May 31, 2021

As we arrived on Sunday, medical personnel were shouting that “You must quarantine for 14 days. If you’re here for less than 14 days, you must quarantine all the time you are here.”

So, with curfew starting on Sunday at 2pm, it was straight home and into quarantine. Well, the three of us had been together for the past week, so I’m not sure we needed to isolate from each other, though one doesn’t really know.

Main thing was to alert people that we were not going out of the property and if anyone needed to enter, they’d be let in and allowed to get on with their task, leave and we’d close up behind them. It was necessary to let in someone to fix a microwave that should have been repaired last week, but no amount of telling not to call my mobile phone but the home number would stop a technician trying to call me, while I was abroad. Why bother? I asked myself. He arrived and fixed the latch, which had been waiting to be done for nearly 2 years! You read, correctly.

My wife had already adjusted well to online grocery shopping and was itching to get our larder restocked. We got stuff delivered by midday.

Our housekeeper had decided to go to country while we were away. Once she got back mid-morning, it was “Keep your distance!” and not compromise the ‘pods’ the rest of us were occupying.

Some friends called and were told we could wave from upstairs or if they just did a drive-by.

We’re sticking with the rules. Not sure if anyone else is, but I really hope so. Having seen near-normal life coming back in the. USA, we hope that even with our limited COVID vaccinations, we can hold the line on rising infections and positivity rate to see some major improvements in coming months.

Lessons from Mr Antonio Watson’s ‘gun hand’ gesture-May 26, 2021

The Jamaica Observer editorial yesterday gave its views on this controversial issue:

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The typical nine-day wonder has reached the furore over the ‘gun hand’ gesture by Petersfield High School standout athlete Mr Antonio Watson at the 2021 Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium.

We have, in the meantime, very carefully reflected on the controversy over the hand gesture symbolising the shooting of a losing athlete  Edwin Allen’s Mr Bryan Levell  and the fierce for-or-against arguments regarding Mr Watson’s action for which he has apologised. The main points we found are as follows:

• The 19-year-old was merely mimicking what he had grown up around in the society, because children live what they learn.

• The gesture has to be seen in the context of Jamaica’s troubling murder rate involving the gun.

• It’s a class thing, and if Mr Watson had been from a top high school his action would be ignored.

• He shouldn’t be condemned or chastised; instead, his vast athletic potential should be nurtured.

• Use the occasion as a teachable moment to espouse valuable lessons.

We made special note of the advice from our greatest athlete ever, Mr Usain Bolt, with whom the athlete is being compared: “Reason with him, yes, about his action, but don’t crucify him… It’s a learning lesson and teachable moment for all. Youths, be strong and remember anything is possible, don’t think limits.”

Noteworthy, too, is the response from ISSA: “Champs has always been a time to showcase and celebrate talent. While we encourage the colourful behaviour of victory celebrations and acknowledge the value and excitement it brings to the championships, it should always be within the code of conduct that guides how we act on and off the field and track.”

It is interesting that the large majority of the criticisms were not about punishing the student, but were centred on what others were saying, which suggests that the outrage was an attempt by the society to assert acceptable standards.

We have seen a similar occurrence in the United States, which is known for mass killings, including at schools. The American media is replete with stories of schools suspending students for making similar gestures, in some cases with backlash from parents.

Since the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act mandating zero tolerance for students bringing guns to school in the US, administrators had been expanding that basic notion to include gun play with toy guns, food shaped into guns, and even hand gestures.

In August 2019 the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that a 64-year-old man was guilty of criminal disorderly conduct for “pointing a finger like a gun at a man, and making a recoil motion as if to suggest he had shot him”.

The Jamaican society should learn from others. We are particularly sensitive that our young athletes be guided, because an international sponsor such as Nike or PUMA wouldn’t want to market their brand with an athlete making an offensive gun gesture.

But for now, we’ll take Mr Watson at his word:

“Upon reflection, I recognise that my gestures could have been misleading and I have no desire to negatively influence others. In fact, going forward I aspire to demonstrate positive behaviours and attitudes that will inspire countless young Jamaicans to strive for excellence and make our country a true beacon of what is good in this world.”

Garth Rattray | Stop the gunman gestures-May 25, 2021

I’m very much in sympathy with the arguments in this column that was published today in The Gleaner:

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The caption below a picture in the online Gleaner on Saturday, May 15 read, “Petersfield High School’s Antonio Watson (left) gestures to Edwin Allen High School’s Bryan Levell as he crosses the finish line ahead of him in the Class One boys’ 200m final during the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday.”

But that “gesture” was far from innocuous; and a video of the event shows two gestures. In the first, Watson used his left hand to mimic a handgun directly pointing and firing twice, at close range, at his rival. The video then shows Watson use his right hand to pull another make-belief handgun, from his waist, and with flamboyant glorification of gunmanship, mimic chambering a round and pointing the handgun off somewhere. 

I am informed that gun mimicking occurs repeatedly at Champs; but that does not make it okay. Such offensive and aggressive displays continue because the meet officials failed to nip them in the bud. Our athletes dare not gesture in that manner after winning any event overseas; why are they allowed to point make-belief guns directly at their rivals here?

No doubt, some (numb to Jamaica’s unabated violence, and/or placatory apologists) will brush aside the gestures as no big deal, relegate them to youthful exuberance, toxic jubilation, or ‘the culture’. But those offensive displays that mimic gunmanship should not be misinterpreted as innocent celebration; they mimic shooting others, an act meant to get rid of others permanently. 

If someone on the street mimics shooting me, I would feel a reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. I would feel under threat, assaulted. Try mimicking a gun pointed at any security force personnel and see what happens.

SERIOUS INTIMIDATIONS

What message does mimicking murder send? There are no redeeming qualities to gesturing like a depraved and murderous gunman. Those gestures are nothing but serious intimidations and macabre rehearsals of murderous acts. They incite and encourage bitterness, the type that kills sportsmanship and transforms friendly competition into acrimonious rivalry. This is the exact diametric of what sports is meant to achieve. FIFA would never ignore or tolerate such behaviour, and neither should we. 

The following day, The Gleaner stated that “The incident has been met with public criticism amid Jamaica’s troubling murder rate.” Watson apologised in a carefully crafted statement, ostensibly penned by someone else, to ward off serious repercussions that could jeopardise his career. “I therefore want to unreservedly apologise to all the stakeholders, my school, fans, and family for my actions … . I have taken full responsibility for such actions as it is in no way a reflection of the ethos of my school, the principles of my coach or the position of ISSA or any of the sponsors”. 

Jamaica is under siege by gunmen who act with impunity. They attack and kill whomever they please. They terrorise individuals, communities and the society at large. The gun has become the surrogate for the power that knowledge and skill bring. The gun has become the means of inflicting pain on others, a blowback of disenfranchisement, disempowerment, disrespect, disdain and distress among the less fortunate. Guns have become the final arbiter and the final solution for almost any problem.

Guns are used to intimidate the entire country; we venture on to the streets with some degree of timidity, wondering if we will encounter violence, especially gun violence. We try to secure our homes, our sanctuaries, from blood-thirsty gunmen. The gun is the murder weapon of choice in Jamaica; it is responsible for incalculable suffering and billions of taxpayers’ dollars being spent on security and healthcare. It has decreased productivity and dissuaded business investment. 

In an enlightened society where there is awareness of the meaning and serious impact of mimicking murderous gunmen, all athletes would be warned of disqualification for any such action. And if any breaks that rule, they should be summarily disqualified. We must draw the line somewhere.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.

Gleaner Editorial-Time to put justices of the peace to work-May 22, 2021

The following was published in The Gleaner, today.

There is justification in continuing to explore pathways to a safer Jamaica because we believe the future of the nation hinges on how well citizens can be preserved to make their contribution to nation-building.

News reports tell us that many communities are in crisis. Familial structures have broken down, resulting in vicious and sometimes deadly confrontations, caused by feuding among partners, siblings and children.

On top of that, there is the ever-ready supply of guns that it seems children are now holding guns before they are able to hold a book. As a nation, we recognise that we are all affected and must be prepared to collectively confront these difficult issues.

But we need not wring our hands in frustration, for the country has the requisite human resources, if properly directed and monitored, to make a difference in the way people behave in their communities. For example, we believe that a key community resource, not fully exploited, is that of the justice of the peace (JP).

Delroy Chuck, who heads the justice ministry, has recognised that this group has huge potential and has often referred to the critical role JPs can play in the administration of justice. He has been steadily recommending new appointments to increase the cadre of JPs across the island, and has ramped up training through the Justice Training Institute. 

Currently, there are more than 12,000 JPs in the island, and they are no longer restricted to offer service only in the parish in which they were commissioned.

WORKING CLOSER WITH POLICE

If, as the name suggests, justices of the peace are meant to keep peace within a specific community, then they should take on a more active role in mentoring and nurturing community members who are facing difficult times. Indeed, we see the JPs working closer with the police to identify trouble spots, or to offer counselling and comfort where necessary.

To his credit, Mr Chuck has been introducing a number of features to modernise the way JPs are appointed and how they carry out their duties, and these are contained in the Justice of the Peace Act 2018. The role of JPs, for most people, is to certify documents or preside over Petty Sessions (renamed Lay Magistrates’ Court).

JPs are required to do much more, such as visit prisons to ensure prisoners get proper care, as well as children’s homes and homes for the aged. We believe, if these visits were being done as intended, some of the atrocities that have been uncovered in these facilities could have been detected and corrected long before they reached crisis proportions.

In the new dispensation, JPs are supposed to submit an annual report to the custos, which would give a summary of their activities. We applaud this attempt at accountability, for this will help separate the active from inactive.

MENTORSHIP SKILLS

Mentorship and nurturing skills are in great demand in many of our communities, as the role model figures are steadily diminishing. The JPs, who have intimate contact with their communities, should be trained in these skills as well. For a time, appointment of JPs was marred by charges of cronyism and political patronage. These were not persons anxious to serve their community, and it was reflected in how they performed their duties. Also, charges of corruption and demanding pay for work formed dark clouds over some JPs, which caused them to lose some of the community respect they used to enjoy.

We think Mr Chuck has made a good start, but there is so much more to be done. There has to be a weeding out of inactive JPs, those who are morally or ethically corrupt, and the lazy ones. We tend to create new agents for change, instead of refining the ones we already have. We see here an opportunity to build a strong force for community enhancement and, ultimately, a better future for Jamaica.