Top Stories of 2014
This is not really a year in review per se, but the new year is just about upon us, prompting one to ask, what is the most significant thing that occurred for Jamaicans in 2014?
Given that the Government is under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) regime, the consecutive passing of four tests, the first in our history, must top the list. Of course, the visit of President Christine Lagarde and her emphatic endorsement of the economic strategy and direction of Finance Minister Peter Phillips are clear plusses. Yet, the fall of the Jamaican dollar from US$1:00=J$106 to US$1:00=J$115 in December makes a mockery of the marginal fraction of a per cent economic growth that the country experienced.
We started the year with the NIR at $1.05 billion and closed at $2.0 billion. Note, however, that it could very well be the payment of the tranche from the IMF that has led to the increase, and not an overall reduction in the import-export gap. It is also significant that unemployment fell overall, with the year ending just below 14 per cent, coming down from almost 16 per cent.
Last year, when I was asked to evaluate ministers of Government, I gave then agriculture minister, the late Roger Clarke, and the prime minister failing grades because of their low visibility. Roger, a politician whom I had great respect and love for, suddenly walked away from us, creating the biggest loss in the year. Yet, while we know that he is irreplaceable, I think that his legacy is being disrespected by the PM's failure to assign a full-time minister.
North-South Highway open
Transport Minister Omar Davies can smile that China Harbour Construction Company (CHEC) completed and opened the first leg of the North-South Highway. Taking criticisms on the chin, and ahead on the second leg, CHEC is now making short work of the third leg and might finish long before schedule.
Last year, Security Minister Peter Bunting got a high grade, and some thought that I had been too generous. However, with the impending decriminalising of the use of the 'ishen' and the legalising of cultivation of medical weed, he could get an even higher grade. In the country with the third highest homicide rate in the world, Bunting and the women and men of the Constabulary, must be commended for the lowest rate in 11 years. Inasmuch as his detractors downplay his role in the reduction, they ask for his head when the figures are high.
Still, the red mark on Bunting's stewardship has to be the around five prisoners who died in state custody in 2014. Posterised by Mario Deane, and caricatured by American and local human-rights activists, young Deane was arrested and detained for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Beaten to death, reports from the police on duty ranged from him falling from his bunk, to being beaten by a schizophrenic and a deaf mute. There is still no evidence that any policeman or woman laid a hand on Deane. Despite Bunting and the police high command acting swiftly and decisively to elaborate the policy regarding arrests for minor crimes, and suspending the police on duty, American onlookers, whose police continued to violate their own human rights, accuse ours of doing so with impunity.
Interestingly, one of the biggest crime stories is the gully and Gaza sequel. Emperor of the Gaza Empire, Adidjah Vybz Kartel Palmer, was convicted of murdering Clive Lizard Williams. On the gully side, the nest of homosexual men, speckled with criminals who cross-dress in disguise as gays, was finally removed in New Kingston. It might have been named Shoemaker Gully, but all of them got the boots.
Does anyone know that at least one of the gully homeless attends classes at state-run juvenile facilities? Nonetheless, it is the sneaky insertion of the sex-education programme into six private children's homes, and the massive fallout within the group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) that also makes the list. With an unauthorised curriculum that touched on homosexual encounters among children, many heads fell, leaving just a few persons at the base, as JFJ, struggled against the JF-Gay moniker.
On a lighter note, though lacking all his incisors, resuscitated DJ, Gully Bop, looks like he is getting another bite at fame. Hopefully, he will sustain it and not have a similar story as the ludicrously named Potential Kid, whose A Yasso Nice is a fleeting memory.
Sport had a number of amazing performances. The sweep of the men's 200 metres and women's 400 metres in the Commonwealth Games, kept Jamaica's track and field dominance. But doubtless, Jaheel Hyde's amazing world junior championship 400 metres victory, in an impressive 49.29,
is still jaw-dropping. Add his revenge against St George's College by scoring five goals for Wolmer's in the Manning and Super Cup competitions. Earlier, Hyde's father had been on the receiving end of a humiliating historic 7-0 spanking of his Kingston College team by the Light Blues.
Nevertheless, Alia Atkinson's finally breaking water after breaststroking for 200 metres, to equal the world record, in the FINA World Championships, is literally a watershed moment. Demonstrating that Jamaicans, despite the paradox of living on an island and not being reputed as swimmers, can actually be world beaters, Atkinson has entered an unfamiliar zone. True, she is not the first black person to win a global medal in the pool. Trinidad-born Surinamese Anthony Nesty had won the gold in the Seoul Olympics in 1988, beating favourite, American Matt Biondi, in the 100 metres butterfly. Other Jamaicans, Andrew Phillips, sixth in the 200 metres individual medley in Los Angeles in 1984 and Janelle Atkinson, fourth in the 400 metres freestyle in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, had longed knocked on the door. Still, swimming a time of 1:02.36 is not only a world best, but is the fastest time ever swum by a Jamaican of any colour, sex or gender.
This victory by Atkinson is, for me, the high watermark of the year.