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News Week: DECEMBER 05, 2021

Do you want to join the fire service? It’s time to apply

The Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) has announced plans to increase its staff complement through the addition of new positions in upcoming fiscal years.

Commissioner Stewart Beckford said the JFB’s staff complement of uniformed and non-uniformed personnel stands at about 2,164, with the number of uniformed firefighters hovering at 1,868.

“We are currently undertaking a restructuring exercise and coming out of that exercise will be some additional numbers in terms of our overall staff complement. There are an additional 151 new positions to come on stream over the next two financial years,” he said.

Persons interested in joining the Jamaica Fire Brigade are advised to visit its website at , where the relevant information on eligibility and the application process can be found.

Among the eligibility criteria are a minimum of five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects or equivalent.

However, the Commissioner said that having specialised skillsets gives applicants a greater advantage. “We are also interested in persons who may have certain skillsets that we are desirous of, for example mechanics and drivers, as those are always in demand; artisans, electricians, plumbers and those kinds of skillsets. We are interested in persons who have those,” said the Head of the JFB.

The JFB remains committed to carrying out its mandate of saving lives and protecting property.

‘Resilience-building’ for housing stability coming

The Government has allocated $1 million to each Member of Parliament (MP) to support resilience-building efforts in constituencies across Jamaica.

Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr. made the disclosure in the House of Representatives. He said that the Ministry will be working with all MPs to identify those households at greatest risk.

“The Ministry will provide directions and support for the initiative, and I implore colleagues on both sides of the House to submit the requested information at the soonest and no later than February 2022,” Mr. Charles Jr said.

Building resilience is key in ensuring housing stability, particularly for vulnerable persons.

Minister Charles Jr. noted that climate-related disasters have been the primary drivers of internal displacement over the past decade.

“Just earlier this month, the downpour in St. James forced many families to leave their houses consequent to the devastating flooding. Undoubtedly, we must prioritise resilience building while we seek to mitigate the inevitable,” he said.

“So, I simply cannot tackle the right for housing without speaking about the implications of climate change,” said the minister. “As climate change intensifies, housing stability will be increasingly under threat. Housing is the primary determinant of people’s financial security and well-being, and while the impacts of climate change are felt in every sphere of our lives, whether directly or indirectly, our housing sector for obvious reasons is especially vulnerable.”

New-look ‘Hip Strip’ coming in Montego Bay

The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) is spending about $1 billion to upgrade the Hip Strip along Jimmy Cliff Boulevard in Montego Bay, St. James.

“We are going to upgrade the entire Hip Strip… We are spending $1 billion for the upgrading,” said the entity’s Chairman Godfrey Dyer.

The proposed Hip Strip development incorporates physical improvements and new product development, with the scope of work to include widening sidewalks, rerouting overhead utility cables underground, creating thematic facades and other renovations to boost the aesthetic appeal of the city.

“We have advertised already for architects to do designs, and the applications have come in. We will be looking at the applications over this week because we want to start very early in the New Year,” said Mr. Dyer. “Once we have the designs put together, we will be having meetings like these to show Montego Bay what the plan is and what we will be doing there.”

Thousands of houses ‘in the pipeline’, says PM Holness

Prime Minister Andrew Holness says nearly 22,000 new housing solutions are to be built over the next two to three years by the National Housing Trust (NHT).

He noted that the entity currently has 12,019 units under construction, costing upwards of $100 billon.

Additionally, the Prime Minister said the NHT has another 9,641 units in the planning stage, projected to cost $95 billion.

“So what you [will] have is a flow. So when that 12,019 now under construction [are complete], you will have a replacement from those moving out of planning… and that’s in the pipeline,” explained the prime minister.

He was speaking during the handover ceremony for 110 single-storey two-bedroom duplex units developed by the NHT at Twickenham Glades, St. Catherine.

Mr. Holness said the 12,019 solutions represent the most the NHT has ever had under construction for any single period. He noted that more than 95 per cent of these will be affordable to low-income earners.

Mr. Holness, who has portfolio responsibility for the NHT, commended the entity for fulfilling its mandate to build houses for Jamaicans.

New Fortress Energy injects cash in STEM education

Fifty Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students from three tertiary institutions are getting scholarships valued at just over $26 million, by liquefied natural gas company, New Fortress Energy.

The students hail from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, the University of Technology (UTech) and the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMU).

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams said the Ministry will continue to encourage the integration of technology at all academic levels.

“We welcome this important support for education in general, but for STEM education, in particular,” said the minister. “We have been making Jamaicans more aware of what it is. The national curriculum that we have in our primary schools all the way through high school is STEM-based and I’m happy to see that at the tertiary level, you are pushing this.”

In the meantime, Principal of  UWI,  Mona,  Professor Dale Webber, argued that investing in the STEM fields forms part of the university’s mission, which is to inform and increase Caribbean development.

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News Week: DECEMBER 12, 2021

Finally! Pension scheme for tourism workers, January 1, 2022

Edmund Bartlett, the Minister of Tourism, said despite being delayed by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the pension scheme for tourism workers will be introduced on January 1, 2022.

He said that the introduction of the scheme is also coming at a time when the tourism sector is at a stage of rapid recovery and where workers can again look forward to a future that is filled with optimism.

“The thinking behind the pension scheme was to ensure that the workers of our industry can have an opportunity to look forward to a future that will secure them and their families,” the Minister explained.

He said that the Tourism Workers Pension Scheme require mandatory contributions by workers and employers between the ages of 18 and 59.

Benefits will be payable at age 65 years or older.

Usain Bolt Foundation supports primary schools

Mountain View Primary and Infant School in Kingston has received stationery supplies donated by the Usain Bolt Foundation.

The items include one cartridge-free Epson printer, one projector and five reams of paper. The foundation also intends to donate 100 printers, 20 projectors and 500 reams of paper to primary schools across the island. The total value is just over $20 million.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams said she is appealing to corporate entities to support the education sector. “I want to say sincere thanks and to continue appealing to our corporate entities and diaspora to continue to support the education sector. The Government cannot do it alone. We need all of our stakeholders to come on board to help our children to ensure that they have the necessary resources, and that our schools are so equipped in terms of what they need as well,” she added.

Chairperson of the Usain Bolt Foundation Ms. Winsome Wilkins said the foundation continues to support early childhood institutions, improve playground facilities, and assist sports development and at-risk youth programmes.

Benefits for householder helpers under insurance scheme

For the first time, Jamaica’s household helpers and fisherfolk will secure pension benefits under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) as the Government moves to formalise these sectors.

This will come under the Transition to Formality Action Plan, which will see this segment of workers being able to access health and life insurance, pension and other facilities to provide them with security and protection in their work environment.

The Action Plan, launched officially launched by Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda, is in keeping with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) recommendation to Member States to standardise informal sectors.

This follows the growing trend in many developing countries where workers are employed in industries that are unregistered or do not comply with the minimum standards of labour legislation or in some cases Decent Work. The ILO defines Decent Work as productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

Custos launches values programme for Manchester

Custos of Manchester, Garfield Green, is undertaking a programme aimed at fostering positive values and attitudes and a sense of social responsibility among citizens in the parish.

The initiative is dubbed ‘Manchester Beliefs, Values, and Attitudes’; and the Custos said that the programme will serve to restore those core values and principles that make communities thrive.

“It is geared at promoting civic pride in our society, building self-esteem and respect for self and for others, improving standard of living for individuals, promoting law and order, and creating a better community for all,” Custos Green said.

“I have a vision and drive to create a sense of self-assurance and patriotism in our people, and to help all of us to achieve our God-given potential,” he said.

Canada gives to Jamaica’s women-led community groups

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange said that Canada’s donation of $21 million to causes of women empowerment will “immensely” aid victims of domestic violence.

She said that the gift came from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to the Bureau of Gender Affairs and seven local organisations to support various community-based projects.

“This project contributes immensely to peace and restoration for several survivors of gender-based violence and women-led community groups,” the Minister said.

All the recipient groups, including the Bureau of Gender Affairs, will implement activities to address social and economic issues arising from the pandemic for the 2021 to 2022 period.

Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica Her Excellency Emina Tudakovic, said the programme is geared at “achieving real impact at the community level”, and to share and build “important work that we have been doing” to accelerate action and enhance the “collective important work”.

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News Week: DECEMBER 19, 2021

Farmers get help to recover from storms

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw has expressed appreciation to the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) for its invaluable support to Jamaica’s farmers with the contribution of seeds valued at $1.5 million.

The donation was in support of the country’s national recovery programme following the passage of tropical storms Grace and Ida in August that destroyed 4, 595 hectares of crops valued at some $1.6 billion and impacted 17, 823 farmers.

“The agriculture sector is one that has to recover quickly when met with these and other crises as it accounts for 7.1% of gross domestic product, and contributes approximately 15.2% of the country’s employment, “ said Shaw.

To facilitate farmers getting back into production in the shortest possible time, the Ministry also allocated $70 million for the distribution of seeds and other planting materials, pesticides and other inputs through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority.

Do you have mangoes? We have the markets!

Chief Executive Officer of the Agro Investment Corporation Dr. Al Powell said Jamaica has the potential to expand its foothold in the global market for mango, which is valued at US$18 billion.

He noted that in 2020, the country supplied over 291,321 kilograms of the fruit overseas, valuing US$623,190.

“But that’s a drop in the bucket compared with big countries that are producing mangoes, and there are over 100 countries. We have China, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Australia and so on,” he said. “So, we can now export to many countries in the world, even though our traditional markets are the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and in recent times, Cayman, Barbados, and other places, so the opportunities are really large.”

To capitalise on the opportunities, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, through the corporation, has established a mango agro park in Spring Plains Clarendon. Five investors are part of a phased roll out of the 1,000-acre orchard.

Free COVID-19 test kits coming for public

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is to acquire 150,000 coronavirus (COVID-19) self-testing kits for the public free of cost.

Portfolio Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton said, “That process is taking place, as we speak, in terms of determining the [type of] kits and ensuring that the choice is supported by the appropriate documentation”.

The minister said that “the intention is that once these kits are imported, to engage in a discussion with critical stakeholders… to determine the best approach to the distribution and use of these kits.”

Dr Tufton noted that there are tests that have become available on the market, which are approved by the critical regulatory agencies such as the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug Administration.

“We have taken a critical look at these new tests on the market, and we are now in a position to say, with an appropriate level of advice and caution, that we would like to encourage the use of self-administered home test kits in a particular context, along with particular protocols,” he said.

Public sector reform critical for growth, says finance minister

Dr Nigel Clarke, the Minister of Finance and the Public Service, said the transformation of the public sector is “critically important” to the country’s development.

He argued that there are three main imperatives driving the transformation – fiscal, addressing the governance deficit, and the need to improve service delivery.

In terms of the fiscal imperatives, Dr Clarke noted that “the Government of Jamaica does not have infinite resources and therefore, we have to organise our public sector in a way that allows us to optimise the use of our resources.”

He said that transforming the public sector will also ensure that entities operate by the highest standards and principles of governance.

“In a democracy, public trust and credibility are the only currencies that we have, and in order to ensure that public trust and public credibility are at their highest, we have to be seen to be doing our best to have a well-organised and efficient public service, and obvious gaps need to be addressed,” Dr. Clarke said.

Portmore, St. Jago Park health centres for upgrade

The Greater Portmore Health Centre, in St. Catherine, is among several facilities slated for major upgrading and expansion.

There is “an urgent need to add significant expansion” to the healthcare facility, given the large population in Portmore that it serves, said Health and Wellness Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton.

“The new building will provide the following services: oral rehydration, laboratory, isolation room, x-ray room, treatment and procedure rooms, asthma bay, diabetic retinopathy screening, and physiotherapy with examination and exercise rooms,” said the Minister.

Construction, which is slated to start in December 2022, is expected to end in November 2023, and forms part of the $31.2 billion to build out the public health infrastructure over the next three years.

The Minister also noted that the St. Jago Park Health Centre, in the parish, “is being prioritised for expansion to reduce the number of patients seen at the Spanish Town Hospital.”

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News Week: DECEMBER 26, 2021

Past students give tablets to Titchfield High School

The Titchfield Past Students Sports Association has donated 22 laptops and 17 tablets to the Portland-based institution.

This follows the donation of 60 tablets last year and is a continuation of assistance to the institution since the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

President of the association Steven Aiken, who is based in the United States (US), said the organisation was formed to provide support to the school in sports, but with COVID “we saw where we had to provide (students) with electronic devices to facilitate their studies.”

“We did an assessment in conjunction with the school and realised that some much-needed help was needed. Ultimately, we decided that we would do fundraisers,” he said, noting that the association continues to source more tablets and laptops for the students.

“We will not stop until we get to our goal of ensuring that all needy students have one of these [devices] at their disposal,” he pledged.

Facelift at Buff Bay Police Station in Portland

Minister of National Security Dr. Horace Chang has officially opened the new Buff Bay Police Station in Portland, which was constructed at a cost of $126 million.

The facility was built under the Ministry’s ‘Project Rebuild, Overhaul, and Construct,’ which aims to rebuild, renovate, and retrofit police stations across Jamaica.

The new facility features a ramp for the disabled, a server room, interview rooms, barrack rooms and other modern amenities.

Dr. Chang said the Government is investing in improving police stations, and over the next three years “we will spend in the region of $14 billion on police facilities”.

“We are committed to effectively transforming police stations and we have effectively dealt will 101 of those stations,” he said. Dr. Chang said that work on 16 facilities will be completed by the end of the financial year in March 2022.

STEAM is focus of education sector, says minister

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams said increasing tertiary enrolment in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) programmes of study is a national imperative.

“This position recognises the urgent need to increase the level of innovation and critical thinking required for future careers and economic advancement in Jamaica,” she said.

Minister Williams noted that while there is great importance in investing in liberal arts education, there must also be “educated and trainable people who can adapt to the changing environment and its requirements.”

According to her, “many institutions lack computer literate teachers and information and communication technology experts, who would support and manage the internet connectivity and or application of computing in the teaching-learning process.”

More COVID-19 cash support for poor in Jamaica

About 27,357 Jamaicans will receive a one-off $16,000 payment under the COVID-19 Cash Assistance Programme.

The $155 million cash transfer initiative is aimed at aiding poor and needy persons, who are not benefiting from Government social assistance.

The United Nations World Food Programme, through the Canadian Government, provided a grant to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to undertake the initiative. The ministry will oversee the equitable distribution of the funds.

The cash distribution is being facilitated by WiPay (Jamaica) Limited, through its network of outlets across the island.

Portfolio Minister Karl Samuda said the use of WiPay will increase efficacy in the distribution of the funds and facilitate greater levels of accountability. “We saw the need to make most of our activities digital so that persons can choose when to go to collect what they need… It allows for greater flexibility, greater accountability because the system is one that makes provision for automatic audit, which is very important to us,” said the minister.

Daryl Vaz on track to connect multiple communities

The Universal Service Fund (USF) in on track to establish 189 additional community wi-fi hotpots island-wide by the end of March 2022, to facilitate increased public Internet access.

These will be in addition to 13 high-trafficked locations where the service has been established, among the latest being Hope Bay in Portland, which was launched on December 16.

Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz said that three hotspots will be established in each of the 63 constituencies across Jamaica. Vaz was speaking during a ceremony for the handover of a cheque for $20 million to the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica to procure state-of-the-art equipment to establish a dedicated 24-hour educational television channel.

This will target the digital transmission of content, largely tailored for early childhood, primary, and secondary students.

Mr. Vaz said the Ministry is using information and communication technology  to digitise government service delivery, make Internet connectivity more accessible “and advance Jamaica’s ambition to become a technologically-enabled society”.

Vaccine remains best response, says health minister

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton said vaccination remains an important response in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illnesses, hospitalisations and death [that could result from] the Omicron variant. So vaccines still remain an important response,” said the minister.

The Minister was speaking during a recent COVID Conversations virtual press briefing, where he revealed that a traveller who visited Jamaica tested positive for the new variant, after returning to the United Kingdom.

Against this background, Dr. Tufton expressed concern about Jamaica’s vaccination numbers, which have remained relatively low.

“We have given 1.194 million vaccine doses; 557,000 persons are fully vaccinated, which represents 20.4 per cent of the population, and just under 26 per cent of persons have had at least one dose,” he disclosed.

The Minister also informed that 2,631 booster shots and 612 extended primary series (third dose) have been administered.

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