The year 2012 was a busy one for several of Jamaica's watchdog/lobby groups, who tackled several critical issues of national importance. Looking at some of the major issues focused on last year, here some of the major groups speak to their effectiveness and what they will be pushing for in the new year.
Hear The Children's Cry
The year 2012 was a busy year for Hear The Children's Cry, the advocacy group committed to the well-being and welfare of Jamaica's children since 2002.
Convener Betty-Ann Blaine believes the organisation was quite successful in keeping several critical issues on the front burner.
"I believe that we have been successful in at least making the Jamaican public aware of how very serious the problem of missing and abducted children is, disseminating most of the information and using up our own network. And we did a lot of work in putting out information about safety tips directly to children in schools across Jamaica," she said.
Working with organisations such as Jamaicans For Justice, they have also been aggressively pursuing the issue of children in state care as well as those in conflict with the law.
"We also plan to continue lobbying for mandatory DNA tests for persons accused of sexual offences against children," Blaine added.
"For 2013 we continue to be optimistic about the state of the children, but I want to warn those people who have the responsibility to take care of our children, including and especially the state, that we are definitely not prepared to sit back and idly watch the Government in anyway breach their own laws or engage in any kind of incompetence. We are not going to be passive about it, we are going to be aggressive about our advocacy and be serious watchdogs for the children."
She added: "We are prepared to take any kind of action necessary to protect the interest of the Jamaican children. We are going to continue to be adamant and vociferous until we begin to see the kind of Jamaica emerging that is really fit for children."
Jamaicans For Justice
Last year the 14-year-old human rights watchdog Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) focused on issues relating to children in the justice system, in particular, those illegally held in police lock-ups and the conditions they were subjected to while in remand and correctional facilities.
JFJ also tackled the issue of a high incidence of police killings and an enforcement of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's use of force and firearms policy. Mob violence; governance issues of transparency and accountability; and improving human rights education of the Jamaican citizenry were also on the agenda.
Executive Director Dr Carolyn Gomes is of the view that while there is still a lot of work to be done, JFJ's consistent and heightened lobbying last year brought awareness to many of the issues and kept them in the public's eye.
"JFJ's plans going forward into 2013 will be no different from what it has set out to do over the last 13 to 14 years," said Gomes.
The group will aggressively pursue issues such as breaches by members of the security forces, ranging from unlawful search or detention to excessive use of force and extra-judicial police killings. The monitoring of the situation of children in the justice system as well as the implementation and use of the Access to Information (ATI) Act will continue to be on the agenda.
According to Gomes, 2013 will see the JFJ tackling "a range of programmes to promote good governance and advance the rights of all Jamaican citizens through the improvement of public sector accountability and promoting human rights awareness via human rights presentations in schools; human rights training with police recruits; community workshops; advocacy meetings; public forums; media products and relations; publications and legislative advocacy including submissions on bills to effect justice system reform."
Jamaica Civil Society Coalition
The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) is a broad-based coalition of civil society and individuals engaged in shaping policy and ensuring good governance in Jamaica.
Chairperson Carol Narcisse said since the 2010 inception, the Coalition has successfully maintained a robust, ongoing dialogue and collaboration among the groups representing diverse sectors of interest, and resulting in joint action to impact governance and decision-making.
The JCSC was influential in the decision for a commission of enquiry into the Christopher 'Dudus' Coke extradition and successfully lobbied for a broader civil society involvement in the Partnership for Transformation.
The JCSC has also worked with other watchdog groups, including Jamaica Environment Trust on the fire at the Riverton City dump and Jamaicans for Justice against excessive use of force by the police.
In addition to continuing to respond to significant issues of governance as they arise, Narcisse said this year the JCSC will be building on the efforts it began. Among the issues they will be pursuing are: getting Parliament to act on the legislative process for campaign finance reform and political party registration and financial disclosure as recommended by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.
The group will also seek to build public awareness and support for implementation of a single anti-corruption agency, and to strengthen anti-corruption institutions; advocate for public accountability on matters related to the International Monetary Fund agreement being negotiated and to foster informed public discussion and civil society participation in the budget-making process for 2013-2014.
Additionally, they will seek to influence improve-ment in policy coherence, transparency and implementation in several areas of national life, including those related to children, the economy; and major development projects of the government.
Jamaica Environment Trust
Last year the 22-year-old environmental watchdog group, Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), was aggressive in tackling two topical issues - the fire at the Riverton City dump, which caused severe public health impacts and the disgraceful situation at the Pedro Cays.
Working with the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, JET influenced the setting up of a new inter-ministerial committee on solid waste with civil society representation, in order to tackle the very poor conditions at all Jamaica's dumps, but especially Riverton, as well as the growing solid waste problem in the island.
Plagued with no running water, no sanitation facilities for fishers and no facilities to deal with solid waste, the condition at Pedro Cays was a major cause for concern. JET's influence led to commitments from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to take steps to clean up the cays and ensure sustainable environmental management going forward.
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer, said JET was very effective in bringing public attention to critical environmental issues, however, "that does not always translate into the required action".
She added: "This very often has to come from government agencies, who far too often fail to act. JET is happy that the Pedro Cays were cleaned up, but that is only the very first step in a long list of other steps that need to be taken."
McCaulay said JET would continue to monitor these two issues. Additionally, for this year they plan to work on the question of open burning.
"We believe there is a serious health problem being caused from indiscriminate open burning of garbage both by individuals and companies, and at Jamaica's dumps, burning of garden cuttings, coal, bush fires, cane fires, clearing of land for agriculture by burning, burning of tyres in order to extract copper for the scrap metal trade and other forms of burning. Neither NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) nor the Ministry of Health has taken effective steps to deal with this problem," said McCaulay.
JET will also continue to pursue a more effective Environmental Impact Assessment system.