Jamaica’s National ID Card Programme – Costly?

I am no fan of the proposed national ID card system in Jamaica. Having worked around government databases for 3 decades, I have learnt that society has to  question a government’s desire to hold more information on its citizens.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government is pushing ahead with introducing a controversial compulsory National ID card system. Quite rightly many Jamaicans are concerned as every single person aged 6 months to infinity will be forced to register for a national ID card. The opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has taken the government to the Constitutional Court to challenge government’s plans.

Consulting, designing implementing and maintaining such a programme will be far more costly than the $US68 million loaned to the government by the Inter American Development Bank (IADB). Such IT projects will always over spend despite what proponents of the scheme inform the public.

The government is trying to convince the public that having a national ID system will help to reduce crime and fight corruption.

How does a multi million dollar national ID card system..

  • stop the annual average 1200+ murders and regular violence against women and children?
  • prevent the big players from holding offshore accounts in nearby territories like the Bahamas, St Lucia or Cayman Islands?
  • prevent corruption from the political and ruling class?

Jamaicans currently have numerous identity platforms in place whether it be;

  • social security number,
  • tax reference number,
  • Passport
  • national health card
  • electoral ID card
  • valid drivers licence
  • employment ID card
  • school and tertiary ID card
  • even the cows have passports to prevent praedial larceny

The government is keen to lump a number of the above into one system for the national ID card. It is always risky to pool so much data on to one information management system. Hackers will be delighted for starters. But what happens if the card is lost or stolen? How quickly can it be replaced? Multiple ID on a various platforms is always a safe option that can reduces misuse of personal information by unscrupulous groups.

The government has warned that not holding a national ID card will prevent access to normal government goods and services. Well is that bullying of the worst kind and an erosion of a person’s basic human rights?

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  • Why is the IADB providing the funds?
  • What is the catch? E.g. loan terms
  • Like with any lending institution will the IADB have oversight on the NID programme throughout the repayment period or keep their distance?
  • What if the projected expenditure exceeds (and it will) the $US68 million?
  • Will the US government and other international authorities have access to the database?
  • Will the US have a say in its development and data storage?
  • Will the data be held just locally or shipped overseas?  

[The  Israeli government  has been trying (unsuccessfully) to agree waiver visa free arrangements with the US for its citizens. To ensure they could get such an arrangement signed off, the Israelis offered to the US authorities access to Israel’s fingerprint biometric records.]

This push for a compulsory national ID card reminds me of the UK experience which cost billions of pounds and eventually failed.

National ID Card System- The UK Experience 

The idea of a UK national ID Card was first mooted in the mid-1990s by then Prime Minister John Major and his Home Secretary, Michael Howard. One of Howard’s special advisers at the Home Office then was a young David Cameron.

Then Labour Party opposition leader, Tony Blair thought John Major’s proposal was a complete waste of public money. Blair defeated Major at the general elections and became PM in 1998.

In the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, PM Tony Blair and his Home Secretary, David Blunkett, were now convinced that a compulsory national ID card programme was necessary as an anti-terrorism measure.

Many felt  that Blair was pushing for compulsory ID cards just to impress US President George W Bush.  Blair’s Finance Minister, Gordon Brown, felt the idea was a waste of money.

Other senior Labour cabinet ministers were not keen on National ID cards being made compulsory. Others felt that existing personal identity platforms such passports, social security and employment cards were sufficient in an open and free society like the UK.

In 2003, a research team in the UK’s Cabinet Office was tasked to review national ID card systems across the main Western nations.

Most of the countries consulted by this research team stated they never saw the need for national ID cards. These nations felt they had adequate information and knowledge management systems in place that captured the required basic data on its citizens. E.g. passports, social security, tax related data. Some countries had voluntary ID cards systems.

In Germany, national ID cards applied to citizens aged 16 and over. There, it is compulsory to have either a national ID card OR a passport.

By April 2004 Blair and Blunkett announced the draft compulsory national ID card Bill. The initial estimated 10 year cost for implementation and maintenance of the programme was set at between £1.3bn and £3.1bn.

(By 2009 those figures were significantly revised upwards & the projected cost for the subsequent 10 years was £7 billion!)

The Identity Cards Act 2006 became law.  Charles Clarke (Home Secretary) and his team at the Home Office were responsible for implementing the programme. The national ID project team was made up of civil servants and private sector specialists.

Some members in the project team were not convinced that the national ID cards was viable due to the ever increasing cost. The initial idea was for ID card details to be stored on a new super database. But the database was proving problematic for the designers. Also the IT security measures was proving a real challenge

Mid 2006, new Home Secretary, John Reid (Charles Clarke was fired) scrapped the super database plan. The necessary information was to be captured from data already held by Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and the Immigration and Passport Service.

4 major contracts were concluded by Home Office with private companies.

  1. Thales (pilot scheme);
  2. CSC (developing a passport and ID card application system);
  3. IBM (build a database to store fingerprint and facial biometrics);
  4. De La Rue (produce biometric passport)

Thales, Fujitsu and IBM were in the bidding for the lucrative contract to develop the cards’ design and handle their production. But with cost growing out of control the Home Office got cold feet and dramatically pulled the bidding process.

By 2009 Gordon  Brown had taken over from Blair as Prime Minister. Alan Johnson (Home Secretary) announced that the national ID cards programme will continue to roll out but would no longer be compulsory.

Gordon Brown lost the general elections in 2010 and (former Home Office adviser) David Cameron became Prime Minister. One of Cameron’s first decisions was to scrap the entire National ID programme. Cameron felt the programme was a waste of money and an attack on civil liberties.

The only real winners during the whole exercise were the IT and consultancy firms.

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UK National ID Programme went through 2 Prime Ministers & 5 Home Secretaries – then collapsed.

The Trump factor 

In the age of the Donald Trump, Jamaicans should be concerned that the US could one day demand unlimited access to the national ID database.

Will the government sell the personal data to interested parties such as marketers, medical companies, tourism industry?

We have seen disturbing stories where tech giants such as Facebook have passed on personal data on its users to other companies. So can we trust our governments from sharing the private data of its citizens to others?

Hacker’s Delight

Hackers will be wetting their finger tips knowing breaking into one single source will give them access to a treasure trove of personal information.

Today, hacking of any major IT infrastructure is big business and has become a lot easier. No IT system is impregnable, despite all the anti-hacking mechanism on the market. We have seen teenagers easily break into IT systems held by the FBI and CIA.

  • Can we rely on the government to secure this sensitive data effectively? 
  • What if successful hackers hold the government to ransom?
  • Can we rely on the government to be frank with the public if the national ID database is breached by hackers?

Loans, Loans & More Loans – Big Ones

As usual Jamaican governments just keep borrowing too much money from international bodies and other countries.

  • Who owns the intellectual property, hardware during the loan repayment process? Jamaica or the IADB?
  • What happens to the data if Jamaica defaults on its repayment?

Since its inception the largest contributor to the IADB funds has always been the US. We know Donald Trump has a dim view of international bodies like the United Nations and indeed the IADB. He doesn’t think much of the Caribbean either despite recent overtures to Jamaica, Haiti and St Lucia.

Conflicts of Interest?

Despite no ruling from the courts on the PNP’s legal challenge, the government is proceeding onwards with getting the national ID card system ready. On the day after the euphoria of the government’s recent win in the East Portland by-election, they quietly issued a statement via the Office of the Prime Minister

Cabinet has approved a US$31.7 million contract to the group led by Productive Business Solutions (PBS)……. for the provision of Data Centre Hardware, Software, Public Key Infrastructure, and the NIDS solution to be implemented over five years…

Following the National Contract Commission’s (sits under Ministry of Finance) approval on February 28 this year, Cabinet reviewed and approved the submission on March 11.

This recent announcement could eventually raise eyebrows. Up until April 2018 – was the deputy chairman of PBS the current Minister of Finance, Nigel Clarke?

But we await the Constitutional Court’s ruling – on the legality of the national ID card programme – this Friday. [ Update 12 April 2019 – The court ruled the NIDS Act null and void!]

12/4/19 part of PNP’s legal team l-r: Donna Scott-Mottley, Phillip Paulwell, Jennifer Housen and (claimant) PNP Gen Sec Julian Robinson

Further information

US$68M for NIDS

NIDS is Liberation – Richard Delapenha

NIDS Facts

List of national identity card policies by country

 

 

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Peter Phillips/PNP & those polls – Double Trouble?

It is no surprise that the latest Don Anderson polls has revealed that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government is streets ahead of the opposition Peoples National Party (PNP). Anderson’s polling data also disclosed that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is viewed in better light than the rest of his government ministerial colleagues. The findings indicated that PNP leader Peter Phillips’ favourability is a disaster with a positive rating of just 12% compared to Holness’ 48%.

The PNP at this moment is in a conundrum. It is clear that their chances of winning the next general election looks tenuous, especially if Holness decides to call one in 2019.

Holness’ 180 Degrees Turn

Holness has certainly stepped up as a leader of his party and the government. He youthfulness has appealed to many who have been prepared to give him nine-lives despite some serious errors of judgement.

Holness has benefitted from some friendlier/softer coverage in the media. But he has also gained by navigating the various scandals – that has affected his government – with some deft actions to minimise any political damage. In the 3 years of the Holness term, the government has flooded the media waves with relentless spin and governments advertisements.

Holness has also been assisted by having certain government ministers who have excellent public relations and communications skills. So their messaging of positivity has outflanked any sustained pressure from the PNP. Government ministers such as Ed Bartlett (Tourism), Audley Shaw and currently Nigel Clarke (Finance), Babsy Grange (Culture, Sports, Gender), Christopher Tufton (Health) and Desmond McKenzie (Local Government) are prefect examples of this co-ordinated effort of aspirational networking.

Holness and his team have definitely applied the old Tony Blair playbook – in their approach to governing i.e.  “government ministers must be seen to be doing something” even if that is not the case. So the key evening news bulletins are stacked with certain government ministers giving speeches and promoting their policies without much fact-checking from the media or PNP.

In the said Don Anderson polls Christopher Tufton came out as the best performing government minister. In 2018 I asked a few folks the same question and Tufton also came out on top. Then I asked if their positive assessment was based on Tufton’s constant appearances on the TV news; they all said yes.

But Holness can thank 2 persons in particular for the strong leadership qualities that has reflected positively in the polls. Without them the JLP would never have won the 2016 general elections. They are Audley Shaw and Everald Warmington.

In 2013, the JLP were in chaos following thumping defeats in the previous general and local government elections. Whilst in opposition the JLP leadership was in tatters and many Labourities were not impressed with the young Holness (now 46 but an MP since age 25). In 2013 Audley Shaw (then shadow finance spokesperson) challenged Holness for the leadership.

As one JLP supporter said in 2013 “Mr Holness needs to get thicker skin and a strong backbone. Preferably, a (Alexander) Bustamante backbone”

The leadership battle was a tense and divided MPs. But that compelling leadership race was what the JLP needed to get its act together. (In 2011 Holness had been literally “given” JLP leader/Prime Minister after Bruce Golding resigned over Dudus debacle.

Holness defeated Shaw and that victory embolden his confidence and resolve. Holness came out of his shell and found his mojo. More importantly the Shaw race gave him the battle scars and experience needed to win future general elections. Shaw’s challenge dragged out a new and self-assured Holness.

Warmington Works

At the time of the heated leadership race, Everald Warmington stood by Holness the minute Shaw announced his leadership intentions. Warmington guided and advised Holness to step up his game and be more outspoken.

It may explain why since winning the leadership against Shaw, Holness never publicly rebukes Warmington whenever the latter makes the odd controversial comment. Even when some of Holness’ own colleagues (and the PNP) demand that he does so.

Ask yourself why is Warmington, a junior minister, working directly to Holness as Minister of Works? It is a very unusual chain of command, but it is clear that Holness values Warmington’s support more than the public probably realises.

As the minister for all the road works going on in Jamaica how did Warmington not register on the  Don Anderson polls? 

To me Warmington has been one of the more active members of the Holness government but he is not a fan of the media. Warmington has performed effectively in his role as the road minister. Yes, the road works in Kingston is causing undue chaos. But outside of Kingston we have seen upgrades to some roads not touched for 50 years.

Warmington was also a competent acting leader of parliament business  when Derrick Smith was on sick leave. Warmington’s non-partisan approach – on the select committee – during the current Petrojam hearings is to be commended.

PNP’s Road to Redemption

Despite the current poor polling numbers, the PNP can take heart knowing that as late as in 2015 Holness faced pressure to quit as leader; over the Senate resignation letter saga. The courts had ruled his actions as unconstitutional. Yet by March 2016 Holness was PM.

So all is not lost on the PNP’s future fortunes. But the party needs to reassess current pitfalls and take steps for a serious reboot. The fact that tomorrow’s by-election race in East Portland – normally a PNP stronghold – has been polling a tight race is a clear signal for serious pondering.

Why has it gone wrong for the PNP since February 2016?

  1. The party looks no different to the previous one under Portia Simpson-Miller. There is no spark, renewed energy and buzz about the current Peter Phillips’ PNP. Phillips’ appointment as leader of the opposition did not rattle the political landscape one jot.
  2. Leaving Simpson-Miller as leader straight after the general elections in February 2016 was a dreadful decision. Phillips was made leader in April 2017. Thus the JLP had a year to push on ahead without any fear of a robust opposition.
  3. PNP should have had a real battle for the leadership of the party and not handed it on a plate to Phillips. Political party leaderships should be strongly contested and not handed to someone because they “deserve” it. As many PNP supporters felt towards Phillips.
  4. Phillips took too long (6 months) to confirm his shadow cabinet. When it was announced it comprised of an incredible 27 spokespersons which is too many and confuses the message and the public.
  5. Phillips as Public Accounts Committee chair was asleep for nearly a year and hardly had meetings to hold the government and government departments to account.
  6. Ditching the younger PNP “potential stars” from senior/frontline positions was an error of judgement by the elders.
  7. Has the PNP been dead broke since 2016? The current by-election race in East Portland is the first campaign – since the 2016 general election – where the PNP has spent any serious money on a campaign.
  8. The PNP MPs has missed so many open goals to nail the government decisively or have been too sluggish in their scrutiny and pressure. Examples include:
    • Not putting up any real resistance to the muzzling of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG). Maybe some in the PNP agree with the taming of the OCG?
    • Failure to nail Ruel Reid’s management of the Ministry of Education from back in 2017/18 when media reports gave clear clues.
    • Public board appointments and nepotism
    • Number of consultants and advisors across public sector
    • Health – Dengue, Cornwall Hospital, Flu outbreaks
    • National Identification Cards (NIDs)
    • Violent crime

If Peter Phillips remains the PNP leader into the next general election he needs a 180 degree jab. He has to connect more beyond his base. Although some in his own party have grown frustrated and uninspired with his leadership.

Despite the negative perception of the PNP they have had some strong and effective performers that the Don Anderson polls have failed to elevate. Where the PNP has performed very well is in the Senate (upper house) where the likes of Lambert Brown, K.D. Knight and Donna Scott-Mottley have outperformed their comrades in the lower house.

Some say approximately 50% of Jamaica is divided along tribal political lines. The other 50% have a deep distrust and dislike for politics, politicians and view both parties as the same. i.e. just in politics to get rich. This independent group of doubting Jamaicans are the folks that the PNP need to appeal to for power.

How can the PNP and Peter Phillips turnaround their fortunes?

  • Learn lessons from the JLP’s transformation from a lowly 2012 into a viable government by 2016.
  • Policies and perception of the party must be aspirational. Keys area are the usual education, health, housing, economy, environment, crime and transport.
  • Communication channels must be far coherent and consistent. Limit spokespersons to its best communicators. A reshuffle of the shadow cabinet is worth considering.
  • Devise a rapid response team to fact check any JLP policies, actions and spin. Especially on social media and on news bulletins.
  • Phillip should offer himself to appear on the popular radio talk shows. He could request to guest host such radio shows in order to listen directly from the public.
  • Transparency – PNP leadership could demand its MPs/Councillors (future candidates) publish their assets, incomes and liabilities on their website. Such a move could impress independent voters.

The PNP supporters must ask themselves if the Peter Phillips today is still best person to lead the PNP to victory. The only way to be 100% sure maybe is to hold a competitive leadership race  which – just as with Holness in 2013 – could be Phillips’ reset-button. Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s East Portland by-elections.

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Peter Phillips – The Message

 

 

 

 

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Mutabaruka – A Lifetime of Achievement

On Sunday, IRIE FM gave its annual lifetime achievement award to the one and only Mutabaruka. Previous recipients of the award were Bunny Wailer and Jimmy Cliff. The event was held at Muta’s alma mater Kingston Technical High School (KTHS) and was aired live on IRIE FM from 6 a.m until late evening.

This award to Muta is truly deserved.

He is a poet, Rastafarian, Garveyite, writer, educator, activist, pan Africanist, health guru, political commentator, historian, motivationist, talkshow radio presenter, philanthropist, humanitarian and so much more.

For the past 3 decades Muta has hosted the “Cutting Edge” on IRIE FM, a trailblazing programme for Pan-African discussions. Muta has used his radio shows to discuss issues such as globalism, Chinese investment, religion, corruption, environment, history, African culture, civil rights, food, entrepreneurship and health.

Muta also used both the “Cutting Edge” and his other weekly show on IRIE FM (“Stepping Razor”) to inform the listeners on issues that are hardly raised on any of the other 25+ radio stations in Jamaica. So far in 2019 he has done outside broadcast live from the UK and Ghana.

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Courtesy of IRIE-FM

The first time I came across Muta was in the early 1980s when he released the dub poet track “Every Time a Ear Di Sound” a poem that stuck with me in my teens. Muta’s poems covers a wide range of topical issues and his poem “dis poem” is a masterpiece. It is up there with the key works by some of my favourite poets including Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gil Scot Heron and Camille Yarbrough.

I met Muta roughly 15 years ago at a London book fair at Arsenal’s football stadium and yes, he was, as usual, barefooted. He was a fascinating listen that day.

So Sunday’s celebrations of Muta’s career had guests from all walks of life both local and international. Hosted by Kabu Maat Kheru and Elaine Wint, special guests included Babsy Grange, Earl ‘Chinna” Smith, Capleton, Tony Rebel, Jean Breeze, and Marcia Griffiths.

Ironically when IRIE FM first devised “Cutting Edge” it was meant to be a vehicle hosted by Rita Marley and supported occasionally by her two I-Threes bandmates – Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths. But Griffiths and Mowatt were not keen. Rita Marley presented the first “Cutting Edge” but did not return. Muta replaced Rita and the rest is a blessing for a show that continues to challenge the status quo and educate its listeners.

But one of the telling moments from Muta’s event that will stay me is worth sharing. The story was told by Robert Gregory, chairman of KTHS and himself a past student.

Gregory did some research on Muta’s (then known as Allan Hope) school days. He found out that in 1970 Muta wore a badge on the school compound that had the face of Pan-Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The principal at the time – E.G. Roper-  confiscated the badge from Muta.

Now Garvey’s son, Marcus jr, was then a teacher at KTHS and went to Roper’s office to find out if his dad’s badge was indeed banned by the school. Roper confirmed the ban but Garvey jr warned anyone to dare remove the badge from his attire. Remember now, in 1964 the Jamaican government declared Marcus Mosiah Garvey a National Hero. But the attitude by some of Jamaica’s influential and powerful figures aka de system  was – for decades –  preventing Garvey’s philosophies from being discussed at educational institutions or in the media.

At the end of Gregory’s story he returned that same badge from 49 years ago to Muta.

Fullgratulations Muta, a stepping razor who continues to slice through the bs to educate and empower his listening audience. Well done IRIE. Raspect.

See further details of the day’s events

 

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Holness Reads Out Senator Ruel

The sudden firing of Ruel Reid as Minister of Education, Youth and Information plus his immediate resignation from the Senate has shocked Jamaicans.

The reasons given for such dramatic action by Prime Minister Andrew Holness is still to be fully explained but the alleged corruption/misappropriation of funds/nepotism seems to centre around the “Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), National Education Trust (NET) and the HEART Trust/NTA”.

Given the upcoming heated by-election in East Portland and public statements regarding the scandal given last Monday by Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, Holness had no choice but fire to Reid swiftly before heading to Florida to see Donald Trump.

Reid’s background as a former Principal of 2 of Jamaica’s most respected high schools – Jamaica College and Munro College, plus his senior ranking within the church – shows a fall from grace that is embarrassing for him, his family, the government and all Jamaicans.

For Holness to take such action against someone as influential as Reid tells you how significantly damaging are the allegations. Reid and Holness are very close allies. In his resignation statement Reid stressed that he was innocent of any wrong doing and expects to be exonerated following any investigation. Reid’s attorney, Carolyn Chuck is defending her client’s innocence strongly.

In the Senate on Friday, opposition Senator Lambert Brown let lose a barrage of questions and condemned Reid’s tenure as a member of the Senate. Brown highlighted moments when Reid was economical with the truth in some of his answers in the Senate.

Othneil Lawrence

One thing we learnt during the immediate Ruel Reid fallout, was that the name Othneil Lawrence had appeared on documents – seen by the Gleaner – as an advisor to Professor Fritz Pinnock, head of CMU. 

Why is this startling? Well, Lawrence was the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) caretaker candidate for North West St Ann. In 2017, Reid had announced his intentions to be the JLP caretaker candidate for that same constituency. But at the time Lawrence remained steadfast that he was indeed the chosen one.

Then by early 2018 Reid was confirmed as the JLP’s candidate for the seat. Lawrence went silent and walked away. Now we learnt from the Gleaner  this week that Lawrence (as at 1st April 2018) was an advisor at CMU, a department that sat under Reid’s management.  Or was this advisor Othneil Lawrence just A.N.Other?

The wheels were gradually falling off the Reid’s stewardship of his portfolios, yet his dramatic firing is still stunning. His reputation was taking a hit in the media and online over certain actions and statements that were deemed dictatorial and snowflakey.

Code of Conduct

Reid had been pushing hard to bring in a code of conduct to prevent the teaching profession from publicly criticising his policies. Reid also went after certain school principals who were planning to run for public office on behalf of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP). He demanded that the independent political ombudsman investigate his opponents’ intentions. 

Such scare tactics – against the teaching profession – made Reid a laughing stock and a hypocrite given that when the JLP were in opposition he – while at Jamaica College – was an adviser on education to Holness.

But what also came to light during code-of- conduct standoff  was that – Senator/Minister/JLP candidate/Church Elder – Ruel Reid is still on secondment from Jamaica College! Also he was still in living at the official school residence for principals.

What did the JLP Leadership Know?

If the Othneil Lawrence adviser allegations are true (we have to stress that), then when was Horace Chang (JLP General Secretary ) first aware that he was working at CMU? As the JLP’s General Secretary one of Chang’s roles – for due diligence – would be to keep tabs on where senior party members and former candidates are currently employed.

You would also think that Holness would want to know of Lawrence’s whereabouts given how the latter had been a consistent thorn in his leadership. In 2014, Lawrence did file a lawsuit (later withdrawn) against Holness to block JLP attempts to remove him as the caretaker candidate for the said St Ann constituency. Again I ask who was the Othniel Lawrence on the payroll at CMU?

What did the media know?

Was Archibald Gordon aware of the brewing events at CMU?

Gordon is a respected journalist who reads the evening news at TVJ each weekday evening. But Gordon’s day time job since November 2017 is Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations at CMU. It was ironic that Gordon has been a no show for TVJ news since the story of Lawrence’s alleged CMU role broke. 

If Gordon knew of Lawrence’s appointment did he question such a controversial appointment with his boss Professor Fritz Pinnock?

If Gordon was not aware of Lawrence’s position at CMU then questions must be asked of Professor Fritz Pinnock and that of the Board of Directors. Pinnock is currently said to be overseas but they have been calls for his resignation. 

Again when did the media know of Othneil Lawrence’s appointment at CMU?

Sharon Hay-Webster, Marlon Morgan and Garfield Higgins are strongly affiliated to the JLP. All 3 are senior advisors in Ruel Reid’s education department. Whilst there working for Reid, all 3 advisors had shows on News Talk radio until early 2018. Higgins still has a Sunday column in the Jamaica Observer where -I kid you not – each week he bashes the PNP and in particular Peter Phillips. So given that all 3 are based at Reid’s former department did they know of Lawrence’s impending appointment at CMU? 

(It does sound from his column yesterday that Garfield Higgins is no longer an adviser at the education ministry.)

I have always had concerns when media staff hold other paid roles in the public/private sector. Especially when full disclosure is not explained to the public when carrying out their journalistic functions. The perception for any conflict of interest is never too far away.

It is worth noting that some in the further education sector were miffed at the speed by which CMU had attained University status back in early 2017. 

Public Boards, Committees, Council’s, Authorities etc

Did the relevant educational public boards have the slightest inkling of the alleged corruption?

The role of public sector boards and their like, continues to raise questions about their objectivity, fairness, due diligence and potential conflicts of interest. 

Many such public boards etc are stacked with party political surrogates, donors, relatives of government ministers and those who should be far away from such appointments for conflict of interest. Both JLP and PNP governments have be known to pile such public boards with their “people”.

The above mentioned columnist Garfield Higgins has been on 3 boards. Ann Marie Vaz – wife of government minister Daryl Vaz is on 2 education boards. Sharon Hay-Webster is on 5 public boards. Other government ministers are known to have relatives on these public bodies. Is the selection process to join such public bodies fair and open?

Seriously, is it sensible to have the media executive Danville Walker on multiple public boards? Walker is currently one of the most senior figures at the Jamaica Observer.

Walker was previously a JLP candidate in a general election and also former senior civil servant. But Walker is on numerous public boards that cover areas such as trade, customs, horseracing, environment, planning and former sugar-related property. 

Can the Jamaica Observer be truly objective and independent in it’s coverage of the public bodies where Walker sits on and those of its other members?

Take for example Joseph Shoucair who sits on multiple public boards in areas such as sugar related property, health, finance, aluminum. Shoucair has been in the news recently over the sale of farm land to a St Lucian based holding firm, Alfabet Holdings, who represents Gassan Azan – owner of Megamart.

Shoucair and Walker both sit on Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited (SCJ) where one of it’s objectives is “Implement projects to support the divested sugar estates”.

SCJ had oversight of the Bernard Lodge land until it was reportedly bought by Azan.

  • Would the Jamaican public get any objective reporting from the Observer on this subject given the connections of Shoucair and Walker on the SCJ board? 
  •  Is this the same Gassan Azan who is on the board of directors at the Jamaica Observer along with Walker?
  • Should media personnel from the private sector be allowed to sit on public boards?

 

So What Next?

The rumour mill hints at more to come over the Reid scandal and the relevant investigative bodies have started their own enquiries. But the public need an interim detailed statement from the PM on the scale of the allegations that triggered Reid’s sudden downfall.

Going forward the government should publish the full list of all the advisors/their salaries across the public sector. The government should also disclose the names of those current journalists who also carry out work in the public sector.

Just as they did when publishing the latest list of members on public sector boards, committees, councils etc.

Holness has dragged Reid’s former portfolios under his Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) umbrella and sent Karl Samuda (Leader of the House) to keep the seat at the education department warm. Such steps can give the perception that Holness has little faith in the potential in some of his own MPs/Senators to take over such portfolios immediately.

Holness could have simply transferred the excellent Christopher Tufton from Health to the Education and Youth portfolios. Another strong candidate would be current Justice Minister, Delroy Chuck. Ironically it is Chuck’s private law firm (he’s on secondment from there) that is representing Reid.

The Information Minister portfolio could be trusted to Senator Matthew Samuda who is a public relations professional. But then again given how constantly some cabinet ministers appear in the media is there any need for an Information Minister? Especially as Naomi Francis is Holness’ press secretary

PEPpered Thinking

Finally – as Education Minister – Ruel Reid was the driving force behind the new primary/prep school examination program know as Primary Exit Profile (PEP). PEP was introduced this year as Reid was keen for children to develop critical thinking much earlier in their lives.

So what the hell was he (allegedly) thinking to get fired so abruptly? 

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Reid Option

 

Further reading

March 2018 – $31-m Japanese grant to ease problems at Fair Prospect Primary, Black River High. Present at ceremony were MP for Black River High, Floyd Green (state Minister for Education), Ruel Reid and Ann Marie Vaz.

Sunday Gleaner – Cops promise more info on education ministry probe – Reid’s former residence targeted in search for clues

Not Ruel’s man – CMU’s Pinnock denies chairmanship of Reid foundation as corruption probe deepens

Did CMU pay for Ruel Reid’s yacht party?… PNP demands answers

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Anne Marie Vaz vs Damion Crawford aka Action Ann vs Mr D.C.

That is the upcoming by-election race in East Portland, Jamaica between Anne Marie Vaz of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Damion Crawford of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP). But the magnitude of this by-election race seems to be much bigger than some local political battle.

Many observers see this by-election race as a national mandate on both the JLP and PNP and the result may have major political ramifications. The East Portland seat has long been a PNP stronghold and thus if Crawford loses the by-election on April 4, then questions will be asked of the current PNP leader Peter Phillips. Questions will be also asked about young Crawford’s future given his popularity amongst PNP members.

If the JLP managed to snatch the seat from the PNP then JLP leader and Prime Minister Andrew Holness would view such a result as a ringing endorsement of his government that came to power in 2016. No doubt such a result would encourage Holness to call snap general election whilst Phillips is still the PNP leader.

On March 3rd, Crawford gave a rousing 40 minute speech in East Portland which – despite the odd “controversial” moment – was probably the finest speech I have heard from a PNP pedestal since the days of the 1970s Michael Manley. Crawford was eloquent, witty, engaging, passionate, never dull, clear and had to audience reacting to his every phrase. Crawford has something that the PNP ill afford to lose which is great charisma and oratory in abundance.

But some of Crawford’s remarks was criticised in the media and by the JLP as classist and sexist. But the JLP outragers need to stop with the fake outcry given some of the comments made by some of their own MPs over the years. The reason why some of Crawford’s comments caused such outrage was probably because the speech was carried live on national radio. But Crawford has defended his speech.

Now Crawford was a rising star of the last PNP administration 2011-2016. But Crawford’s wings were clipped and he was unceremoniously dumped by the PNP, following his silly confusing statements in the lead up to the elections in 2016.

While he was in the political wilderness after the 2016 elections, Crawford developed an egg-related company (Crafton Holdings) whilst carrying on lecturing/teaching at various educational institutions.

Crawford returned to frontline politics in 2018 when he was selected to the Jamaican upper house as a senator for the PNP. Later down in the year Crawford was elected one of 4 vice presidents of the PNP. (Why any organisation has 4 VPs I will never know?) But Crawford sounds like a man in a hurry and is keen to get back into representational politics and has been frank about his own ambitions to lead the PNP.

 

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2013 l-r Damion Crawford vs Daryl Vaz @ Celebrity Dancehall Clash

 

Is it really Daryl vs Damion?

Little is known of Anne Marie Vaz but she is popular in Jamaican social media circles.

The public know Ann Marie Vaz mainly as the wife of Daryl Vaz – MP for the other constituency in the parish of Portland (West Portland). Daryl is currently a cabinet minister who can be described as firebrand MP on the campaign trail. A straight taker Daryl is all about winning elections and was not afraid to criticize the performance of   JLP leader Andrew Holness when they were in opposition.

The Jamaica Gleaner once described Daryl Vaz as “one of the most explosive political personalities in politics”. Indeed.

From Duff House in Manchester, Anne Marie Vaz (nee Lyew) attended Hampton School in St Elizabeth and Alpha Academy in Kingston. Ann Marie Vaz once said 2009 “I never wanted to anything to do with politics. It cause a lot of damage to our marriage initially”. The first time I came across Ann Marie’s name was in a 2010 article regarding the alleged sale of a FINSAC related property to her in upscale Cherry Gardens for tens of millions of Jamaican dollars below the market price.

But we all know Daryl Vaz is the voice of this by-election race for the JLP and not Ann Marie. Some will deem such a remark as sexist but according to media reports Daryl is Ann Marie Vaz’s election manager. After Crawford’s speech in East Portland the media tried to get a response from Ann-Marie over her rival’s “controversial” comments. But according to media reports Daryl declined interviews;  very unusual for a politician not to seek the upper hand when their tiveopponent has made a boo-boo.

It may explain why in recent days we are now learning that the astute political operative that is Juliet Holness is now Mrs Vaz’s campaign manager. Ironically, Holness is the MP for East Rural St Andrew where the previous incumbent was one Damion Crawford.

PNP Sexism – Again 

The parachuting of Crawford into this usual safe seat of East Portland continues to show that the PNP has a toxic problem with nominating female candidates. Of the 29-30 PNP MPs just 4 are female. 2 of the 8 PNP senators in the upper house are female.

It is worth noting that Andrea Moore has previously been a popular choice by East Portland PNP delegates but for the umpteenth time she has been sidelined by the PNP top brass.

It is a shocking indictment on a so-called social democratic party that recently had a female leader in Portia Simpson-Miller. I have always wondered why the PNP’s women movement have stayed silent on this subject.

Just 7 of the 33 JLP MPs are female, which still is below average for a democratic nation like Jamaica. Maybe an 8th JLP female MP is on her way to Gordon House. Judging by levels of advertise spending so far then Ann Marie Vaz is miles ahead in the publicity stakes.

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Action Ann & Hands-on Daryl

Remembering Dr Bloomfield

This intense campaigning in this by-election race was uncalled for given how the seat became vacant. Dr Lynvale Bloomfied – the incumbent MP – was found murdered (multiple stab wounds) in February at his home. Despite having a suspect in custody we still are not aware of the motive behind the killing. In fact there has hardly been any public statement/press conference by the police on such a very high profile killing. Very strange.

Only a week before his death, Dr Bloomfield was on tv news (very rare for him) begging the government to upgrade the infrastructure in his constituency. He wanted answers on the whereabouts of funds that was provided by Japan specifically for the refurbishment of a local school in his community.

My hope was – given the nature of Dr Bloomfield’s demise – that the JLP would have allowed the PNP to run an uncontested candidate to finish out the term won by Bloomfield. Similar to what occurred in the UK when Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in 2016. In the subsequent by-election, the main political parties (including UKIP) did not challenge the Labour Party candidate.

Within hours of Dr Bloomfield being laid to rest the political party machinery went into full campaign mode and it has just never stopped. The thrust of the current by-election campaign just did not feel right. It was as if Dr Bloomfield’s brutal murder was now a side-show and both parties could not wait to move on in this undignified manner. Yes, life must go on but how did we get here?

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Crawford’s JLP side

Despite all the political animosity on the platforms in East Portland, Crawford has close links to the JLP. His uncle Ransford Braham is a government senator. During Crawford’s initial hiatus from politics – after the 2016 elections – he hosted brilliant political show on Nationwide radio. There listeners gained an insight into Crawford the person. Crawford admitted on air he was probably closer to the younger members of the JLP.  Some of those said JLP politicians such the PR chief Senator Matthew Samuda would co-host the show.

(JLP Senator Don Wheby, head of Grace Kennedy, is said to be assisting Crawford with the distribution of his eggs overseas.)

During the short period Crawford hosted his radio show it was refreshing. He covered local politics in a unique and mature fashion. Crawford did upset some of his PNP listeners who probably had high expectations of a partisan approach to the show.

Indeed, one of the most acrimonious radio debates in recent times was when Crawford got into a heated discussion with his colleague Paul Burke, (PNP) General Secretary. The discussion revolved around why the PNP lost the 2016 general elections. It was the mother of all debates. It was like a verbal fist-fight. It was radio gold.

“Crawford and Burke Square Off”

Green Party  

There is something quite distasteful on the news that Ann Marie Vaz will be hosting a public free birthday concert in Portland just days before the by-election where some of Jamaica’s top artistes are slated to perform. Having such a concert in the middle of general election is fine. But for a by-election? How does a “new” candidate afford to book the likes of Queen Ifrica, Teejay, Christopher Martin, Bounty Killer and Sizzla? Unless the artiste are performing free of charge. I hope this story is fake news.

But as an election looms is it high time that candidates declare their assets, liabilities and incomes before polling day?

Show dem the Money

In 2019 we have had comments from senior political figures from both main parties of the corruption that has enriched the political class.

  • The PNP Senator K.D. Knight spoke with disgust – in parliament recently – at the number of politicians he has seen transformed their financial fortunes once they became elected officials.
  • During February Delroy Chuck, Justice Minister, in a speech said “When I came into politics a certain contractor who had a contract in my constituency asked me (for) my bank account. He said ‘we always give 10 per cent to the MP‘; I was shocked, but that was what the contractor said to me”
  • The Jamaican Gleaner recently reported MPs have been regularly not declaring their incomes, assets and liabilities “with the Integrity Commission on time or ignoring requests for additional information” the Gleaner reports goes on “including that of then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness,.. were not cleared due to inadequate responses to queries”. Nine declarations, including those submitted by current government ministers Delroy Chuck and Daryl Vaz were not cleared in 2014 and 2015 for the same reason.”

So light of these recent revelations and statements (plus other corruption scandals); which politician will be brave enough to propose a private members bill that demands politicial candidates declare all their wares including their expenses online for the electorate to scrutinize before any local and general elections? Don’t hold your breath.

If Mrs and Mr Vaz manage to politically lockdown the parish of Portland by April 4 then the general election bells will get louder for JLP supporters. Especially following the recent barnstorming budget statement made by Finance Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke which impressed the business community and gave some political observers goosebumps.

But from the outset, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should have raised the political bar (during a very dark moment for Jamaica’s political history) and opted not to contest this by-election in East Portland. Given how the incumbent MP met his demise.

Image result for dr lynvale bloomfield

 

 

 

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Scandal in North American Politics

Last Wednesday, we saw an astonishing moment in political theatre. We witnessed a lawyer who sat before lawmakers and delivered an opening statement about corruption, political interference, bullying and veiled threats which some would construe as an obstruction of justice.

We realised from the lawyer’s initial remarks that this was no usual public hearing. The comments were explosive, extraordinary and gripped the entire session which ran for roughly 4 hours. It was a remarkable performance by a lawyer who was meticulous, measured, detailed and precise in how the case was laid out to the lawmakers and the wider public.

Yep, this was certainly not Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former equalizer/lawyer; but the law officer in question was one Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Wilson-Raybould was for 3 years, Canada’s Attorney General and Justice Minister. In January 2019 she was transferred to the Veteran Affairs portfolio by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Wilson-Raybould eventually resigned from the Canadian cabinet a month later.

Rumours were circling for weeks on whether Wilson-Raybould was initially fired/demoted from her legal portfolios by Trudeau for insubordination. At the start of Wednesday’s public hearing – in front of Canada’s parliamentary justice committee – it did not take long for Wilson-Raybould to confirm the whispers.

Wilson-Raybould explained how Trudeau and others in his inner circle tried to influence her to interfere in a criminal case to help out a major conglomerate – SNC-Lavalin -who are major employers/integral players within Trudeau’s own constituency of Papineau, Montreal, Quebec. Even though a criminal case against the SNC-Lavalin was currently in the courts

Wilson-Raybould opening remarks  went as follows:

“For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the Attorney General of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin. These events involved 11 people (excluding myself and my political staff) – from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Office of the Minister of Finance. This included in-person conversations, telephone calls, emails, and text messages. There were approximately 10 phone calls and 10 meetings specifically about SNC-Lavalin that I and/or my staff was a part of.” See full statement

The revelations by Wilson-Raybould was shocking. She laid out notes, named names, timelines and quotes in great detail; of the alleged corruption and political interference at the heart of her own government by colleagues who should have known better. Her comments completely blew away the public’s image of Trudeau’s inner circle who were willing to bend legal rules for political capital.

Wilson-Raybould went on….

“Still on September 19, I spoke to (Finance) Minister Morneau on this matter when we were in the House. He again stressed the need to save jobs, and I told him that engagements from his office to mine on SNC had to stop – that they were inappropriate.

In my role as AG, I had received the decision of the DPP in September, had reviewed the matter, made a decision on what was appropriate given a DPA (deferred prosecution agreement), and communicated that to the Prime Minister. I had also taken additional steps that the Prime Minister asked me to – such as meeting with Clerk (to privy council).

In my view, the communications and efforts to change my mind on this matter should have stopped. Various officials also urged me to take partisan political considerations into account – which it was clearly improper for me to do. … We either have a system that is based on the rule of law, the independence of the prosecutorial functions, and respect for those charged to…

I wanted to speak about a number of things – including bringing up SNC and the barrage of people hounding me and my staff. Towards the end of the meeting I raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate. Gerry (top advisor to Trudeau) then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff – he said I needed to find a solution. I said no and referenced the PI and JR. I said further that I gave the Clerk the only appropriate solution that could have happened and that was the letter idea but that was not taken up.

Gerry talked to me about how the statute was set up by Harper that that he does not like the law…(Director of Public Prosecutions Act) – I said something like that is the law we have … On December 7 – I received a letter from the PM, dated December 6, attaching a letter from the CEO of SNC-Lavalin dated October 15. I responded to the PM’s letter of December 6, noting that the matter is before the courts, so I cannot comment on it, and that the decision re: a DPA was one for the DPP, which is independent of my office……

On January 7, I received a call from the PM and was informed I was being shuffled out of my role as MOJAG. I will not go into details of this call, or subsequent communications about the shuffle, but I will say that I stated I believed the reason was because of the SNC matter. They denied this to be the case.

..On January 11, 2019 – the Friday before the shuffle. My former Deputy Minister is called by the Clerk and told that the shuffle is happening, and that she will be getting a new Minister. As part of this conversation, the Clerk tells the Deputy that one of the first conversations that the new Minister will be expected to have with the PM will be on SNC Lavalin. In other words, that the new Minister will need to be prepared to speak to the PM on this file.’

In all the years of following politics I have never seen a senior legal politician lay such a blunt case of corruption about their own current head of government and colleagues. Normally such revelations are published in memoirs years after the event; especially when the political party officials in question are no longer in government.

Wilson-Raybould’s Liberal party colleagues on the justice committee came at her hard. But the former Attorney General was having none of it and pushed back strongly and in particular her party colleague Iqra Khalid was sent back pedaling.

In essence Wilson-Raybould – as Canada’s top prosecutor – was fired by the Canadian PM for doing her job – which was to follow the law. She was sacked for remaining independent as any half-decent Attorney General should expect to behave in such a pivotal role. If her allegations are true then it is a disgrace to see someone so noble being  undermined and disrespected in this way. Good for her in standing up to the bullies.

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Jody Wilson – Raybould

On too many occasions we have seen Attorney Generals across the globe act in a partisan manner, play fast and loose with the rule of law for political capital. But in Jody Wilson-Raybould we witnessed an clear example of how a government law officer minister stood her ground. Brilliant.

Can the Justin Trudeau survived this charge of political interference in the court of public opinion?

Not long after Wednesday’s hearing ended Trudeau gave a brief press conference where he disagreed with Wilson-Raybould’s statement. Only to say minutes later that he did not watched the whole proceedings. Trudeau felt he has done nothing wrong and he was right to do everything possible to save and create jobs.

One of the exchanges at the hearing that stood out for me was this one between Wilson-Raybould and a Liberal Party colleague…

(Randy) Boissonneault: So that oath that you took Jan. 13 reaffirmed your confidence in the government. Do you have confidence in the prime minister today?

Wilson-Raybould: I’ll say this. And I’m not going to get into any conversations about why I resigned, other than to say this: I resigned from cabinet because I did not have confidence to sit around the table, the cabinet table. That’s why I resigned.

Ouch.

When this scandal first came to light, Trudeau denied any the rumours but he has been forced to change his tune at every turn.

Jody Wilson-Raybould’s performance was something else and it gave a clear example for those around world who wish for their politically appointed prosecutors to act independently and fairly without any political bias. It was a bad moment for Canada’s politics. But yet Wilson-Raybould  gave hope and credibility thanks to her performance at Wednesday’s hearing.

Her disclosures was significant for many  reasons

  1. Developing countries are constantly lectured by developed nations such as the US,  Canada and UK on corruption when they are the biggest culprits going.
  2. We learn that corruption is at the heart of Canadian politics and not for the first time during Trudeau’s current stint at PM.

Sadly Wilson-Raybould’s political career is probably over. I cannot see her Liberal party colleagues forgiving her. Hardly any of them have come out publicly to support her stance. Whether she can remain in the Liberal party will also be an issue.

Over the years we have seen countless Attorney Generals in democratic nations making partisan decision just to please their bosses/paymasters and not following the law.

  • During the previous decade – in the the lead up to the Iraq War – we saw the UK Attorney General – Peter Goldsmith – fail to share the initial advice he gave to Tony Blair on whether going to war in Iraq was legal. The advice was finally disclosed 7 years later in 2010 via the Chilcott Inquiry
  • Only in 2018 we saw how the British Parliament found the UK government in contempt for failing to release the full advice give by its Attorney General about the terms of exiting the EU.
  • I would be here all week if I had to share the politically bias actions of numerous prosecutors at the State and Federal level in the United States.

So in the last few days we have seen 2 perfect examples of how the independence of an Attorney General should be in any fledgling democracy.

  1. Jody Wilson-Raybould pushback against her colleagues in not interfering in a criminal for political reasons.
  2. Planned charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust filed against Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by his own Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, in relation to Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla! Affair
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Trudeau & Netanyahu both sunk by their AGs?

 

Wilson-Raybould ended her statement by saying…

I will conclude by saying this: I was taught to always be careful what you say because you cannot take it back.

I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity. These are the teachings of my parents, my grandparents and my community (Kwakwaka’wakw)

I come from a long line of matriarchs and I’m a truth teller, in accordance with the laws and traditions of our big house.

This is who I am and this is who I always will be. 

Gilakas’la (Kwak’wala term meaning “thank you”)

(Update: 4th March – Jane Philpott resigns from the cabinet with a stinging rebuke to the leadership)

 

 

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A Golden Period of Test Cricket

Many thought that test cricket was on its dying legs. Some were hoping the rise of T20 cricket would finally kill interest in the longer version of the game that I love. They had a convincing argument and such views was gathering pace over the past 3 years. As crowds and interest for test matches started to dwindle in places like the West Indies.

Then in the past 10 weeks we saw India win their first ever test series in Australia, the West Indies won a series against England for the first time in a decade and Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation ever to win a test series in South Africa.

In the first test match against South Africa, Sri Lanka’s Kusal Perera played one of the greatest and bravest match winning innings in the history of the sport. West Indies’ captain – Jason Holder – cemented himself as the finest all rounder to come out of the islands since his Barbadian compatriot Gary Sobers. India discovered a superstar of the batting, wicket keeping and mic chatter in Rishabh Pant.

Sri Lanka were on such a long losing run that any thought of them defeating South Africa was deemed far fetched even by their die-hard fans. Indian captain and superstar Virat Kohli found willing batting support from both Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara. The West Indies became a united team again without any of the usual off the field player melodramatics.

Test cricket fans like myself will savour this period.

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“Kusal Perera. You beauty. You did it single-handedly with a fighter in a number 11. Sri Lanka. You’ve watched one of the greatest innings ever played #Cricket” – Ravi Shastri, former Indian cricket and current Indian team manager 

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