Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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Monday, 27 November 2017 17:00

New traffic ticket amnesty starts today

A new 45-day amnesty for persons with outstanding traffic tickets gets underway on Monday (Nov. 27).

Motorists with tickets issued from September 1, 2010 to October 31, 2017 can pay them without repercussion up to January 13, 2018.

On Friday (November 24), the Senate approved the Road Traffic (Temporary Ticket Amnesty Number 2) Act 2017, which facilitates the new period of amnesty. The Bill was passed in the Lower House on November 14.

State Minister for National Security, Senator the Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr., who piloted the Bill in the Senate, explained that following the previous three-month amnesty, which ended on October 31, motorists had appealed for additional time to fulfil their obligations.

As with previous amnesties, Senator Charles Jr. said the objectives are to enhance revenue administration and collection; allow persons to clear their driving record; improve the efficiency of the courts; and reduce the number of traffic cases before the courts.

“The Bill will facilitate the suspension of the relevant section of the Road Traffic Act to enable motorists holding unpaid traffic tickets that have become a matter before the courts to pay them at the offices of Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ),” he said.

It will also allow for the suspension of the relevant sections of the Judicature Parish Courts Act and the Justice of the Peace Jurisdiction Act, thereby preventing the issuance of warrants by a parish court judge or a Justice of the Peace for the arrest of traffic ticket holders. In addition, motorists holding unpaid traffic tickets will be offered an amnesty in relation to penalty points being recorded against their driver’s licence.

The State Minister noted that during the amnesty, motorists will not be denied the option of contesting their tickets in court, however, they will be required to abide by the decision of the court and cannot thereafter utilize the amnesty offer.

He urged motorists to use the period to become compliant, warning that those who do not avail themselves of the amnesty “will be vigorously pursued by the strong arm of the law after the amnesty period is concluded.”

The State Minister informed that the monies collected will be used to purchase vehicles, equipment and technology for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF); strengthen the cyber security network; upgrade the ticket management system used by the TAJ and the JCF; modernize the methods used by the Ministry of Transport and Mining to enforce the new Traffic Act; and modernise the court system and hire more judges.

In the meantime, Mr. Charles Jr. informed that security will be beefed up at the collectorates and additional cashiers put in place to deal with the large influx of motorists anticipated.

The previous amnesty period, which ran from August 2 to October 31, resulted in payments of over $590 million from the processing of more than 260,000 tickets. In addition, 45,000 calls were made to the Traffic Amnesty Call Centre.

Up to December 31, 2016, outstanding traffic tickets totaled in excess of $2.84 billion

Debate on legislation aimed at strengthening the regime governing the functions of Justices of the Peace (JPs) began in the House of Representatives on November 21.

The Justice of the Peace Bill and the Renaming of the Courts of Petty Sessions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill were piloted by Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck.

The Bills provide for codifying the selection, appointment, discipline, regulation and code of conduct of JPs; increasing the monetary jurisdiction of JPs; and renaming the Petty Sessions Courts to Lay Magistrates’ Courts.

In his address, Mr. Chuck said despite the importance of the functions of JPs in the country, there is no legislation governing how they operate.

He pointed out that in or around 2006, a Committee comprising the Chief Justice, the Custodes, the Legal Reform Department and personnel from the Ministry of Justice crafted a Code of Conduct and incorporated the existing rules.

The Minister said that this Code of Conduct was gazetted and has been the closest matter to legislation governing the functions of JPs in Jamaica.

“Let me hasten to highlight the fact that the Justice of the Peace (Jurisdiction) Act only governs the judicial functions of Justices of the Peace and does not address the issues covered under the Bill before this Honourable House,” Mr. Chuck said.

“With that said, I will seize this opportunity to inform that in a short while from now, a comprehensive review of the Justice of the Peace (Jurisdiction) Act will be undertaken with a view to modernisation. This piece of legislation was enacted in 1850,” he added.

The Minister said the Bills now before the Lower House will go a far way in impressing upon the minds of not only the JPs but all Jamaicans the seriousness of the Office of Justice of the Peace.

In addition, Mr. Chuck said the rules are silent on what should happen to a JP who has been criminally charged or convicted. “This deficit in the law must be arrested immediately,” Mr. Chuck emphasised.

“Another issue is the perennial problem of JPs losing their seals through negligence, and the Government must fork out 50 per cent of the replacement cost of the seal, and the JP only being required to pay 50 per cent. Statistics have shown that the majority of seals reported as stolen were stolen after being left in parked motor vehicles. The Government cannot continue to fund negligence,” he said.

Mr. Chuck said there is also the issue of whether it is proper for a JP to charge a fee for his services in that office, adding that the traditional functions of JPs have changed over time, and so, the law must be developed in recognition of this.

“As it relates to the name of the Petty Sessions Court, from as far back as 2007, a Task Force mandated to review and make recommendations for the improvement of our justice system recommended that the name of the Petty Sessions Court be changed to the Lay Magistrates’ Court,” he noted.

According to the Task Force, this will change the public’s perception of this Court, as, often times, Lay Magistrates are not afforded the respect of other judicial officers, despite the serious nature of their role.

“So, it is for all the above reasons, and more, that the law must be refined and clarified to reflect the increasing significance of the Office of the Justice of the Peace to our society,” Mr. Chuck said.

For the Justice of the Peace Bill, Clause 5 provides guidance on the appointment of Justices. Clause 7 imposes a duty on the JPs to observe the Code of Conduct or face being penalised for misconduct, while Clause 8 removes the restrictions to serve only in the JP’s parish of residence.

In terms of the Courts of Petty Sessions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, Clause 2 provides for the renaming of the Courts of Petty Sessions to the Lay Magistrates’ Courts.

The Government of Jamaica has signed a US$15-million loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the implementation of the Energy Management and Efficiency Programme (EMEP).

Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Hon. Audley Shaw, explained that the sum is the second portion of a joint loan of US$30 million for the roll-out of the EMEP.

He noted that the Government signed an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the first US$15 million on November 10.

He informed that the European Union (EU) is providing US$10 million in grant funding towards the programme, which will be executed over eight years.

“The aim is to bolster the Government’s efforts in the areas of energy efficiency and conservation through the design and implementation of measures targeting key Government facilities, as well as fuel conservation in road transportation to reduce the demand for fuel imports,” Minister Shaw said.

He was speaking at the signing ceremony held on Thursday (November 23) at the Ministry’s National Heroes Circle offices in Kingston.

Senior Vice President, JICA, Shigeru Maeda, in his remarks, said he is pleased with the partnership.

“I am very happy to sign the loan agreement… . I believe that this is a good project for energy conservation, which is important for Jamaica. This programme is in accordance with Vision 2030, which is the national development plan of Jamaica and contributes to achieve the outcome in energy security and efficiency. We expect a great synergy effect with this programme,” Mr. Maeda said.

EMEP, which is being executed by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) consists of three components.

Component one involves retrofitting the Health, Education and Public Agency (HEPA) government facilities. Energy efficiency and conservation measures will be undertaken in 73 HEPAs, including comprehensive retrofitting and installing light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

Under component two, an Urban Traffic Management System (UTMS) will be implemented in Kingston. This involves installation of a central control platform for traffic monitoring, closed-circuit television cameras, and the training of National Works Agency (NWA) staff.

Component three will focus on providing the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET) with additional expertise.

Training will be undertaken to support the implementation of an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to guide the development of a modern energy sector in Jamaica; technical experts will be contracted in energy efficiency and demand side management; and technical studies undertaken to support the IRP.

Saturday, 25 November 2017 15:16

Gov’t providing grants for health research

The Ministry of Health will be providing three research grants of up to $1.5 million each for tertiary students pursuing studies in specific areas.

The grants are available to postgraduate students of the Northern Caribbean University; University of Technology; and the University of the West Indies, Mona, who propose to undertake studies related to the top-10 health priority areas of the Government.

Applications for the one-year award will close on January 19 next year, and a decision made by February 15.

Portfolio Minister, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, officially launched the grant awards programme during the 8th staging of the annual National Health Research Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston on Thursday (November 23).

He said the objective is to promote credible research that supports the Government’s health agenda.

“We want to encourage research to guide policy, with an aim to promoting national development… . We consider this our contribution to the cause of research in healthcare, and we hope that we get as many applicants as possible and work that will add to the work that we have to do,” he said.

He noted that health research has high value for society, as it can provide, among other things, important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment or public health interventions, patterns of care, and the use and cost of healthcare.

The grant awards programme is being spearheaded by the Essential National Health Research Committee (ENHRC), which serves as the governing body for the coordination of research for health in Jamaica.

Chairman of the ENHRC, Professor Rainford Wilks, said increased research can lead to improvements in the overall health of Jamaicans, thereby helping the country to achieve a healthy and stable population.

“The provision of these grants is a key step in encouraging research in the priority areas and stimulating all aspects of ENHR,” he said.

He said the top-10 priority areas are universal access to health and universal health coverage; cancers, including cervical, breast, colon, prostate and their general outcomes and epidemiology; successful interventions for the treatment of cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension; factors affecting and the impact of violence and injuries (including intentional and unintentional injuries); and neglected tropical diseases and emerging and re-emerging diseases such as Zika, chikungunya and Ebola;.

Also being given priority is research into the financial sustainability for health; estimates of disease burden; the cost of disease burden; diabetes mellitus, including its effect on pregnancy; and the social determinants of infant, child and adolescent health (including mortality).

Grant awardees are encouraged to present their findings at the annual National Health Research Conference. They will also be expected to develop findings into full manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals, and may be asked to participate in other health fora.

National Security Minister, Hon. Robert Montague, says the Ministry plans to erect a special monument to honour the memory of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) members who die in the line of duty.

Speaking at the Ministry’s inaugural awards ceremony for members of the JCF at Hope Gardens in St. Andrew on Thursday, November 23, Mr. Montague said funds have been identified within the Ministry for the undertaking, and that he has received two designs for consideration.

The Minister has also invited JCF members to either submit designs for consideration or suggest ways in which those received can be utilised to configure the monument.

Mr. Montague also advised that the Ministry has placed an order for a hearse “befitting of the fallen men and women of the JCF, to take you on the last mile of your journey”.

Some 900 JCF members have died in the line of duty since the JCF’s establishment in 1867.

Meanwhile, Mr. Montague praised the police for working relentlessly and tirelessly in their efforts to curb crime and violence, thereby safeguarding the nation.

He noted that while police officers work long and hard, often beyond the call of duty, many times they are not thanked for their dedicated service.

Police Commissioner, George Quallo, also lauded the members, noting that their consistent display of integrity, professionalism, passion for policing and deep-seated commitment to being agents of positive change across Jamaica “has set you apart”.

“You have given (and continue to give) yeoman service to our nation. Each day, you show up for work, leaving your families, to serve persons (some of whom) you have never met. Through your efforts, you have helped to build Jamaica,” Mr. Quallo said.

The awards ceremony, which is the brainchild of Mr. Montague, coincided with the JCF’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

More than 70 awards, citations and certificates were presented to members from the various Divisions, in recognition of sterling service in their respective areas.

One minute’s silence was also observed in memory of the officers who died in the line of duty.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has given high marks for Jamaica’s performance under the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the Fund, saying “commitment to the economic reform programme remains strong”, with “economic indicators at historical highs, supported by a favourable macroeconomic environment”.

In its recently released 70-page review of Jamaica’s economic performance, the IMF notes that “unemployment is falling, new jobs are being created, and there is robust activity in construction and hotels and restaurants. Inflation and the current account are low, helped by relatively stable oil prices and the Government’s policy efforts”.

The Fund says “the historically low yields” in the recent global bonds reopening reflect “Jamaica’s hard-won credibility”.

“After more than four years of difficult economic reforms, Jamaica’s programme implementation remains exemplary,” the Washington-based multilateral notes.

Giving the second review under Jamaica’s SBA, the Fund says that strong domestic ownership of the reform agenda across two different governments and the broader society has helped to entrench macroeconomic stability and fiscal discipline.

The IMF hails the “landmark public pension reform bill” passed recently. It says that while there are programme risks, commitment by the Government to the reform programme “remains strong”.

Among the risks identified by the IMF is the challenge of public-sector reform and ongoing public-sector wage negotiations. The Fund says there is need to free up resources through redesigning public-sector wage scales to retain skilled employees and to appropriately reward performance.

“This would pave the way for rebalancing public spending from wages to growth-enhancing outlays on health (where Jamaica’s expenditures are relatively low), education (where an overly large share of expenditures is on wages), security and capital spending,” the Fund says.

The Fund also mentions weather-related shocks as potential risks to the programme, highlighting growing concern about the issue of climate change.

The international lending agency praises the Government for the fact that “inflation and the current account deficit remain subdued”. It also commends the Government for its divestment programme, observing that “the authorities are accelerating their efforts to divest underutilised public assets and using proceeds towards public debt reduction”.

The Fund cites the Government’s “sustained commitment (to macroeconomic stability and fiscal discipline)” and the ongoing programme monitoring by civil society that has paved the way for the reforms to be “domestically owned, designed and executed”.

Thursday, 05 October 2017 20:39

Jamaica's Coast Guard fleet boosted

The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard’s operational capability has been further strengthened with the acquisition of four boats and supporting maintenance equipment from the United States Government, valued at more than $500 million.

The two 38-foot SAFE boats and two 37-foot Boston Whaler vessels have been donated under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and will significantly enhance the Coast Guard’s maritime interdiction efforts and facilitate greater coordination with their US counterparts in curtailing transnational crimes, such as illicit drug, gun and human trafficking.

With these additions, Jamaica now has the largest maritime presence in the Caribbean.

The vessels and equipment were formally presented to National Security State Minister, Senator the Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr., by Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Jamaica, Eric Khant, during a handover ceremony at the JDF Coast Guard headquarters in Port Royal, on October 4.

Senator Charles said the provisions were welcome, in light of the onset of “dynamic and emerging” criminal threats regionally and globally.

Noting that the JDF Coast Guard is a critical part of Jamaica’s national security apparatus, Senator Charles said the unit is responsible for a maritime space that is 25 times Jamaica’s size.

Against this background, he said the unit’s fulfilment of its mandate, inclusive of protecting the nation against threats delivered by sea and protecting persons who use the sea, “is an enormous task”.

“The medium endurance and fast coastal interceptor vessels being handed over are, therefore, vital to the unit’s operations. Equally important is fostering a system of cooperation and synergy with our partner, the US Government (which) over the years, has donated a number of vessels, operations and engineering equipment to bolster our enforcement efforts in the maritime space,” he noted.

“We are, indeed, pleased to accept the vessels… and pledge to continue the good partnership between our nations,” he added.

Mr. Khant, in his remarks, lauded the Government for prioritising the safeguarding of Jamaica’s coastline and territorial waters, in light of increasing transnational criminal activities.

He said this would lay the foundation for creating a prosperous and peaceful society, which is “also in the United States’ interest”, due to the countries’ close proximity to each other.

“These boats are a symbol of our commitment to our Jamaican partners. We assure you that we stand with you in your fight against criminal organisations,” he added.

For his part, Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Rocky Meade, said the auxiliary vessels “will support and enhance the capability of the existing fleet, in the fulfilment of the mandate of the Coast Guard”.

“We gladly accept these vessels that illustrate the continued strong partnership between our countries, and we commit to putting them to great use to support our joint security interests,” he added.

Head of the JDF Coast Guard, Commander Antonette Wemyss-Gorman, assured that the boats and equipment “will be employed efficiently by this unit (in) all our roles and missions”.

At first glance, Travis Robinson could easily have been mistaken for any of the other young delegates at the fifth annual Caribbean Youth Leaders’ Summit held recently at the Jewel Runaway Beach & Golf Resort in St. Ann.

However, mere minutes into his keynote presentation, it was easy to see that the Member of Parliament (MP) and Parliamentary Secretary in The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, was no ordinary attendee.

For about 30 minutes or so, the 22-year-old Nassau native, who holds the distinction of being the youngest politician in The Bahamas and the wider Caribbean, had everyone, including Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, hanging on to his every word.

It was a riveting presentation, in which he detailed his rise to political office and urged other young people throughout the Caribbean to put themselves forward to serve their communities and countries.

He said that for those not interested in politics, there are other areas of national life where they can advocate for the rights of the marginalised in the society. He cited the environment, community activism, media, and education reform, as some of the areas in which youth can play a role.

Mr. Robinson said that good governance must embrace the contribution of the youth.

But how, by his own account, did an inner-city product of modest means rise so quickly to now be seen as one of the fastest-rising political stars in the region.

“A few short years ago in my late teens, I spearheaded a clean-up campaign in my community,” Mr. Robinson recalled.

“It was an area in the inner-city of Nassau. I led my small group in dialogue with the residents, and we found out what the needs were. We also found out ways to meet these needs,” he noted.

He said that resulting from that success, persons started approaching him, urging him to use his natural gift as an effective communicator to enter representational politics.

“I took it as a joke, until I was courted by the leaders of a major political party in my country.

“In 2016, I was nominated as a political candidate, and, by the end of 2016, I was ratified as the youngest candidate in the history of The Bahamas. In the elections of May 10 of this year, at age 22, I became the youngest member of parliament in the history of The Bahamas and the Caribbean,” Mr. Robinson said.

As to why he decided to enter politics at such a young age, he noted that “as a young man in my early 20s, I am at the height of mental and physical energy and vitality, and I want to give the best years of my life in service to my country. Why should I wait until I am 45 or 55, when I am older and more tired, to serve my country?”

Mr. Robinson said he learnt early that in preparing for leadership, “I had to don the outward attire of leadership,” noting the importance of having a well-groomed appearance.

He said that being an effective communicator is also key.

“While we all have… our special dialects and patois, it is critical that we become fluent at switching codes where necessary and slip seamlessly into articulating English to convey our ideas,” he pointed out.

Mr. Robinson’s advice for young people who aspire to be leaders but who may be dismayed about their current circumstance is: “Don’t downgrade your dreams to match your reality, but, rather, upgrade your faith to match your destiny.”

A former junior minister of tourism, Mr. Robinson is a university student and founder of the Rising Star organisation, which is designed to train, empower and equip young boys to become world changers.

Education, Youth and Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid, says that students who damage, lose or fail to return the texts provided under the Government’s secondary-school book rental scheme will be required to pay for them.

He said further access to the scheme will be denied until payments are made.

Senator Reid was speaking at the Ministry’s recent Region Two town hall meeting at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in Annotto Bay, St. Mary.

He noted that the Ministry replenishes the stock of books at institutions each year through a routine system of incremental replacements for those that have deteriorated and are deemed beyond further use.

“So, we try to provide schools with what we call a ‘top-up’, which is (about) 20 per cent (of the books) each year. So after five years, your whole stock would have been replaced,” he explained.

The Minister said it was “unfair” for persons accessing the benefit to take the books and either damage, lose or fail to return them.

“We can’t have a system where students (either) don’t return books (or) they are damaged and then the Government is required to replace them each year. This is one area, unfortunately, I will not support,” he added.

Senator Reid said the Ministry is prepared to give consideration to compensatory arrangements for parents unable to pay for damaged or lost books.

“There has to be some responsibility, or they (students) can’t access the rental for the next period,” he reiterated.

The meeting formed part of Senator Reid’s itinerary for his visit to St. Mary, during which he toured several schools comprising the Ministry’s Region Two to mark the start of the 2017/18 academic year.

Among these were Devon Pen Primary School, St. Mary Technical High School, Annotto Bay High School, and Enfield Primary School.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid, says he is determined to have 100 per cent of primary-level students matriculating into secondary schools for a full five-year course of study.

Speaking to students from Wolmer’s Boys’ and Girls’ schools in Kingston during their devotion on September 25, the Minister said Jamaica is only one per cent away from achieving this target.

“For many years, over 70 per cent of students in Jamaica did not have access to education beyond grade nine. This year marks the first time in our history that we were able to place 99 per cent of our cohort into a full five-year high-school programme. Next year, hopefully, we’ll be able to place the full 100,” Senator Reid said.

“The message I share is about opportunity for all. There was a view that education was elitist. Today, the society is not going to be productive if only some have and the majority don’t have. We want a society where everyone gets equal opportunity for self-development and self-determination, aspiration for goodness and their own sense of self-worth and achievement,” the Minister added.

Senator Reid said he believes achieving the goal of getting 100 per cent of students enrolled at the secondary level up to fifth form and placed in a full five-year course of study will benefit the society in a major way in the long run.

“Currently, when you look on our workforce of 1.3 million persons, 15 per cent have tertiary education and training, 18 per cent have what we call technical certification from HEART Trust/National Training Agency (HEART/NTA) and City and Guilds, and then 67 per cent did not complete secondary education or any training – almost 800,000 Jamaicans,” he said.

The Minister said that through programmes being offered by the Government, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH), along with programmes from other organisations, the one per cent of students who were not placed in a full five-year course of study at the secondary level, can be reached.

“We have been pushing science, technology, engineering [and] mathematics largely because the world economy has changed rapidly. We’re now in the fourth industrial revolution where technology is taking over, and a lot of what we will do, how we’ll conduct business, produce goods and services, will be heavily impacted by technology,” he argued.

“When we talk about STEM, it is because this is the new economy, and so your education, your training have to be aligned to what is happening in the new economy and for the future. We can’t turn it back. We have to embrace it, prepare for it [and] equip ourselves,” the Minister emphasised.

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