Oh, Say it Ain’t ZOSO

The latest buzzword in the Jamaica crime scene is these Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO). ZOSO is an Act recently passed by Parliament which allows for the use of “special measures” to uphold public law within “certain geographically defined locations”.

At face value this Act sounds like an Act of Discrimination, like the Prime Minister is giving the security forces full permission to kick down people door and mash up dem tings, but only within specifically designated areas of course (aka ghettos). But according to the Jamaica Gleaner, the Bill is trying to balance the need for extreme measures in the battle against crime and violence with the fundamental need for the protection of citizens’ rights.

On September 1 the PM declared Mt. Salem, St. James the very first ZOSO. Acting on information that was later challenged by residents of the community (backed up by the Councillor for the area), Mr. Holness may well have moved somewhat rashly. But despite the less-than-sinister statistics, Mt. Salem is still perceived as a tension-driven melting pot of criminal activity. Driving through that community just last week I heard one woman cussing another spit menacingly, “You feel seh ah you one know gunman!”

So there is no question about the need for increased police attention, even with a police station already on the main road. What I do feel needs to be questioned is the approach to the citizens on the left and right sides of the Mt. Salem main road. And yes, I’m talking about a literal representation of the ubiquitous class divide.

After you pass the hospital, on the left hand side going into Salem the side streets display large, well-painted two and three storey houses. There are garages with cars, the houses are populated by a mainly middle-aged and retired set of citizens, and the streets themselves are paved (for the most part) and wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic.

Flip the script, and observe the right hand side of streets. They are narrow and winding, descending sharply into one way lanes and dead ends. There are two and three storey concrete structures at the intersection yes, but as you advance further along, there are more board houses, less space for cars to fit and a dramatic increase in shady characters lurking on street corners. Some taxis don’t even carry people here.

Obviously infrastructural problems have played a huge role in this divide, and real estate prices drive people left and right as their pocketbooks allow but my real contention is that there are two very different classes of citizens living in Mt. Salem and my concern is that one set will end up with the “special measures” while the other enjoys the “protection of citizens’ rights”. So far I haven’t heard anyone cry foul (quite the opposite) but in these cases the voices of the downtrodden rarely make it past the streets where they are stepped on.

What ZOSO excels at is highlighting the blurred geographical lines of Jamaica’s class divide. It is a truth universally acknowledged that beside every uptown is a ghetto: Ironshore has Flankers, Westgate Hills has Mt. Salem, Mango Walk has Paradise and Norwood. . . The list goes on, and this is just in St. James. But as time has progressed, social climbers (including scammers) have managed to straddle these communities and erase the demarcations. ZOSO is a potent and pointed reminder that “ghetto people” are considered criminals before they even open their mouths. Reminds me of that Etana song.

Ultimately, I don’t think ZOSO will be an effective crime-fighting strategy. It is too much of an acute solution to a long term problem, too much of treating the symptom and not the disease.

Man goes to the doctor and says Doc, I have these headaches. Doctor says, Take these painkillers. Man dies of a brain tumour*.

What have we learnt?

Crime and violence in our society is directly related to our social infrastructure: education, employment and parenting, underlined by systemic political and judicial corruption. Opportunities for legitimate engagement are scarce while guns are plenty and every little boy is raised to be ‘tough’. Legal jobs grant you enviable social standing but it’s the under the table stuff that sends your kids to offshore schools. This culture is entrenched and serves far too many powerful people for it to be overturned overnight.

But that doesn’t say we can’t try.

In his Letter to the Editor, Dr. Canute Thompson expounds on the theory that attacking these root causes will ensure a sustainable decrease in crime statistics. He lays out an innovative approach to community development involving skills training and infrastructural reform. Granted it raises a whole new set of questions, but it’s a solution that just might make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.

–*–

*I am compelled to disclaim that headaches are not usually the presenting symptom of a brain tumour. Not every headache needs a CT scan. The point is that you need to rule out a more serious problem. /medic

Oops, (UW)I Did it Again

Despite claiming in February that the refurbished halls will not priced out of the range of a student budget, the UWI has implemented a 30% increase in hall fees on the recently remodeled Irvine Hall, a traditional hall of residence at UWI, Mona.

Earlier this year, Principal Archibald McDonald asserted that the cost of the new fees would first be approved by the UWI council. But in July a group of students started a petition to protest the unfair price hike of 30% for the new buildings. Deputy Principal Ishenkumba Kahwa argued that the fee increase only affected the minority of students who would be assigned to these new accommodations, mostly those in their final year. He added that subsidies would be considered on a case by case basis, saying (unwisely) that there are student who can afford the new cost.

I have noticed over the last few years or so that UWI has developed the habit of using financial means as an unofficial matriculation requirement. I first noticed it with medical school where students who didn’t make the cut for the government subsidy would be offered a place at the full-fee tuition (meaning if you can afford it, you’re in). Then lately, their costs of accommodation have steadily been increasing, with the addition of several new (and therefore expensive) halls. The traditional halls like Mary Seacole, Irvine, Chancellor and Taylor were substantially less expensive, less well-maintained and had obvious limitations on number but they provided an option for students who needed on-campus lodgings.

While it is high time these older halls were refurbished, I do think more could have been done to offset the cost of refurbishing so that the student wouldn’t have to absorb such a significant increase in price. The cost of accommodations on campus increases annually anyway, but I can imagine that many students didn’t budget for this level of inflation. And it is unfair that final year students who should be concentrating on completing their degree are now forced to find extra funds to pay the raised price or risk being barred from their exams for owing money to the university.

It is unfair, but unsurprising. University is a business, after all, and the bottom line is profit. Those who can afford it will always pay, and it makes no never mind that we are once again headed in the direction of elitist education that is limited to foreigners and the upper class.

 

 

Sources: here, here and here.

If It Ain’t Broke? CRH is Definitely Broke

Local news headlines are reporting that the regional hospital on the western end of the island is having difficulties with the decades old ventilation system, forcing most of its services to be badly curtailed. As the only Type A hospital outside of the KSAC its services are integral to regional health stability. Not just the most critical patients but also the day to day management of stable patients depend on this hospital’s functions.

Which is perhaps why in an effort to avoid national panic, the Government (through the media) has downplayed the potentially longstanding and severe effects of the situation. Ventilation issues are the problem, they quip, and point to engineers assessing the situation, the plans in place to fix it. Never mind that every day brings the shut down or relocation of some critical department. Never mind that daily staff and patients are exposed to unknown airborne chemicals with unforeseeable effects to their physical health.

The problem as Dr. Christopher Tufton rightly pointed out is primarily one of neglect. For decades the ventilation at CRH has not been working and none of our successive governments has bothered to fix it. So when a simple problem of airborne irritants occurs there was no ventilation  system in place to redirect the fumes. And when they did turn the system on the problem only worsened. (This is a classic example of sick building syndrome).

Internationally speaking, workplace hazards are problems ripe for litigation. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the employee is not placed at unnecessary risk in carrying out his or her duties (the so-called ‘due diligence‘). Where unavoidable this risk should be carefully calculated.

Human lives are at stake.

Healthcare workers are put at risk in so many other ways: needle-stick injuries, violent patients, contamination with blood or other bodily fluids, the constant exposure to illness. We mitigate these risks as best as we can, accepting them as part and parcel of our call to service. But the continued pressure to work in an environment with unidentified and potentially catastrophic risk is, I think, too much to ask. What the media (and therefore the public) have yet to fully realize is that human lives are at stake: patients, medical and non-medical staff, siblings, spouses, parents, children.

I don’t envy the Health Minister’s seat right now, backed into a corner with IMF restraints and the demands of an ailing health sector. And just as you said, Dr. Tufton, there is no quick fix. But the people working and convalescing in this contaminated institution cannot be left to languish while the situation is slowly rectified. Decisive action is needed if lives are to be saved. Come Dr. Tufton, do sumn before sumn do wi.