Sunday, 29 December 2013

Political Parties and Campaign Financing

Jamaica’s two major political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and the People’s National Party (PNP), have for far too long evaded the issue of campaign and party financing.  This avoidance of disclosing the source of campaign funding has fuelled and strengthened the perception in the society that politics is dirty, self-serving and corrupt. The recent developments in the court proceedings in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) involving the head of a ponzi scheme has highlighted and exposed the dire urgency for both political parties and civil society to engage in dialogue with the primary purpose of addressing the issue by crafting the necessary legislation to deal with the matter.
The time has come for all law abiding and civic minded Jamaicans to demand more from, and hold our politicians to a higher standard than what currently exists. Transparency and accountability have always taken a back burner in the Jamaican society, and we must ensure that in a new paradigm of governance both transparency and accountability will be primary. The confiscation order issued by the Supreme Court in Turks and Caicos Islands reveals the clear and present threat that our democracy face should we allow business to continue as usual. There is a common proverb in the society which says, “He who pays the piper calls the tune” In order words if you are financing an undertaking, you have the right to say how it will be carried out. Financiers of political parties are not doing so out of the kindness of their hearts. These financiers expect favours or they expect to influence specific policies who may or may not be beneficial to the wider society should their party of choice forms the government. This proverb aptly reinforces the urgent need for us as a society to have full disclosure regarding contributions to political parties. We need to know from our political parties who are those contributing to the various political parties. We need to know the size of all contribution. We need to know also the source of funds for each contributor to political parties. These donors are contributing up to or in excess of US$5 Million/ J$450Million to election campaigns, far from peanut change you will agree. 
This turn of events have seriously tainted our political institutions and our politicians and beckons us as a society to call for men and women of integrity to serve Jamaica land we love.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Consumer, Did You Know?

The right to be informed is one of the basic rights of any consumer.  However, to be informed one must be proactive and educate one’s self about one’s rights and responsibilities as a consumer.  However if we fail to inform and educate ourselves we usually make decisions that reduce our financial resources and in some instances harm our health.
The search for consumer related information is usually made more difficult by manufacturers as they try and hide certain aspects of data necessary for us as consumers to make informed choices.
How many of us for example are aware that harmful chemicals are used in household furniture? Many of us have cushions, sofas and upholstery type furniture in our homes yet we know very little about the makeup of these furniture. Flame retardant foams are usually placed inside many types of upholstery type furniture and research is now showing that exposure to these retardants is responsible for a wide range of illnesses and disorders from cancers, birth defects, infertility to hyper-activity. Interestingly there are many classes of flame retardants and these are for the most part unregulated. Polyurethane which is commonly used in upholstery furniture is one of most harmful chemicals used and constant exposure to this chemical can cause serious health issues. Two especially vulnerable groups in the society to harmful chemicals are children and nursing mothers. Polyurethane is an extremely durable and flexible synthetic material used in many household items, such as pillows and mattresses. Polyurethane is known for emitting       (VOC, s) volatile organic compounds.
Additionally, we need to ask ourselves a few questions, what is the local regulatory agency doing to keep harmful chemicals out of furniture.
Does the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) conduct tests on local and foreign made furniture to determine what chemicals are being used and whether or not these chemicals are harmful to humans? Should the BSJ ask manufacturers (local, overseas) to state what flame retardants are used in their products? Should a ban be placed on any furniture which uses harmful chemicals to humans? Be a smart shopper this Christmas, conduct your background checks and ask questions it’s your right as a consumer. Ultimately your safety and the safety of your family rest with you!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It "Takes A Village" To Stop Rape

Disturbing news emerged recently that some female students were held at gunpoint and assaulted by an intruder at a St. Catherine based high school. This most vicious act shows the extent to which violence against females is still very much a cause for concern in the Jamaican society. Despite being a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Jamaica continues to experience high levels of violence against our women and girls. It appears that our government has fallen short in terms of putting in place mechanism and systems to protect our women folk from the almost daily assault on them. The society is shocked ever so often by the level of violence especially sexually assault meted out to the female sex in the society. However, in this latest despicable incident not much has been said publicly condemning this crime. We all should be disappointed and disgusted at the lack of public outcry and condemnation by civil society. Where are the women’s rights groups in the society? Our girls and females are being brutally attacked. Where is the voice of the church on this matter? What has happened to the voice of those state agencies with direct responsibility for the protection and well fare of our children? Why have you been so silent?
Perhaps as a society we have become immune to the high levels of violence which now characterize much of the society. It is very much disheartening that our children can no longer enjoy their childhood or feel safe in school. One would have thought that children would be safe in our educational institutions. Clearly this is not the situation. Too many of our schools are not properly fenced which allows for outsiders to gain access to the grounds of these institutions. Added to that a significant number of our schools lack adequate security and this requires urgent attention from all stakeholders’ involvement in the teaching and learning experience namely the school boards and the Ministry of Education.  In the past we have had teachers being attacked at school. The safety and protection of our teachers and students should be paramount, after all the children are the future of this country. It is reasonable to think that any parent or guardian would expect that his/her child would be safe at school, however, for this horrific incident to occur during school hours clearly this is not reassuring for parents regarding the safety of their children at school.    
The society for the most part has lost its sense of social consciousness and social justice.  Last year we were outraged by the brutal rape of five females including an eight year old girl in St. James. This year it is business as per usual. We are indeed a people with very short term memories!  Where is the public solidarity with the victims and their families?
We need to identify some workable solutions given our propensity to diagnose what is wrong with the Jamaican society without providing solutions. It is certainly taking the government a very long time to draft the necessary legislation for a sex offender’s registry. There was much discussion last year after the rape of the five females about creating such a database, however, nothing concrete has happened since then? The government needs to speedily institute a sex register to ensure that sexual predators can be monitored and give account of their whereabouts. We have created a culture of misogyny and now we are reaping the effects of such a culture. This is rather ironic given the fact that we have a female prime minister. This hatred is seen especially in some of our music where women are compartmentalized and sexualize and viewed only as sexual objects for the sexual gratification of the male of the species. Pregnant women are being murdered. Girls are being raped and child abuse is very much rampant. It is very likely that this perpetrator will not be caught given the police track record.
It’s very likely these girls will not have any justice. The restoration we seek as a society and a people must begin our schools. Given the dysfunction in many of our homes the best option for reversing the ills of the society is our educational institutions. We need to address the generalizations about women and the stereotypes about gender roles.  We need men of good report to join the discourse and speak out and engage in conversation with other men about finding ways of protecting our women. We cannot have long lasting development if our women are not protected and if our women are not included in the decision making process.
We need to re-socialize our males in the society so that they can be more respectful of our women. Probably we need to examine the national curriculum and find ways and means of incorporating social equality and human rights issues from grade seven to fifth form in order to address the societal imbalances regarding how we treat our females.
We need to sensitize and socialize our boys on matters of gender equality as well as the exploitation of women and children. We need to interrogate the deeply entrenched male biases and practices in the society which is counterproductive to the fully development and empowerment of women. The government has a tremendous role to play in this restoration process. The time is now for the government to establish a DNA database. This would be an additional mechanism to assist the police in solving crime. Of course the proper checks and balances to safeguard the rights of the citizenry must accompany such legislation.  We need to return to the Jamaican of old, where women and children were protected from abuse and exploitation. We need to awaken our collective responsibility and look out for each other once again. We need to remember that it takes a village to raise a child.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they relate to culture and or gender issues.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Talent, Creativity and the Performing Arts

Jamaica is rich in customs and traditions. Like most Jamaicans I look each year to celebrate and commemorate those mores which have added significantly to the quality of our lives. The pantomime which opens on its traditional December 26,(Boxing Day) is one such custom.  Over the years the national pantomime has become a main attraction for many Jamaicans especially for those visiting home during the Christmas period. The pantomime usually pokes fun at life in the Jamaican society and provides much comic relief on what are usually serious issues in the society. This gives us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves forgetting our problems even for a few hours. The pantomime has been a training ground for many of our best actors/actress and it continues to produce outstanding talents in the field of theatre and the performing arts.
Jamaicans are very talented and creative people; in fact our sons and daughters have dominated in various fields globally ranging from sports, medicine and music. Jamaica is not short where talent is concern.  Notwithstanding this we need to ask ourselves why is it that over the years the pantomime script writer has not changed.  In order to facilitate more Jamaicans being a part in the pantomime at the level of script writing why not have a competition for script writers? The best judged script writer for that year would be asked to produce the pantomime for that year as the prize for winning.
As a society we have not given sufficient support to the “arts” in Jamaica whether from a private sector standpoint or from the level of government.  Let us recommit ourselves to restoring the Ward Theatre for 2014. The Ward Theatre over the years has been instrumental in honing the skills of many of our luminaries in the field of theatre. By restoring the Ward Theatre we will provide more opportunities and space for those in the creative arts to showcase their creativity and talent.  Democracy thrives with a variety of views and ideas instead of having a monopoly of ideas.  I look forward to seeing this year’s pantomime “Golden Maccafat”.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Post Office in the 21st Century

The tradition of sending postcards at Christmas is nearly as old as the celebration of Christmas itself. Sending postcards may seem like a waste of time to some especially in today’s society when one can easily and instantly share one’s experiences with friends and family through the various social media, such as, Facebook and Instagram. However, there are many traditionalists in the society who prefer to adhere to this fast eroding practice in the digital age in which we live. In recent time the pleasure of sending postcards has become burdensome and time consuming because of the number of stamps that are required for international postage some destinations.  On a recent visit to the post office it took me quite a while to complete placing a significant number of stamps on postcards. This was primarily because the post office either did not have stamps above $100 value or they were out of higher value stamps regardless of the reason we need to look into it. At this Yuletide time of year everyone knows or should know that there is likely to be an increase in the demand for stamps. The office of the Post Master General has the responsibility to ensure that post offices operate efficiently and as such this office needs to look into the possibility of adding higher value stamps if they are not already in circulation. This would reduce the number of stamps required to mail postcards overseas.  Going to the post office should be a pleasant experience and those in authority should do all in their power to ensure this. The office of the Post Master General must be sensitive to the needs of the public and put measures in place to accommodate and ensure a satisfying visit to the post office for all members of the public. Maybe this is part of the reason the Jamaican postal service is losing its relevance in today’s society.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Improve Police Response Time

In the aftermath of last week’s tragic incident in St. Elizabeth in which a teenager was allegedly

killed by her child’s father the time has come for the police high command to establish minimum

guidelines for response time for our law enforcement officers. While this occurs in other

jurisdictions Jamaica is once again lagging behind where this is concerned. This guideline should be

for all police stations across the island regardless of location.
I am very much aware that staffing the police force is extremely challenging, more so in this period of recession and financial constraints, however, it is very clear that we must find additional resources to adequately equip our police officers in order for them to do their job. It is only after this has been done that we can hold them fully accountable for not responding promptly. Minimum response time should become a part of standard operational procedures in the future and should be a part of the curriculum at the police training college. It cannot be business as per usual!
Whether someone had just broke into hour home, or whether someone has threatened you or your family the first instinct is to call the police for help. It cannot be that in your time of need as a law abiding citizen the police is not in a position to assist because their vehicle is being used to transport prisoners.
Too often we hear of reports of individuals requesting assistance from the police only to be told that no vehicles are available or worse yet no petrol is available for the vehicle.  This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated anymore!
Who knows maybe the outcome in St. Elizabeth could have been different had the Nain police responded to the call from the deceased grandmother for help. According the grandmother she called both the Nain and Alligator Pond Police Stations repeatedly for assistance. Obviously too much time was allowed to pass before the police finally arrived on the scene. This crime was probably preventable.
The principle of community policing will not be served if our police officers are not viewed favourably by the community in which serve. Effective policing is not only about increasing the number of police men and men in the force; it is also about facilitating them to effectively respond to the needs of the citizenry in a timely and professional manner. It is commendable that the commissioner of police has launched an investigation into the matter. Let us use this most regrettable experience to put some corrective measures in place so as not to have a repeat of this most unfortunate incident.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Internet Penetration in the 21st Century

Internet penetration is the percentage of a population using the internet. Jamaica’s rate of internet is not very encouraging. Despite significant progress made over the last decade Jamaica continues to have a relatively low internet penetration rate.  In fact St. Lucia at number 11 is the only Caribbean island listed among the top fifty countries with highest internet penetration rate. St. Lucia has an internet penetration rate of 88.5%. Jamaica on the other hand has an internet penetration rate of 54.7%. Iceland is ranked number one with a 97.8% internet penetration rate.

There are many factors which have negatively impacted Jamaica’s level of internet penetration rate.  One such factor is clearly in the realm of economics. It is simply too expensive for the average Jamaican household to purchase a laptop or any device with internet capability. A CPU for example, cost roughly $60,000. Recently I checked a few stores in the corporate area to enquire about a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and I was shocked at the prices quoted. The cost ranged from $56,000 to $67, 000 and this is without a monitor. This is outrageous and unacceptable! The prohibitive cost to acquire a personal computer needs to be tackled with a sense of urgency. We need to find creative means of bridging what is obviously a social- class divide. One way of addressing the digital divide between the wealthy and the working poor is for the government to use some of funds from the account that the telecoms providers pay into and established outlets island wide which would then sell laptops and personal computers at a reduced cost. If we are serious about education we should examine the possibility of giving our teachers for example, some level of discount to acquire laptop and personal computers as this is a vital tool in the teaching and learning process. Owning a computer should not be viewed as luxury instead it should be seen as a necessary development tool which our youths should have ready access to. Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a direct relationship between the rate of internet penetration and the United Nations Human Development Index. In that the higher the HDI the greater the proportion of the population uses the internet.
The Human Development Index HDI is a statistical tool used to measure a country’s overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions.  The social and economic dimensions of a country are based on the health of a people, their level of education attainment and their standard of living.
It makes little sense investing in island wide Fiber Optics Internet when the client on whose behalf the investment is being made will be unable to access the hardware due to financial constraints. There is no reason for a laptop/personal computer to be so expensive in Jamaica especially given the rapid changes in the technology which almost makes a computer obsolete soon after purchase. There is just not the disposable income to spend on computers after one pays his/her bills. We must and should do more have every Jamaican household own a personal computer. Interestingly when one visits the websites of major international suppliers of computers the prices are far less than our local suppliers even at an exchange rate of $106 Jamaican dollars to $1US. This clearly tells us that our local suppliers can lower their prices.  
The second factor impacting Jamaica’s rate of internet penetration is the literacy level of our society.  The top five countries with the highest rate of internet penetration all have literacy levels over 97 per cent. There is a co-relationship between the rate of internet penetration and literacy levels. Iceland has a 99% literacy level, so too is Norway which is ranked number 2.
We cannot speak in a vacuum in the discourse to raise the Jamaica’s internet penetration rate without addressing the related factors which directly impact the situation. We must find creative ways of increasing the literacy levels among our people. As a society we engender and foster a culture of reading which presently does not exist.
This fact is more pronounced among our males and this is evidence in the yearly Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) which is administered by the Ministry of Education in which boys score less than girls. This trend is again seen in grade 6 when our primary level students sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to gain a place in high school. The literacy level for St. Lucia is 88.5% literacy level while Jamaica’s literacy rate is around 86%.  
Additionally we need to make a determined effort to reduce the cost associated with having internet access. Internet service cost is just too high! It does not make much sense neither to own a personal computer but unable to access internet because the cost is too prohibitive.
A collaborative effort will be needed if we are going to have an increase in the rate of internet penetration. An increase rate of internet penetration promotes a viable and competitive business environment and will definitely attract well needed investment to our country which is necessary to help us out of the economic rut that we are currently experiencing.   

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.