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Opposition wants Gov’t to account for borrowed NIDS funds

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Opposition wants Gov’t to account for borrowed NIDS funds

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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LEADER of the Parliamentary Opposition and president of the People’s National Party (PNP), Dr Peter Phillips is calling on the Government to immediately account for the $9 billion (US$68 million) borrowed from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the implementation of the National Identification Registration System (NIDS).

The Constitutional Court last Friday ruled that the National Identification and Registration Act, commonly called the NIDS Bill, is unconstitutional.

In an unprecedented live audio stream of the ruling, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes declared the court had decided that the legislation had no legal effect and is to be removed from the statutes of Jamaica. The matter was heard October 22-24 last year by justices Sykes, David Batts, and Lisa Palmer Hamilton.

Responding to the call from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) for the Opposition to work with the Government to establish a new national identification programme, Dr Phillips said in a release yesterday that the PNP has always supported the need for such a system.

He said, on several occasions the PNP has expressed its interest in being a part of a workable solution that guarantees a system that does not infringe on the rights of Jamaicans, as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Opposition leader pointed out that the Government exercised undue haste in rushing the NIDS Bill through the Parliament — disregarding the calls from the Opposition, the Church, the Jamaican Bar, and other stakeholders to take the critical steps to protect the people’s rights to privacy and access services, among others.

“Flying in the face of the court challenge, the Government hastily squandered millions of dollars in an advertising programme and roll-out, even boasting about collecting data from public sector employees for this now-unlawful system. Whose decision it was to ignore the presence of the Constitutional Court and continue using funds in a vulgar manner to instigate public support for the flawed Bill?” the Opposition leader asked in the release.

The Opposition PNP tabled a series of questions in Parliament yesterday, including: Will the prime minister state how much money has been spent to date on the NIDS project in total? Will the prime minister state what is the country’s exposure to contractual obligations? And what action will now be taken by the Government as a result of the Constitutional Court ruling in relation to each contract that is still existing?

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Banana threat

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EXCEPT for those in the agricultural sector, most Jamaicans have no idea what Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (Foc) Tropical Race 4 (or TR4) is, and can’t imagine its potentially devastating effects on the island’s banana and plantain crops.

The Banana Board is only too aware of the far-reaching impact of the soil-borne pathogen, and has therefore ramped up its public relations and awareness activities to alert farmers and other stakeholders.

At the moment, what it needs most is funding to conduct simulation exercises in order to be fully and practically prepared for the management of the disease, in the event that TR4 reaches Jamaica’s shores.

“With the spread of Foc TR4 to the Western Hemisphere for the first time, preventative measures, such as widespread public awareness, in addition to other border protection initiatives, provision of emergency resources, and the simulation exercise for containment of the disease are now extremely necessary,” the commodity board said this week.

With TR4 having reached Colombia, The Banana Board’s concern is the immediate threat of the plant disease spreading from that South American country to the island.

General Manager Janet Conie says this can happen via various means, including from people’s clothing, and even construction equipment.

“We need a wider programme that speaks to everybody who goes to another country…especially agricultural workers, scientists, vets (etc), who go into agricultural areas where the disease is…they could bring it back on their shoes, on their clothes. So we need to now widen our public relations…we need posters in the airports.

“In Colombia and Costa Rica they have mats at each one of the gates, and your shoes are disinfected, [but] we also need to tell all travellers that any shoes that you wear in those places that are infected, you cannot bring them back here. We need to speak to Customs and the Trade Board for them to help us with implementing things like containers and earth-moving equipment that comes from China – those equipment have to be treated,” she explained.

She stressed that TR4 must be seen as an important issue, as 98 per cent of Jamaicans consume bananas, and about 64,000 farmers grow bananas for income.

“Whether they have one square that they sell every weekend, they still get a livelihood from it…so it’s not something that we can likely lose, and we really shouldn’t lose our banana industry and then have to import,“ she said.

Conie pointed out that Ecuador, for example, treats one million containers annually, in order to safeguard their multibillion-dollar banana industry.

“Ecuador and Costa Rica have banned material that come into their country, whether it’s a mat or a hat, or whatever — banana goes out, nothing comes in,” she stated.

The general manager argued that it is not only the formal ports that need to be safeguarded as Jamaica seeks to protect its banana industry, which has taken a number of hits over the years.

“We have informal traders, so we have to talk to the coast guard about not just looking for drugs, but contraband, like banana plants. So we have a lot of work to do to interact with the agencies to help us to keep this disease out,” she said.

She said the plant quarantine division of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries is critical in all of this, as well as the ministry’s other agencies, including the Trade Board Limited.

A conversation, although broad, and one in which the link to the banana industry and the deadly TR4 may not be immediately apparent, has already begun internally at the ministry level.

Foc TR4 is a deadly disease of banana and plantain crops which is resistant to fungicides. This is the fourth strain of the disease, the first strain of which largely obliterated the most dominant variety of banana — Gros Michel — in the 1950s.

Tropical Race 4 is even more deadly. This is because all varieties of bananas and plantains are susceptible, including the cavendish group which replaced the Gros Michel, as well as the most commercially used variety of plantains in Jamaica, Conie told the Jamaica Observer.

“If you see any wilt on Cavendish, that is a big red flag — that’s when you call us,” she said.

Despite the looming spectre of TR4, the banana industry has been doing very well in the wake of the battering from natural disasters over the years, Conie said.

Last year, farmers produced 67,000 tonnes of bananas and 49,000 tonnes of plantains — not enough to meet demand for commercial quantities.

Conie noted that, at the same time, the country imported US$900 million in chips products. Other by-products such as flour and puree are also imported.

In the meantime, until the funding becomes available to back the simulation programme, The Banana Board has been conducting a series of consultations with banana farmers and other stakeholders who are at the forefront of banana production, about protecting the industry from the disease.

Conie said that for now, farmers should treat as a red flag any sign of a wilt on any plant, and report it for investigation.

The general manager said, however, that while the industry remains on alert, the way forward is to seek out and introduce resistant or tolerant varieties, as was done when the first strain of the disease hit.

She said right now, there are no commercial varieties that are “readily accepted” by the market, because of the difference in taste.

Connie clarified though that, “we are not saying that people must accept these varieties that are less than what the market would demand, but from a food security standpoint, we need to make sure that we have a variety that we can use”.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

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Saudi Arabia eases travel restrictions on women

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — Saudi Arabia yesterday began implementing a landmark reform allowing women over the age of 21 to receive passports and travel abroad without permission from a male “guardian”, authorities said.

The reform, announced earlier this month, weakens the restrictive guardianship system that has long been a symbol of repression against women.

“The passport department has started receiving applications for women aged 21 and above to issue or renew passports and to travel outside the kingdom without permission,” the department said on Twitter.

Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male “guardians” — husband, father and other male relatives — for these tasks, a restriction that drew international censure.

The reform comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape alleged guardianship abuse despite a string of reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a landmark decree last year that overturned the world’s only ban on women drivers.

In other changes unveiled earlier this month, Saudi women were also granted the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be recognised as a guardian to children who are minors —same as men.

The reforms were widely celebrated in the kingdom, but they also drew backlash from arch-conservatives, many of whom shared old video sermons on social media by Saudi clerics advocating guardianship laws.

Some also denounced the change as “unIslamic” in a society that traditionally sees men as protectors of women.

The reform comes as the OPEC petroleum producer reels from low oil prices and seeks to boost employment opportunities for women — currently facing chronic joblessness.

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26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage

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26-year-old determined to preserve Jamaica’s cultural heritage

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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More than 220 Jamaicans have been awarded Chevening Scholarships since it was first introduced in 1983. Chevening is the United Kingdom Government’s global scholarship programme that offers future leaders the opportunity to study in the UK. This year, 19 outstanding young Jamaicans were selected for the scholarships. Over this week the Jamaica Observer will share the stories of some of the 2019-2020 awardees.

 

IT was Jamaica’s first National Hero Marcus Garvey who said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” and this holds true for 2019/2020 Chevening Scholarship awardee Chantelle Richardson.

A special collections librarian at National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), Richardson will be undertaking a research-based fellowship on digitised archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean at The British Library.

When she completes her course of study, the 26-year-old, who is from Manchester, is determined to use her expertise to aid in the digital preservation of several Jamaican maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and photographs that are an integral part of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

“I am extremely passionate about preserving the nation’s irreplaceable cultural heritage, and I plan on using the knowledge and skills gained from the fellowship to tangibly digitise material unique to Jamaica and the world,” said Richardson, who describes herself as an avid reader and lover of all things Jamaican.

One of the major deliverables of this fellowship opportunity is to identify and liaise with a local partner institution to manage an Eccles Centre for American Studies-funded conference.

The theme of the conference will be based on Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) content, and will also include an element of training on applying to EAP for funding.

“I believe this will prove an essential step in helping to provide the necessary training for local bodies who manage cultural emblems,” Richardson stressed.

She also highlighted the fact that the NLJ houses the most extensive newspaper collection in the region, dating back to the 1700s, and the information on those pages is vital to the understanding of how life was in the past and how it can be made better for the future.

According to Richardson, the fellowship will also help to improve access to many resources housed at the NLJ and other regional institutions, through digitisation.

Richardson sees Chevening as an excellent medium through which young leaders, like herself, can come together to make meaningful changes in the society.

“My long-term objective is to aid the generation coming up to have a better appreciation for the contribution made by our forefathers and to actively engage in activities that will improve their lives.

“Upon returning to my country I also plan to execute a three-year developmental plan, which will engage persons in the library and information field, my community, and the wider society to improve the preservation of archival materials. In addition to the funded conference with training components, I will also strive to have information sessions, webinars, and social media campaigns aimed at preserving our cultural legacy,” said Richardson.

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