The news in 2021 continued to be dominated with stories about COVID-19 and government policies designed to mitigate the negative impacts of the continuing pandemic. Jamaica’s government made several financial allocations to entities to support their operations during the pandemic, while penalties were imposed for breaching government-imposed safety protocols. Jamaica’s response to COVID-19 was robust, with the island nation administering the largest number of vaccines in the English-speaking Caribbean early on. The government also enacted strong anti-gang policies to help reduce the crime rate in the country. Following the lead of Barbados toward becoming a republic after centuries of British rule, Jamaica’s attorney general announced that plans are moving forward to declare Jamaica a republic, with concrete plans to remove the Queen of England as head of state predicted for 2022. The government has also made demands of the British queen for slavery reparations to be paid to Jamaica. Action was taken to approve the designation of Portmore as Jamaica’s 15th parish, and the National Identification and Registration (NIDS) Act was passed with the goal of making Jamaica one of the strongest digital economies in the world.
JAMAICAN GOVERNMENT TO ALLOCATE $9.2 BILLION TO UNIVERSITY OF WEST INDIES
Fayval Williams, Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Youth, and Information, announced that the government will provide the University of the West Indies (UWI) with an allocation of $9.2 billion to help alleviate the financial challenges faced by the institution due to COVID-19. The government will also provide a grant of $2.9 billion to the University of Technology. Williams added that the government is also reviewing the way tertiary education in Jamaica is funded.
JAMAICA’S GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE FINANCIAL AID TO OLYMPIC, PARALYMPIC ATHLETES
The government of Jamaica will provide $45 million in direct financial aid to support Jamaican athletes who are preparing to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport stated that the Ministry is collaborating with the Institute of Sports to provide the financial assistance. The funds will be given every two-weeks from now to the Olympics. Athletes in swimming, rugby, gymnastics, boxing, karate, and track and field will begin to receive the funds within days. Stipends to Paralympic athletes will begin in three weeks.
JAMAICAN GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE $50 MILLION IN SUPPORT OF WORKERS IN ENTERTAINMENT, CULTURE, AND CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
The government of Jamaica has increased the special support package designed for those working in the entertainment, culture, and creative industries to $50 million. Previously, the government had promised $40 million to the industries, but due to technical issues in the electronic portal for the disbursement of the funds, sector members were unable to access them. Now, a different platform is being used, and the government is in the final phase of app development, which will allow more members to register and apply for grants. In spite of the technical problems, however, the government still provided support for sector members, including providing grants to over 700 practitioners through the COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) program and special grants from the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport. Another $14 million was disbursed to Jamaican creatives through direct sponsorship from the Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.
HOUSE LEGISLATORS APPROVE FINES FOR BREACHES OF COVID SAFETY PROTOCOLS
Jamaican legislators in the House approved the imposition of penalties and other provisions under the Disaster Risk Management Act of 2021, including penalties for those who refuse to wear masks in public or who break curfew orders. Under the law, 40 offenses are addressed, with ten levels of fixed penalties imposed. Those failing to wear a mask in public, who do not follow the six-foot physical distancing rule, or who breach protocols that govern public transportation will be fined $5,000. Individuals who breach curfew could face fines of $10,000; a $20,000 penalty will be imposed on those who operate a gym or small outdoor activity outside of permitted hours. Additionally, residents who do not follow quarantine orders upon returning to the country from overseas will face a fine of $25,000, and non-Jamaican residents or tourists who do not confine themselves to Resilient Corridors will be liable for a fine of $30,000. A $100,000 penalty will be imposed on those holding funerals, burials, weddings, or worship services in breach of COVID orders, and anyone operating a hotel or resort not licensed under the Tourist Board Act, certified by the Tourism Product Development Company, or located in the Resilient Corridors could face a penalty totaling $500,000.
JAMAICA ADMINISTERS THE MOST COVID VACCINE DOSES IN ENGLISH-SPEAKING CARIBBEAN
With the help of its five-day mass immunization program, Jamaica vaccinated the highest number of people with COVID vaccine in the English-speaking Caribbean. As of April 13, 2021, the country’s Health Ministry reported that 135,473 individuals had received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This is seven percent of the island’s targeted population of 1.9 million required for Jamaica to get to herd immunity by March of 2022. To be considered fully vaccinated, each person must receive two doses of the vaccine. According to the Health Ministry, 87,755 Jamaican were vaccinated in the fifth week of the program, surpassing its initial goal of 59,530.
JAMAICA’S HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES ANTI-GANG BILL WITH AMENDMENTS
The House of Representatives in Jamaica passed the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) (Amendment) Act of 2021, better known as the Anti-Gang Legislation, with four amendments. The bill is designed to provide greater support for law enforcement’s efforts to interrupt and undermine organized crime activity. According to Dr. Horace Change, Jamaican Minister of National Security, a strong framework of laws is necessary to ensure sustainable reductions in crime. The amendments to the Act specifically mention additional offenses for activities undertaken by criminal organizations, raised the number of offenses governed by the Act, expand the list of aggravating factors considered in the sentencing of individuals convicted of specific offenses under the Act, and improve trial procedures to better protect the identity of witnesses.
JAMAICA’S ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY TO MAKE JAMAICA A REPUBLIC
According to Marlene Malahoo Forte, Attorney General of Jamaica, an announcement is forthcoming in 2022 regarding plans for Jamaica to follow the example of Barbados and cut ties to Britain, remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, and become a republic. Once the budget and sectoral debates are completed in January of 2022, the government will make a concrete announcement about its plans. In the past 40 years, several of Jamaica’s Prime Ministers have committed to starting the process of becoming a republic, no substantial action was taken.
JAMAICAN GOVERNMENT DEMANDS REPARATIONS FOR SLAVERY FROM QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Stating that the damage done to Jamaica from the effects of slavery continue, Jamaica plans to present a petition for reparations from Queen Elizabeth II or the government of the United Kingdom to compensate the descendants of enslaved people. The petition cites Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, which made its merchants rich. Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, announced that the move toward seeking reparatory justice for victims of the slave trade and their descendants is advancing and is supported by Jamaica’s Opposition People’s Na-tional Party (PNP).
JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE APPROVES PLAN TO MAKE PORTMORE JAMAICA’S 15TH PARISH
After reviewing a proposal that would make Portmore the 15th parish of Jamaica, a joint select com-mittee gave its approval to the plan, noting that it will be subject to additional fine-tuning before being brought before Parliament. The plan was approved without input from the opposition People’s National Party, however, as those members were absent from the meeting. According to committee chairman Dr. Andrew Wheatley, the plan is likely to improve the flow of traffic during peak travel hours in the parish; traffic congestion is one of the issues of concern to the residents of Portmore. Fitz Jack-son, the Member of Parliament for St. Catherine South, has publicly objected to the proposals, saying it will provide only “cosmetic” changes and nothing “concrete” for the residents.
JAMAICA’S HOUSE PASSES NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION AND REGISTRATION ACT
Over two years after a court struck down Jamaica’s National Identification and Registration (NIDS) Act, it was passed by the House of Representatives with 14 amendments. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted that the NIDS will position Jamaica among the world’s strongest digital economies. Modern digital economies rely on strong digital identities that focus on privacy rights and security of citizens, who favor the creation of strong and transparent identification systems. Holness said the government is creating the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Data Protection Act and the National Identification and Registration Inspectorate to provide independent oversight under NIDS. Holness added that this is an age in which every transaction requires identification and pointed to the face that 35,000 Jamaicans did not collect their COVID-19 grants in 2020 because they lacked legal ID.